HL Deb 19 May 1997 vol 580 cc145-254

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Merlyn-Rees—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".

3.27 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

My Lords, this is my first speech from the Woolsack in your Lordships' House, which I had the privilege to enter in 1987, more than 10 years ago. I know the distinction of my predecessors. I succeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. He occupied this office for the longest continuous period—close on 10 years—of any Lord Chancellor this century. The noble and learned Lord is of high distinction. That is not in itself unusual of holders of this office—a truth of which this incumbent is only too conscious. What is unusual, however, and most becoming of my noble and learned predecessor, is his modesty—and he has nothing to be modest about.

I will remain present throughout this debate for as long as I can. But pressure of departmental business and Cabinet committee meetings will require me to leave the Chamber from time to time.

Our debate today will concentrate on constitutional affairs, home affairs, health and social affairs. I will focus on the first two. My noble friend Lady Hollis will have much to say on health and social affairs when she draws our proceedings to what is likely to be a late close.

It is less than a year since I spoke from the Opposition Benches during a debate on the constitution initiated by the previous Government. I said then that the next Labour Government would fashion a new constitutional settlement which would return power to the people. Our manifesto pledge this. We will honour our pledges.

Triumphalism is always wrong. I state the disempowerment of the whole of the Conservative Party in Scotland and in the whole of Wales only as facts. The greatest strength of the Conservative Party across this century and the last has been its resilience and its adaptability. I believe it may now be re-thinking its position on devolution for Scotland. The Labour Party manifesto, on which it won the general election with a majority of 179, pledged this about Scottish devolution: As soon as possible after the Election, we will enact legislation to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in separate referendums on our proposals, which will be set out in white papers. These referendums will take place not later than the autumn of 1997. A simple majority of those voting in each referendum will be the majority required. Popular endorsement will strengthen the legitimacy of our proposals and speed their passage through Parliament". The manifesto continued later: Following majorities in the referendums, we will introduce in the first year of the Parliament legislation on the substantive devolution proposals outlined in our white papers". The manifesto commitments could not have been more clearly put before the electorate.

Margaret Thatcher, Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Forsyth and Ian Lang all spoke out in the 1970s in favour of devolution for Scotland. Then they and their party changed. But the Conservative Party is well entitled to change again. There would be no shame in acknowledging that what was first thought by those distinguished Conservative politicians to be right was right after all. I read the weekend reports of Mr. Hague's recent speech. He argued for continued opposition in principle to devolution, without prejudice to active Conservative involvement in a Scottish parliament if it happens. I do not attack the principled logic of that position but I beg leave to question its wisdom. I ask whether the best politics from which to re-establish the Conservative Party in the new Scottish Parliament is to oppose its becoming and very being as misconceived.

My noble and learned predecessor was widely reported in the election campaign as offering the opinion that the Salisbury Convention might cease to bind your Lordships' House if the other place did not follow the conventions that are said to apply to constitutional legislation there. In raising this matter I have no hidden agenda. I make no warnings, express or implied. I say only this. With the greatest respect to my noble and learned predecessor, I believe that his customary wisdom did not accompany that opinion. The relationship between this House and the other place is discrete. The Salisbury Convention recognises the status of the other place as the elected Chamber. The procedures and conventions of the other place are for it. Ours are for us. It would, I suggest, be unwise to seek to change ours in response to any change to theirs.

The new Government are about to embark on a major programme of constitutional change. Decentralisation is central to our vision of a modern nation. Scotland and Wales are individual nations. The Government agree with the people of both these nations that the institutions of democracy and government must be brought closer to the people they represent.

The Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill was introduced in another place last week. It provides for the holding of referendums in Scotland and Wales on our proposals for a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. The Bill itself is short. It should not delay your Lordships unduly. It defines the electorate, the text of the questions, the issues to be voted on, the funding and the arrangements for counting the votes. The referendums will give the people of Scotland and Wales the opportunity to prove to the whole of the United Kingdom the strength of their desire for the institutions of democracy and of government to be brought closer to the people.

We will publish two White Papers in the summer, well in advance of holding any referendums. Those White Papers will spell out in detail our proposals for a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly. They will provide a detailed framework for discussion among all interested parties. There will be ample opportunity for debates on the White Papers before Parliament rises both in this House and in another place.

The Government will campaign strongly for yes votes. We expect a powerful, positive response in the Scottish referendum. We will then bring forward a further Bill before Christmas to provide for the establishment of a Scottish parliament and for the establishment of a Scottish executive and for their powers. This will achieve a more democratic and responsive system of government at all levels in Scotland.

The referendum Bill will also allow the people of Wales an early vote on the establishment of a directly-elected Welsh assembly. Again, following a positive response, we will introduce legislation to establish the assembly. That will be a far-reaching step which will increase democracy in Wales and ensure that Welsh interests are more clearly heard, both here and in Europe. The powers vested in the Secretary of State have built up over the years and they range across by far the largest part of the Government's functions in Wales. Yet accountability for those powers has not been exercised by any democratic body in Wales. Far from adding an extra layer of government, our proposals will democratise it and open it up. Within a framework established by Parliament, the assembly will assume the order-making and other powers of the Secretary of State and the functions of the Welsh Office. It will exercise control over the web of quangos which affect so many aspects of Welsh public life and ensure that appointments to them are fair and open, in accordance with the Nolan principles.

We are determined to see power put back into the hands of the people throughout the Union. All its citizens have a stake in reform. We will provide an elected voice to speak up for London by bringing forward legislation to provide for a referendum on a directly-elected strategic authority and a directly-elected mayor for the capital. We are aiming to issue a consultation paper before the end of July, followed by a referendum next May. We want Londoners and London organisations to be fully involved in the consultation process and we will be working closely with both as we develop our proposals.

We will also bring forward a Bill to establish regional development agencies in England to fulfil our manifesto commitment to support local economic growth. Each agency, set up to meet local circumstances and needs, will encourage inward investment, help small businesses and co-ordinate regional development.

In our manifesto we asked the British people to give us their trust. They have now given us that trust. In return, we will govern with a new spirit of openness. We will enter into a partnership with the people, governing by consent and trying to fashion consensus in a way that is both honest and accountable. We will aim at nothing less than to rebuild the confidence of a whole nation in its system of government.

A freedom of information Act was a key commitment in our manifesto. It remains central to our objective of open government. There was a good deal of misplaced press speculation recently that this was a subject on which the new Government had gone cold. Nothing could be more wrong. It remains a priority. However, we are resistant to any quick and unsatisfactory fix. We will not rush in legislation that does little more than put the existing and unsatisfactory code of practice on a statutory basis. Freedom of information deserves stronger beer. We will introduce legislation in an open and inclusive way. We will move quickly to publish a White Paper. It will set out what we believe to be the way forward, but it will also stimulate others to say what they think the Act should cover. Moreover, it will state the minimum level of openness which will be in operation before the Act becomes law—a clear and early sign of the partnership that this Government intend to forge with the people. The Government will also introduce a Bill implementing the EC data protection directive.

We will also be considering how the funding of political parties should be regulated and reformed as another vital step in restoring public confidence in the nation's political system and upholding the highest standards of honesty and integrity in public life.

We will establish a special Select Committee to review the procedures of another place to make it more efficient and effective, examining in particular the handling of legislation and issues such as the shape of the parliamentary day and year.

Your Lordships will recall a number of Private Members' Bills proposing the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law which have been brought before this House over the years. Too much can sometimes be claimed for constitutional change. I do not believe that all the problems of our country can be put to rights at the stroke of a constitutional lawyer's pen. But I do express my strong personal commitment to the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into our domestic law. Now I know that there are some who think, and may say in this debate today, that incorporation involves an unacceptable transfer of power from a sovereign Parliament to an unelected judiciary. We must ensure that the convention is incorporated on a basis that does no violence to the bedrock principle of our constitution, the sovereignty of Parliament.

In this country we have an impartial judiciary of the highest quality. Our most senior judges are as fine as any in the world. What a loss it has been for far too long to the development of European jurisprudence in human rights that our judges have been disabled from making a distinctive British contribution. We must aim to take the lead in the development of human rights in Europe. Incorporation will repatriate from Strasbourg to Britain the day-to-day enjoyment of the rights to which our citizens are entitled under the convention.

Your Lordships will be familiar with our pledge to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. We shall make it good. For too long communities have felt powerless in the face of behaviour which makes life a misery. We shall deliver measures that work.

We shall create a new duty on local authorities for community safety. They will ensure that the vital work of all those involved is brought together within a co-ordinated multi-agency framework. We have long stressed that there is a need for the police and local authorities to work together and with the local community to prevent and reduce crime. This will ensure that the efforts of all are complementary, mutually supportive and, most important, wholly focused on key local problems. We intend to require local councils, again in partnership with the police and others involved in the fight against crime, to agree community targets for its reduction.

The courts will be given a new power to make community safety orders. They will be made, on the application of the police and local authority, in the light of their precise knowledge of the problems of an area, and will be addressed to a named individual. The order will focus on the specific behaviour which has caused innocent people distress or fear. Those named in the orders will be told clearly what it is they must or must not do, or where they must not go. The order will be granted on the civil law standard of proof—the balance of probabilities—that the person named in the order has committed the behaviour in question. There will be firm penalties for any breach of the order, but only if the breach is proved to the criminal standard beyond reasonable doubt.

We shall also be addressing the need for greater consistency in sentencing procedures for the courts, in order to ensure that appropriately severe penalties are imposed where circumstances demand it. Our manifesto indicated that we shall be placing a duty on the Court of Appeal to lay down sentencing guidelines for the main areas of offending. We shall be extending the powers of the Attorney-General to appeal unduly lenient sentences.

We are particularly concerned about the amount of offending by young people and the ability of the criminal justice system to respond to it. We shall tackle both, as we promised in one of our five key election pledges. The multiple offending of some youngsters wrecks their own lives and the lives of those they victimise. From the outset it must be made clear to young people that they will not get away with offending. The response to young crime must be fast, consistent and effective. Young offenders must be made to face up to their responsibility for their own actions. The current system of repeated police cautions, which all too often are used inappropriately and inconsistently, will be replaced with a final warning, backed up by relevant interventions aimed at nipping offending behaviour in the bud.

When young offenders come to court they must be dealt with quickly. At present it takes far too long—an average of four and a half months—to process young offenders from arrest to sentence. The Government have pledged to halve that time for persistent young offenders. The delays we are pledged to reduce result from many interrelated causes: the social services; the police and their interaction with the Crown Prosecution Service and others prior to a decision to prosecute; delays associated with defence concerns to ensure a fair trial, which may or may not, depending on the circumstances of individual cases, be justifiable; and delay in the procedures of the magistrates' courts themselves. We are determined to secure the co-operation of every relevant agency to ensure fulfilment of our election pledge.

Disposals must be aimed at changing young offenders' behaviour. The Government want to see a system which engages young people and their parents much more in confronting offending behaviour. We shall introduce a new reparation order which will require the offender to make amends to the victim or the community that he has harmed. We shall empower courts to impose an action plan order, providing intensive intervention to change young offenders' attitudes and behaviour. Youth offender teams will have an important role in planning and supervising community sentences. We shall introduce a parental responsibility order aimed at ensuring that parents face up to their responsibility for their children's misbehaviour.

A new national youth justice board will be set up to monitor and set standards for the delivery of community and custodial sentences, and ensure a consistent and cost-effective response to young offenders across the country. These measures, taken together, will have the maximum possible impact on offending behaviour and will provide the public with the reassurance and confidence they have been denied for so long. They will make the streets of our cities and towns safer for all to enjoy.

In Northern Ireland we shall seek reconciliation and a political settlement which has the broad support of both sides of the community. We shall work to build trust and confidence by bringing forward legislation to deal with terrorism and to reduce tension over parades.

We have a clear manifesto commitment to give Parliament a chance to vote on a total handgun ban. We shall honour that commitment by bringing in a Bill quickly. This will provide an opportunity to consider the risk posed by remaining handguns and whether a total ban is needed.

We have just come through one of the historic general elections of this century. The Government will use the decisive mandate given into their trust to develop a programme of constitutional change to last, not only for the duration of this Parliament, but to carry the nation strongly into the next millennium. Rights will be matched by duties and responsibilities. Civil liberties will he protected; and government will be for the benefit of the whole nation.

3.47 p.m.

Baroness Blotch

My Lords, I join with all other noble Lords who have welcomed the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to his post. I wish him well in that great office of state.

As this is my first speech from this Dispatch Box, although the noble Lord is not opening this debate for the Government today I wish to offer my warmest congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, who now serves in the role I once held at the Home Office. As the noble Lord takes up his brief as Minister for home affairs in this House he may be bewildered, as I was, by the variety, range and scope of his responsibilities from animal research and dangerous dogs to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, from law and order and asylum to the highly sensitive issues of sexuality, pornography and obscenity, from the fire service and the Probation Service to European and constitutional affairs. That list is by no means complete. However, I know that the noble Lord will bring great expertise to bear, as indeed he has to all Home Office affairs and issues while occupying these Benches.

I hope that the House will forgive me if I admit to one great disappointment today; and in doing so I have no wish to imply any criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is not responsible for the Home Office portfolio. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has proved an outstanding advocate for his party and a formidable opponent of mine on Home Office, and previously Department of the Environment, issues. I came to admire and respect him very much, and to respect the noble Lord's work in this House. I know that that view was shared by other noble Lords on all Benches. However, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on his new government appointment.

I must confess to finding it very strange replying to the gracious Speech from a Labour Government, much of the content and language of which has been opposed wholeheartedly over the years by noble Lords now sitting on the Government Front Benches and their colleagues in another place. The subjects covered by the debate today include home affairs, constitutional affairs, and health and social security. I shall touch on each of those areas to set the scene; and my noble friend Lord Kingsland, whom I welcome most warmly to this Front Bench, will respond later for these Benches. When he winds up, I know that the House will be with him and welcome him in his new role in Opposition. I know that this will be an interesting and important debate. The list of speakers is manifest to that.

Constitutional reform should never be approached lightly and should always be thoroughly thought through. That cannot be said for some of the proposals that will come before this House during the coming months. Although the proposals were flagged up in the Labour Party manifesto, in the recent general election campaign, and again in the gracious Speech, it is true to say that there is precious little detail on which we the people can base our considered judgment. Therefore many questions will be posed to the Government in the debate today and in the weeks to follow. My noble friends on this side of the House hold very dear the unity and cohesion of the United Kingdom. We support the Government's aim of giving the Scottish and Welsh people more influence over the decisions affecting their own lives. Indeed, in office we did a great deal to achieve just that: the enhanced roles given to the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees are two recent examples.

The Government's referendums proposed for Scotland and Wales are quite unprecedented. Although, as I understand the proposals, a White Paper setting out details will be produced in the summer, any Bill before this House and another place can be amended by Parliament. Indeed, on a matter of such constitutional importance there is an arrogance about pre-empting the will of Parliament even with such a large majority. The Scottish and Welsh people therefore could end up getting something for which they did not vote. In many ways the Government seemed to be asking the Scots and Welsh to sign a contract before that contract has been laid before them in its final form. At least in the 1979 devolution referendums, the House of Commons had already debated the proposals. We continue to believe that devolution would undermine the Union, weaken the powers of local government and impair the Scottish and Welsh economies. During the general election, the Labour Party was challenged to answer some of the outstanding questions. Those questions have still not been answered. Now that new Labour is in Government, there is an obligation to the people to answer those questions.

For example, will the Minister tell the House the answer to the West Lothian question? Why should Scottish and Welsh MPs vote on English matters when English MPs would be unable to vote on Scottish affairs? Why are the people of England not being allowed a vote in the referendum on Scottish and Welsh devolution when the consequences of such devolution will impact materially on people living in England? Why should Scottish Members of the Westminster Parliament be unable to vote on Scottish affairs? What will it all cost? Why should the United Kingdom Parliament vote for higher funding for Scotland if Scotland has its own tax raising powers? Why should English taxpayers, who would be affected by such a proposal, not be included in a referendum? Why treat Wales differently from Scotland?

If a Scottish parliament has legislative and tax raising powers, why are the same options not being considered for Wales? Does devolution mean the reduction in the number of Scottish and Welsh MPs at Westminster, as the Liberal Democrats have suggested? Will there still be a Secretary of State for Scotland and a Secretary of State for Wales in the Cabinet? Would a Secretary of State be anything other than a message carrier between a Scottish parliament, a Welsh assembly and Westminster? Would there be a revising Chamber to act as a check and balance in the system as regards legislation?

If one party has a majority in Scotland and another in Westminster, who will be responsible for the legislative programme, and from which party would the Secretary of State come? Would Bills passed by the Scottish parliament or Welsh assembly be presented to the Sovereign for assent? Would the proposed tartan tax be levied according to where people live, where they work or where their company was located? If people were taxed on the basis of where they lived, how would the people in the Border regions who work with colleagues who live in England be dealt with? Scottish-based employees would hardly be content to see their English-based colleagues take home larger pay packets. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that companies would come under pressure to compensate their employees accordingly.

Questions about English regional government are equally important, especially if legislation is preceded by a simple referendum. Apart from the considerable fragmentation of the United Kingdom, what would be the cost of the additional bureaucracies? What would be the relationships between regional and national, regional and county, and regional, district and parish governments? What functions and powers would pass from one to the other? The most significant consequence would be the lack of clout for such a fragmented United Kingdom. In such circumstances, how could the Westminster Parliament represent the so-called United Kingdom in Europe and on the international stage?

Continuing the theme of passing powers from a sovereign United Kingdom Parliament, the Government propose to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. Like the Government, we strongly support the convention—after all, it was drafted by British lawyers—of which we were founder members. However, incorporation is not necessary to ensure that cases are brought more quickly and cheaply. It is far better to reform the European institutions. That is why we have signed Protocol 11, which will result in reducing legal costs and enable cases to be heard more quickly. The danger of incorporation, we believe, lies in the transfer of power away from Parliament and into the hands of non-elected judges who would be able to strike down Acts of Parliament if in their judgment they interpreted that that was the thing to do under the convention. We enjoy the best of both worlds at present. We implement the European Convention on Human Rights without politicising our British courts. We believe that incorporation will fail in what it aims to do for the very people it purports to help. Statistics used to help the case for incorporation are misleading. For example, the number of complaints to Strasbourg in 1996 was as follows: the United Kingdom 26, compared with Austria 32, France 75, and Italy 370, all of whom have incorporated the convention.

Further diminution of power from Parliament to unelected judges is proposed by the introduction of a freedom of information Act. Including the release of documents as well as information would put at risk the impartiality of civil servants who at present are expected to give advice knowing that it is protected. It is the actions and decisions of Ministers which should he a matter of scrutiny and public record. There is a risk that particular views which may be interpreted as political could be attributed to individual civil servants. We must. of course, await the detail of the Bill.

It is in the area of the fight against crime that I am most puzzled. Over the years the Conservative Government suffered the most sustained opposition to law and order reform from those in this Government. For example, they opposed the abolition to the right of silence; tougher sentences; curfews by electronic tagging; the establishment of secure training units with an emphasis on education and training within a disciplined regime for persistent juvenile offenders; mandatory drug testing; and the annual renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act—an Act that has never been supported by the Prime Minister, the right honourable Tony Blair. And scores of other measures were opposed by this Government. Such is the Road-to-Damascus conversion of the present Home Secretary and his pursuit of the prize for "out-toughing" the Tories that the only measure yet to be considered for introduction by the right honourable gentleman is the restoration of the death penalty—and I suspect that even that is only a matter of time.

The record of the last Government in the fight against crime is considerable. Over the past four years recorded crime has fallen by 10 per cent.—the largest fall since records began. There is now in place a raft of measures which will enable that trend to continue and will assist the police to improve detection rates. Examples include the setting up of a national DNA database, the first of its kind in the world; the establishment of a National Crime Squad and a National Criminal Intelligence Service; the introduction of state of the art technology, resulting in vastly improved communications right across the criminal justice system; the introduction of Phoenix, a computerised database of criminal records; the introduction of Quest, a rapid search facility system; the promotion and production of CCTV camera schemes throughout the country; thousands more police officers; neighbourhood watch schemes; a massive increase in special constables; the increased involvement of civilians, freeing up uniformed police officers for operational duties; the introduction of victim support, and putting concern for the victim at the heart of law and order policy; reform of the Probation Service to provide more effective community sentences—and this list is by no means exhaustive.

There is, however, no complacency. The fight against crime is a constant challenge as the criminal resorts to more and more sophisticated techniques. We will scrutinise the Government's crime and disorder Bill closely when it is published. We support the Government's objectives of reducing delays in the youth justice system and ensuring that young offenders are punished more speedily. However, we are not convinced that the Government's proposals for doing that are necessarily the right ones. For example, proposals to have one group of magistrates to hear a case and another group to decide the punishment are flawed and would be more likely to lead to an increase in delays rather than a reduction.

Before we left office we published an extensive Review into Delay in the Criminal Justice System. The report made a whole series of recommendations to speed up youth justice—for example, removing 17 year-olds from the jurisdiction of the youth courts and giving the courts the power to caution, with conditions, those who admit their guilt. We urge the Government to give serious consideration to the recommendations made in that report.

We welcome the Government's efforts to make irresponsible parents face up to their duties. As Conservatives, we clearly believe that parents have the main responsibility for bringing up their children and for keeping them under control. However, the Government have not addressed the need to take action to prevent criminal behaviour in children, particularly the under-10s. The last Conservative Government, in their consultation document, Preventing Children Offending, proposed the setting up of local child crime teams, bringing together relevant agencies at a local level to identify vulnerable children and intervene early to steer them away from crime. Our parental control orders for those parents who refuse to co-operate would go considerably further than the Government's alternative, and the courts would have at their disposal a range of stiff penalties for those parents who breached the order—for example, a fine, or even electronic tagging.

There was much public support for our policy that persistent burglars and those who deal in Class A hard drugs should receive tougher sentences. There was similar support for the same policy in relation to those who commit repeat serious violent and/or sexual offences such as rapists and armed robbers. The Government should reinstate our proposals for automatic minimum sentences and we will pressure them to do so.

The Government propose to ban all handguns. Is it wise to return to this issue so soon after the Firearms (Amendment) Act was introduced? That Act will give us the toughest gun controls in the world by banning higher calibre handguns and removing handguns from circulation. A total ban would bring to an end the Olympic and Commonwealth sport of target shooting—a sport practised by thousands of law-abiding, able-bodied and disabled citizens alike. It could possibly risk driving the activity underground. Will the Minister tell the House where the money will come from to compensate 22 pistol shooters and for those stocks still held by companies who supply the sport? Have the Government included that expense in their spending plans? Or do they intend to take the money from elsewhere? If so, from where?

I now turn to proposals in the gracious Speech on the health service and social security. Our commitment to the health service is second to none. In office we increased NHS spending in real terms every year that we were in government. This Government inherit—contrary to the lies peddled by the new Labour Millbank propaganda machine—one of the most efficient health services in the world. It is interesting to record that many countries beat a path to our door to learn about our reforms. Far from increasing unnecessary administration, our reforms removed a whole tier of administration with the abolition of regional health authorities—a measure that was opposed at every stage by noble Lords opposite. We have no quarrel with the aim of cutting bureaucracy. Indeed it is the role of those within the NHS to root it out and to move money into patient care. However, the Government's Primary Care Bill will do nothing to reduce NHS bureaucracy. Scrapping GP fund-holding and corralling GPs into commissioning groups would increase bureaucracy while the focus on patient care would be lost. That is not just our view; it is also the view of Dr. Rhidian Morris, the Chairman of the National Federation of Fund-holding Practices, who has claimed that the Government's plans would increase bureaucracy because they would lead to the setting up of 500 "mini" health authorities to plan primary care for populations between 50,000 and 100,000. We introduced GP fund-holding—which, perhaps I may remind the House, is a voluntary scheme which doctors choose to join—to improve the provision of local services and to increase the decision-making powers of NHS professionals. And it has delivered. It is important to note that any changes to GP fund-holding will impact on 60 per cent. of the population. Waiting times have been reduced, more in-house clinics have been provided, and there has been an improvement in standards all round.

Every Labour Government has increased waiting lists in the National Health Service. If the Government go ahead with this Bill, not only will waiting times go up, but the service provided by the NHS will deteriorate. In addition, the NHS will be hard hit by the Government's minimum wage. At the time of the last election, Mr. Robin Cook, now Foreign Secretary, admitted that the minimum wage would add £500 million to NHS costs. That was in 1992. It must surely cost at least that today. It was very interesting to hear only today Rodney Bickerstaffe of UNISON advocating a minimum wage of £4.42.

Last week the Prime Minister boasted that the Government would shake up the welfare system. But what has the Labour Party's attitude been to welfare reform over the past five years? And what do its proposals amount to? Listening to the Government, one might think that they had been clamouring for reforms that we had studiously resisted. As Peter Lilley said last week, history tells a different story. The former Secretary of State introduced 12 Bills to target help on people most in need, to improve work incentives, to get tough against fraud and to encourage better provision for old age. Labour opposed almost every one of those Bills. In their place they made proposals which were more expensive or which created disincentives to work and save.

Even more vacuous was new Labour's response to the imaginative and far-sighted proposals to secure and improve the basic pension for generations to come which were introduced by Peter Lilley, the then Secretary of State for Social Security. First, Harriet Harman, as Opposition spokesman, savaged them as "a chilling experience", while her No.2, Frank Field, at the Department of Social Security (or is he really No. 1 in disguise?), saw considerable merit in the proposals. Then, when virtually every newspaper and informed commentator across the political spectrum made his admiration for Peter Lilley's proposals clear, the then Leader of the Opposition was forced to backtrack and admit that the scheme had some merits.

Finally and most disgracefully, new Labour, as a matter of policy, wilfully alarmed elderly voters by claiming that our proposals would mean abolishing the basic state pension—a claim which they knew to be untrue. That means presumably that they are unlikely to implement proposals varyingly described as "a breakthrough", "far-sighted", "empowering", and an example of "good government"; or perhaps by some good fortune this Conservative policy, along with so many others, may be adopted eventually by this Government. If the weekend press is any guide, it may be sooner rather than later. We wait with interest.

What of the Government's current proposals? For example, the welfare to work proposals? They are certainly laudable objectives—boosting spending on education by reducing spending on unemployment benefit. We agree with those objectives, for that is precisely what we did when in government. We cut unemployment by reducing burdens on businesses, by increasing incentives and achieving sustainable development. The evidence for that is that unemployment has fallen month after month for over four years. The number of jobs available has increased and spending on education has risen.

Instead, this Government want to increase burdens on business and to use job subsidies to provide artificial "make work schemes". The aim of such schemes may be desirable, but they do not save money, nor do they create permanent jobs. How can they? Most of the money will go to the people who will get jobs anyway and so it will be wasted. Nor is there any way of stopping employers from replacing existing employees with subsidised workers or from taking the money for potential employees whom employers would have employed, come what may. Nor will the subsidised jobs last. Setting aside any possible legal problems, once the money from the one-off windfall tax has gone, then so will the artificially created jobs. To add insult to injury, the jobs lost by the minimum wage will be permanent.

As a result of the election, this House is faced with a new set of priorities. My colleagues and noble friends on this side of the House do not doubt the Government's intentions: to devolve power, to cut crime and to reduce NHS bureaucracy. But I quote an old maxim: the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the devil, as we all know, and I know in particular, is in the detail. It is the detail of the measures that will come before us that will preoccupy this House. We shall provide constructive yet vigorous opposition and I look forward. with my noble friends, to fulfilling the role of revising legislation which this great House does so well.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, because it would be inappropriate, I do not propose to fight the general election again as I am afraid the noble Baroness has sought to do. It would be wise for all of us, on whatever Benches we may sit, to recognise that the world has moved on.

We have a rolling debate, as we always do on the gracious Speech. Perhaps I should first make clear those areas about which I do not intend to speak. I shall say nothing about social affairs to which my noble friend Lord Russell may refer. Although I greatly welcome the intentions set out in the gracious Speech to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law, the House will hear more about that—though not today—from my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. He deserves the greatest credit for his part in bringing this about. As for Scotland and Wales, I prefer not to trespass, except to express my support for the proposals in the gracious Speech, on territory familiar to my noble friends Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Thomas of Gresford, both of whom will speak later.

However, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in noting the absence from this debate and from the Chamber at the moment of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, now Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard. He was in splendid form earlier this afternoon which will have pleased noble Lords on all sides of the House. He laboured hard and often late on Home Office affairs during his party's years in opposition. He brought great persistence and mastery of his brief to our affairs, and I say unequivocally that our debates will be the poorer for his absence from them.

I had expected to welcome the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, as one of those speaking in the debate, but instead I welcome him to the Front Bench where he now sits. His light touch, which we shall, no doubt, see again soon, is a formidable combination of subtlety and steel. I hope it will not embarrass him, but I should also like to believe that his heart was with these Benches when we debated the Police Bill and the Crime (Sentences) Bill, and when his party was cosying up a little too much to Michael Howard.

Perhaps this would be a good moment to welcome the new Solicitor-General, who was with us earlier this afternoon. For a long time, since my own days in government, I have failed to see the point of the Law Officers. Every government can get the best legal advice from the country's most outstanding lawyers simply by paying for it. The Law Officers always cause trouble when they meddle in politics, as they are often inclined to do. But if we are to have Law Officers, what greater pleasure could we have than to welcome to your Lordships' House a colleague of such character and distinction as Solicitor-General?

Perhaps I may make a suggestion to Ministers. In Parliament and elsewhere, especially on radio and television, they should soon get away from the numbing culture of the soundbite and begin to appear again to be thinking men and women, ready to listen to arguments and to deal with them on their merits. As I have already said, we are no longer fighting a general election, and thought-control by the Minister without Portfolio is not the formula for confident Ministers or good government. I totally exempt Ministers in your Lordships' House from any such strictures, but I hope that their colleagues will follow their example.

Nowhere is the approach of thoughtful inquiry more needed than in Home Office affairs. The soundbite that will resonate over the years from the previous government is: "Prison works". It came to mean, "Lock up the largest number of prisoners and keep them there for the longest possible time". There were times when the new Home Secretary, Jack Straw, showed a marked reluctance to dispute this thesis, but he now has the opportunity to think again.

The Home Secretary cannot immediately reverse the momentum of a rising prison population; but he can set a target for reducing it to manageable proportions. At the end of last week, 60,431 men and women were in prison—an outrageously large number. The Home Secretary should aim to get that figure to below 50,000 by the end of this Parliament.

I am sorry that the Home Secretary appears to have rejected an amnesty for petty criminals of the kind adopted by Douglas Hurd 10 years ago. But I hope that he will look again at the consequences for the prison population of implementing the Crime (Sentences) Bill that he was prepared to see pass in its entirety on the eve of the Dissolution.

Indeed—I trust that I reflect the views right across the Chamber—I hope that the new Home Secretary will review much of the legislation passed in recent years, some of it opposed by him. Some of it he may reflect upon in tranquillity and feel that it was too readily accepted. Apart from the crime Act and the Police Act, I refer perhaps most of all to the Asylum and Immigration Act. In due course, your Lordships will want to know what amendments are being tabled.

I hope also that the Government will spare a thought for the future of the Probation Service. There was strong opposition on all sides of the House—led by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who was in his place a short time ago—to changes made in recruitment and training. Those could be easily reversed and soon.

In 1995 two debates initiated from these Benches concerned prison policy. We shall return to that subject and in particular will want to know what the Home Secretary means when he is reported as saying that he is now taking full responsibility for prisons with no more argument about what are policy and what are operational matters. Does that mean the end of the Executive Agency? If not, the Home Secretary may find himself in a worse muddle than his predecessor and vulnerable when prison escapes occur, as they certainly will. From these Benches we shall show a specific interest in prison policy, including the relationship between the Home Secretary and the Prison Service. It has worked badly so far—witness the extraordinary exchanges expected this afternoon regarding the dismissal of Mr. Derek Lewis.

The Penal Affairs Consortium—widely respected for its work—has already suggested a central aim for the Home Secretary. It said: Reducing re-offending by the effective rehabilitation of offenders should be seen as a central part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce crime". I go along with that and would welcome it as a text for the Government to follow. However, it will only work if the prison population falls and prison regimes can again prepare prisoners adequately for their eventual release.

There is one phrase in the gracious Speech which made me uncomfortable. I refer to the promise of "measures against anti-social behaviour". I hope that I am not being over-sensitive but I believe that that is a dangerous catch-all, politically-correct description for a government to use and not one that I associate with a free society.

We shall want to scrutinise with care the Crime and Disorder Bill that we have been promised. We need to be persuaded of the justice of child curfews and that parental responsibility orders will work. We do not quarrel at all with what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said today about the need to look for new forms of punishment for persistent young offenders involving community partnerships. None of us, wherever we sit in this Chamber, under-estimates the strength of feeling felt by and hurt done to victims of crime or despise new ideas—about which we may be initially doubtful—to deal with the situation. But I hope that this Home Secretary, unlike his predecessor, will recognise that the role of the incumbent of a great office of state is to lead and educate public opinion; it is not to follow it with crowd-pleasing measures. He also needs to take a longer perspective than his term in office. Tackling the causes of crime requires more than a "quick fix".

From these Benches we shall keep a respectful eye on the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor though, alas, he is already absent from the debate. Your Lordships will remember the excellent debate initiated by him on 5th June last into the relationship between the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive. As one would expect, he made an important speech, paying tribute to the high quality of judicial review in this country and commenting on the political impartiality of the judges. His sentiments were impossible to fault. However, reading between the lines, there was a sliver of suspicion that they contained a discreet warning to the judiciary not to overstep the mark when a Labour Government took office. We too, on these Benches, will be alert to any over-stepping of the mark, in our case particularly by the Executive. All governments, however well-intentioned and however they choose to start, from time to time abuse their power by inadvertence or arrogance. We shall be watching.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, as he told your Lordships this afternoon, has a busy time ahead as chairman of the senior Cabinet committee dealing with constitutional reform. I wish he had been able to give a clearer indication today of when we may expect measures not included in the gracious Speech but to which the Government are committed.

These Benches would have welcomed legislation to provide for elections to the European Parliament on a regional list system of proportional representation of the kind looked on favourably by the Government of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, 20 years ago and advocated more recently by the committee under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield. Perhaps the noble Baroness, in winding up the debate, will assure the House that, whenever this legislation comes, it will not be too late for implementation in the next European elections. We shall be grateful for a clear undertaking on that.

In relation to reform of your Lordships' House, these Benches are at least as committed to change as are the Government. In my view it would have been wiser to proceed in the first Session of the new Parliament rather than later. Had that been done, new arrangements could have been in place by the autumn of next year. Meanwhile, your Lordships' House will have to work within its existing composition and shape.

On Thursday of last week the Leader of the House spoke of the awesome mandate given to the Government by the British people. He said that the electorate had voted for change, in a most dramatic and almost unprecedented fashion".— [Official Report, 15/5/97; col. 30.] I agree with him and see the 46 Liberal Democrat MPs as part of the avalanche for change. We welcome almost all of the proposals in the gracious Speech, even when we regret the omissions, and hope that this will prove a great and bold reforming Government, moved by principle and not by ideology.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Owen

My Lords, it is 19½ years since I have been able to support the Queen's Speech, and I do so with great pleasure. The constitution is a complex and delicate mechanism and, if we change it in the wrong way, we shall undoubtedly put at risk the United Kingdom.

It is my contention that the constitutional reforms being discussed today in this House and previously in another place have been thought about and deliberated over a sustained period of time. I was first converted to the case for a legislative parliament for Scotland by the late and much lamented figure of John McIntosh in 1966, within a few years of entering the House. I supported Scottish devolution during the period of the Labour Government. I believe that it is right that it should have tax-paying powers and I hope that in the referendum the Scottish people opt for that.

The legislation will be adapted over time. It would be extraordinary if there was not to be a change on the West Lothian question—a fundamental question which none of us has been able to solve. It first reared its ugly head in the debates on Irish home rule. It was never resolved at that time and, in my view, it will take legislative devolution for Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as for Scotland, before the West Lothian question is grappled with, as it must be. It may be done by a self-denying ordinance in another place. Legislation which is judged by the Speaker in that House as being substantively on devolved questions will not be voted on by Members from another nation. But there is an intense illogicality in the situation which will not be tolerated, for example, by an incoming Conservative Government which find themselves blocked on their legislation for England and possibly Wales—if it has not by then a legislative assembly—by Scottish Members of Parliament when Scotland has its own legislation on health, education and other matters.

It is no longer possible to push this issue aside any more than it is possible to push aside the necessity for having a balanced representation from all parts of the United Kingdom and therefore a reduction in the number of Scottish Members of Parliament in another place.

These are not party political issues but commonsense questions. It would strengthen greatly the devolution legislation were the Government, with their large majority, to grapple with them. For example, they could say that for a period of time they would see how matters developed and, once devolution has gone through, adopt a self-denying ordinance under which Scottish Members of Parliament would not be involved in devolved questions relating to England and Wales. This is about power. It is about the balance of power and protecting against a situation where a government might not have a natural majority for legislation in England and Wales and want to buttress their position with Scottish MPs. This is not the right way to legislate for constitutional stability in the long term.

I raise another question about the United Kingdom which relates to Northern Ireland. I do not believe that we can honestly continue any longer without returning to the people of Northern Ireland a properly devolved Parliament with legislative powers. It has been just about sustainable to have to await the outcome of the peace process. But I personally believe—and I hope that it is a fair interpretation of the Prime Minister's speech in Northern Ireland a few days ago—that there is now a readiness to legislate for devolution and to grapple with this matter even if there is not (as we all hope that there will be) a dialogue on a peace settlement.

That raises another constitutional question. If we are again to have the people of Northern Ireland legislating on health, education and perhaps, above all, on that most sensitive question in the 1960s of housing, I find it very hard to believe that we shall be happy to allow that legislative power to be totally untrammelled in a uni-cameral Parliament. If it is right to have a bi-cameral Parliament for its capacity to round and revise legislation and to give time to ponder and think, it seems to me that health and education legislation and other devolved legislative powers of a Scottish Parliament raise some very important questions, some of which will have an indirect impact on other parts of the United Kingdom.

In drawing up their White Paper I hope that the Government will look hard at this question of whether or not there should be a second chamber mechanism. One way would be to use Scottish MPs in another place as the second chamber in Scotland for the devolved legislation or to use this Chamber. I believe that this matter will raise itself in a more dramatic way when we come to deal with devolution to Northern Ireland. In logic, the case for a bi-cameral legislative chamber exists for all aspects of legislation which affect the United Kingdom and I hope that we shall address that question.

I now turn to the other issues of the referendums. As the Social Democrats did in the 1980s, I strongly support the idea of an elected mayor of London. I believe that that will form a very important addition to the strength of local government, which has been much diminished in recent decades. I welcome a referendum on proportional representation. I hope that that commitment will be fulfilled. An extremely important point was made in an earlier speech that proportional representation for the next European parliamentary election should be in place well before that election. I hope that it follows the same pattern of legislation which I recommended to another place back in the last Labour Government; namely, a regional system of proportional representation. The discrepancies in the European Parliament, with first-past-the-post voting, are very great indeed. Its merits as regards a European Parliament stand alone whatever one thinks of proportional representation for the UK Parliament.

I come to the other question of a referendum. One of the most important aspects of the run up to the last election and the continuation of the campaign has been the commitment of all three political parties to a referendum on a single currency. A single currency goes to the root of our constitution. There are many aspects of the European question which must now be considered in the context of the constitution of the United Kingdom. The commitment defused the issue and allowed people to realise that this decision will be taken in the fullness of time and that it will not be rushed. A referendum allows people to have confidence that we shall not be edged into a European constitutional change without us being given the chance to express our views. It will not be wrapped up in the politics of edging which has been a feature of a good deal of our approach to European legislation.

For example, I believe that a very wise distinction was made by the Chancellor when he announced a greater measure of independence for the Bank of England in that it would have independent power to keep the inflation rate set by the Government, but the inflation rate target, which is effectively also the likely outcome of unemployment, would be a decision taken by politicians. It would be a considerable and important constitutional step to give up the power to set the rate of inflation and thereby the rate of unemployment. There are political questions, not merely technical ones, as regards the single currency which, by the granting of a referendum, have now a constitutional importance which we must ponder very carefully before we embark on them.

There are other aspects of the constitution which, increasingly, I believe need to be debated in both Houses of Parliament here and then taken from the United Kingdom in a genuine spirit of trying to get agreement within Europe on the way forward. For example, I have never believed it possible for a nation to remain a nation without having the right of effectively having a veto on its foreign policy agenda. We have that in NATO by the habit of consensus. We have it in the United Nations because we are fortunate to be a veto power. If the European Union wishes to push the question of majority voting in foreign policy even further than it has done so far—and it shows every sign of not being accepted in any treaty that comes from Amsterdam—then it is legitimate to say, "We have grown used to having a veto in the United Nations. If you wish to have voting because we may be going into an enlargement to 30 or more countries, then a number of the larger countries within the European Union must be given the veto". If that were to happen I would not mind majority voting at all because one would have the safeguard that I believe to be absolutely fundamental and one could not be overridden on foreign policy. I say the same for defence.

It has never been acknowledged sufficiently, particularly by the critics of the Maastricht Treaty on grounds of so-called Euro-scepticism, that the three governmental pillars that came out of the Maastricht Treaty were a profound advance in constitutional terms on what had existed hitherto. There were hitherto absolutely no limits. There was no framework within which the European Union was to evolve.

We should look at this carefully. I, for one, am ready to see the European Union become involved in peacekeeping. The WEU is the natural forum for that. However, I do not want to see defence and peacekeeping subject to the decisions of the European Parliament, the European Commission or the European Court. One of the strengths of the WEU is that it recognises the democratic check on the WEU, which is an assembly of the parliaments of the nation states. Cleverly arranged, an acceptance of the WEU with its closer relationship with the EU could be a strengthening of the intergovernmental pillar on defence and a recognition that we do not need primacy for the European Parliament in this area, but primacy for consultation among the parliaments of the member states of the European Union. Primacy for the European Parliament is only in all matters that relate to the Commission, the single market and to those aspects of economic unity, where the previous Conservative Government gave the largest expansion of majority voting. I think that they were right to do so. I do not believe that we could have had the progress that has been made with regard to the single market without that degree of majority voting. I think that we were right to give those powers to the European Commission in that important but limited area of economic trading activity. I believe that on trading matters we were right to give a European Commissioner the power, in effect, to negotiate for European Union members.

However, I wish to see the Maastricht constitutional safeguards upheld at all times. I do not like the idea of blurring the distinctions and of never having a clearly defined fall-back position. If we were to enter a debate about the definition of those aspects of our membership of the European Union, the Prime Minister might be able to achieve what none of us has been able to achieve: a wholehearted commitment to the European Union as a union of nation states with an understood limit on the degree of sovereignty to be given up. That limit would be what Winston Churchill in his Fulton. Missouri, speech called the "sinews of nationhood". These would be held within the nation. I refer to those vital, essential powers which define a nation's strengths and, in the last analysis, its capacity to make its fundamental choices on foreign and defence policy.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Winston

My Lords, it gives me very great pleasure to be one of the first to congratulate the Government on the appointment of what must be regarded as a most outstanding and talented health team on the Front Benches of both Houses. Indeed, I cannot think of a better team to have occupied those Benches for many years past. The appointments have been greeted in the health service with widespread enthusiasm and optimism.

It is clear that the health service has faced a number of serious crises and, despite the protestations of the previous Government, it is equally clear that there has been a progressive decline in morale. I do not want to "electioneer"—the noble Lord. Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, rightly admonished us—but it is recognised that there is now a wave of enthusiasm throughout the health service and an eagerness to try to support the Government to take the best way forward when dealing with the many problems which the service faces. It is clear that we must not allow those great difficulties to overcome the optimism which all on this side of the House share.

The gracious Speech deals with some most important issues, the first of which is undoubtedly the question of equality of access to health care. Sadly, however we look at it, and whatever the protestations of the previous Government, it is clear that there has been a shortfall in that equality. I was saddened and surprised to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, protest in favour of the internal market. As it happens, I am very fond of the noble Baroness. I remember distinctly at two o'clock one morning receiving an envelope from the then Government Front Bench containing a chocolate biscuit in recompense for the polo mints which had been stolen for her from the Bishop's Bar by the then Whip who had been on the Front Bench and who could not wait for the absent barmaid. I believe that I supplied the polo mints for her. I have kept the chocolate biscuit. I do not intend to eat it. It will become a family heirloom as it grows its mould.

Fund-holding is one of the key problems facing the health service. It is not acceptable for patients who are benefiting from one type of general practice to have preferential access to further health care. That has clearly happened. There is a real need to address that problem and to ensure that all patients have the best opportunity of the best referral.

The gracious Speech also refers to co-operation within the service. There has undoubtedly been a major problem because of the monolithic nature of hospital trusts. Hospital trusts are, in a sense, businesses as a result of the internal market. They need an income and are therefore in competition with other trusts which are often in close proximity to them. The consequences have been severe. I hope to see from the Government the recognition that we should start with some form, not merely of vertical planning in the health service, but of horizontal planning also. Health service trusts could co-operate in the provision of, for example, paediatric care across big cities such as London. It is ridiculous that one hospital which may be particularly good at neo-natal care but may not be so good at "adult" paediatrics cannot set up a proper service because of the competitive element. Ministers can perhaps consider that point in the near future. One could give many other examples of the need for such co-operation.

The gracious Speech mentions "decentralisation". I do not fully understand what is meant by that and I wonder whether we can be given an explanation. Although I accept that there may be need for a better spread of general care throughout the community, there is no question but that one of the great strengths of our health service has been its centres of excellence. Their development has been inevitable. Sadly, for reasons that I do not understand, the Conservative Government never really capitalised on that. They spent money in one place looking at imaging but never proceeded to promulgate centralised imaging throughout the health service.

Perhaps I may give an example from my own trust. It relates to the PACS X-ray system. We are now able to read and to report on X-rays from patients in central Wales. That means that those X-rays can be examined by the best experts in the United Kingdom. Virtually any technology in the health service which is capable of being digitalised can be sent down a telephone line. With such high-speed communications, we could examine CT scans, ultrasounds and ECGs also. We could perform telemedicine and telepathology in that centralised way. Sadly, that implementation of technology is currently missing from the health service. There is a great opportunity here. This country's medical technology is undoubtedly of a remarkable standard. Indeed, biotechnology is one of Britain's best successes, yet it has been too frequently neglected. There is a need to look at how to produce these kinds of methods to improve the quality of care and at the same time reduce the overall cost of so doing.

The question of the internal market was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. There is no doubt—we have never denied it—that the internal market has produced definite advantages, but I believe that they are peripheral to the central problems faced by the health service. One of the major areas has been the lack of correct audit. We have not been able to quantify the best in care and then work out how it may be implemented to improve the quality of care to patients. Instead, audit has looked at the number of patients treated. We still have the curious anomaly in the health service, which must go, that a patient has an episode (an operation in the health service), is discharged early and, if he or she has complications, returns for a second procedure. That would not have been necessary had the first episode in hospital been of greater length. Consequently, more people are treated but they are the same patients being treated twice. That is not a method of accounting that can be regarded as acceptable.

One matter that greatly concerns me is best referral. In the health service there has always been a principle that patients can get the best opinion in a field. Sadly, the internal market has prevented that from happening. Although the Government claimed that money would follow the patient, in practice that simply has not occurred. Very seldom does one find—and this is becoming more pronounced—that one is able to apply for funding for patients who are being referred to specialist centres.

Many noble Lords on this side of the House have been consistently critical of the private finance initiative. It is not that we completely disapprove of it. Interestingly, that was pointed out in a debate on the PFI on 21st May 1996, almost exactly a year ago. The problem about the PFI is income stream. One must be absolutely assured that clinical services are not devolved to the private contractor. One of our concerns is that the approach to an initial cheapening of the cost of building may not in the long term be an advantage to the health service. There is a risk of selling off assets for short term gains. As an educationalist and professor of medicine I am very concerned about the dent that that makes on medical education. Health education is given great emphasis in the Queen's Speech, and that is extremely welcome. The idea that a real dent will be made in tobacco advertising and a food and health commission established is excellent news. One is well aware of the past difficulties over e.coli and Creutzfeldt Jakob's disease. One of the problems has been the conviction of the need for secrecy and the withholding of information. Thank goodness that we now have a government that appears to be open in their information.

The most difficult issue of all is the funding of the health service. No matter what may be the protestations of the other side, this Government have been left with a very serious legacy: chronic underfunding of the health service. I see no immediate way of dealing with that, but it certainly needs to be looked at. The £1.6 billion that was promised by the Tory Government will not he sufficient. There is evidence that inflation and salary costs are bound to rise. By the end of this year a number of trusts are hound to be in deficit. That deficit is calculated to be £150 million. That is a legacy with which this Government have to deal, and it is a very difficult problem.

It is right that there should be recognition of the need for education in the health service. There is a shortage of doctors, and an undoubted shortage of nurses. One of the problems we face is the emphasis on general practice and community care—a most important emphasis. There is great recognition that general practitioners must be better informed and educated on how best to make decisions in regard to their patients. We look forward to seeing these improvements. The way ahead is difficult. There are no easy solutions to the problem of funding, but I have great confidence that this Government will begin to address it.

4.55 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I should like to say a brief word about the Government's proposals for Scotland and ask the Minister who is to reply from the Front Bench one question. I listened with very great interest to what was said on this subject by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I have never been against an elected Scottish assembly of some kind, but with two obvious provisos. First, a proper majority of Scots must want and be prepared to support it, not just a few political activists. It must be set up so that it is not just workable in the short term but stable in the long term. The last attempt in 1978 failed on both counts. I voted against it at that time.

How do the Government's 1997 proposals measure up? As to public support, I suggest that at the moment it is hard to tell. The general election vote in Scotland can be taken, on its face, as a clear endorsement, but I believe that it is an endorsement of a long-standing general idea not of a precise package. After all, the general election was about so many issues. As there would be time to look at the matter again when the referendum came along it appeared that there was comparatively little talk in the media or on the doorstep—not on the several hundred doorsteps that I visited—as to how the parliament would work and affect individuals and families or what would be the true balance of advantage or disadvantage for Scotland as a whole. In any case, the key points in the Government's plans are still not known. Perhaps they are still undecided. How can people properly assess it? For the time being, I submit that the extent of support is not plain. If Parliament agrees to it, the referendum will be critical. People must know, at any rate broadly, what they are deciding for or against; they must be able to reach a clear decision which will stand for the future.

My question to the Minister is the following. When will the referendum voters know the main features of the Government's proposals on which they will be voting? I suggest that this is an urgent question. The published timetable suggests that if the referendum Bill is passed the Government's White Paper will be published at the end of July with the Scottish referendum on the 11th September. The noble and learned Lord referred to the autumn in his speech, but the published timetable suggests 11th September. Since school holidays and holidays in general end in mid-August in Scotland—in my area, they end on 18th August—it appears that the time available to absorb the details of the White Paper before voting will be brief. Three weeks is enough for a campaign—as we all now know—but surely if people are to make an informed consideration they should begin to think about it before then. That is simply not possible until we know the salient facts.

My noble friend Lady Blatch has listed a number of those facts. For example, given a Scots Parliament will there still be a Secretary of State for Scotland? What she did not ask was, if there is not a Secretary of State for Scotland, who will argue the Scots' interest within the United Kingdom Cabinet on social security, defence, taxation or foreign affairs? Many issues greatly affecting Scotland will be reserved for the United Kingdom Parliament. Who will argue the Scottish case? I do not know. I do not know if anybody knows.

My noble friend also asked: "What about the West Lothian question?". The noble Lord, Lord Owen, made some fascinating comments on that topic, as he did on others. I am sure that we shall read what he said with great care. That problem has to be resolved. It may look easy, given the balance of the present Parliament but it will not look easy for long.

How would the parliament be funded? If it is decided that it will be tax-varying, will the main funding nevertheless be by grant from a Westminster Parliament? How will that grant be fixed? The Secretary of State for Scotland has said that it will be by negotiation between the two elected bodies as partners. Partnership looks a fine concept when Scotland has, this time, voted in the same way as the United Kingdom as a whole, and when at the Treasury the Chancellor, the Chief Secretary and the Economic Secretary are all Members of Parliament with Scots constituencies. Partnership looks fine at the moment, but that position is doubtless not permanent and a future scene may be less peaceful. In any case the elected Members of the two Parliaments are unlikely to be content with the formula used at present for calculating the Scots' slice of the Treasury cake: a formula which few understand and no one explains. How will that be dealt with?

If there is to be a tartan tax, it is not just a question of who will pay it but what will be the cost to people in varying circumstances? Simply saying, as the Prime Minister has said, that that will not arise in the next five years is no answer for referendum voters who have to look to the long term. In any case, who is to say that the Scots Parliament will do what the Prime Minister says? Indeed, if people vote on the present system in the way that they voted at the general election Labour would have an overall majority of only two, and who is to say that people will vote in the way that they voted in the general election?

Given the political balance at Westminster and the easy ride that the devolution Bill is likely to have there at this time, the referendum takes on a new and crucial importance. Is it really in order for us Scots to have to wait for a White Paper, published while we are on holiday, in order to know what we are deciding two or three weeks after we get back?

Launching a referendum Bill in Glasgow last week, the Secretary of State for Scotland said excitedly. "The show is on the road!". I am told that a voice in the back row was heard to murmur, "It would be easier if we knew what show".

I reiterate my question to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis: given a referendum Act, when do the Government intend to let the people of Scotland know the main facts about the proposed Scots parliament so that proper consideration can begin?

5.5 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I rise to speak, well pleased that there is a new Government with a good majority. I would much rather that there were 146 Liberals than 46. That would have been a better set-up, but the one we have now is better than the awful possibility of a Tory Government. I used to wake screaming in the night, dreaming that the Tories had got back! No longer does that trouble me, however, and I welcome the Queen's Speech.

I will talk about a Scottish Parliament for Scottish affairs. This is an old Liberal policy. It used also to be an old Labour policy but they dropped it for a long time, until the people of Scotland reminded them of their duty. They have now brought it back. The Liberals, and now the Liberal Democrats, have been totally in favour of it. I received some old election literature of my noble friend Lord Thurso's grandfather, Sir Archibald Sinclair. Way back in the early 1920s he was talking about a Scottish Parliament for Scottish affairs.

That is what we want and it is what we need. We have a very good model for it produced by the Scottish Convention. I am very glad to see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, who had a great deal to do with it. This body was set up. The two political parties which stayed in it were the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party. It also contained a great many representatives from other institutions in Scotland such as the Church and education. Unfortunately, the Tories took no part and, for reasons I do not know, the Scottish Nationalists withdrew.

That convention examined the matter with great thoroughness and produced a blueprint which I trust this Government will follow exactly, especially the aspect that deals with proportional representation which would make for a fairer voting system in Scotland.

There are people, from the Tory Party and in other places, who are very doubtful about it. They do not want change. People speak of the past 100 years of Scotland's history having seen a tradition of Scotsmen going to London, to New York, to Canada, to Australia, and of their doing great things. This is perfectly true, but we need Scotsmen to do great things at home. Without a centre of power in a country, people will undoubtedly go to where the power is. All over the world one sees the drift towards the great cities. Scotland would benefit enormously from having its own centre of real political power.

Although, because of the unfortunate and total lack of consideration for the minorities, one might not think of Stormont as being a great example to follow, technically it was a very efficient parliament. It knew what it was doing. I went there a good deal after the war, my own interest being in agriculture. Northern Ireland was a long way ahead of us in terms of what farmers and modern agriculture needed. It was easy to do because everyone knew one another in that tight little assembly. In Ulster, a great many good people stood for the Stormont Parliament. They were better than those who stand for the Westminster Parliament. That was just because Stormont had some power and people could do what they wanted in their own country. I believe strongly that a Scottish Parliament for Scottish affairs will have that effect in Scotland. If it does not have that effect, it will be the fault of the Scottish people. They will deserve it if it fails, but I do not think that it will. I think that they will rise to it.

When in Opposition, the Government were too frightened of the tartan tax. I wish to goodness the Tories would stop talking about it. It failed to frighten the Scottish people so perhaps they will leave it alone now and talk about something constructive. It was put forward that there would be frightening centralisation and a tartan tax, but for the Labour Party spin doctors—or whatever they call them—suddenly to produce the answer by a two-question referendum was a bad piece of work. It was a total negation of any form of Scottish democratic control, consultation or anything else. I hope that they will not repeat it. They do not need to now. With a large majority, they have nothing to be frightened of.

Of course the English are a bit like that. I am fond of the English. I have been much among them. I intend to be among them for a long time to come, or as long as He above will spare me. They have a certain complacency about them. I was strongly reminded of that by what one of my noble friends said. He is the man with the broadest possible views. He has the best liberal instincts on everything else. He suddenly attacked me. He said that the Scots were behaving disgracefully: Scottish rugby supporters were cheering France in a match against England. He believed that no one could support anyone other than the English in a rugby match. That attitude is a little endemic, but I hope that the Government will not go too far in that direction, will consult, and remember that the power comes from the Scottish people.

The West Lothian question is a difficult one. I have forgotten exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, but he meant that good practice and a little understanding could well overcome the difficulty of the West Lothian question. I think that it will. It must be resolved in the long run. Apart from the two questions, the Referendum Bill is a good document. I am against it. I thought that the Scottish people had spoken. I shall speak against it. We shall speak against it in the other place. We might even vote against it there. I do not know, but your Lordships should rest assured that when it comes to the referendum we in the Scottish Liberal Democratic Party will be pushing to ensure that the maximum number of people vote yes to both questions.

5.14 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Thorndon

My Lords, I shall briefly divert your Lordships' attention from the excitement and charms of devolution to another part of the gracious Speech; namely, the reference to the incorporation into UK domestic law of what were described as the main provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. I venture to offer a few observations in the light of the New Zealand experience in the field since 1990, and personal experience when I happened to find myself presiding for some six years thereafter over the court to which it fell chiefly to implement the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. I hope that what I have to say will be more in the nature of a report of facts than of argument.

The New Zealand Act of 1990 is neither entrenched nor paramount; that is to say, it is an ordinary Act, enacted by no special method, and open to repeal or amendment by ordinary legislation. Originally, it is true, a Bill of Rights both paramount and entrenched was contemplated, but public doubt was generated as to the wisdom of going so far so quickly. A more modest measure resulted. The rights affirmed in it are broadly similar to those in the European Convention and most other human rights instruments, hut their scope is governed by two key provisions. One precludes any court from holding any enactment to be invalid by reason only of inconsistency with the Bill of Rights. Thus the power of Parliament is preserved.

The other—no less important—enacts a principle of interpretation. Whenever an enactment can be given a meaning consistent with the rights and freedoms affirmed in the Bill of Rights, the court shall give it that meaning. Thus the courts are enjoined, in the absence of sufficiently clear parliamentary intent to the contrary, to interpret Acts consistently with the Bill of Rights.

It may be said that the present UK Government have an electoral mandate for incorporating the European Convention as paramount law. There have been suggestions, however, that something rather less, somewhat on the New Zealand model, could be all that will be attempted, at least initially. So it may be of some use to say now briefly how such a solution has been found to work in practice.

In practice it has worked reasonably well. Where enforcement of the rights would plainly frustrate the purpose or scheme of an Act, that purpose or scheme prevails; for example, as to suspected alcohol-impaired driving, the New Zealand legislation provides for two tests—a roadside breath screening test, and, if that is positive, an evidential breath or blood test at a police station.

The Bill of Rights affirms the right of everyone detained under an enactment to consult and instruct a lawyer without delay. It was held that that right of consultation and instruction could not be insisted upon at the roadside, for that would have stultified the efficient operation of the kind of roadside test envisaged by the legislature. Nevertheless, it could be insisted upon before testing at a police station, at least to the extent of telephone consultation with a lawyer. With the co-operation of the police and the legal profession, that appears to have worked satisfactorily and even to have improved the behaviour of suspects in stressful situations in which, to their dismay, they may find themselves.

Therefore, although not remorseless or ruthless, the more modest type of measure is certainly not toothless either. It has twin advantages. One is that Parliament, by a sufficiently plain expression of its will, can take the responsibility of overriding the affirmed rights in a particular field. The other is that the courts can give their decisions with the insurance of that knowledge. Of course, that does not automatically shield their decisions from controversy and criticism, but it would be a betrayal of the essential independence of the judiciary to be swayed by that consideration. For a truly independent judiciary is of the essence of democracy—and I venture to submit that that must mean a non-elected judiciary. To be an Aunt Sally for the media at times has to be accepted as part of the judicial role. But it is a consolation to the courts to know that their decisions are not unalterable. Nonetheless, experience suggests that they will not lightly be altered; and that, too, is healthy in a democracy based on the rule of law.

Perhaps I may give but one example. The police in New Zealand obtained a search warrant to look for evidence of drug dealing in a private property. A mistake was made in the address stated in the warrant. The police party invaded a perfectly respectable home. They found not the slightest evidence of criminality, unless the presence of a Jaguar motor car in the garage be thought to be such a sign. When it was pointed out to them that a mistake had apparently been made, the officer in charge allegedly replied, "We sometimes get it wrong, but while we're here we'll have a look round anyway." They did. There was ransacking of drawers, wardrobes and so forth. Of course, no drugs were found and eventually they left. The upshot was an action for damages against the state—not, be it noted, against the individual officers involved in the search but against the state, as the corporate or collective body responsible to its citizens for protecting them from transgression of their human rights by officers of the state.

The Court of Appeal held that if the facts were proved to have been as I have outlined, an action for compensation would lie. Whether the facts were such was never submitted to judicial scrutiny—and it may be wisely—for the government of the day proceeded to settle the case for a sum neither extravagant nor derisory. I believe that it was the equivalent in English currency of about £20,000. That was followed by agitation by the police for legislative changes to preclude redress of that kind in future. The government sensibly referred the issue to the Law Commission, which made an extensive investigation. I understand that its report is to the effect that the decision was in the public interest and should stand as a precedent for the future. So an issue of public importance has been ventilated and, it may be, justly solved.

A Bill of Rights in modest form thus proves to have true value. It may be criticised as a halfway house—it will not necessarily do for ever—but perhaps it accords with the British traditions of gradualism and commonsense compromise.

5.26 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I move to the Government Benches for the fourth time since I have been a Member of the House. I have been twice on the Front Bench and twice on the Back Benches, as now. I must begin by congratulating my noble colleagues, led by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, on assuming their great positions. I have made it plain to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and to most of the others that I have the highest confidence in them, not least in the noble Baroness who is to wind up the debate. She will excuse me, because I understand that the debate is to finish at eleven o'clock tonight and that it is the accepted convention that Peers over 90 are expected to be at home by that time.

I congratulate all the Members of the Front Bench, but I am bound to express a little sadness at the absence of several of those who provided such wonderful service to this House in recent years. I shall mention only two. First, the noble Lord, Lord Graham. There was a great Chief Whip, if ever there was one. At a party of Labour Peers not long ago he invited five widows of Labour Peers and afterwards thanked them for coming. That was the kind of leadership with which he supplied us and I know that his example spread through the whole House. I must also mention the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who during the past 10 years brought distinction to every high task with which he was entrusted. There are other noble Lords and I must express my sorrow at their absence.

Whenever I see the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, occupying the position of Leader of the Opposition my mind goes back to his grandfather who was Leader of this House when I first came here. He built up the modern House with Lord Addison and that service will never be forgotten by those of us who were then Members.

I listened, as usual, with the utmost pleasure to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I am pleased to think that someone who I called "the angel of light" has now been liberated from the servitude of darkness so that she will be able to be much more herself in time to come. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, expressed thoughts about penal reform much more eloquently than I can, and I can say no more.

Before turning to the subject of the debate, I should pay my tribute to the national leaders. It can fairly be said by everyone that Mr. Major: He nothing common did or mean Upon that memorable scene", for seven long years. Mr. Tony Blair is the most explicitly Christian Prime Minister we have had since Mr. Gladstone. I hope that many years hence it will be said of Mr. Tony Blair, just as the great great grandfather of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said of Mr. Gladstone when he died, that he kept alive the soul in England.

I turn to the subject of the debate. The House will not be surprised to know that I wish to concentrate on the subject of penal reform. In my eyes, this is an extremely critical moment in the history of penal policy, indeed, perhaps the most critical moment ever. For four years, we have suffered under an evil doctrine, the doctrine referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, that prison works and that it will work much better if it is made nastier and lasts longer. That is the official doctrine under which we have suffered for the past four years. It is very different from the doctrine of previous Conservative leaders. I am so glad to think that we shall have Mr. Douglas Hurd, soon to be Lord Hurd, in this House. He is a recent Home Secretary of the utmost distinction and has recently become chairman of the Prison Reform Trust. It is not possible to imagine a greater contrast between the views of the Prison Reform Trust and those of the late Administration in that area.

However, I turn to my own views. I take some confidence from the thought that this Government have a very strong Christian flavour. I mentioned Mr. Blair, but there are half a dozen other members of the Christian Socialist Society. I suppose that no Government have ever had so many ardent Christians, although most governments have a majority of members who would call themselves Christians.

And so, we must build hopes. One must perhaps be of rather a hopeful temperament to build them, but nevertheless, I insist on building hopes. Your Lordships may ask what Christianity has to do with it. After all, there have been notable penal reformers who were humanists. In this House I think of Lady Wootton who I helped to introduce in this House. I remember the difficulties there were in finding an alternative form of words to suit her. She perhaps did more for penal reform than anybody else at that time. Then there is my noble friend Lord McIntosh. I am sorry that he is not to be the Home Office Minister, but nevertheless I congratulate him on his new appointment. My noble friend Lord McIntosh is a strong humanist and a fine penal reformer.

Therefore, I am not saying that you must be a Christian to be a penal reformer, but I do say that if you are a Christian, you can draw special inspiration from the teaching of Jesus Christ because he said: I was in prison and ye came unto me … Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me". That is the special inspiration possessed by Christians, and so we must hope for the best.

In practice, what am I talking about? What do the words mean? As the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, implied earlier, if the present state of affairs continues, under present plans, the prison population, not so very far hence, would be 80,000 whereas in 1993 it was just over 40,000. Therefore, it will have doubled in a relatively few years. That is one aspect of the matter and life will be made more uncomfortable for all.

I know that other noble Lords visit prisoners beside myself, but I visit them twice a week. I have said before and I say again that one cannot but be aware of the contempt with which recent policies have been viewed within prisons, not only by prisoners but by the staff themselves. The staff do not know what the guidance given to them amounts to. Everybody in past years has always agreed that the guidance must include reform or what is now called rehabilitation. That message must be spelt out clearly. I know that that is not the only element of punishment. There must be deterrence and to some extent retribution and prevention—keeping people out of harm's way. There are other elements. But we should cease to be a Christian country if rehabilitation was no longer one of the main ideals of penal policy. It has been discarded in the past few years. I hope and pray that we shall see it renewed in this new era.

5.34 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, it would not be a debate of any sort about prisons or people without a contribution from the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I have been a Member of your Lordships' House for 27 years and I know that the noble Earl has outstayed me by a number of years. But it has been a very unusual occurrence if I did not follow him or if he did not follow me in a debate of this kind. There was a moment before he entered the Chamber when I thought that the spell would be broken and he would not be in his rightful place but of course he is, and he is welcome as usual.

I too welcome to the Front Bench the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. We have come to admire her brains, her beauty and her contributions, which are always of great clarity and interest. We have been privileged to have her in this House and now she is on the Government Front Bench where she will add her brains and beauty to those of the other noble Baronesses who have been promoted to the Front Bench.

I wish to add only a few words because of the length of the list of speakers for today's debate. We have heard some interesting speeches already which have been very well informed. In fact, I would say that, up until now, they have been brilliant speeches.

Some Scottish Peers are to speak, so I shall speak only briefly on the subject of the referendums for Scotland and Wales. As I understand it, all political parties referred to the referendums and they all promised that there would be referendums on the future of Scotland and Wales. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that he thought the Bill would go through your Lordships' House quite quickly. I beg to differ. I think that we are more likely to be here during a night to discuss that particular problem, which will affect so many people.

I remember a long time ago or it seems a long time ago—when we sat all night discussing a health Bill. I was speaking at quarter past seven in the morning, having intervened in the debate throughout the night. The only good thing that I remember about it was that, from somewhere, we were given the most excellent breakfast when we finally finished. But it was a long night and if Scotland and Wales think that they will get away with anything less than a whole night, I think that they have another think coming.

I am afraid that I have a personal question for the Minister. Who will be able to vote? In other words, would a Sassenach widow of a Scotsman be able to vote? It is rather complicated but I expect that my noble friend and her advisers would be able to sort that one out.

So much was said in the Queen's Speech and there is so much that we all need to say. But I should like to say a few words only about education, which seems, according to the Prime Minister, to be one of the foremost problems which the Government are to face. It seems to me that there are too many colleges and too many seats of learning and of higher education. I mix quite a lot with 16 to 22 year-old young people. They do not wish to go on being educated. They would prefer to be let loose and work their way around the world, coming back with the knowledge of other places and other people. Such youngsters do not want to sit at desks and be taught for an extra four years. Of course there are exceptions, and I am sure that the Government will, in their wisdom, decide how many of those young people need to have a formal education when probably they only want, for example, to be a plumber, a bricklayer, a roadsweeper or something that does not necessarily require qualifications. I hope that the Government will look at the matter. From what I have heard, it seems to me that such young people would prefer to go out in the world, get a job and earn some money.

From the meetings that I have attended, one of the problems at school these days seems to me to be truanting and absenteeism from school. I should like to know what the Government intend to do about that problem. The people to whom I have listened are all experts in their own fields but they do not seem to have any answer. When I was chairman of a very large juvenile court, as it was called in those days, it was very difficult to know what to do with the young people who had got into trouble and who had, unknown to their parents, flouted the law. Such youngsters appeared in front of me and I had to try to tell them that that was not the proper thing to do and that they should get back to school, which of course they did not do. It was very difficult to find a way to make young people become educated because they did not want to be; they wanted to be out on the streets, burgling or going to other places. Of course, that obviously led to drug taking and frequent flouting of the law. I took the precaution of always having the parent involved in court. I never heard a case without parents and I used to deal with about eight cases a day.

I was privileged for two years to be president of a manufacturers' organisation for the whole of the north of London. That was a most interesting job and, during that time, I met a great many people. There was a system of apprenticeship, not necessarily for youngsters who wanted to be solicitors or those who wanted a higher education. Apprentices were employed so as to offer young people leaving school the opportunity to see whether they would like to join that particular manufacturing industry. At that time, it seemed to be a great success; indeed, I would commend it. If one can get the heads of manufacturing on one's side to give jobs to young people, that is almost half way to reducing unemployment among the young.

The Government promised in their manifesto and elsewhere to provide employment. However, if they take youngsters away from their homes, it is imperative also to arrange for other people to give them homes. I say that because homelessness is one of the problems of unemployed people. Young people become lonely and soon get into trouble. The worst experience in a young person's life is to be given a job but have nowhere to live. I happen to know a little about the situation through my work with the charity that my late husband and I started which helps young people to find a home, even for a short time.

Today we have been told that the Government will refuse to allow advertising for tobacco products. We will lose a great deal of money if we do that and much interest. The sphere in which they have apparently decided to stop tobacco advertising is in sport. Many of us are trying very hard to reintroduce sports and games throughout the country for children from the age of four years upwards. If parents do not take young children to see sports, much of that good work will be lost. I would certainly vote against restricting advertising in sports. I know that it is very expensive because I was on the IBA for about five years; indeed, the expense of advertising can be tremendous. Again, through my experience, I do not believe that young people take any notice of advertising when it comes to tobacco products. I am quite certain that that is true. They are influenced perhaps by a teacher who is seen to smoke and whom they admire or, indeed, by the young people who are the heads of their school who like to light up a cigarette as soon as they leave the school building. There is also the influence of parents. They are the ones who can influence young people into realising that smoking is wrong. That is the only way that we can stop it if we are inclined to do so.

I must finish with an apology to the Minister. The wheelchair in which I am sitting is the only one in the whole of your Lordships' House from which one can make a speech in this Chamber. However, it is so uncomfortable that I am afraid I literally cannot stay for very much longer. I apologise in advance.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow a person of brains and beauty. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, will forgive me if I express the hope that there will be no delay to the referendum legislation which has been put forward. The noble Baroness reminded me that it was an occasion in the early hours of the morning in this Chamber which strengthened my commitment to the principle of home rule. There were 12 noble Lords sitting in the Chamber debating the future criminal justice system and the penal policy of Scotland under the Scottish crimes Bill during the last Session. Of those present, four were Scottish Peers. I suggested that that was an advertisement for Scottish home rule and for a Scottish parliament but the then Lord Advocate pointed out that such a chamber would not have the advantage of the advice of the Law Lords. The noble and learned Lord, Lord McCluskey, with his usual vigour, was present in the Chamber but the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, as sensible people, had gone home to bed. It struck me that that was not an appropriate place or time to be discussing matters relating to Scotland which could be properly and fully dealt with in Scotland.

I welcome the Government's strong commitment to the principle of home rule. I also welcome the statement that was made last week by Sir Wyn Roberts, the former Member of Parliament for Conwy and the longest serving Minister of State in the Welsh Office. He expressed his full support for a Welsh Senedd with legislative powers. As a Welshman, Sir Wyn understands that when you are tackled hard and you are in the mud, you let go of the ball. I contrast that with a statement made on behalf of the Conservative Party by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, certainly an angel of light, as I know, but still advancing the arguments of darkness.

In Wales there was a whiff of English nationalism about the Tory campaign and people reacted by pushing the Conservative Party back over the Marches into England. We have little cricket, no village greens and the hills are too steep for bicycling. I hope that the Conservative Party will rethink its position entirely on devolution both in Scotland and in Wales. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that a White Paper will spell out in detail the proposals of the Government on Wales. He said it was a far-reaching step. I hope he will forgive me if I say that it is not far enough. We on these Benches feel that the Government have adopted perhaps the least popular system of devolution in Wales by way of a compromise with old Labour stalwarts in Wales. We shall in due course argue that a Welsh assembly must have the power to develop and implement policies on the matters with which it is entrusted. Without the power to institute primary legislation—which is denied to it by the proposals of the Government—a Welsh assembly is bound to give effect to the legislative policy enacted in Westminster, just as the Welsh Office does at the present time. Although the Government say that that is all right because a Welsh assembly will enact secondary legislation, as a matter of law, as your Lordships will know, secondary legislation must be within the compass of the primary legislation that has been passed.

At present, if one wants to take the status quo, the Secretary of State for Wales has a place in Cabinet, the Welsh Civil Service has access to Government departments to influence the legislation that is to be passed at Westminster, and Ministers for Wales in either

House may put down amendments to primary legislation. What the Government have not spelled out and what they must spell out, if primary legislation is kept in Westminster, is the power the assembly will have to place its own desired policies to a hostile Whitehall department?

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, like many of your Lordships, referred to the West Lothian question. That is a mantra as meaningless as the tartan tax. It is just a slogan, a meaningless phrase trotted out by way of some sort of opposition. If it has any meaning, I want to pose the Westminster question: it is this. If the Government do not give primary legislative power to Wales, why should 500 English Members of Parliament legislate on such matters as the Health (Wales) Act, the Education (Wales) Act, and a Welsh Language Act? Why should they play their part in doing that when there is a democratic, elected body which should be charged with that power?

Without taxing powers, the Welsh assembly is in the pocket of the Treasury. As was rightly said by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, who will fight the Welsh case if the Secretary of State for Wales ceases to have any existence under the Government proposals? It is not acceptable that the priorities for spending by a Welsh assembly should be dictated by central government. If we are to have devolution, let us have it. Those are reservations to which I shall no doubt return on many occasions. We, from Wales, shall not in any way delay or obstruct the referendum legislation. More than that, we shall campaign vigorously for a yes vote, as did Welsh Liberals in 1979.

Wales, it is said, is a community of communities, a country of minorities, linguistic, economic and geographic. What happened in 1979 was that the opposition to devolution carefully played one community against another, led, I have to say, by Labour Members of Parliament of the old persuasion. Not only did they contribute to the fall of their own government at that time, but they continued to lead the Labour Party into the wilderness where it remained for some 18 years.

The Western Mail proclaimed on 23rd March 1979 that the Labour Government proposals of that time were, tailor made for the Labour Party caucus in South Wales". All of us in north Wales shuddered with apprehension. Then Leo Abse campaigned on the basis that, The English speaking majority will be condemned to he strangers in their own land". The people in south Wales felt that the wild gogs would come down from the north and inflict their language upon them, which not even the Welsh speakers of south Wales understood in any event.

What is essential to resolve these conflicts between communities is—I hope your Lordships will forgive me for mentioning the phrase—proportional representation; that is, fair voting. We hold the Labour Government to the commitments given in opposition that they would ensure that in their proposals for a Welsh assembly there would be a form of proportional representation which would ensure that the disparate communities in Wales—who only unite at Cardiff Arms Park when England are playing—would work together, and that the different parties would work together. I trust that the Conservative Party, who had 19 per cent. of the vote in Wales and no seats, will join with us in arguing for proportional representation at the Welsh assembly.

5.56 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I, too, offer my congratulations to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. When he appeared before me when I was sitting in a judicial capacity he did his work most efficiently and competently. Now that the roles are somewhat to be reversed, I hope I shall do as well as he did.

If the Prime Minister's undoubted art of advocacy has been achieved by emulating his pupil master, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and if the Prime Minister's formidable powers of persuasion have been derived from the same source, as well as his outstanding ability to tune into his audience, then we are indeed most fortunate in the new appointment to this great office.

Quite recently I chanced on a reference in The Times of 25th September 1963 to an address given to Members of the West German Federal Court in Karlsruhe by Lord Dilhorne, the then Lord Chancellor. He said, If I were to be asked what I thought was the Lord Chancellor's chief job, I would tell you, without hesitation, that it was to preserve the independence of the judiciary, to make absolutely certain that judges of the land are completely independent, and to protect them from every attempt, however indirect, to undermine that independence". A similar note was struck by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham in a lecture given by him in 1986 when he observed that he—that is, the Lord Chancellor— is in the business of defending and preserving the independence and integrity of the judiciary. If he does it well, then he is a good Lord Chancellor, whatever his other defects. If he does it ill, whatever his other qualities he is not". I am sure that those sentiments are fully endorsed by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg.

I intervene in this debate on two counts. The first is to draw attention to an important lacuna in the Government's programme for reform in the field of criminal law. This relates to the mandatory—that is, the automatic—sentence of life imprisonment for murder. Time and time again this House with the concurrence of the Government, then in Opposition, has endorsed the proposition that the mandatory life sentence should be rescinded. It has supported the recommendation of your Lordships' Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment by subsequent amendments to criminal justice Bills and, impliedly, by support of the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of one example. In the Criminal Justice Bill 1991, two former Lord Chancellors, the then Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and five Law Lords supported the amendment to abolish the mandatory life sentence, which amendment was carried in this House by a majority of nearly 100 Members. The life sentence should be at the discretion of the judges, as occurs in many other serious offences—indeed, in some offences more serious than some murders, for example, attempts to explode bombs in support of terrorist activities; the persistent arsonist; the multiple rapist, and so forth. It has been long accepted by this House that murder is not a uniquely heinous crime despite the protests of the Conservative Government. That is simply because we have no categories of murders. We had them at one time, but they did not work, and your Lordships may remember being reminded in past speeches what Lord Conesford said when commenting on the Homicide Act 1957. He said that if you wish to dispose of your wife and not suffer the penalty of death, you must not shoot or drown her but you should stab her, strangle her, poison her or set her on fire and you will get away with it.

In addition, murder does not involve the requirement solely of an intent to kill. It is also encompassed in an intent to do really serious bodily harm. Thus, as every first year law student knows, murder covers a wide variety of situations from the terrorist killing to the so-called mercy killing.

Indeed, trooper Clegg, the soldier serving in Ireland with the Parachute Regiment who shot dead the driver of a stolen car and was properly charged with and convicted of murder, was released after two years. That itself destroys the validity of the uniquely heinous crime approach. Moreover, the Clegg case established, if it were required to be established, that the decision on how long a person should stay in prison is a judicial decision to be made by a judge in open court after hearing evidence and listening to argument, and with a right of appeal. The embarrassment occasioned to the Government by the Clegg case demonstrated how wrong it is for a politician to perform a function which is essentially a judicial function.

I trust that the Government with their vast majority will have the courage of their convictions as disclosed when in Opposition and that their anxiety neurosis of being thought soft on crime has now disappeared. If the Government in answer to my plea should assert that there will be no government time for the appropriate legislation, I should be grateful for an indication as to what will be the Government's attitude to another Private Member's Bill which I shall happily promote.

The other matter that I wish to raise relates to our sentencing policy. I shall endeavour to show that it is in a thorough mess. Over the past few years we have been subjected to almost annual criminal justice Bills preceded by much political rhetoric with the result that great confusion has been created as to how best to provide an effective penal system. Public perception is subject to wide mood swings by reason of being buffeted by party political contests and by a media which largely confine themselves to the result of a single phrase or sentence without bothering to investigate the factors which produced the result or the context in which the phrase or sentence appeared.

As recently as 1990 the Government's penal policy concern was whether and how the courts could be induced to curtail the use of imprisonment, both by reducing sentencing lengths and by making even more use of alternatives to custody. The Government produced a White Paper in 1990 entitled Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public wherein it was stated: Nobody now regards imprisonment as an effective means of reform … imprisonment can he an expensive way of making people worse … most crimes are not violent … punishment in the community is likely to be better for the victim, public and offender". At the time considerable publicity was devoted to criticising the judiciary for being too tough. The judges sent too many people to prison and for too long. Apart from Turkey, they were apparently in this regard the worst offenders in Europe. Therefore in 1991 an Act was passed to make imprisonment the sanction of last resort. The Government sought to do so by providing that a judge must not take into account any offence other than the offence actually charged and one other offence. When sentencing he must ignore outstanding offences except one. He must ignore offences the accused wanted to be taken into consideration. He must ignore the accused's record and even his reactions to non-custodial sentences to which he had previously been sentenced. At that time I said it was putting judges into blinkers and that it would not work; and indeed the 1993 Act had to return to judges their discretion.

In 1993 at the party conference, Mr. Howard, the then Home Secretary, rallied the party faithful by saying that he anticipated, more convictions and longer sentences—more people will go to prison. I do not flinch from that … no longer shall we judge our system of justice by a fall in the prison population … let's be clear—prison works". At another party conference in 1995, Mr. Mawhinney, the chairman of the party, exhorted the public to write to judges when they were dissatisfied with sentences. They were told that that would have an effect: to increase the length and incidence of imprisonment. Indeed, in this new, harsher climate, the prison population has increased during the three years of Mr. Howard's reign by 50 per cent., from approximately 40,000 to approximately 60,000.

In the debate on the address on 20th November 1995, I drew attention to Mr. Howard's proposals that because in his view judges were not tough enough, in future provision would be made for minimum sentences and there would be an extension of the automatic sentence of life imprisonment. I accused the Government of playing politics with the administration of justice.

In a speech in that debate on behalf of the Opposition, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to whose sincerity and integrity I should like to pay a special tribute, also referred to the Home Secretary's proposal in respect of mandatory life sentences for serious violent and sexual offences on second conviction, and stiff minimum sentences for repeat burglars, and dealers in hard drugs. 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 he wildly expensive, would increase the prison population from the present 50,000 to at least 70,000 and probably more than that. I do not believe that such measures could get through this House. Even if a whipped majority in another place insisted on them, I do not believe that they would survive the considered view of your Lordships".—[Official Report, 20/11/95; col. 215.] Subsequently, he no doubt learnt to his surprise that with difficulty bricks are sometimes made with "straw"!

Some six months later, on 5th June 1996, in a debate initiated by my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg, then shadow Lord Chancellor, on the relationship between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive, the noble and learned Lord doubted that Parliament could ever be persuaded to put the Home Secretary's sentencing proposals on the statute book. He echoed the views of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. He said: The Home Secretary's proposals are ill-judged. To put legislative straitjackets on the judges' discretion to sentence for serious crimes is almost always a mistake. The Home Secretary has already put the prison population up from 40,000 to 55,000. These proposals, if implemented, could easily push the prison population up to 80,000 or more. The present Home Secretary gives every impression of playing politics with the administration of justice".—[Official Report, 5/6/96; col. 1256.] When the Bill was introduced in the other place, there was no resistance from the Opposition to those proposals. It was only when this House came to consider minimum sentences that, thanks to the energetic powers of persuasion of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, which may cost him dear, the Opposition proposed an amendment that restored to the judges their discretion. However, the Opposition were not prepared to provide a similar or any amendment in relation to automatic life sentences. As I understood the position, that was because they were satisfied that the judge had the necessary discretion since he fixed the tariff; that is, the period that the defendant has to serve in prison by way of punishment and retribution. That attitude sat ill with the observation made on 27th January on the occasion of the Second Reading of the Bill, when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said: The sentencing regime for which we contend should, as many noble Lords have said, be open and transparent; but it is nonsensical to invite a High Court judge to say, 'I am sentencing you to life imprisonment. By the way, you can expect to serve 18 months'. That is a perversion of the system. It will bring the whole system into disrepute".—[Official Report, 27/1/97; col. 1063.] We now have, despite the views of the noble Lords to whom I have referred, the albatross of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 around our throats.

On 10th April 1995 there was sent to The Times to mark the centenary of the submission to the Home Secretary of the Gladstone Committee's report on prisons an impressive letter with very impressive signatories. It stated, among other things: We think the time is right for an overview, on the scale of the Gladstone Enquiry, to propound a sound authoritative penal philosophy for the 20th Century". The letter went on: Over the last two decades the United States has shown the tragic and counter-productive results of mixing competitive party politics with such policy debates and thereby inflaming public opinion. This is a field where the national interest demands that bipartisanship should be striven for, even while legitimate party differences are debated". The letter stressed once again that it was essential to provide a mechanism to address these important issues of criminal and penal policy dispassionately, authoritatively and constructively.

I entirely agree with the concluding observations of Sir Louis Blom-Cooper and Professor McConville in an essay written some two years ago where they stated: Crime and punishment are central and pressing issues for our times. From developments in other democracies it is worryingly obvious that public sentiment and political contest about them can result in inflammatory, unproductive and wasteful outcomes". I accordingly invite the Government to make provision for a comprehensive reassessment of a rational penal policy, and thereby help to restore the much-needed public confidence in the system.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I warmly welcome the constitutional proposals in the Queen's Speech, which reflect the commitment of the new Government to their wide-ranging programme for constitutional reform in order to modernise the institutions of government and to meet the needs and aspirations of people at the turn of the century. I intend on this occasion to concentrate on one of the proposals at the heart of this programme; namely, to bring about devolution to a Scottish parliament.

I greatly welcome the fact that the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill announced in the Queen's Speech on 14th May was introduced in another place on 15th May. The speed of its production is proof indeed of the importance that the Government ascribe to devolution and of their commitment to honour their pledge to bring government closer to the people.

I spent five weeks of the election campaign as part of the team on the battlebus of my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence, Mr. George Robertson. We travelled the length and breadth of Scotland visiting key constituencies that the Labour Party was fighting to win and others that we were determined to hold. The results are of course now history, but that experience gave me a unique opportunity to witness the depth of feeling about a Scottish parliament. There was a calm assumption that it had to happen. The words of my old friend the late John Smith rang truer than ever in my head—it was simply "unfinished business". Do not let anyone try to tell you that the Scottish people do not really care about a Scottish parliament, especially now when, as is suggested, they have a secure Labour Government in Westminster and will not be so keen. The Scottish people care, and care deeply, about a Scottish parliament.

Everywhere we went, when all the other issues were raised about which people were passionately concerned—unemployment, the health service, the education system, pensions and so on—there was always an underlying assumption, a sine qua non, that there had to be, of course, a Scottish parliament.

Why then, some people ask, have a referendum at all? I believe that in spite of the overwhelmingly strong demand for devolution reflected in the election results in Scotland, where the two political parties pledged to devolution took 66 out of the 72 seats and the party supporting the status quo took none at all, it is still wholly right that people living in Scotland should be consulted specifically on such an important single issue to establish beyond doubt that there is public support for a parliament with tax varying powers in Scotland. Such support will strengthen the legitimacy of the proposals and should be taken into account when the proposals are considered by both Houses of Parliament.

I have studied the referendum Bill, which is of course now available, and I shall reserve my detailed comments on it for the appropriate time when the Bill is before this House, but there are some observations to be made now in the context of the Queen's Speech. The commendable speed with which the Government are moving is both to fulfil their commitment to bringing forward legislation as soon as possible and also to allow sufficient time for preparation for the referendum to be held by the autumn.

As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor indicated in his speech opening this debate, the Scottish Conservative Party seems to be conducting an internal debate on its stance on devolution. It is sincerely to be hoped that it will change its position, but even if it does not, it is still to be hoped that the Conservative Benches in this House and in another place will not stand in the way of the referendum Bill. After all, it simply gives voters in Scotland the opportunity to vote specifically on the proposals to establish a parliament. In the context of the referendum Bill, it is the principle of consulting the people of Scotland which is to be considered, rather than the Government's plans for devolution. There will be time for that during the passage of the main devolution Bill.

I make this point now because I note that in another place last Thursday Mr. William Hague seemed to indicate the Opposition's intention to seek to introduce special thresholds for voting in the referenda. I have to say to the Conservative Benches opposite that that would be a most unfortunate path to follow. I think people would consider that erecting voting hurdles in referenda, which do not exist in other elections in Britain, was merely an attempt to obstruct and they would rightly react adversely to such manoeuvres.

I have also to say to the Benches opposite that in the first days of this Session paranoia seems to be stalking the Conservative Benches. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, is not in his place at the moment, I am sorry to say. On two consecutive days last week (Hansard col. 17, 14th May and col. 34 of 15th May) he conjured up the dire imagery of the sword of Damocles. If noble Lords on the Conservative Benches act to obstruct the democratically expressed will of the people, the sword in question will not be that of Damocles, but one of their own making on which they seem intent on impaling themselves.

The track laid out in the Queen's Speech for the journey towards a Scottish parliament is carefully planned and long promised. First there is a referendum Bill, with a White Paper published well ahead of the referendum to be held by early autumn. The White Paper, which will set out the detailed plans for the parliament, will reflect the tremendous work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, described earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and of which my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford was an outstanding co-chair. By patient consultations over a wide spectrum of Scottish opinion, as befits a topic of momentous constitutional change, the convention produced its impressive consensus on much of the detail for a new parliament. Following a positive result in the referendum, legislation to create the Scottish parliament will immediately be introduced and, when passed, preparations will be put in hand for a Scottish parliament to be up and running by the year 2000, almost 300 years since the last Scottish parliament met.

As someone who has supported devolution for Scotland from my school and university days, I share the excitement that is felt by all those who have campaigned for a Scottish parliament. It is a great and noble venture in which we here are privileged to be able to play a part. Let us try to do so in a non-partisan and generous spirit in the best tradition of this House. To do so would only reflect to its credit.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Dean of Harptree

My Lords, first I wish to offer a few reflections on the reform of your Lordships' House. In my view, the Government are aiming at the wrong target. One of the great strengths of this House is the diversity and variety of its membership, and the knowledge and experience which exist of virtually every walk of life. Hereditary Peers contribute to that strength. They also bring the element of youth. We should be less representative of British life without them.

Diversity is of growing importance in your Lordships' House because there is much less of it these days in another place. When I was first elected to another place in 1964, there were knights of the shires, manual workers, men and women with a very broad experience of life. They, alas, have virtually disappeared. With great respect to another place, membership of all parties these days is much of a muchness. That is not good for a representative, balanced Parliament. Furthermore, I should hate to see this House reduced to a wholly appointed quango. Worse still, if we were elected, we should very soon be in conflict with another place, especially when the Government were unpopular or near the end of their term.

As the Government appear bent on reform, we have to be realistic. I suggest to the House that it would be better to extend the leave of absence principle. Peers who do not attend regularly could be given leave of absence automatically and that could apply to both hereditary Peers and life Peers. "Regularly" would have to be defined and provisions would need to be made for sickness absence and for other good reasons. There could be a right of appeal to a committee of the House, possibly the Committee for Privileges. The proposal could in time, I believe, deal with the Government's main concerns about the present composition of the House. It would mean that the House would be composed of Peers—hereditary and life—with the time and the wish to attend regularly.

I have not taken advice on it, but I assume that a proposal of that kind could be introduced by the amending of our Standing Orders. That would save the Government both time and trouble. I hope at least that the Government will give consideration to such a proposal. As they do not intend to act in this 18-month Session, I hope too that they will consider setting up a committee composed of all parties and the Cross Benches to consider reform. If an agreed solution could be reached, so much the better. I should emphasise that I speak entirely for myself, I have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the matter with my colleagues since the beginning of this Parliament.

The second point I wish to mention is the pre-legislation procedure. I warmly welcome the proposal in the gracious Speech for the publication of draft Bills for consultation before Bills are introduced in Parliament when, of course, they are set in concrete and it takes a lot to change them. I have advocated something on those lines for many years. It was proposed by the previous government so I hope that there will be quick implementation of that highly desirable proposal.

There has been some reluctance in the past on the part of governments to adopt a process of that kind. They feel that it would slow up the process of legislation. I do not believe that it would. Consultation beforehand could well iron out some of the difficulties which arise so that the eventual Bill would be much more an agreed measure than if it were published without any effective consultation in Parliament. I therefore welcome the proposal. It will improve the quality of legislation and the effectiveness of both Houses of Parliament.

Finally, I turn to the reform of the social security system. My first words must be to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on her appointment. All those of us who studied these matters in the last Parliament know of her considerable commitment to social security and her deep knowledge of the subject. I feel sure that that will stand her in good stead in her new responsibilities in the Department of Social Security.

I welcome the Prime Minister's emphasis on further reform, though I am a little sceptical as to whether those words will be followed by effective deeds. I say that for two reasons. First, the Conservative Government introduced many reforms designed to reduce the burden on future generations and to concentrate resources on those most in need. Virtually all those reforms were opposed by the Labour Party when in opposition. I live in hope, but am somewhat sceptical. Secondly, we heard disgraceful scare stories during the general election campaign that the Conservatives intended to get rid of the basic pension. They were wholly untrue and wholly unwarranted.

I hope that the Government mean what they say. More reforms are needed and it is important not to lose the momentum that the Conservative Government built up so effectively.

6.32 p.m.

Lord McCluskey

My Lords, I do not understand that the gracious Speech foreshadows any legislation in the field of adult criminal justice in Scotland. I am delighted at that. Contrary to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I have not come down from Scotland to sit into the reaches of the night to criticise such legislation. Over 17 months of the last Parliament legislation on criminal justice in Scotland added no fewer than 526 pages to the statute book in Scotland. That is larger than the Glasgow telephone directory and not as interesting.

Happily, the last of those statutes to receive the Royal Assent—the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997, extending to 109 pages—eventually contained the provision that most of the Act was not to be brought into force before the new Secretary of State for Scotland laid appropriate orders before Parliament. As my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner said, it is an albatross of the equivalent English Act but at least it is in a state of suspended animation. I earlier compared it to Moby the whale who lay in that state on the banks of the Forth for a few weeks before being dispatched. I hope that that Act will be dispatched in a similar fashion.

I express the hope that the Secretary of State will not lay any orders before the House bringing any part of that Act into operation until he has had an opportunity to consult widely in Scotland. The whole thrust of the Bill that became the 1997 Act was populist and misconceived—for reasons already explained partly by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and partly by my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner. I shall not attempt to repeat or even summarise the criticisms made in this House and elsewhere of the provisions contained in that Act. I say only that when the Secretary of State for Scotland comes to re-examine it carefully, he will find that it was not properly thought through. Many of its measures were going to add significantly, dramatically and quickly to the prison population in Scotland. Scotland's gaols, like those of England, are already overcrowded.

Most notable in the Act were the provisions that became Part III. They were designed to scrap the early release system introduced into Scotland on 1st October 1993 after study, consultation and agreement extending over five years. Other provisions in the Act would have increased the prison population within one or two years. The provisions regarding mandatory life sentences and mandatory minimum sentences were contained in Part I of the Act. However, unlike in England, another set of provisions contained in Section 13 would increase greatly the sentencing powers of the lower courts, in some cases to double and in other cases, taken along with the early release provisions, to quadruple their present powers. That would have an immediate effect upon the prison population which would begin to rise around six weeks and one day after those measures came into force.

Those measures, taken along with the provision in the Act to give the Lord Advocate a more extensive right of appeal against sentences thought by him to be lenient, would undoubtedly have led to an increase in the prison population not only directly, but also indirectly. One must recognise the fact that when provisions of that kind are put onto the statute book they inevitably affect the thinking and attitudes not only of members of the public, but also of those who are sentencing judges. They cause a drift upwards in sentencing and introduce a harsher culture. That would be unfortunate for Scotland for Scotland has an even greater propensity than England to send its citizens to prison.

In my view therefore the Secretary of State would be well advised to ask his civil servants and others to assist him in making sound and reliable estimates of the likely costs of each and all of those measures. I ask whether we really want to drive more people into our already overcrowded prisons. In Scotland the annual cost per prisoner is around £27,000 per head. Do we want to incur that kind of expenditure for thousands of extra prisoners? That is what the Act would bring about. Should we have to find the capital to build several more prisons by the turn of the century? If the millions required for that exercise can be found, should not they be spent on positive initiatives? For example, it would cost approximately the same to put one policeman on the beat for a year as to keep one person in prison for a year. I am sure that most people would rather have thousands of extra policemen on the beat because policemen help to prevent crime as well as detect it.

Furthermore, if there is money to be found, let it be found to support the initiatives mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Longford; namely, to provide some rehabilitation for prisoners. That is hardly available at the moment in Scottish gaols which are bursting at the seams. In particular, we need rehabilitation for those who are addicted to drugs. My strong impression sitting in court each day, reading criminal appeals and applications for leave to appeal and dealing daily with bail appeals, is that more than half of the petty crime in Scotland and much of the serious crime is committed by people who are trying to raise the wherewithal to purchase drugs.

Before I leave the 1997 Act I should point out that it contains measures that are helpful in some ways—indeed, one or two might even reduce the prison population. For example, Section 4 provides for extension of supervised release orders and Section 5 for restriction of liberty orders. I hope that they too will he looked at.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke of governing by consent and of fashioning a consensus. My plea to Her Majesty's Government is to follow that advice: to pause and to think. I ask the Government to return to the traditional method of reshaping and reforming criminal justice in Scotland, whether in relation to criminal procedure, criminal evidence, prisons, post-release supervision or alternatives to prosecution.

What the Government ought to do is appoint well-qualified persons—maybe led by judges, but maybe not, but bodies of experienced people from the police, from the prisons, courts and social services and others—to take evidence, to study it and to reflect maturely about it before making well thought-out and properly costed recommendations. It need not take long. The Sutherland Committee, which produced the report on appeals, took less than two years. In England, a committee which sat under the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman of Doxford, took less than two years to produce the report which your Lordships debated in 1993.

If the Secretary of State for Scotland were to set up such studies now, then the fruits of their work would be available to guide the members of the new legislative assembly which it is proposed to set up within a year or two in Scotland. My fear about devolved legislatures is always this: they become hyperactive. They have to be seen to be doing something. It may be that in the field of criminal justice they would be tempted to act before they had thought enough about it. I believe that the Government could greatly assist and give a real birthday present by providing the assembly with the fruits of such studies.

I heard with some dismay the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor talking about possibly extending the right of appeal of the Attorney-General in respect of lenient sentences. I do not know about the history of such matters in England, but in Scotland these appeals have rather an unhappy history. The very latest one, which was the first appeal in Scotland against a sentence imposed in a summary case, was something of a disaster for the Crown, as several others had been. The Crown abandoned it at the last possible moment.

The real problem is consistency in sentencing. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned that. I believe that the time may be ripe for Government Ministers to approach the Scottish judiciary once again. The basis for providing guidelines already exists in Section 118(7) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. The mood may have changed since this matter was last discussed with previous holders of the office of Lord Justice General and Lord Justice Clerk.

If the European Convention on Human Rights is to be incorporated into domestic law, as has been suggested, then we need to look carefully at some of the provisions built into the convention itself and into the protocols because some of the cases recently decided in Strasbourg have serious implications for legal aid, the rights to representation and the introduction of the so-called principle of equality of arms. If these measures are to remain in their present terms we may face unacceptable delays and costs in criminal justice.

I conclude with two positive suggestions. The Government should finance in Scotland at one of our universities an institute for the study of criminal justice so that there may be a permanent body which can study this matter and receive representations. It needs to be looked at constantly. I also suggest that the Government do something that we did informally in 1979 when we had to face the consequences of a strike in the Scottish courts. Through the Lord Advocate—it is very easy to do in Scotland—the Government should consider an informal amnesty in relation to crimes that do not involve violence or attacks on the property of persons because at the moment the Scottish courts have a serious backlog problem. The fiscal service is seriously under-resourced. I am sure that some of these matters can be dealt with in that way.

My last word is this. I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland and Her Majesty's Government to use the unique opportunity they have, as a result of the recent election, to take criminal justice out of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, called "competitive party politics". That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

6.44 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, when, in what future historians will describe as a fit of absence of mind, the British electorate transferred political power to the party opposite, I was tempted to think that my role in this House had come to an end; that there was no point in taking part in debates when one had a triumphalist government with a vast majority determined on a set of policies for which they claimed to have a mandate. I thought that it was time to go home.

But then temptation arises. Can someone who has spent his life teaching about the British constitution and who is then confronted by a government proposing a series of measures—all of them ill thought out and most of them extremely damaging—refrain from pointing out at least some of their weaknesses?

At this late hour—it is almost my bedtime—I do not propose to go through the whole of that list. Time will give opportunities for that to be done. So I propose to limit myself to the Bill on the two referendums which we have before us in printed form where there is no room for speculation.

I approach the question of the pre-legislative referendums with an assertion of principle; namely that one of the features of our century has been the wide acceptance of the principle of national self-determination—to which President Woodrow Wilson was probably the first world statesman to give voice—but which has governed most of the world ever since. A nation which feels that it wishes to govern itself rather than be governed by others is generally speaking nowadays thought to be entitled to make that decision. Therefore, if a referendum had been proposed for Scotland or Wales giving those two nations their independence, it would not have been for English Members of Parliament or indeed for the English as a nation, to deny them that universally accepted right.

It may be that our friends in Scotland have not appreciated that, south of the Border, there would be a great deal of sympathy for the idea of an independent Scotland particularly if combined with the rebuilding of Hadrian's Wall, perhaps by the Private Finance Initiative, which would solve many employment problems for a long time to come.

Let us think of the benefits of this complete separation. Mr. Robin Cook would no longer be able to make an exhibition of himself in the Locarno Room of the Foreign Office thus bringing down the status and dignity of British foreign policy. The lugubrious countenance of Mr. Gordon Brown would no longer confront us on our television screens. These are all gains. I sometimes wonder whether Mr. Alex Salmond, who fights very hard to get support in his own country, is aware of the popularity he enjoys in ours.

However, what we have is not a referendum on Scottish or Welsh independence but a referendum on devolution. Devolution is not the same thing. It involves a change, not merely in the arrangements in Wales or Scotland, but in the entire United Kingdom. It involves a change—the noble Lord, Lord Owen, went into some useful detail on this—inevitably in the composition of the Westminster Parliament, its procedures and allocation of powers. It involves important financial questions—perhaps not overwhelmingly important, but important nonetheless—which affect the whole of the United Kingdom. Indeed, even in the early stages, it will be the taxpayers of the United Kingdom—not the Scots taxpayers alone—who will be asked to pay the costs of the referendum and the initial costs of setting up the Scottish parliament or the Welsh Assembly. Surely that is not something which the electorates in Scotland and in Wales have any right to impose on the taxpayers of the United Kingdom as a whole.

The point is that if one wants to have a pre-legislative referendum on devolution, the only appropriate body to be consulted is the electorate of the entire United Kingdom. I make no judgment on whether or not it might be an advantage to change our institutions. There may be something to be said for legislative devolution. As has been pointed out, we would not then have late nights in this place—I shall not participate in many in any case—as happened on the details of Scottish criminal legislation. There may be very good reasons for wanting change. After all, in the past some changes have proved to be on the whole desirable, but we cannot have change which is imposed by two minorities, the Scots and the Welsh, on the rest—on the vast majority—of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom who do not live in Scotland or in Wales.

It seemed to me that when the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, was talking about the tremendous excitement which the Scots feel about having a parliament and all that kind of thing—no doubt the noble Baroness feels it; no doubt many Scots feel it also—although that entitles her to support the Scottish National Party, it does not entitle her to say that the institutions of the United Kingdom—

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale

My Lords, I intervene only because the noble Lord mentioned me although I have many thoughts about what the noble Lord has already said. I think that the noble Lord is in fact making out a strong case for Scottish devolution, but I will not have it suggested that I would be at home in any party other than my party, the Labour Party. I put it to the noble Lord that he is completely misunderstanding the difference between devolution and independence and I am afraid that he is showing very little understanding of Scotland or its people.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness has confirmed exactly what I was saying. She argues—I understand her argument—that what is important is to understand the Scots whether they are members of the Labour Party or of any other party. She says that we must understand the Scots. I try to understand them. However, what the noble Baroness does not see is that something which is to change the constitution of the United Kingdom means that we must understand the whole population of the United Kingdom, not merely one part of it.

Earl Russell

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggests that a referendum be extended to the people of England, can he tell us what alternatives he thinks should be put before the people?

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I cannot see why we should not have precisely the questions that appear in the present referendum Bill: "Do you wish to have a parliament in Scotland? Do you wish it to have tax-varying powers? Do you wish to have an assembly in Wales?" I cannot see any fault with those questions. I find fault only with the people to whom those questions are addressed.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that a decision will be taken by the elected representatives of the whole of Britain, with information being available about the wishes of the Scots? Does the noble Lord accept that the elected representatives will have a decision to take?

Lord Beloff

My Lords, if it is a matter for the elected representatives, why do we need a referendum?

6.55 p.m.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, it is clear that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, had some considerable anxieties about the election and its outcome. I confess that I, too, had certain anxieties, but of an entirely different character. My anxieties were based on the fact that the former Prime Minister and his government had given a great deal of attention to the matters of Northern Ireland—more than any of their predecessors over a long period. Indeed, much progress had been made, at least in setting out some kind of structure or basis upon which talks could take place involving the British and Irish Governments and the various democratic political parties in Northern Ireland. My anxiety was that any incoming government might not have quite the same impetus or commitment with regard to attending to our long, difficult and, some would say, entirely intractable problems.

However, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is continuing in his anxiety, I have been much reassured by the comments and the statements made by the new Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, and by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mowlam. Indeed, I am reassured not only by their words. We in Northern Ireland have come to judge politicians more by their actions than by their words—and I am reassured by their actions in coming to Northern Ireland where the Prime Minister delivered a particularly fine speech which left many people right across the Province much reassured that the peace process will be continued and, indeed, built upon.

That leads me on to some of the concerns mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who spoke of the principle of consent or self-determination as outlined by the former Democrat President, Woodrow Wilson. I found that interesting because, by background, Woodrow Wilson was an Ulster Scot. Indeed, as far as I am aware, no president of the United States came from family stock more recently settled in the new world, apart from Andrew Jackson, who was, I think, the seventh President of the United States. All four of Woodrow Wilson's grandparents came either from Scotland or from the north-east of Ireland, so not only was he the son of an Ulster Scot, but I feel a certain kinship with him because, like myself, he was also a son of the Presbyterian manse. One must remember that Woodrow Wilson's presidency extended throughout that particularly fraught period of Irish history when Irish Republicans wanted to seek independence and Irish Unionists wanted to stay within the United Kingdom. When asked for his support for the principle of national self-determination being adopted in Ireland, Woodrow Wilson was cautious. Indeed, I believe that he often referred not to "national self-determination", but to the fact that the people most involved should be the ones to decide. Where there was division, as in the case of Ireland, Woodrow Wilson was most content that there should be a degree of administrative division and that the people of the north-east, who manifestly wanted to stay in the United Kingdom, should be allowed to do so.

That principle was clearly accepted by the previous government because the principle of consent was a foundation of the entire approach taken by the former Prime Minister, John Major, who regarded it as entirely appropriate that in the outcome of any political discussions there would be a referendum—a referendum in Northern Ireland, not a referendum in the United Kingdom as a whole. There would also have to be a referendum in the Republic of Ireland because any change in the constitution of Northern Ireland would require the people of that jurisdiction to have their say. However, as far as I am aware no one has suggested—not the noble Lord or any other Member of your Lordships' House—that when there is a settlement in respect of Northern Ireland (which is an integral part of the United Kingdom) there should be a referendum in the rest of the United Kingdom. Perhaps in passing I may indulge in some boyish chiding and say that I noticed that when it was suggested that there should be a referendum, Northern Ireland was not included as part of the jurisdiction which should have that referendum although we still regard ourselves as very much a part of the United Kingdom.

Therefore, I believe that it was accepted by President Woodrow Wilson—but I suppose that that must remain uncertain since he is not here to confirm or deny it—and it was certainly accepted by the previous Conservative Government that it was entirely in order for part of the United Kingdom (as long as it was a proper jurisdiction) to have its own say. It was also accepted that the rest of the people of the United Kingdom would be glad to afford that other part any assistance that might be required to put things properly in order. Therefore, I am enthusiastic—and I am encouraged and invigorated in a somewhat stuck peace process—that we have a government who are prepared to take up the baton and to work and to build upon the foundation so surely laid by the previous government and the previous Prime Minister who put so much effort into it.

I want to see devolution for Scotland and Wales moving forward, not only because I believe that it is right and it will be evidence of the will of the people of Scotland and Wales, but because the momentum and constitutional dynamic will create an engine of progress for Northern Ireland. If there were to be devolution for Scotland and Wales it would be extraordinary indeed for Northern Ireland to have a statute book and yet no legislature of its own. It would have a local government that had even less accountability and power and yet nothing between it and Westminster. It would have quangos galore, far more per head of population than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, but no possibility of a more accountable government that governed with the consent of the people. I want to see devolution for Scotland and Wales because it is right, but I also want to see it because I believe that it can move Northern Ireland forward.

I am also delighted to see the Government's commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights being incorporated into domestic law. One of the only matters on which the political parties have thus far been able to agree in many years of talks has been the need for a bill of rights in Northern Ireland and that the easiest way of doing it is to incorporate the European Convention. If there is something on which we have found it possible to agree in Northern Ireland surely your Lordships will not disagree with it in this Chamber. Such agreement is so precious in Northern Ireland that, surely, it should be taken as an example of something upon which we can combine.

I regret that two matters have not been included. I trust that it is only in this Queen's Speech and in this Session that they have not been included. The first is the absence of a commitment to proportional representation for Westminster elections. The second is clarification of the funding of political parties. As to the first, one has the peculiar situation in Northern Ireland that every other election is by PR/STV—local government elections, assembly elections and even the European elections—whereas in every other part of the United Kingdom there is no PR. In Northern Ireland we have proportional representation. One would have enjoyed it and found it an encouragement to positive and constructive voting at Westminster elections—something of which one has not seen much evidence in past elections in Northern Ireland. I think that that would have been a great encouragement. I hope that it will not be long before we see indications along those lines. We have seen indications that the question of the funding of political parties will be addressed. That is a positive matter.

I make one appeal. Where one has devolution, or in the case of Northern Ireland a clear regional identity—but at this point without devolution—one is likely to have regional parties. I hope that the issue of the funding of political parties will not be looked at solely in so far as it affects this Parliament but also in so far as it represents regions, particularly those that have separate forms of government.

Finally, in Northern Ireland in the medium term one is looking at political progress. I know that all those in your Lordships' House share the desire for progress. But in the immediate future one has the marching season, parades and all of the divisiveness that may be evidenced there. I welcome the indication that the North Commission report will be fully implemented. I hope that that Bill will come before your Lordships' House soon. But in advance of it can the Government indicate that the views and recommendations of the commission on parades that is already in existence will have, if not the force of law, certainly considerable force in the mind of the Government? When it comes to policing, anti-discrimination and so forth, these are matters on which progress can be made in conjunction with the political progress that I know all of your Lordships wish to see and that I now know, with more certainty than perhaps was clear before the election, the new Government also wish to see.

7.4 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, although like many others to begin with I was a supporter of devolution for Scotland in the 1970s, in the more recent past I have expressed grave doubts about the proposals that have been made for a devolved parliament or assembly. There are two main reasons for this: first, the cost of yet another tier of government; secondly, the conviction that the Government's proposals, as I understand them, will not work because they have never squarely faced up to the West Lothian question. That will lead inevitably to increased friction and dissatisfaction with the Westminster Parliament and thus, in a few years' time, to an overwhelming demand for outright independence. Alex Salmond has said as much. I do not think that there is anything else on which I agree with him. But I do agree with him about that. We are sailing into very dangerous and uncharted waters. One of the very worrying aspects is that many people in Scotland see devolution as a universal panacea—an answer to all of their problems. It is not. I do not believe that anyone in Scotland would be happier or better off if Scotland had its own Parliament. I fear that disappointment is inevitable. The union of the parliaments has not served Scotland badly.

The Labour Party won a huge majority in the election, fought on a manifesto which in many respects did not differ radically from that of their Conservative and Unionist opponents. One of the areas on which they differed most radically was the question of devolution. We must assume that the wish for a devolved parliament in Scotland is much stronger than the previous Government could ever have been made to believe. Surely then, we should not oppose either the referendum Bill or the subsequent Bill, if the Scots vote for it in the referendum. I believe that we should concentrate on trying to persuade the Government to amend their proposals so that they have a better chance of working.

In common with many others, I have tried and tried to think of solutions to the vexed West Lothian question. At the end of the day I can see no solution to it except in a federal context. I rather believe that that was the solution preferred by the Liberal Members of the Constitutional Convention. If the domestic affairs of all four countries were dealt with by national parliaments the West Lothian question would disappear like the proverbial snow in June. The problem that may arise is that while I believe Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland probably want their own national parliaments, I do not feel so sure about England. After all, the English stand to lose the inestimable benefit that they have enjoyed for nearly 300 years of having their country run by Scotsmen. However, I believe that they may change their minds fairly soon if the other component parts of the United Kingdom have their own parliaments. I ask the Government to expand the referendum Bill to include a referendum in England, for I do not believe that it would be good business to foist a national parliament on an unwilling England. I believe that it should be a referendum for the whole of England with no nonsense about regions.

I am aware that the referendum Bill has already been published. Indeed, I have a copy beside me. But that does not mean that it cannot be amended at Committee stage in either House. I ask the Government to think very carefully about this matter. If they will not do that, alternatively they may introduce an English referendum Bill as soon as time can be found for it. Although we have not yet seen the White Paper setting out the devolution proposals in their final form, the proposal is that foreign affairs, defence, finance and social security should remain within the remit of the Westminster Parliament. Why social security? That seems to me to be a domestic matter that should be dealt with by the national parliaments. It would be one less bone of contention between those national parliaments and Westminster were that to be so.

If that were so, what would the Members of the Westminster Parliament do with themselves three or four days of the week out of five—twiddle their thumbs at the taxpayers' expense? I wonder whether a proportion of the various national MPs elected by their fellows in the same party political ratios as they had themselves been elected could form the Westminster or United Kingdom Parliament. Alternatively, a number of MPs, possibly one per Euro constituency, could be elected at the same time as the Euro MPs. They could sit next door when necessary, say one day a week, while the rest of the time their Chamber could house the English Parliament. In that way you would save a lot of salaries and a new parliament building, while preserving the traditional venue for the English Parliament—surely rather dear to their hearts. You also save the necessity for a fourth tier of elections. I am afraid that the normally apathetic electorate will not turn out in any great numbers for yet another set of elections, particularly in bad weather.

What I am not clear about is what it is envisaged that the role of this House will be regarding devolved legislation. Will it come here for scrutiny or are the devolved parliaments to be single-chamber? Perhaps the Minister could clarify this when she comes to wind up.

I can only hope that the Government, in spite of their huge majority, will listen to suggestions, face the problems which present themselves, try to find solutions to them which will work, and take the necessary time to do so. I hope they will put the unity of the United Kingdom before anything else, otherwise they will go down in history as the Government who destroyed it.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, we have had some brilliant speeches in what has been a very interesting and fascinating debate. Some of the most valuable contributions have been on the constitution, but I think now is the time for a change of bowling. I make a special plea on one aspect of the gracious Speech which I mentioned briefly at Question Time. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Speech as a whole. It is just what the country needs. It will lead towards greater prosperity in years to come, certainly in the next five years.

I want to try to ensure that disabled people have a share in that prosperity. They have always been at the back of the queue; they have always been relatively neglected. I am very disappointed that despite a list of fine Bills, which I support enthusiastically, there is no provision for improving the situation for disabled people.

We have debated the Disability Discrimination Act at great length. The House knows how disappointed some of us were with its provisions. It is run by the National Disability Council, which has no powers of enforcement. All it can do is advise the Minister, which means that the Act is almost a dead letter. If it cannot be enforced then it has no real meaning to disabled people, nor to employers, nor to the providers of the various goods and services. What was presented by the Tory Government when they were in office, provided very reluctantly and under great pressure, was a vehicle—but a vehicle with no engine. We have to provide that engine.

The description of the Act looks good and sounds good; in fact, it is no good because of the lack of authority. We must therefore have a commission with power and one which is able to enforce the law regarding disabled people.

I was very disappointed with the answer of my noble friend Lady Blackstone. As I said, I warmly support the Bills in the gracious Speech. I recognise that not everything can be done with one magic stroke. Of course I recognise the difficulties, but I repeat that disabled people are all too easily squeezed out. It is too easy to say, "Let us deal with them later on". I hope the Government will not do that in relation to a commission.

My noble friend Lady Blackstone says that the Government are pressing ahead with discussions to see how the Act can be improved. But it cannot be improved without a commission and a commission needs primary legislation. Changing and improving the Act, welcome though that may be, is simply not enough. Admittedly, the Government will not find it easy to find time for additional legislation but they should bear in mind that the disability lobby will be profoundly disappointed with their refusal to mention a commission in the gracious Speech.

I am very glad that my noble friend Lady Hollis will reply to the debate. She does not need to be reminded of her own views on the need for a commission and will be more aware than I am of the Government's dilemma in not being able to do everything at once. But this goes to the central point. The Government made commitments in opposition. The present Opposition will be only too glad to jump on them if every single commitment is not met overnight. I repudiate such an approach. The Government, however, will be faced with the problem of how far, how fast and how comprehensively they can move.

I understand the problem. But disabled people must be given a high priority. Above all, they need this commission. I hope that my noble friend is able to reassure me tonight that my noble friend Lady Blackstone's response at Question Time was an initial response and something on which to build. I would like a specific commitment that there will be primary legislation for a commission.

Regarding the Act, I did not like the way the last Government excluded those who worked in firms employing fewer than 20. They were quite wrong to do that. I hope that my noble friend Lady Hollis will be able to assure us that the matter is being dealt with by the new Government. I do not think that it requires primary legislation. I see my noble friend shakes her head. I hope that we can have a specific assurance in that regard.

The first important comprehensive Act affecting disabled people was in 1970, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, piloted by my great friend Alf Morris in another place. It became a very important Act, making a provision as of right for certain facilities to be given to disabled people by local authorities such as adaptations in the home, meals and telephones. Since the passing of that Act, it had always been accepted that such provisions were given as a right until a recent court case involving Gloucestershire County Council. The case went to the Court of Appeal which, wisely and very reasonably in my view, ruled that the Act said that where a need was assessed that need should be provided for by the local authority and that need should be recognised as the ordinary word, "need". When need was identified, the provision should be made regardless of the resources. In other words, the council could not plead lack of resources. Under the Act it had to make cuts elsewhere and give disabled people the provisions.

On appeal to the House of Lords, the Law Lords, in their infinite wisdom, changed the Act. By a narrow majority they decided that resources had to be taken into account. By that monstrous decision they changed the requirement in the Act from a duty to a discretionary power. So all local authorities can now say, "We lack resources. We are short of money; ergo, we cannot provide disabled people with what they need". I hope that if my noble friend the Minister finds time she will be able to reassure us that new legislation will be introduced to restore the situation to what it was understood to be from 1970 until recently by everyone—except the Law Lords—who had read the Act and by the Court of Appeal which understood the Act.

I have a PS to make. Echoing what was said earlier, I regret that there is not just one Minister for disabled people. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister for ensuring that no fewer than three marvellous Ministers have responsibility for disabled people. Tom Clarke did a great deal for disabled people when he was shadow spokesman. Nevertheless, if there were just one Minister he or she would be a focus for disabled people who could straddle all departments. It is more than a nomenclature. It is an important symbol to disabled people and to the public. I hope that the Prime Minister can be persuaded to think again and to appoint one Minister for disabled people.

7.22 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, when I first entered your Lordships' House, I was advised that a good occasion to make my maiden speech would be in the debate on the gracious Address. That was because I could either comment on something that was contained in it, or alternatively point out something that was missing from it. This is my maiden speech from this side of the Chamber—a place which I must confess I hoped never to find myself. But I believe that advice still holds, and I have to note with some disappointment a number of omissions from the Government's legislative programme.

There is a serious constitutional issue involved in the failure to mention a Bill to introduce maternity leave, paternity leave, additional rights for part-time workers and a selection of all the other social regulations that are such a burden to our competitors in Europe. Instead, the Foreign Secretary lost no time in announcing to Brussels that, without getting a single concession in return, we would give up our opt out on the social chapter and sign up to future European directives that would impose it on us. If the Government think these matters are such a good idea, why do they not make them part of our domestic law, passed by this sovereign Parliament? If by chance the Government should later discover that they are wrong—as they have had to admit that they were over nearly everything that they espoused since they were last in power—then, so long as it was legislation passed by Parliament, it could be changed. This is because no one Parliament can bind future ones or pass irrevocable laws. To change a European law, however, we need the kind co-operation of Brussels, France, Germany and Italy, to say nothing of Greece and all the other countries whose Governments are in thrall to their trade unions. Having the bureaucrats of Brussels do their legislative task for them is just a way for Her Majesty's present Government to make sure that Parliament will not be sovereign over the unions ever again.

Then we come to another proposed diminution of the powers of this sovereign Parliament. I mean the Scottish tax raising assembly, or parish council as the Prime Minister has contemptuously described it. I have no intention of making a Second Reading speech jut now but the referendums Bill also gives rise to a number of unanswered questions. Why are the Scots and the Welsh being asked to buy a pig in the poke and vote "Yes" or "No" when they do not know what exactly they will be getting and what they will have to give up in return? Why not legislate first and then ask them if they like it? Why are they going to have the referendum based on what by then will be a register that is half way out of date. Why are temporary expatriates being excluded—that is, persons domiciled in Scotland or Wales in the technical legal sense of the word, but temporarily resident in England or indeed anywhere around the world to where, having got on their bikes, they have exported their talents? Indeed, why are the English being excluded when, with a piece of breathtaking effrontery the Government are proposing that they shall pay the major part of the £8 million cost of the referendum and a further £40 million for setting up the assemblies, both of which are in fact intended partly to protect the Labour Party from the local nationalists. No taxation without representation! How many nursery school places or job creation schemes for youngsters would £48 million pay for?

That brings me to the subject of law and order. To reform the Crown Prosecution Service to convict more criminals is something we can all applaud. Police on the beat and not pushing paper are something we can also all agree with—even though some of the regime of paper pushing was imposed in the interests of civil rights—civil rights of the criminals, not of the public. Fast track punishment of persistent young criminals sounds all very well, but fast track to where, I ask myself? I had 20 years as a magistrate in juvenile courts. What we do not need is a fast track to more conditional discharges and ineffective probation orders, which hardened young criminals regard as, as they put it, "getting off".

I recall the present Government's opposition to our proposals for secure training centres for persistent juvenile offenders which were to provide education and training within a disciplined regime. Now the Government propose to bring in what one newspaper described as "Chain gangs for juveniles". We will examine the proposals with interest when the Bill is published, but I hope that it will deal with such questions as who is going to supervise all this graffiti scrubbing; what will happen if the juvenile fails to co-operate; and whether this punishment will be cost effective. The idea is not new. Some 450 years ago, minor criminals in Florence were sentenced to scrub the pigeon droppings from the cathedral.

Still on the subject of being tough on crime, there is no direct mention in the Queen's Speech of the subject of longer minimum prison sentences for persistent drug dealers and other criminals. Locking persistent criminals up ensures that they are out of the public's way for a long time. The party opposite vigorously fought against our proposals in the last criminal justice Bill. Having adopted so many of our policies for the purpose of getting themselves elected, I am disappointed that this is one that they have not. There is in fact only one passing reference to the drug trade as part of a general context at the end of the Speech, but I welcome the initiative announced by the Home Secretary over the weekend. Now they have the chance to get tough on crime, they do not tell us what they are going to do about adult criminals instead, except for their manifesto promise to have the Court of Appeal lay down more guidelines and extend the Conservatives' idea of the right of the Attorney-General to appeal against lenient sentences.

The Labour Party concentrated a great deal of misinformation during the election campaign on the subject of pensions. Despite that, the Queen's Speech gives us no idea of what the Government are going to do about the ticking time bomb of the inevitable bankruptcy of the state scheme. Indeed, there is no mention at all in the speech of pensions or pension reforms. One can applaud the appointment of Mr. Frank Field, the new Minister of Social Security, as being a person who is not only an expert on the complexities of social security, but as one who takes a realistic view—someone who "dares to think the unthinkable", in the words of the Prime Minister. The question unanswered in the Queen's Speech is how to reconcile Mr. Field's favourable view on the Conservative scheme for private pensions with a minimum guaranteed by the state for the next generation, with the vague manifesto pledge merely to "encourage" private pension schemes. Apparently, the Government are not going to try. The Minister said in a television interview on Saturday: I am hound by the manifesto and not by what I said previously". I have to say that the failure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to promise that he will not remove tax relief on pension contributions is hardly an encouragement, and I sincerely trust that he will keep the point in mind when he announces whatever tax increases he is proposing in his July Budget.

The Government's plans on trade union law are interesting. There is not one reference in the Speech to trade unions. The words simply do not appear. It reminds me of the curious incident mentioned by Sherlock Holmes in The Silver Blaze; the dog that did not bark. However, this omission itself also raises an important constitutional issue. The Labour manifesto made a passing reference to, rights and duties going together". I am disappointed to see that the Queen's Speech contains no definition of what the duties of the unions may be. In particular, I am disappointed that after the latest series of fire brigade strikes in Essex the Government are not offering in the plethora of consultative papers that they are proposing at least to examine the possibility of banning strikes in essential occupations in return for the employees being entitled to mutually binding arbitration with a statutory guarantee of full funding.

Yet another serious constitutional issue has arisen over the new powers given to the Governor of the Bank of England. In their manifesto, the Government did make an oblique and opaque reference to, reform of the Bank of England". What they did not say was that within five days of taking office they would hand over the vital economic power of fixing interest rates to an unelected quango having no responsibility to and not answerable to Parliament. It is now announced that that abdication of power is to be given statutory force, presumably to clear the way for entry into a single currency.

The Chancellor, during the election, said that if elected he intended to "hit the ground running". What he did not say was that he would hit the ground running away from his responsibility always to control interest rates. The significance of this step is this: in just two weeks in power the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given up one of his key functions to the Governor of the Bank of England.

The Foreign Secretary proposes to hand over irrevocably to Brussels powers that could easily be exercised by Parliament and to follow that by surrendering our veto in four major fields. The Government propose to siphon off other powers of Parliament to Scottish and Welsh assemblies and English regional assemblies. The proposal to have a strategic authority for London with an elected mayor will remove from Ministers and Parliament responsibility for control of the police, fire and ambulance services and London transport.

Those are just the thin end of a very large wedge. In fact, all of those proposals and the modification of the agenda for Prime Minister's Questions in the other place have only two objects in view. The first is to diminish the powers of this Sovereign Parliament. In the Queen's Speech, this was described as "decentralisation". The second is to enable Ministers to shuffle their responsibilities on to others. Instead of answering awkward questions, Ministers will be able to hold up their hands and say, "It's nothing to do with me, guv". Your Lordships will need carefully to scrutinise all plans to cede the rights and powers of Parliament to outsiders—and here I am not merely referring to Brussels.

After so much criticism, I should like, in conclusion, to offer some congratulations to the party opposite. It has been given a great trust and considerable power by the British people and we all hope that it will exercise them wisely and well. I congratulate all the new Ministers on the Benches opposite on their appointments, especially the Whips who have the hardest but the best job in your Lordships' House. I wish them all success. In particular, I wish well the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, who is responding to the debate, for she showed me enormous kindness when I first joined your Lordships' House. This House has a reputation for courtesy, politeness, reasoned debate and co-operation between the parties, something that the other place may now be able to emulate with the influx of a large number of women members. I know that I can speak not only for myself but for all my colleagues in saying that the Government can rely on that attitude continuing while—for the short while. I hope—we remain in opposition.

7.35 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, it is very significant and important that Northern Ireland is at the top of this Government's agenda, as it was in the last. The common approach of all parties to the problem continues to be of great support to the people of our Province. The Prime Minister's visit on 16th May, his first official trip outside London, and his well publicised speech endorse his commitment. It was an excellent speech. In it, Mr. Blair recognised the outstanding work of John Major and he pledged to continue to build on that foundation. The Prime Minister said: There are times when to calculate the risks too greatly is to do nothing; there arc times too when a political leader must follow his instinct about what is right and fair". I decided to speak today for one reason. I wanted to make sure that before allowing his instincts to come into play the Prime Minister considers certain additional facts which were not contained in his speech. His instincts may have been to return power over the rate of inflation to the Bank of England and to accept the Social Chapter. But, as he said about Northern Ireland: This is not a party political game or even a serious debate about serious run-of-the-mill issues. It is about life and death for people here". And that includes the deaths of service personnel serving there, as was Corporal Restorick when he was murdered.

I have no intention of quoting dozens of statistics and facts, but it is important to bear in mind throughout four points. First, the IRA's campaign has gone on for 27 years. Today that campaign is run by people who have grown up in that environment of violence almost from day one of their lives. Secondly, in Northern Ireland only 10 per cent. of planned IRA incidents actually take place. Intelligence and security measures deter 90 per cent. before they occur. Between 7th October last year and 13th April this year there were 41 major attacks on our security forces. From that, one can realise the number that were actually planned. Thirdly, we have had two recent security force tragedies; the murders of Corporal Restorick and Constable Bradshaw and several civilian tragedies. Other incidents where shootings took place and where explosives were detonated had been intended to kill dozens of our soldiers and police.

The last fact to remember is that it is the quality of our security forces—the police backed up by the Army—which is holding the situation in check. Highly professional operations, such as the recovery of the deadly Barrett sniper rifle and the arrest of the active service unit in South Armagh, are good examples of what I mean.

While referring to the Mitchell talks, the Prime Minister asked: Why has decommissioning been so difficult to tackle successfully?". He refers to the distrust between the two communities. I accept that as part of the problem. However, Sinn Fein/IRA said that they wanted to go to the talks, and it would have entailed handing in only a token number of weapons to have bought their way in. Knowing the size of their armoury, we must look further as to why they did not trade a few obsolete weapons for a seat at the table which they apparently wanted. I would argue that they had no wish whatever at that time to attend talks. That is because they have nothing to contribute to democracy and absolutely nothing to say beyond their four or five-minute standard answer, which we hear on television every time they are interviewed.

The Prime Minister then asked in his speech: What today is the aim of IRA violence? Is it a united Ireland? Is it to defend the nationalist community? Is it to force a way to talks? Do they hope for a loyalist backlash or a security clampdown? Since none of those suppositions is justified, I ask a second question: why do they not stop?

I believe that the Prime Minister should consider who he is dealing with. Sinn Fein/IRA is the answer. Some people may wish to believe that Sinn Fein and the IRA are separate. The facts are that Sinn Fein, predominantly Adams and McGuinness, has two places on the IRA army council. That is a minority of two out of seven. While Adams does not have control over the IRA, contrary to what they say, Sinn Fein has a great deal of influence. That is shown by, for example, the cessation of activities, including beatings, intimidation and so on, for three weeks prior to the election to maximise the Sinn Fein vote. It is now continuing to control that violence until after the council elections which take place in Northern Ireland on Wednesday. I am convinced that it will try to do so also until after the general election in the Republic on Sunday, 8th June.

Therefore, we are dealing with Sinn Fein/IRA. Its members do not cease using violence because they do what suits them and no one else, and I might add that they have always done so. They feel that time and time again violence has prompted a small movement in government policy. I give just one example. After the Canary Wharf bomb incident there was an immediate reaction of setting dates for talks.

For the vast number of low-level activists, the IRA culture is a way of life. They depend on the IRA purse for a living. That living is earned through organised crime, intimidation, fraud and protection rackets. Why would they wish to lose a livelihood of 27 years just so that two Sinn Fein representatives could attend talks when their only aim, as the Prime Minister stated, is unattainable, their only stated aim being to achieve a united Ireland in the shortest possible time.

They will not cease to use violence because the IRA culture cannot survive without it. How many people realise that the everyday brutality which occurs in our Province is predominantly against their own community; for example, the everyday type of occurrence of three masked thugs with baseball bats breaking into a house and dragging outside a 16 year-old boy and then slowly and viciously battering his legs and arms to pieces? Why? Only by the use of terrorism can the IRA culture of crime continue.

At that level, one is not dealing with romantic Irish patriotism but with cowardly, criminal thugs who do not do anything for the good of anyone else, including Gerry Adams, let alone a British Government.

There is one other consideration which should have a bearing on the Prime Minister's instincts. Many will be surprised by what occurred in the election in Northern Ireland. Why did so many people vote for Sinn Fein two weeks ago and why will they do so again in Wednesday's council elections? The reason is the so-called "democratic deficit" or dictatorship and rule by the Civil Service in Northern Ireland. Some say, "But your Ministers come from the United Kingdom Parliament and are democratically accountable". To bear out my point, I should like to quote from the Hayes review, a report on staff deployment in the Northern Ireland Civil Service dated 22nd April of this year.

I shall quote four isolated phrases in Section 4, which may come as a surprise to people who were junior Ministers in Northern Ireland. Section 4 deals with the constitutional position of Northern Ireland Ministers and it states: In Northern Ireland as distinct from Great Britain … it is the Department and not the Minister which is the legal entity". Again, in another paragraph, it states: In Northern Ireland, the Departments are themselves the corporate bodies". Later on it states: Accordingly the six Northern Ireland Departments do not have political heads". Further on it states: In common parlance, they are described as the 'Minister for' but it is not always understood that this is a courtesy title". That is perhaps quite surprising. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, may not be too unhappy about no longer having responsibility for Northern Ireland when all he would have had was a courtesy title.

Peace talks are aimed at rectifying that. However, after 27 years, you cannot expect local accountability at the level of the Northern Ireland Office to occur in the short term. The Prime Minister could act now, however, just as quickly as he has with Prime Minister's Question Time, by returning to the district councils some of the powers taken away from them years ago. Today, the district councils are capable of and willing to work together and they have shown that in several places. The vast majority of nationalists oppose violence. Recent polls have shown that to be true. But their votes for the peaceful constitutional parties seemed wasted in the face of Sinn Fein/IRA violence and lack of political accountability. Incidentally, the same can be said for the vote for those parties close to Protestant or loyalist paramilitaries. In addition, the fact that John Hume got so close to Sinn Fein meant that a vote for Sinn Fein became more acceptable, or perhaps one should say less unacceptable.

The Prime Minister said also that there may be only one opportunity given to a new Government to offer a way forward. I remind your Lordships that there will shortly be a new government in the Republic. Perhaps that presents a doubly good opportunity for a way forward. May we all hope that the new Government have the conviction, courage and determination to build on the Prime Minister's excellent speech in Armagh and that we shall move towards eventual peace in our Province.

7.47 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

My Lords, I wish to talk about the new Government's proposals for criminal justice, social policy and for the constitution. But first, we should take a quick overview. Thank goodness we can look forward to a period of government which should be optimistic and socially inclusive and, indeed, blessed with the need to demonstrate that they were worth electing and possibly worth re-electing. Otherwise, on the face of it, we know who will be back. But that might be a bit of an assumption. It seems to depend what the members of the Conservative Party decide to do with themselves. If they get it wrong, a large number of voters will be looking for a new political home. The crisis theory of social work suggests that real change occurs only during a crisis. I believe that that scenario may fit.

Before I appear to be giving the new Government an open endorsement, I feel the need to run over what happened in Scotland on 1st May. Apart from the Conservative Party achieving a zero percentage of seats, albeit based on 17 per cent. of the vote; the Government won 76 per cent. of the seats based on only 47 per cent. of the popular vote. That latter percentage has an interesting effect when set against the proposals for a proportional elected Parliament. It was disappointing for the SNP to poll 22 per cent. of the vote and yet achieve only 8 per cent. of the seats. The Liberal Democrats scored a well-proportioned result—13.9 per cent. of the seats based on 13.1 per cent. of the vote. That is a remarkable but not necessarily appropriate achievement of proportionality under the essentially corrupt system of first-past-the-post.

I conclude that the new Government have quite a good mandate to administer Scotland. I am sure that they will be pleased to know that. They were fortunate to win some more rural seats, so I am hopeful that there will be less of a bias towards the industrial central belt and more understanding of the rural and remote areas. I look forward to encouraging a further legislative visit to crofting. It is in the remote areas that the greatest improvements can probably be made—by a bold government with a clear understanding of this subject which may, at first, appear peripheral.

Having said that, I should now like to turn to the criminal justice Bill, which seems to be called "crime and disorder". I should like to have it confirmed that this Bill does not try to attempt to alter the law of Scotland. Tackling Scottish measures on the back of an essentially English Bill is always an inadequate way to amend Scots law. I hope that the proposed fast-track—from offence to court appearance—will not jeopardise the legal process, and not lead to injustice. I certainly applaud any effort to bring accused persons to court in the shortest realistic period. In the case of the young, that will be most beneficial, both to the accused and the victim; and to the wider society. The connection between offending and judicial disposal is always worth stressing and reinforcing. My only caution lies in the occasional merit of being able to examine what the accused person has done in the intervening period after being charged. That is the informal equivalent of a deferred sentence.

The measures to protect children, lower the age of criminal responsibility in England and place responsibility for their children's behaviour with the parents seem to be sound, and regrettably necessary, measures. There is a substantial need to re-establish standards of parenting and upbringing, which have become both lax and vague in recent decades. I am a firm believer in the need to get people to re-examine their approach to family management. I see no harm in the Government giving clear advice about absolute minimum standards in the form of legislation. However, I am sure that the noble Baroness, who will reply to this debate, will agree with me that the current crisis of lawlessness among children and young people can only be reversed by the efforts of all adults and not just, for example, parents, teachers or policemen. Respect for the law will only return when the reason for its existence is seen to be worth while. Getting people to understand the benefits of accepting the law is a central task.

I hope that any review of the social security system and social policy will conclude that the focus must be upon three major areas, and must be effective. I define those areas as being: young unemployed males, young single mothers and the long term unemployed. The first need to develop new attitudes to the kind of work that they are looking for and preparing for; the second, the young single mothers, need help and encouragement within the context of their inexperience to bring up the families that we probably wish they had not had while so young; the third, the long-term unemployed, need to grasp the helping hand of training and begin to believe that they will work again.

Finally, and inevitably, I turn to the proposals for the development of the constitution. I believe that this will ultimately lead to the creation of a federal Britain. This is the only real British solution to the central problem of the Union as we know it. The problem to be overcome is no less than the domination of the British Union by the English state; that is, by its sheer scale and voting power. The risk of returning to the democratic deficit and colonial-style minority government is too great for Scotland. I put it this way. Scotland is either a sovereign political entity or just a region of Britain. I believe that the vast majority in Scotland want to exercise their sovereignty within the United Kingdom, but not on the existing terms. A domestic parliament will begin to meet that desire.

It is to be hoped that these developments can be welcomed by all partners in the British Union. Failure to do so will encourage the alternative solution: that Scotland should pursue its own sovereign path outwith the British Union. The first beneficiary of devolution will be the Scots Law. I do not believe that this Parliament is capable of doing justice to its development. It is so little understood, and forever regarded as the other system. A Scottish parliament will have the Scots law central to its heart. That, alone, I suggest is sufficient to justify its creation.

I should like to go back a little so that your Lordships will understand where I am coming from. When the Union Commissioners met for their first substantial discussions on 22nd April 1706, the English Commissioners made the following proposal of substance: That the two Kingdoms of England and Scotland be for ever United into one Kingdom by the name of Great Britain. That the United Kingdom be represented by one and the same Parliament". They also proposed that the English Act of Succession would apply to the United Kingdom.

On the 24th April, two days later, the Scottish Commissioners, drawn from the Parliament of 1705, presented a radically different proposal of four points. First, that the succession should be as per the English Act; secondly, that there should be reciprocal exchange of rights and privileges between the two kingdoms; thirdly, that there should be free trade between the two kingdoms and the colonies; and, fourthly, that all laws and statutes in either kingdom were to be compatible or repealed.

The Scottish proposals dealt with the major problem of the Dual Monarchy—or the Dynastic Union: the co-ordination of Her Majesty's Governments in England and Scotland. The Scots were offering to accept the Hanovarian succession in return for free trade, the end of war and a treaty of friendship; together with the repeal of English discriminatory legislation, such as the Navigation Act and the Aliens Act. That was clearly a demand for a federal union. The Scottish proposals were rejected out of hand and an incorporating union (the Union that we know) was the only proposal allowed to be discussed.

I believe that we should bear all that in mind as we come to make the next steps in the development of the British Union. Ignoring the will of the people of Scotland will only perpetuate the inherent unfairness of the Union. I wish well the Parliament of 1997 in this respect.

7.57 p.m.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to introduce devolved government to Wales. As is well known to many of your Lordships who hail from the Principality, I am not a new convert to this concept and have long wished to see the return of democracy to Wales, either through a return of power to local government or, better still, the creation of a Welsh assembly with the power to govern in Welsh matters. Before my noble friends on these Benches decide that I should be denied the vote on the second count of having joined the certifiable, the insane, perhaps I may explain why I hold these views.

There exists in Wales a political problem known as the "democratic deficit"—a name taken from a learned paper written by Kevin Morgan and Ellis Roberts and published in 1993. That name is now used by the press and has even entered the portals of the Welsh Office. This deficit has come into being through both external and internal factors. Anglesey, Aberystwyth and Angle are a long way from London and even further from Brussels. As real political power moves ever eastward, Wales becomes further isolated and that isolation must be seen in the context of the centralisation of the power that, over the past 18 years, has been taken from local government. That process did nothing to reform the excesses that existed in a small number of local authorities, but rather left local government with a raft of statutory duties and little contact with the people who were called upon to vote for it.

The power to govern in Wales has been substantially handed over to quangos which now number 188 and handle some 30 per cent. of the Welsh Office budget.

Quango appointees greatly outnumber elected councillors. Some put the ratio as high as 3:1. To believe that quango appointments are made on a politically neutral basis would be naïve. One may well ask, why does the system work? The only answer that I can find is the generous nature of the English taxpayer. Of those who oppose change I ask, would the English electorate consent to live under a similar regime?

The case for change is self-evident. To turn the clock backwards would achieve little. The fundamental changes to Welsh local government have been too great to do that and are now working well. Let us look to France and to Germany where regional government works well and let us remember that new concept that came with the Maastricht Treaty; namely, subsidiarity. Why should it stop east of the Severn?

My enthusiasm for a Welsh assembly should not be taken as a lack of respect for the magnificent achievements that a succession of Secretaries of State from both parties have brought about in the creation of what is Wales today. The Wales of tomorrow requires a different touch. I hope I may give two examples. I refer to the economic development of the north and west of Wales and the hard political decisions that are necessary which can be made only in Wales. They will not be made by a government in Westminster. The Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 in creating unitary authorities made a half-hearted attempt at providing for that level of administration that concerns police, fire, health and health and safety services. A Welsh assembly could so easily encompass this in a manner far more beneficial to the community which is served rather than by the artificial units created by the Act.

The pros and cons of an assembly have never been far from debate at any time since the failed referendum of 1979. The "con" argument has always been dominated by the cost of the assembly. I understand that the additional cost over and above the transfer of existing costs is thought to be minimal. I ask the Minister to put on record what this cost will be.

If the Government wish to gain assent at the referendum, the White Paper must be radical. It should not only state what powers are to be given to the assembly, but also argue the case for the powers that will remain with Westminster. There is in Wales a considerable cultural diversity and if the assembly is to gain the confidence of all this must be reflected in the manner in which its members are elected. This diversity is better represented by local authority boundaries than by parliamentary constituencies. To this end the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994 should be revisited as there is a good case for increasing the number of authorities. The case for PR is unarguable in the context of a Welsh assembly.

There are two major problems which I hope the White Paper will address, both of which may well have defeated the legislators of the Venetian Republic. The first is how to reassure if not protect rural north and west Wales against the political and economic ambitions of the south. The second is even more complex. If the assembly is to be other than an expensive talking shop, in which case it will be rejected, it must have the power to reject Whitehall legislation where a commonality of law between England and Wales is not in the interest of the Principality. I give an example as regards much of recent legislation concerning education. It has been announced that the nursery voucher scheme will not now take place in Wales. If such a power was given to the assembly, how would it prevail when the government of the day in Westminster do not represent the political will of the Welsh? Your Lordships will recall that a problem arose with a few local authorities in the 1980s when they tried to take such powers upon themselves. In the case of a Welsh assembly, Westminster would be giving it just that power.

I hope that the Government will be brave enough to offer that at some time in the future the assembly could be given the power of taxation. If we have a lesson to learn from attempts to reform local government, it is that to give representation without taxation leads to bad government. To separate the vote from the wallet is indeed folly. For the assembly to have no financial responsibility other than to prioritise the spending of a block grant will always add a divisive political dimension to the allocation of moneys.

If, as I hope, the assembly comes into being, future Westminster legislation will be drafted so as to recognise the power of the assembly. However, existing legislation has given to the Secretary of State the power to make orders which require the consent of Westminster. If the responsibility for such secondary legislation passes to the assembly, there will he cases where the commonality of law is broken in a manner not intended in the original legislation. I cannot share the opinion expressed by my party during the election that a Welsh assembly calls into question the integrity of the Union. History has shown us that all too often a rigid and unchangeable constitution brings about its own downfall. If our constitutional arrangements have anything to fear, it is from Europe and not from Wales.

I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate she will say what the Government will do to redress the "democratic deficit" in Wales if the referendum does not gain an affirmative vote, for the Government must have a fall back solution, and that solution should be known. How all embracing is the commitment in the gracious Speech to govern for the benefit of the whole nation"? Over the past 20 years, and perhaps longer, we have witnessed the ascendency of the urban voter over the rural voter. All recent legislation that concerns the rural economy and rural culture has been dominated by urban attitudes. We need look no further than recent environmental legislation and the national parks. What will the Government do to protect the rural minority, or will the minority interest be always subjected to the urban desire? Is the rural minority similar to, or unlike, other minorities? I should like an answer to that for by far the greater part of Wales is rural. If the assembly is in turn to govern for the benefit of the whole Welsh nation, it will have to have a duty placed upon it to protect the rural interest.

By now my noble friends will be convinced that I should be denied the vote on the third count of having joined the criminal class. However, I believe that we best protect our institutions by allowing them to develop if they are best to serve our countrymen and country women. A Welsh assembly is just such a development and with it we may see the return of those who succeed in the community—I do not mean that success is governed by money—to the service of local government. That is a great tradition which we are in danger of losing. The referendum offers the Welsh a great opportunity. Let us grab it with both hands and argue about the detail later.

8.7 p.m.

Lord Rees-Mogg

My Lords, we have been saying pleasant things about each other this evening, or at least most of us have. I wish to join in and congratulate the new Government Front Bench. It is always pleasant to see a government in all the fresh dawn of first confidence. However, life goes on; government is difficult; and that moment is seldom recaptured. While it lasts it is right for all of us to take pleasure in it.

I wish also to congratulate what one could call the new Opposition Front Bench. I have listened to what they have had to say, both last Thursday and today. I detect a new spriteliness, a new vigour and a new interest in life which may perhaps come from being able to speak their minds more frankly now that they are free of the trammels of government. They, too, deserve the congratulations of this House. I do not wish to leave out the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I see the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, on that Bench. In the previous Parliament the noble Lord earned the gratitude of this House on, I believe, a permanent basis for his defence of the independence of the judiciary.

Therefore I start by congratulating everyone on almost everything. One thing I hope the Government Front Bench will recognise is that this House has a genuine purpose in trying to master the real difficulties of constitutional reform and that when questions are put which may be difficult to answer or when amendments are tabled which may be difficult to resist it is the intention, certainly on the part of noble Lords on these Benches, to improve the legislation and that there is no intention of blocking it or wrecking it.

I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said about her experience in Scotland. I was in Scotland during the election campaign; I was not in a battle bus. I am quite sure she is right. There is a basic will among the Scottish people to have what can properly be called a Scottish parliament. When considering the first piece of legislation, the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill, we should start from the point that the electorate in Scotland made its position absolutely clear. Having said that, one looks at the difficulties. The difficulties are as clear in the referendum Bill—it is only a first example—as they are in constitutional reform generally.

The point of all constitutional reform is to change the rules by which important relationships are governed. It may be useful to consider the constitutional reforms immediately ahead of us as well as those which will arise later in the Parliament in terms of changes in relationships by considering what one might call the counter party to each specific reform.

There is a striking counter party to the referendum Bill. The striking counter party to Scotland is Wales. We have not as yet had a justification for separating the idea of a parliament for Scotland from an assembly for Wales. These are not terms of art. France has an assembly with much the same powers as the Parliament that we have in this country. Those terms are indications of esteem. The esteem given to the proposed devolution for Wales is not in parity with the esteem given to the form of devolution proposed for Scotland. If there is a sense in which Scotland is a nation and Wales less fully a nation, that is utterly unacceptable to the Welsh people. What does Scotland have as regards nationhood that Wales does not have? The answer is Scottish law. Scotland has a system of law which Wales has not retained. On the other hand, as is shown in the referendum Bill, the Welsh language is held to be much stronger than the Scottish language. The Welsh people are to be allowed to answer the referendum in their own language; but, as proposed, the poor Scottish people will have to answer the referendum in English.

The issue applies not only to Scotland and Wales but also to Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is at the heart of the West Lothian question. If we are to move to devolution for Scotland because we know that that is what the Scottish people want and therefore we should not resist it, is it right to set up a system in which we have three devolutions from the United Kingdom Parliament, and one non-devolution in respect of England, in which each system is essentially different from the other? In the long term, can it be acceptable to go from a parliament for Scotland down to an assembly for Wales? One has the Welsh relationship. the English relationship and the Northern Ireland relationship. As put forward, the scheme does not provide an answer to those relationships.

One then considers other relationships. What are we to do about local government in Scotland and Wales? Let us consider the shift of power as regards Scotland because it is clearer; we understand it better. We have an important shift from powers exercised essentially by the Westminster Parliament through the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office up to Edinburgh. But will it not be natural for there to be also a change in the power relationship between the new Edinburgh parliament and local authorities in Scotland? My friends in Scotland tell me that they are not well satisfied with the state of local government in Scotland; they do not think that it is good local government. Some of them think it natural to give powers to Edinburgh and reduce the powers discharged by the local government. I do not know whether they are right. However, it is clear that the relationship with local government has to be examined.

So, too, does the important relationship with the Treasury. If the Scottish people say yes, the Scottish parliament will have the right to additional tax revenue. What relationship will that have to the direct grant from the Treasury? Will the Treasury be entitled to say, "Now that they are taxing themselves that much more, they do not need so much money from us?" Would that be intolerable? I dare say that it would be intolerable to the Scottish people. But would it be intolerable to the Treasury which is harder hearted than the rest of us? The Treasury relationship will have to be right. The answers are not immediately obvious.

There is the relationship inside the parties. During the election campaign, an interesting point was made by the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister. He said that the Labour Party was committing itself not to increase taxes in Scotland in the new Scottish parliament in the course of this Parliament. But can he deliver that promise? There will be a Scottish parliament. That Scottish parliament will have a majority, perhaps a coalition. It may need a coalition because it will be proportionate. That majority will have a leader. I do not know what he will be called—perhaps the prime minister of Scotland. He will not be answerable to anyone in a political party in London. If that parliament wishes to raise taxes in Scotland, and the Scottish people and Westminster have given it the power, he will not be answerable to the leader of the Labour Party—whether he is Prime Minister in London or whoever he might be. Conflict inside parties may, and almost certainly will, arise.

As regards Europe, do we look forward to a Europe of the regions? Many people would do so. Do we look forward to a Scotland which will deal directly with Brussels as regards fisheries? Will a Scottish parliament be content to have Westminster decide that Scottish fisheries should be common to the whole of Europe? That will be a difficult issue. If we had a Cornish parliament, it would not be agreeable to the Westminster Parliament giving away Cornish fish to Spanish fishermen.

On Europe we also have the problem that any claims that Scotland might have to a direct relationship with Brussels are also claims that can be made by Catalonia, Lombardy, the German Länder and Corsica—claims which might well be resented and resisted by our other European partners.

These problems of relationships come immediately to the surface as soon as the Government have the courage to confront constitutional reform. Some constitutional reform is now no doubt absolutely necessary. But the reason why governments refrain from constitutional reform is that it is exceptionally sensitive and exceptionally difficult. I hope that in our debates in this House the Government will recognise that it is our awareness of these difficulties and this sensitivity rather than any rejection of them which may make us difficult on occasion in supporting their legislation.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate my colleagues on the Government Front Bench on their ministerial appointments. It is also a great pleasure to welcome the Speech, which is one of the most radical of gracious Speeches. It has a quality about it that will strongly appeal to millions of people who have just cause to complain of Conservative policies over the past 18 years. This Speech has been a long time coming, but it gives to millions of people a glimpse of the sun, as did the gracious Speech of 1945 and, I suspect, 1906.

The first aspect to which I wish to draw attention is devolution to Wales—a matter close to my heart. The setting up of a Welsh assembly to improve the way Wales is governed and to strengthen the unity and cohesion of the Welsh nation has been an aim of Welsh politics for over 100 years. Many of us in the House today have worked persistently over the past few decades to establish such an assembly. In particular, I must mention the contribution of my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, who has been one of the pathfinders.

I followed very carefully the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. In Wales it has been a long and slow journey to get where we are. Those who know the Labour movement in Wales will also know that it has been necessary to make difficult compromises; and there have been disappointments. So against that background I have not the slightest doubt that the new Government's commitment to the setting up of a Welsh assembly is of the greatest significance in the long history of the Welsh nation. I believe it opens the way for constructive work for Wales, in Wales, in the years ahead. It can be the basis for further development if such development is shown to be necessary or desirable.

I therefore thank the Government for giving devolution a top place in the timetable in fulfilment of the promise in the manifesto. It is fulfilled in the referendum Bill introduced in the Commons on the first day after the opening of the new Parliament. I believe that the proposed Welsh Assembly is well within the reach of the Welsh people. Given a strong lead by the Government and with the co-operation and good-will of those who believe in devolution, I believe that a Welsh Assembly is also within our grasp.

I sincerely hope that the Conservative Party in Wales will come to adopt the positive approach towards devolution, to a Welsh assembly, that was eloquently expressed in this House this evening by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. I thought his speech a substantial contribution to the debate in Wales. Here we have the voice of a Conservative Peer speaking for devolution. I therefore hope that fresh thinking will emerge within the Conservative Party within Wales.

I now turn to another part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland. There is in the tragedy of Northern Ireland, as ever, a challenge for the whole of the United Kingdom. I greatly welcome the paragraph devoted to the Province in the gracious Speech. I note that the paragraph omits the word "compromise". But there can be no trust and confidence without a willingness to compromise on the part of all the parties in the Province. The paragraph then emphasises the Government's determination to seek reconciliation and a political settlement which has broad support, working in co-operation with the Irish Government. At the same time it recognises the anxieties, the concerns, at some well-publicised features of life in the Province, such as tensions over parades, discrimination in the workplace, confidence in policing and protection of human rights. I trust that progress can be made in all these areas of concern.

I acknowledge, of course, that the last Conservative Government took many of these matters very seriously. But the new Government is in a position of great strength in another place and authority in the country. I hope that all the parties in Northern Ireland will take account of that fact and will begin to work together in common harness.

I welcome the promise of a Bill to incorporate into United Kingdom law the main provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK is already a signatory. These are the basic rights which belong to and should be enjoyed by all people, whatever their colour, religion or race. Looking back at our various debates on the subject one can see how the position has gradually changed beyond one of reluctantly ratifying the convention in 1951, to granting individuals the right to petition Strasbourg in 1966, and to the promise of a Bill in this Session to incorporate the convention as part of our law. It is not only in Northern Ireland that that promise will be welcomed. I believe it will also be welcomed right across the rest of the country. It is of practical importance to all citizens and will at the same time enhance the country's reputation. We are most fortunate in this House to have among us the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, to whom we are hugely indebted for leading us towards the goal of incorporation of the Convention for several decades. I now look forward to seeing the Bill to which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is personally committed.

There is one final matter that I wish to mention briefly which is not unrelated to basic human rights; it is, at least, related to civilised life. During recent years there has been a worrying tendency for some health authorities to decide who is to have access to modern medical technology and who is to be denied it. Given the ever-growing demand for better health treatment in the light of what new medical and scientific discoveries can make available, is there not a need for the whole subject of access to expensive, sophisticated medical technology to be looked at by an ad hoc committee so that a new strategic direction can be given by Parliament to the National Health Service as to what Parliament expects the NHS to provide? Or is it right that judgment on access to such technology should be left to the managers of the different local authorities in their own communities?

The gracious Speech has been a long time coming. Expectations in the country are very high. The new Government have immense authority, but also great responsibilities. Experience shows that government is never easy. However, I trust that this Government will not be diverted from its central task of implementing the manifesto commitments.

8.29 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, like sitting on this side of the House, the subject of Scottish devolution is by no means new to me nor to many of your Lordships. We have been here before in various combinations and I remember a time when the Labour Government of Mr. Attlee was opposed to a Scottish parliament and was indeed dismissive of the whole idea. In fact, there was more support for it in those days from the Conservatives. My father was a founder member of the Scottish covenant movement which petitioned for a Scottish parliament and which received a million signatures, including my own. That was in the late 1940s.

Since then we have had a very long time to sit down and think seriously about what is actually involved. Since then we have also had the European Commission and Messrs. Kohl and Chirac who, I imagine, would quite like to split Scotland from the rest of Britain on the well-known and tried principle of "divide and rule". However, they might not be so keen on splitting Bavaria from Germany or Brittany from France.

It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the Labour Party on their spectacular victory in the recent election. But I will say this: if they are going to give parliaments to Scotland and Wales and later to the English regions—which I have heard suggested—they may be dividing England up as it was divided (as we remember from our history books) in Anglo-Saxon times into Mercia, Wessex and the rest. Furthermore, they are marching bravely into the heart of Europe which they imagine they can influence, though many of us are quite certain that they cannot. If the Labour Party are going to give yet more powers to the European Commission and the European Parliament, it seems to me that it will be not only your Lordships' House which may be in danger of becoming redundant; we shall not have much left to do here in either House of Parliament. Perhaps we might turn the whole place into a museum or a Japanese hotel like the large building across the river.

Back to Scotland. We have not yet found the answer to the West Lothian question. I feel that Her Majesty's Government might possibly award £1 million from the lottery for someone who could find the answer. I am not sure that the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, did not come close to it this afternoon, but we should have to think about that and bear in mind if we have a federation that England is so much bigger than Scotland and Wales. England would be very much the preponderant partner in the federation and it might be difficult.

We are in a situation today where a large number of senior Ministers are Scots. We have in this House the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, there is also the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and a few others. There is a formidable team from north of the Border. I believe that people may well be saying, and I hear that they are saying that, not content with ruling England, the Scots also want their own Parliament to legislate for themselves without southern interference. As a Scot resident in England, I have heard that more and more often in the past few weeks.

Apart from the West Lothian question, other questions arise. My noble friend Lady Blatch put one: is Scotland to continue to be over-represented in the House of Commons? Also, we must look to the future. Let us suppose that a Labour Government were elected which depended on Scottish votes, but they were in a minority in England. Would that Government be able to legislate for England on matters which were to be reserved to the Scottish Parliament? I gather that Scots law is, as we heard this afternoon, to be devolved to the new Scottish Parliament. Will such a Labour Government who are in a minority in England be able to pass Acts concerning English law, relying on the support of Scottish Members of Parliament? If not, how are they to govern at all?

I am sure that on this side of the House we will be constructive about the matter, even those of us who disagree with what has been done and think it is a disaster. However, we shall try to do our best not to obstruct the elected government. Perhaps Her Majesty's Government could help us by providing answers to questions which baffle me and my noble friends. I hope that the Scottish people will have these serious issues put before them clearly. It seems to me that many people in Scotland fail to grasp the seriousness of the matter. They want to remain in the union but they also want a Parliament which will inevitably have many of the trappings of sovereignty and will, incidentally, be very expensive. Who will pay for it?

I believe that if the Scottish people want a real parliament, they should support the SNP. Independence or the status quo are and always have been in my opinion the only serious options. I hope that they will come to understand that and will reject the Government's proposals in the referendum.

We should remember that when we are considering important constitutional change we are not just legislating for this Parliament, with its large government majority in the other place, but for the foreseeable future. I imagine that the proposals might work in the short term. They might work for longer on the supposition that the Labour Party would win election after election with overwhelming majorities. As that is highly unlikely, these measures will in the course of time come under increasing and mostly, I believe, hostile scrutiny, especially in England. I very much hope that, in their own interests, the Scottish people will reject them.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, I thought I would be the third to speak about Northern Ireland today hut I am the third and a half because I listened with interest and care to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, who has a deep knowledge and understanding of Northern Ireland affairs. I wish to speak about the beloved Province to which I belong. It has long been a wonderful part of the world in which to live, with friendly, intelligent people, always humorous and sometimes wise. Unfortunately, things have been getting much worse over the last 18 months. Small and large communities are at loggerheads, sectarianism and hatred are rife and there seems little chance of things getting better in the foreseeable future.

It is time for a fresh look and to understand what has been going wrong. I therefore heartily welcome Dr. Mowlam as our new Secretary of State. She is not new to Northern Ireland but I shall not be surprised if it takes her a little time to get to grips with the situation.

I believe, indeed I know, that fear is the root cause of the present distrust and suspicion between communities. Unionists believe that the Government have been giving way to encourage Sinn Fein to join talks and they are fearful that by guile and subterfuge they will find themselves pushed towards a united Ireland. Nationalists and republicans are afraid of attacks on individuals or communities by loyalist paramilitaries, and I much regret that they have justification. They are also afraid of what the IRA will do, and it should be remembered that the IRA have murdered more Roman Catholics than Protestants in the past 30 years. Almost all nationalists now believe that the failure of the ceasefire in 1994–95 was the fault of the former Prime Minister, John Major. They also fear for the future.

These fears have been encouraged by fudges and statements with double meanings. The framework document is a good example and no attempt has been made to counter the false propaganda about the ceasefire put out by Sinn Fein. Those remarks were put together before the Prime Minister spoke in Belfast on Friday afternoon. It had been my intention to offer one piece of advice to the Prime Minister and to Dr. Mowlam. It was to do nothing which would increase the fear in any section of the community in Northern Ireland but rather seek to dispel it. Church leaders and many others have been making every effort but a lead from the Government was required. On Friday, the Prime Minster gave such a lead. He spoke plainly and simply and I can almost feel that the clouds have started to lift and that there is hope for the future where formerly there was little hope.

The Prime Minister's speech was wide ranging and laid out plainly many matters of doubt. Particularly welcome is his request that Articles 2 and 3 in the constitution of the Republic of Ireland be amended. To the IRA those articles give authorisation and legality. The Prime Minster made plain that the Government would respect the wishes of the people in Northern Ireland. That is very important. He gave the IRA one more chance to renounce violence for good and to make it possible for Sinn Fein to join the other democratic parties in talks. He also made plain that if the IRA does not respond quickly there will be no place for Sinn Fein and the full weight of the security forces will press upon all terrorists. It is such plain speaking for which we have long been waiting.

In one respect the Prime Minister's speech raised a doubt with unionists in general. He may not know that the framework document was written by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. It was intentionally written in a convoluted manner and the Northern Ireland Office should have known better than to accept it. There is a widespread wish in both parts of Ireland to develop useful working relationships on all manner of subjects and I have no doubt that in an atmosphere of peace those will quickly develop. Perhaps after a few years it may be helpful to formalise some of them, but I believe it would be the kiss of death to start by setting up formal bodies with executive powers. They are unnecessary and would send a signal to unionists that joint sovereignty is on the way.

Recent fears have been increased by foreign intervention in the affairs of Northern Ireland, particularly from the Republic of Ireland. That interference has multiplied in the past few years and is much resented by unionists, to whom it is totally unacceptable. It is the secrecy of it that is so disturbing and the general perception has been that the Northern Ireland Office obtained the agreement of Dublin before taking any initiative. That is a shocking state of affairs. If the Prime Minister can control that interference and Articles 2 and 3 are amended, there is real hope that the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic will progress in an atmosphere of mutual trust.

Perhaps I may give one piece of advice to the Prime Minister and to Dr. Mowlam; that is, they should carry on as they have started. But they should not give too much attention to the advice they will receive from the Northern Ireland Office. They may become confused and lose their direction. They must do what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, suggested; that is, they must start to fill the democratic vacuum. I hope that they will quickly start to give additional responsibilities to our local councils.

On Friday the Prime Minister gave an indication of his determination to help Northern Ireland to go forward in peace. I welcome that most heartily, as indeed does everyone in Northern Ireland except perhaps those who have a continuing interest in terrorism. He has made a good start. I wish the Prime Minister and his Secretary of State, Dr. Mowlam, God speed in their efforts to bring a genuine peace to Northern Ireland.

8.42 p.m.

The Marquess of Bath

My Lords, while I am delighted by the Government's intention to introduce a measure of self-government for both Scotland and Wales, I am concerned that there are no plans to follow that with a reappraisal of the constitutional status of the English regions unless there should be some demand in evidence that that may be desired. I feel bound therefore to claim that interest for the inhabitants of Wessex. I am hopeful that there will be similar demands from all of the other English regions. I should like to think that the UK might now be approaching the time when devolution will be introduced on an even wider scale, and that the intended legislation on behalf of Scotland and Wales will set a pattern for what may later be applied elsewhere.

The appeal of devolution is that it offers a region far greater control over its own quality of life while encouraging the cultural diversity between different regions in a manner that will individualistically enhance the lives of those who dwell there without interfering in the concept of a broader based UK sovereignty under whose aegis the macro-economics and the defence of the realm will continue to be organised on their behalf. Such emphasis upon individualism would be felt as a balancing counterpart to the ever-increasing centralisation in the way that our lives are run.

At this point in time, when we stand on the brink of fuller co-operation with Europe, it would be a move greatly appreciated by the other nations whose regional structure is already significantly stronger than our own for this country to present itself in terms of the more pronounced geographical definition of the English regions while furnishing them with new political responsibility to enhance their emergent status. In that way it will prove easier for us to emerge in a constitutional shape that will enable us to guide rather than to hinder the formation of a European political union yet to come, in the forefront rather than following in the wake of a movement which I anticipate will be shaping our identity over the coming half century.

It can certainly be argued that the English regions do not even know where their own boundaries should be drawn. But the heartlands are where those identities have been best preserved. I should like to think that those could be made the distinct nuclei around which the concept of their re-emergence might be encouraged. Prior to the proposal of any specific legislation on behalf of the English regions, I am hoping that the Government will initiate a consideration of these matters within the county councils responsible for the welfare of those heartlands.

In the case of Wessex, I believe that the Government should invite the county councils of the five counties which constitute central Wessex—the county councils of Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Hampshire—to meet together to discuss and determine the areas where their quality of life may be collectively improved with a view to realising a greater sense of cultural fusion and economic welfare. Each of those counties may be expected to host such assemblies on a rota basis. I hasten to add that that would not constitute an additional tier of government; it would be the councillors already elected within those counties who would have the right to attend the assemblies. It would be only at a later date, if this Government chose to set up a Wessex witan on an official basis, that there would be a requirement for councillors to be elected to it direct, replacing existing county council elections.

Once the Wessex witan was already functional, at a later date—perhaps five years later—the areas which surround central Wessex would need to determine whether or not they wished to proclaim themselves as lying within the borders of Wessex or the borders of a neighbouring region whose heartland I am anticipating will have acquired similar political identity at the same time as ourselves. I am foreseeing that a future map of England will include the following regions: Wessex; South Thames; North Thames; Trent and Anglia; Middle England; Lancastria; Yorkshire and Northumbria—a total of eight regions in all.

The process of determining whether a particular segment of a county belongs here, or there, should only be made after establishing the preferences in a series of local referenda.

The case for determining the precise borders of Wessex is as delicate as with many another region. There are areas of West Sussex, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire. Gloucestershire, Devon and Cornwall where I would certainly wish to be guided by local feeling before proclaiming that they should be included within the Wessex identity. Being half Cornish myself, I know that Cornwall proudly proclaims its separate identity, even from Devon. But if the region were to be presented as Wessex and Cornwall, with special emphasis on the Cornish people being firmly in control of their own quality of life, I cannot predict where they might finally elect to stand, as a separate region or in association with Wales and Brittany or in association with an extended Wessex. But these I regard as problems which lie beyond the establishment of a political heartland for Wessex.

A problem which perhaps worries us most of all concerns whether the creation of these regions might incur additional taxation to be levied in surplus to that which is under the strict control of our central Government. The regional assemblies will indeed require funds to finance their useful activities. I am wondering whether a system might not be possible where each of these assemblies might receive a per capita and per hectare rebate from the inland revenue which has been collected throughout the United Kingdom as a whole. This sum would be theirs to spend as they might wish in lieu of funds which would formerly have been at each county council's disposal.

The concept of an England regionalised will stand in total contrast to what we were beginning to become; an England which had lost its empire while failing to identify a role in the world which it now could play. The creation of a separate parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales will certainly be steps in the right direction. But I sincerely hope that this Government will not miss out on such a unique opportunity to make catalytic decisions that will ultimately bring both Britain and Europe into the 21st century.

8.53 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, in spite of the greatest recorded drop in crime over the past three years since records began, everyone would still be delighted if the new Home Secretary succeeds in further reducing it.

Recently there has been a spate of multiple rapes by children. One case was on a foreigner at Little Venice. There have been several others reported in the press involving children as young as 12 and victims even younger. I find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the behaviour of these young rapists, behaving in an utterly unnatural way for their age, have been influenced by the sex and violence seen on video, film, the Internet and "top-shelf' magazines, which may be they cannot buy themselves, but which they can certainly have made available to themselves.

Violence in the media has been reduced over the past year or two, but even now there is hardly a Hollywood film without its ration of sex and violence. Years ago it did not seem necessary to be explicit in detail; perhaps playwrights were better then. If this Government are going to reduce crime, they should take a careful look at the effect of pornography and violence on influencing the behaviour of young and old alike.

The Home Secretary has talked about greater measures of punishment for the young, but experience has shown that more subtle means have more effect. One such initiative already happening is that of the presentations to young tearaways of the "Prison Me, No Way" initiative, when prison life is explained to the mothers and sons who end up in tears at the thought. The young frequently promise to desist from crime. At the end of one session, one mother was nearly sick at what she had seen.

Yet by the year 2000 there is likely to be 10,000 teenage criminals. The effort to improve the situation must be made through all the agencies—the social services, housing, youth and drug agencies, and so on. For the Home Secretary to talk of severe punishment was just election talk.

Having said that, there is an inability to punish the very small core of very young offenders who know that nothing can be done about them in the last resort, yet this small number is responsible for a very large proportion of the crime and the distress that it causes. I have no doubt in my own mind that where a young child is a perpetual criminal, the cane should be reinstated to the armoury as a punishment of last resort.

As regards fast track punishment, as I understand it the stipendiary would determine guilt and the magistrate would pronounce sentence. This will actually lead to more delays. I believe that the views of the Magistrates' Association, which actually knows what goes on in the courts and how they operate, should be closely listened to.

I am very sorry that the Government intend to further penalise pistol shooters. I must declare an interest as I have a pistol that will not be affected by the present Act, but will be by the proposed Bill. The shock and horror of those who witnessed the appalling events at Dunblane is fully understandable. But that horror should never have been allowed to be an excuse for action which was devoid of logic. The 1996 Act was strict beyond reason and ensured that no one could keep a pistol outside a gun club. It left no room for the pistol owner to take his pistol outside without committing an offence.

Pistol shooting is an Olympic sport. The requirements for safety have been fully satisfied and more. Any new legislation will be purely to punish pistol shooters rather than to promote safety. Mr. Blair has said that this Government is for all the people. There are 60,000 innocent and well-disciplined pistol shooters who are also part of the people. They should be allowed to practise their sport and not to have it outlawed. This is all on account of one man who lied to get his certificate and where the police utterly failed to do its duty within the existing controls of the time. Had Hamilton needed two referees, writing under separate cover, as required now, he would never have got his licence.

The likely result of denying any access to the sport of pistol shooting is to drive it underground. It is not known how many guns are being imported illegally, but there is every indication to suspect that they are coming in for the particular use of those who are involved in the drug trade. Already anyone actually wanting a pistol can easily obtain one in a very short time, so that the withdrawal of legally held pistols will not stop another massacre in the future by anyone determined to do so.

The police are going to have to build target centres for their armed response units to practise. The Army will also need to practise. It would make good economic sense for civilian clubs to be allowed to use those ranges for their sport.

Yet there is no saying that a policeman or a soldier may not go berserk with his pistol. I remember in the Army in Egypt one trooper lost his cool with the dhobi wallah; that is the laundryman. So he got his half-track out and drove it backwards and forwards across the dhobi tent. I suppose on present form the Government would withdraw all half-tracks from the Army. Will the police and the services be allowed to retain side arms?

The present occupation of the insane seems to be to put needles in the food on the shelves in supermarkets. If a family gets killed by them, will the Government close all supermarkets?

However, I do have some sympathy with the Government over the control of airguns. The use of almost every waymarking sign in the country as a target by air gunners indicates just how many are taken out into the countryside. There have been countless cases of the misuse of airguns.

Nothing was said in the gracious Speech about the Government's previously stated intention to open the moors to public access. I must declare an interest. Only 16 per cent. of walkers actually want open access, but the right granted to them will extend to every egg collector, saboteur, air gunner, long dog man and other layabout. The moors need a great deal, and long and late hours, of management in the form of heather burning, bracken control and vermin control. There are difficult problems to tackle, such as the menace of tick. If an influx not so much of walkers, but of vandals, near to the towns—those areas most enjoyed by walkers—drives off the management, the unmanaged and unchecked heather and bracken will soon deter the hardiest walker; tick will flourish; and wildlife will disappear. So much will come from Mr. Blair's statement that he would like to protect wildlife. Indeed, 55 per cent. of walkers already run their dogs off the lead to range the moor. Alternatively, the sheepmen will overstock with sheep and turn the moor from heather to grass.

Before the Government succumb to the political wishes of the vociferous rambling minority, they must try to find out and to understand how the moors are managed or they will do them irreparable damage and make them much less attractive to the 84 per cent. of walkers who just want to walk the footpaths. The Government can legislate when they wish and how they wish, but they cannot legislate against the inevitability of nature. There is a lot more to it than just transferring political rights from the occupier.

I have never bought a lottery ticket, but one thing that I think that the Government could do to advantage is to limit the size of the prizes. I really cannot see the point of prizes of many tens of millions of pounds, which would probably be beyond the ability of most people to manage, when they could be limited and spread so that a larger number of people could benefit.

Unemployment has been dropping over the past few years by some 5 per cent. annually and the jobs have largely been sustainable. That has been particularly visible in the north-east with the inflow of industry, such as Samsung. Unemployment fell from March to April by 51,000—these are all sustainable jobs. Whether we shall remain an attractive venue for foreign investment when we have the social chapter remains to be seen.

I am sorry that the wealth of the utilities is to be squandered for short-term employment for the young. It would seem so much better if the utilities could be put on notice to invest that wealth, thus creating further wealth, more real jobs, foreshadowing more tax receipts from future profits, and causing training by the necessity of increased labour demand. The economy and infrastructure of the country would then be that much better off as a result, leading to further genuine and sustainable employment.

Much has already been said about Scotland. I do not look forward to devolution, but if Scotland and Wales are to govern themselves, it is imperative that England should have the same privilege. Why should England he ruled by the Scots and the Welsh—over-represented as they are? That is the only way, to my mind, that the West Lothian question can be resolved. I hope that the vital questions that were set out by my noble friend Lady Blatch will be answered.

Inflation has hit the target. Unemployment is showing one of the greatest drops since records began. The pound is strong. Britain is bequeathed to the Labour Administration in a much better state than ever inherited by any government before; and with all that Mr. Blair says that he has to undo 17 years of maladministration. Oh dear! If things now go wrong, as they have with every other Labour Administration, the Government cannot blame their predecessors. We know that their intentions are good, like the road to hell. But I genuinely hope that they will succeed better than I fear may be the case, given their policies.

I am interested in the success of UK Ltd, regardless of who is in power. I was sad when the Labour Party jeered when my noble friend Lord Cranborne expressed our feeling that we wish success to the Government. It is sad that they do not understand that it is possible to put the welfare of the country before politics.

9.4 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, as I rise and survey your Lordships' House, I am reminded of the story of the visiting preacher. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will not object if I relate that story. A visiting preacher at a local church found that attendance was sparse during his sermon. At the end of the service, the visiting preacher asked the church officer whether the church had failed to advertise the fact that he was speaking. The reply came, "No. but somebody must have leaked it." I fear that someone must have leaked the fact that I am to speak in tonight's debate.

With one and a half exceptions, I have listened to every speech and, as the debate has evolved, I have noticed that one of the features of it has been that all noble Lords have offered their congratulations and good wishes to my noble friends who, in the Christian term of my noble friend Lord Longford, have been "promoted to glory" on the Government Front Bench. If I do not add my congratulations I fear that that may be interpreted as meaning that I do not wish my noble friends well. I do wish them well and I offer them my sincere congratulations, but I must put that in context. For a fair number of years, I was a director of a professional football club in Scotland and I do not care to relate the number of managers to whom I gave my wholehearted support one week only to see them sacked the following week. I mention that only to put my congratulations in context.

For me, this gracious Speech is something of a watershed. I am sure that no one present will be surprised that I have chosen as my subject the legislation for the establishment of a Scottish parliament, the forerunner of which will be the legislation to conduct the referendum. I must at once thank the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale for their kind references to me and to my work with the Scottish Constitutional Convention. I am very grateful for those kind remarks. In the Scottish Constitutional Convention lies the blueprint for the establishment and creation of a Scottish parliament. I know that my friends in government will take that blueprint and use it as the foundation on which to build the superstructure of the parliament for Scotland.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition, said that the Conservative Party was strongly in favour of the preservation of the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, ended her speech by saying that the unity of the United Kingdom had to be placed before all else. On both counts there is nothing between us. The Labour Party holds very dearly the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom. The debate is how one preserves that unity and integrity. Those who argue that devolution will lead to a break-up should study more closely what has happened in the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is already broken up. I argue that devolution will bring it back together again.

I relate one or two facts. One hears that confession is good for the soul. I did not particularly enjoy the general election campaign. If I have not enjoyed the real thing I have not enjoyed the replay of the campaign in some speeches today. It is not my intention to replay the general election campaign, but it must be emphasised that the Conservative Party now has no seats whatever in Scotland nor in Wales. It has no European parliamentary seats in Scotland. Of 1,600 elected local councillors in Scotland, only 14 are Conservative. They control no local authority in Scotland or, as I understand it, in Wales. I do not gloat when I say that; I say it to emphasise that the United Kingdom has already broken up. I was delighted to hear the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. I urge Conservatives seriously to consider ways in which they can bring about again the unity and cohesion of the United Kingdom to which we are all committed. I would have preferred a direct move to legislation, but that is not to be. We are to have a referendum. I give a commitment to campaign in that referendum for a double yes vote in relation to the questions to he asked of the Scottish people. There are no "ifs" or "buts" about it.

During a fairly long political career—my great ambition for 30 years has been that a Scottish parliament should be created—I had begun to believe that my political life would be lived in vain. But the gracious Speech now gives a clear indication and provides great hope that my political life in one respect—the creation of a Scottish parliament—will be fulfilled. I was delighted to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Owen. He paid tribute to the late John Mackintosh and the part he played in the development of the debate on devolution. I watch with interest as the queue begins to form to take credit for the creation of a Scottish parliament. I do not consider that I am worthy to join that queue, but I should like to add three names to that of John Mackintosh. One is my lifelong friend Alex Eadie, former Member of Parliament for Midlothian. The second is the late John Robertson who in his parliamentary days was Member of Parliament for the Paisley constituency. The third name may surprise your Lordships. Although we have parted company politically, I still want to place on record my gratitude to Jim Sillars.

When 25 years ago the four of us—the three I have already mentioned and myself—wrote a pamphlet on a parliament for Scotland we were to begin a debate that took all of us by surprise. Usually, when one writes pamphlets one has a single print run and one must buy 98 per cent. of the copies to give the impression that it is a bestseller. We had three print runs of that pamphlet and could not satisfy demand. During the general election campaign and since I have received countless requests for copies of the pamphlet. It was that which began a debate that has stretched across all political parties and no political parties in Scotland. It resurrected the whole question of a Scottish parliament.

The referendum Bill will soon be before another place. Having passed through the other place, it will come to your Lordships' House. I leave a suggestion with my noble friends on the Front Bench. It is time for innovation. I would like us to do something meaningful in relation to the referendum. We have become bogged down in this country: every vote that is cast has to be cast on a Thursday. It is outrageous that in the elections to the European Parliament the people of the United Kingdom vote on a Thursday but the votes are not counted until Sunday because that is the day on which the rest of Europe votes.

I am grateful to my friends in another place for the urgency with which they have introduced the referendum Bill. Had it been delayed, I would have argued that we should have had a two-day referendum—on Saturday 29th November and on St. Andrew's Day, Sunday 30th November—campaigning on the slogan, "We bring Scotland's Parliament home on St. Andrew's Day". To the eternal credit of my friends in another place, the process is being speeded up even more. In addition, I suggest that polling should take place from 9 o'clock in the morning to 6 o'clock at night, with the results declared on the Monday to be followed by publication of the devolution Bill itself.

An exciting time lies ahead. I see in the gracious Speech the fulfilment of a long-held desire on my part. The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, referred to the democratic deficit in Wales. The democratic deficit in Scotland is even more exaggerated. There are 1,600 elected councillors, 72 Members of Parliament, eight European MPs—1,680 elected representatives for a population of 5.5 million. Statistics have shown that, per head of population, Scotland is the most under-represented country in Europe.

Those who argue that a Scottish parliament will mean that we are over-governed should look at what has happened to Scottish local government in the last three reorganisations. In 1974 the number of councillors was reduced from 6,000 to 3,000. The 1995 reorganisation was unwanted in Scotland. Part of the reason why the United Kingdom has broken up is that unpopular legislation was forced on an unwilling population. It did not happen in England. When the commission of inquiry was established in England to examine reorganisation of local government and the report was put before the Department of the Environment, no reorganisation took place. Explain that to the people of Scotland. There was no inquiry in Scotland; just reorganisation. The poll tax was introduced in Scotland as an experiment. When it became England's turn to have the poll tax, the whole thing was withdrawn. Explain that to the people and then answer the question: what has led to the break-up of the United Kingdom?

The question is not whether devolution will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom but rather whether devolution will repair an already broken United Kingdom and satisfy the desire of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, and, I am sure, every Member of your Lordships' House, to preserve the unity and integrity of the United Kingdom.

One thing is absolutely certain—the status quo is not acceptable. When William Hague went to Scotland at the weekend someone should have told him that time had moved on since he made that speech as a 16 year-old. I understand he is about to get married. For that reason alone, he will need to learn that you have to surrender power gracefully. The one thing Westminster has to understand is that it will need to surrender power with the greatest grace possible.

9.20 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it is interesting to hear the Scots complaining. They have complained quite a lot. They are over-represented, under-taxed and over-subsidised. We in the UK who are Englishmen—our country goes from John O'Groats to Land's End, to the shores of Loch Fyle, to the eastern coast of East Anglia—as my noble friend Lord Beloff said, have a say in the future of the UK. We should not be pushed about and encouraged into an unattractive English nationalism. That is what, for want of a better word. Celtic whingeing is likely to do.

That is not what I was going to say in my speech. What I was going to say is that I move in relatively high Tory circles. Note the use of the word "relatively". It is interesting to note that Mr. Blair is given considerable good will by those high Tory circles. That may not be surprising, as when he went to address the Eton College Political Society its president said to him, in the way that young men do, "Mr. Blair, sir, judging by your views you could be a Conservative", to which Mr. Blair replied, "I have got to change the Labour Party first". That was two years before he became leader of the Labour Party.

It seems to me that the present First Lord of the Treasury is now probably the most powerful man that England has seen since Oliver Cromwell. I say that because he has created the Labour Party in his image as a method of making him Prime Minister, and he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Now he has become Prime Minister he does not have the people who when Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister—the Carringtons, the Pyms, the Whitelaws of this world—had been more senior Cabinet Ministers than she had been when the previous Government were in power. He has no peer pressure in his Cabinet. He has just a praetorian guard of close acolytes. I should remind your Lordships what Tacitus said of the praetorian guard: "Quin custodiet ipsos custodes?", or who guards the guards themselves?

I do not in any way make any accusation of impropriety, immorality or lack of patriotism of the present first Lord of the Treasury. In fact I would do the exact opposite. I totally concede that he is as honourable a man as it is possible to have in English politics: I totally concede that he is a man of enormous integrity; and he is a great patriot; but he has greater power in England than any man since Oliver Cromwell. So perhaps he could be described as Lord Protector in a wart-free zone.

That brings one therefore to the danger of having someone so powerful. If we look at an Act of Parliament it starts: Be it enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the … consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled". That was saying that the British Parliament was a balance of Whig power. The problem that has arisen, and which has now become worse with the present First Lord of the Treasury, is that the balance of the English constitution has been totally destroyed.

The chief executive has nicked the powers of the Sovereign. The House of Lords, because it no longer represents real power, has been emasculated. The party machine does not allow the House of Commons to think. The present vast number of Labour Members of Parliament are not allowed to think. We have only to see what happened to the Left-wing lady—I cannot remember her name—who was not allowed to answer a question asked by a journalist during the election campaign. The powers of the Labour Party to deselect are horrendous.

If I were Mr. Blair I should have done exactly the same had I thought I could get away with it. I do not blame him. What I am coming to is the essential need to reform this Chamber. My remarks are addressed as much to my own Front Bench as they are to the Government Front Bench. In 1979, I wrote to Mrs. Thatcher saying, "Dear Prime Minister, many congratulations on being Prime Minister. Will you please reform the House of Lords because unless you do so one day there will be a Labour Government"—I thought that they would arrive a little earlier—"and they will do it sillily?".

The proposition of a silly reform of the House of Lords is high on the Labour manifesto. Therefore, I am urging my own Front Bench to use their residual powers to try to persuade the Labour Government, Her Majesty's present advisers, to put forward a serious reform package which will enable me, as a hereditary Peer, to leave these red Benches without minding. But if I have to leave these Benches because the party opposite has produced a reform entailing the disenfranchisement of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, but the continued enfranchisement of Lord Kagan, had he still been alive, that would be very silly.

It is essential for the health of our body politic that there is reintroduced to it the checks and balances of a Whig constitution. The words at the beginning of an Act of Parliament show what that should be. However good, Christian or patriotic, if you have too much power it goes to your head and you do not remember that when the Roman consuls had a triumph they had on the back of the chariot a lictor who said, "Remember you are only human". I also wrote about that to Mrs. Thatcher. She said, "I will always remember the lictors", but I do not believe that she gave them a thought from the day I wrote it until the day she left.

9.28 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, having inflicted a speech of almost 20 minutes duration in the corresponding debate last October, it will probably come as a relief to your Lordships to know that my remarks tonight will be comparatively brief.

After remaining undisturbed for so long, it seems likely that in the future the composition of your Lordships' House will be radically changed. Like other noble Lords and, I may add, knowledgeable members of the public, I cannot fully appreciate why we are to meddle with one of the country's institutions which works rather than with the many which do not. Indeed, persons from all walks of life with whom I have discussed this matter have, more often than not, expressed respect and admiration for this House and confirmed how it has accurately reflected public opinion on a wide range of subjects which we have discussed here.

Unfortunately, many others are ignorant or prejudiced. In recent months, I have observed how media presentation of your Lordships' House has been either deliberately misleading or downright mischievous. In this connection, I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Tenby that a committee should be set up to examine the public relations of this House. I fear that it is not only timely but necessary. The talk of reform is in the air although no reference is made to it in the gracious Speech.

I believe that we should talk not so much of reform as of modernisation and would therefore hope for some element of compromise in the solution, possibly along the lines proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in The Times newspaper a few months ago. But if that is to be the case, and even if it is not, there is one aspect of the hereditary peerage which cannot be ignored any further if it is to enter the 21st century with either credibility or connection with the society in which we live; namely, our denial of women's rights. Whatever the logic behind the abandonment of female succession in the late Middle Ages, it is now both abhorrent and wholly unsuited to the modern world. The Victorian attitude towards women, which was brutally summed up in the couplet, Perhaps a little needlework or perhaps a little reading, But always remember you arc here just for breeding", is outrageous and outmoded. Furthermore, I still deplore those reference books that state "Heir: None", and then go on to list daughters.

As your Lordships know, there have been failed attempts to address that issue in the past. Two of those were initiated in the past five years by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, to whom I willingly pay tribute for his endeavours. Some have shrunk from supporting them as they wished to avoid any legislation involving the hereditary peerage being presented for debate.

But legislation of some sort or another is coming and, if it is coming, then let it come to some moral purpose. Whether or not a hereditary title continues to hold some parliamentary connection, it will still remain a legal rank and privilege with power to affect our community in a variety of ways. The fact that women are excluded, solely by virtue of their sex, from this power and privilege is both absurd and wasteful, as well as being very probably illegal under European law.

Of course, the fiercest reformers in this field would like to see primogeniture irrespective of sex introduced for any hereditary position, but even I can see the distress and material disarray that would be caused by the dispossession of eldest sons who have lived their entire adult lives in the service of an assured inheritance. It is possible that this would be a proper measure for the next generation. But for the present I believe a more acceptable compromise that would address the problem with the minimum disruption would be to confirm all peers in their titles on a given date, the 1st January, 2000, for example, and from that date to deduce their successor according to the rights of heirs general; that is, according to the same laws of succession as currently govern the Crown.

In addition, I would suggest that heiresses, under this system, to those peerages which have become extinct since the Second World War might be permitted to petition for the right to them. That would have the benefit of immediately introducing 20 or 30 women into the peerage, and, under the present circumstances, into your Lordships' House. I recall clearly, the recently expressed wish of both the main political parties to have more women playing an active part in politics. That gives me an opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, whom I believe I can justify describing as my friend, if not my noble friend, on her translation to the Front Bench.

Surely the answer which I have given today is no more than common justice even if the hereditary peers are sometime in the future to be excluded from this House. After all, our privileges then would be no different from those currently enjoyed by the Irish peerage. I hope that we, as a body, are permitted to continue serving this country, but I know that such a thing cannot and will not be if we persist in remaining an institution that specifically denies the basic rights of more than half the population.

9.34 p.m.

Lord Alport

My Lords, some years ago—I think it was in 1981—I introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill entitled the Constitutional Referendum Bill. Its object was to ensure that any major constitutional change—for example, the abolition of the House of Lords or a second Chamber in Parliament—would be the subject of a referendum.

On Second Reading, my Bill was strongly attacked by my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Eccles in speeches which carried their combined eloquence and authority. The grounds for their criticism were that referenda were contrary to British political practice and liable to undermine Parliament. My Bill was subsequently sunk without trace. It seems that now things have changed. Referenda on constitutional matters are accepted by all parties for Europe and are proposed in the gracious Speech, in this Parliament, for devolution and even for London government. I am sure that your Lordships will forgive me if I feel just a little satisfaction at being in some small way a pioneer.

Although the reform of your Lordships' House is not included in the gracious Speech, when in due course the Government's proposals are formulated—and if they conform strictly with the manifesto—I think that the overwhelming victory which was won at the last election will be the equivalent of a referendum. But if there is to be any major change in the powers and method of composition of the second Chamber which is not set out in the manifesto, I think that a referendum should be held.

So far as concerns devolution, I am strongly in favour of a parliament for Scotland and an assembly for Wales. When I was a boy, a much loved Presbyterian minister, the late Mr. Davidson, spent much of his spare time when I was in Edinburgh showing me that marvellous city and teaching me Scottish history. In the High Street, I could never understand why the parliament there was occupied almost exclusively by lawyers. I think that anyone of Scottish descent would welcome the knowledge that Scotland will have its own parliament. I do not believe that that will mean the break up of the United Kingdom. I deplore the English nationalism which is becoming so strong. The ties of blood and history are far too strong to allow any break up to take place.

The creation of the greatest achievement of these islands, the Commonwealth, was shared by men and women—statesmen, soldiers, administrators, traders, settlers and scholars—from all the four races over the past four centuries. But in the changed circumstances of Great Britain I believe that the time has come to restore the sense of self-government to the historic nations which form part of it. I would only say that a Scottish parliament must have power to levy taxes within acceptable limits.

As far as London is concerned, I have always felt that the abolition, as opposed to the reform, of the LCC was a decision inspired more by party political prejudice than by sound policy. It is obvious that London, like all the great cities, needs such a strategic authority and should have a Lord Mayor elected by popular vote. I have only two caveats. The first is that this must not affect in any way the present status of the Lord Mayor and the Corporation of the City of London. Secondly, the idea of an elected mayor should not be extended to towns in general. I am thinking particularly of towns like Colchester where, to my personal knowledge, the present system of drawing the mayor from the longest serving councillors has been an incentive to able men and women to become councillors and to devote their time and talents to the wise development and administration of the borough.

Therefore, I think that the constitutional proposals contained in the gracious Speech are ones which I would support, subject to the provisos that I mentioned earlier. There is only one that I should like to add and it is one that I wish had been included in the gracious Speech. I should like to see the length of a parliament reduced from five to four years. I am not always keen on American political precedents, but I think it is right that the Executive, as in America, should he elected every four and not every five years. After all, as has been said, we have an elective dictatorship and five years is a long time to have the same dictator in power. That would have prevented the long, dreary and bilious year of the last Government and might also have prevented the disaster which the Conservative Party suffered at the recent election.

9.40 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alport, on a statesmanlike and interesting speech. I congratulate the Government on a famous victory. It was indeed a famous victory. In the London Borough of Brent, from which I come, it was taken as proverbial among Labour Party members that the Labour Party would never gain Brent North. It simply goes to show that never is a short time in politics.

I congratulate my opposite number, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on her success in changing places, but which is Philip Swallow and which is Professor Morris Zapp is a question on which I shall not venture an opinion. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on his accession to a post from which I look forward to hearing him many times. I wish also particularly to congratulate three people on their success in this election: Melanie Johnson in Welwyn Hatfield, Gisela Stuart in Birmingham Edgbaston and Ben Bradshaw in Exeter. In saying these things I do not speak in any party spirit. I believe those results contribute to the ideal of a nation at ease with itself. I believe they show that the Conservative Party is not the worst loser at this election: that dubious honour, I think, is reserved for the Daily Mail.

I remind the House that there were two winners at this election. Doubling one's party's seats is, I think, by any criterion, winning. Where our two parties agree we have, as near as makes no difference, a two-thirds majority. Where we do not, we have an alternative source of ideas, and that is a greater power than is often allowed. Our aim in this Parliament is constructive opposition. In uttering those two words together I am setting up a see-saw. Everyone will appreciate that whether a see-saw is up or down depends on the people on both sides and not just one.

I wish to respond to one or two remarks that have been made during this interesting debate. I listened with a great deal of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I shall read what he had to say with care. I was reminded of the remark of the Institute for Fiscal Studies on present spending plans, If these plans are met, they are likely to have serious implications for the NHS". All I ask at this stage is that the Government will consider as they go along the possibility that that remark might be correct.

I express my full agreement, and that of these Benches, with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, said about the mandatory life sentence for murder. If he introduces the Bill of which he spoke, we on these Benches will support it, and I hope to be involved in that process. But uncharacteristically the noble and learned Lord made what I think is the only error I have heard him make in speaking in this Chamber. He said that in another place the principle of mandatory minimum sentences was not opposed. It was opposed from our Benches from beginning to end but because in another place we are not always able to put down our own amendments, we were able only to make that opposition effective by voting against the Second Reading, which we did.

Constitutional reform has taken up a good deal of today's debate. I listened with particular interest to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who I believe did not understand my question: if the English are to vote on devolution, what alternative is to be put before them? It must be understood that after this election the status quo is no longer an option. A cause which is not able to win a single seat in either Wales or Scotland is not a viable cause. I do not think that the Conservative Party's result in those countries was a just result. If any Conservative says that, I shall agree with him. However, they pick the rules. If you are challenged to a duel and name your weapons, and you choose pistols, if you belatedly discover that your opponent is an Olympic shot it is too late to say that that is the wrong weapon. If there is to be a referendum involving the English, the choice must be between devolution and separation. That will concentrate the minds of the Conservative Party on the fact that those are two very different options.

Speaking as an Englishman, I believe that the union of our countries has immeasurably enriched what is otherwise a somewhat in-turned English culture. Were the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, to succeed in his ambition of rebuilding Hadrian's Wall, and if the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, and her compatriots were prepared to extend hospitality to me, I should think long and hard on which side of that wall I wished to be.

It is sometimes discussed as a question how far a government should reverse the legislation of their predecessor. I was brought up, as it is possible that the Prime Minister was also, on the precedent of Mr. Churchill's decision in 1951 not to reverse the bulk of the legislation of the Attlee Government. I stress the words "the bulk"; I need only mention the word "steel" to show that that is a relevant consideration. It is almost unknown for a government to reverse none of the legislation of their predecessor. There is also quite a substantial difference between 1951 and now. The reforms of the 1945 Government enjoyed a great depth of popularity in 1951. In 1951 the Labour Party polled a higher percentage of the vote than the Conservative Party, and a higher percentage of the vote than it polled in 1945 or 1997. That thought may have given Churchill pause when he considered reversing his legacy. That is not the situation today. At this election the Conservative Party scored a lower percentage of the poll than since the election when my great grandfather replaced Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary—and I repeat as Home Secretary, not as Prime Minister.

Nevertheless it is true that one should think twice about reversal. I believe that there are three cases in which one can legitimately consider reversal. The first is if the distaste that one feels is such that if one tries to come to the Dispatch Box to defend the measure the words simply stick in one's throat. Experienced Ministers may tell me that one should not feel that too often. That is fair enough, but if one never feels it one ceases to be a human being. The second is if the measure is a roadblock between the new Government and everywhere to which they wish to go. The third is if the measure creates so much mess that the Government cannot afford—I use the word "afford" in its literal sense—to continue it.

There are two measures which seem to me to meet all those criteria. The first is the deprivation of benefit from asylum seekers, on which the noble Baroness and I have fought side by side. The second, on which we have also fought side by side, is the restriction of housing benefit for single people under 16 to shared accommodation, of which there is not enough to go round in the whole country, and what exists is in the wrong place. If the noble Baroness has to discuss that with the Treasury—and everything has to be discussed with the Treasury—she might ask it to consider whether the cost of not reversing that measure might be far greater than the cost of reversing it. One must save money, but one does not do so by wasting it.

If there is to be co-operation, it is a good idea to have it with recognition of the difference as well as the similarity. The noble Baroness's party and mine sometimes seem, like England and the United States, to be divided by a common language. Since we often want many of the same things, the fact that the reasons for which we want them are somewhat different is not always understood as it should be. If that were understood, co-operation would be easier. I am reminded of a former American colleague who told me that he thought many of his compatriots believed that if you woke up an Englishman suddenly at three o'clock in the morning the affected English accent would drop off and he would speak "good, red-blooded American". When I do business with the party opposite I am occasionally reminded of that story.

I do not need to remind the House of our dedication to the control of the executive. But when we come to the need to control secondary legislation, we mean it. The noble Baroness may tell me that it is not as important as achieving social justice. If she does, I shall tell her: if you achieve one without the other, you will be lucky if you keep it five minutes. That must be understood.

We look forward to other measures to control the executive: the incorporation of the European convention and in due course, and, I hope not too long delayed, a freedom of information Act. I heard on television the Prime Minister addressing the new parliamentary Labour Party in Church House. It was a magnificent occasion; however, I did not have the impression that the need to control the executive was particularly high on the Government's mission statement—which is why other methods of controlling the executive must be thought about.

Here I touch on a number of points about which I believe the noble Baroness and I may agree in many areas. We on these Benches always tend to dislike what we think of as "top down" measures. We do not like using the state to enforce a particular pattern. There was an unfortunate moment early in the general election when it looked as though the election might be fought between a party that thinks married women with children should stay at home and a party that thinks they ought to go out to work. The view of these Benches is that personal choices of that sort are not proper for the state to make, but it is the state's business to make it easier for people to take whichever of those choices they wish to make.

That is why I hope that this Government will be dedicated to the defence of child benefit. If we look at the finances of families in real poverty, child benefit is crucial. I hope that will be remembered. When we come to discussing, as I am sure we shall many times, issues arising from the debate on single parents, I hope it will be understood that their right, if they choose, to stay at home and care for their children, just like their right if they so choose to go out to work, will be defended.

I understand that Mr. Frank Field was speaking in his private capacity when he talked about "developing peer group pressure on single mothers to find work". Were that to become government policy, the noble Baroness might find that she was the one being subjected to peer group pressure; and in applying that pressure I might perhaps find some unexpected allies.

We are also much concerned on these Benches about what may be described as treating people as though they were plasticine, forcing them into a particular mould because it suits the state's convenience. I cannot help wondering whether there is something of that behind the Government's new welfare to work proposals. At first sight they appear attractive. However, when we realise that they are very largely modelled on what the last Government did for 16 and 17 year-olds—a compulsory programme making provision backed with a benefit sanction—then we begin to see some of the snags that might possibly result.

I was a little disappointed earlier this afternoon not to receive the assurance that I expected that the words "full benefit" in the Labour manifesto implied a continued commitment to the existence of a safety net. I had understood that that was the party's commitment during the election. I am not usually in the habit of trusting government, but perhaps on this occasion I have done it too much. If the Minister can assure me that my original interpretation was right, I shall be delighted.

The Government's proposals seem to me to rest on two quite serious misapprehensions. One is the notion of a dependency culture. I believe that that is imaginary. May I ask in this context that when it appears on 5th June or perhaps earlier, the noble Baroness will look at the users' report, The Citizens' Commission on the Welfare State, which is about to be published by Care in the Community. She will find that the users say that one reason why a dependency culture does not exist is that benefit levels are simply too low to be attractive. The Department of Social Security has always viewed itself as a honeypot surrounded by benefit-seeking wasps. It occasionally overrates the attractiveness of its own benefits.

The second reason why it is a myth is the extent to which, even if work is less well paid than benefit, people regard work as part of their identity. As one person put it, without it they are just a statistic. There are many things seriously wrong, most of them in the area of poverty traps. I hope to address them on 3rd June and will not detain the House with them now.

The other serious misapprehension, as stated by the Prime Minister in another place last Wednesday, is this: We have reached the limits of the public's willingness simply to fund an unreformed welfare system through ever higher taxes and spending".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/5/97; col. 65]. I do not know how the Prime Minister knew that, but I am rather inclined to prefer the 11th Report of the British Social Attitudes Survey. It said: Our survey results indicate that support for the welfare state per se remains very strong, all the more so because it is based on perceived self-interest as well as altruism". The point about self-interest is vital. Since the last election, 8 million people have had a spell of unemployment. The reason you can—more than you could before ask taxpayers to pay for unemploymentis the same reason for which they buy lottery tickets. "It could be you". That is a powerful motive.

When we consider the provision that the Government are bringing in, there are warnings from the 16 and 17 year-old programmes. First, we must consider what happens if the provision is not there. There must be a safety net provision continuing benefit until the programme offered by welfare to work is actually available. Secondly, we must be sure that even in times of Treasury stringency—which occur in all governments—it will be a genuine quality programme. I remember the employment training course which offered a course in carpentry when it could not afford any wood. That was not just conservatism, it was part of the illness of government. No government can hope to be immune from it so care should be taken on that front.

The Government must also allow people to judge for themselves whether or not provision is adequate, especially where they are dealing with childcare, where the opinions of the child as well as the mother must be listened to because otherwise it will not work. I remember the example offered by the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, on the youth training case of the young man who wanted to work with animals and was sent to work in an abattoir. That again is part of government. If coercion is used to back that kind of action the result will be trouble; for example, if we send a pacifist to work in an arms factory, it may be a black day for hawks.

The proposal for a forced programme, even if it is one with a choice, backed by a benefit sanction is a proposal for the introduction of peacetime conscription. That is not necessarily always wrong. But when we had peacetime conscription it was backed by the vital safeguard of medical examination. For instance, a young man was interviewed in last week's Big Issue. His mother was a schizophrenic who would not take her medication; his father became violent and he himself became an alcoholic. It is no use conscripting him to a training programme; he is not able to do it. Therefore, if he is given a benefit sanction, he will only steal. That is why I say the programme must be backed by medical examination. If there is no such provision in the Bill when it comes I shall table an amendment to provide one.

Finally, it is a matter of human dignity. I agree with the witness for the Church Action on Poverty hearings from which the Churches' report resulted, that the Department of Social Security should not have the power of life and death. We should not withdraw from people who are, at worst, bloody minded a basic protection which the state extends even to Rosemary West.

10.2 p.m.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, in my stuttering beginnings on the Opposition Front Bench I cannot hope to match the compression and clarity of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. First, I should like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on his appointment. He not only bestrides this great House of ours as a politician, but has also reached the pinnacle of his profession. From the bottom of my heart I wish him the best of luck in his position of high responsibility.

I congratulate also the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham. She has a testing time this evening, being the holder of a portfolio of social affairs but having to range over such a large number of subjects. I should like also to say how delighted I am that the Lord Privy Seal, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, reached his high office. I remember him, in another world, as a distinguished Commissioner. After a period—I suppose one may say—of being relatively in the wilderness, he has come storming back and I wish him too the best of luck.

We have had a long day and a varied debate. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I shall not touch on every issue raised. However, I want to begin by congratulating the Government on the contents of the gracious Speech. I say that because, if one contrasts the contents of the gracious Speech with the contents of the Labour Party manifesto of 1983, one cannot help but be struck by what a long way the Labour Party has travelled in the past 15 years. That manifesto, (memorably named as the longest suicide note in history) became a legend in post-war British political life. We were to abandon our nuclear weapons; come out of the EEC; re-nationalise a wide range of industries; and redress the imbalance which apparently had occurred between management and labour as a result of the reforms of my noble friend Lady Thatcher in the early 1980s.

When one reads the gracious Speech today, what a remarkable contrast that makes! Why has it come about? It has come about because my own party has made its policies the nation's policies; and the only way the Government could get elected was to adopt those policies which had become the nation's policies. I wish the Government the best of luck, but I hope they realise that they are the trustees of something we have created.

I make one exception to that. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, reminded us that the policies on devolution were not Conservative, but Liberal policies. I am very glad to concede that because they are the one part of the gracious Speech with which the Opposition will take real issue with the Government in the coming month. We recognise that constitutionally, under the Salisbury convention, we are bound to vote for those measures which were in the manifesto both at Second Reading and at Third Reading. But Members on the Benches opposite should not be under any illusion: we shall fight very hard for every amendment in which we believe. I am sure that Members opposite would not wish otherwise. Our main energies are going to be concentrated on the measures for devolution and perhaps, depending on its shape, the proposal to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights in our law.

These devolution measures are not new to our country. They were first fought over by Mr. Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain in the middle of the 1880s. The problems were as intractable then to those great minds as they are today. They were re-fought just before the First World War, notably between Mr. Asquith and Mr. F. E. Smith and in later days between Mr. Callaghan and a Member of his own party, Mr. Tam Dalyell from another place.

It would be foolish to pretend that these issues are simple to solve because they are not. I was very struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, said when she referred to the Sword of Damocles, which, it has been said, is hanging over some of my noble friends who sit behind me—namely, the hereditary Peers. I would like to assure the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, who I believe made the remark in good humour, that whatever Sword of Damocles may be hanging over my noble friends, it will not deter them from doing their duty as indeed it did not deter in times past their ancestors from doing their duty as well.

Before I discuss, in more detail, the devolution legislation, I should like to say something about the nature of the constitutional discussion which has taken place today. It has been dominated by two instruments, the referendum and the idea of extending judicial power in our constitution to control the Executive. In principle, we have no objection to either; but, remember, these two instruments have become more prominent because the Executive has steadily gained power over the legislature. It has ceased to become parliament controlling the Executive, and it has become the Executive controlling parliament. The one thing I do not see in the Government's proposals are proposals to change the balance between the Executive and the legislature in our nation. If that balance of power were changed, we might have to rely less on these other measures. I hope that speedy consideration will be given by the Government to looking into the ways in which in both Houses the powers of the legislature can be increased so that the Executive is more accountable. In those circumstances, it might be less needy to rely on referendums and, indeed, less necessary to extend the powers of the judiciary in the future.

Several important questions arise in relation to Scottish devolution. I do not expect the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, to be able to answer them all tonight. Many noble Lords have referred to them. There are two central issues. The first was raised most forcefully by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. It is the question: is it really fair to ask the people of Scotland to take a decision about their future without having before them the legislation, properly amended, upon which that future will be based?

The second question relates to majorities in the referendum. Incidentally, I was most struck by the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie: that he agrees with everything in the referendum Bill, except for the two questions. I am at a loss to discover what else is in that Bill apart from those two questions. Is it really true that if there is a turnout of 10 per cent.—to take a ridiculously low figure—with 5 per cent. plus one in favour, Her Majesty's Government will regard that as legitimate grounds for proceeding with the devolution Bill? I have perhaps chosen a ludicrous figure, but it might happen. How would the Government react?

We have heard nothing about an issue which exercised enormously Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Asquith. I refer to the division between reserve powers and those powers which are devolved. And who is to pay? Mr. F. E. Smith once said, memorably, in a debate in 1912, "Everyone but those that want them". Will that be true in this case? We need to know where the burden of taxation will fall. That is important to England, as well as to Scotland.

What about the judicial systems? What will happen if a devolved Scottish parliament exceeds its constitutional power? Who will decide whether or not it has exceeded its power? Will we need a new constitutional court? Who will choose who serves in that constitutional court? What will be its relationship to Scotland, to England, to Wales and to Northern Ireland also? What if a devolved Scottish parliament passes a measure and the Westminster Parliament passes a measure and those two measures contain rights and obligations for private people which conflict? Which system of law decides which set of rights and duties prevails? Which court will decide such matters? From the point of view of the individual citizen, those are all crucial issues which need to be considered.

I quote again Mr. F.E. Smith who said that between union and separation, there is no middle way. If the referendum gives Her Majesty's Government a fair wind, it is the Government's responsibility to prove Mr. Smith wrong; because if Mr. Smith is not proved wrong, the whole basis upon which the country has been structured for hundreds of years will fall away. I say to the Government, "Do not underestimate the responsibilities that you hold on this issue over the next 18 months. They are enormous and we will hold you accountable if you do not live up to them"—

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way; but may I ask him not to engage us just yet in arguments about how this country has been structured for several hundred years? He will have plenty of time to do that later.

Lord Kingsland

My Lords, I certainly would not wish to offend the noble Earl although I have clearly done so, and I apologise to him. However, where constitutional issues are concerned, I believe that we should be slow to make change. After all, our constitutional history is one of continuity, not of sudden breaks. We would do well to remember that because it has served us well.

I listened with great interest to noble Lords who raised the question of Wales. One wonders whether the Welsh people ought also to have the option of having a similar kind of devolution to Scotland. It has been said by some noble Lords that they do not want it; but how do we know that they do not want it unless we ask them? Even if it turns out that the Welsh want a different form of devolution, is the form of devolution proposed workable? As I understand it, primary legislation will be made in the United Kingdom Parliament and subordinate legislation will be passed by the Welsh assembly. However, as the noble Baroness is well aware, primary legislation in this country is now made in inordinate detail. It is one of the weaknesses of our constitutional system. What will be left for the Welsh assembly to do? If that assembly is to have a meaningful role in making subordinate legislation, a completely different kind of statute law for Wales must be produced. Therefore, to legislate jointly for measures that incorporate both England and Wales will no longer be feasible if the Government are to honour their commitment to Wales. Much thought will also have to be given to that matter.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, will forgive me if I do not deal with his remarks on health in great detail. He said that vertical and horizontal planning in the health service was of the greatest importance. He also spoke about CT scans, ultrasound and telepathology (if I pronounce them correctly). I am afraid that he is well above my cruising level. However, I wish him the greatest luck in convincing his own Government of the importance of those measures. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, accused the previous government of underspending on health. With great respect to the noble Lord, I believe that that is an unfair accusation having regard to the statistical record. Moreover, given the enormous leaps in medical science, with which he is much more familiar than I, he will be aware that it is a demand that will never be completely satisfied. But we on these Benches shall be watching very closely the level of expenditure on the health service. After all, during the election campaign we were accused of breaking our promise in 1992. We shall be looking very carefully at what the Government do in this area to ensure that their promises to the electorate in 1997 are not broken.

I also listened with great interest to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, about Europe. I should like to make two comments. I deal first with proportional representation. Whether or not proportional representation comes about in the 1999 European parliamentary elections, I hope that it will not be based on the regional list. In another world I had some experience of the regional list. I do not regard it as a satisfactory method of electing members to the Parliament. The great difficulty is that no individual elected on the list has responsibility for a specific piece of territory.

My experience is that those members who are elected on the list spend the next five years making sure that they retain the same favourable position on the list that they had before. They do that, not by spending time in the Parliament or by helping their constituents, but by spending most of their time dining out their party leaders to make sure that they are given preferential treatment. Whatever else we do in the European elections of 1999, I urge that we do not choose the regional list system. It may be that some version of the German system which mixes single constituencies with added members is feasible. I do not know. I much prefer the system that we have already.

My second observation is about the pillar system of which he spoke. I entirely concur. The pillar system has proved to be a good innovation and it will endure. One area about which I am less happy is the democratic control of pillar two and pillar three, because there is a tendency of Government Ministers to account neither to the European institutions nor to the national institutions. As a result, areas which are crucial to individual rights like asylum, refugee status, immigration and all of those which touch on foreign affairs and the individual, are almost unaccounted for. Given the fact that the pillar system is likely to endure, we must find new ways of making intergovernmentalism work democratically.

My Lords, I have now been speaking for 18 minutes; time has marched on, and I will take my place on the Opposition Front Bench. I reiterate that we shall stand by the Salisbury convention and its principles, but we shall amend in this House with as much vigour as we can muster.

10.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham)

My Lords, your Lordships will not misunderstand me when I say that it gives me particular pleasure to reply to this debate and to thank noble Lords for their good wishes to my noble friend the Lord Chancellor, to the Front Bench team and to myself. I would like on our behalf to thank all those who have taken part in an interesting, rich and vigorous debate. In particular, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and congratulate him on a most elegant début from the Opposition Front Bench. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for his welcome of the gracious Speech on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.

Your Lordships will understand if I start by talking about health and social security before attempting to reply to other concerns. Before doing so, I pay a very real and heartfelt tribute to my predecessor Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish—always well informed, always quick thinking and unfailingly good humoured. As for the third party to our social security debates, Lord Russell, he is famed equally for his erudition and for his 16th century anecdotes. We have had one tonight, but perhaps less of the other. The thought that he is no longer alongside but opposite me on your Lordships' Benches fills me with appropriate trepidation. I know, however, that, like me, he is seeking to renew the welfare state so that it springs those who can and should enter the labour market back into the world of work, but also treats with decency and respect those who, for whatever reason, must remain on benefit.

The Labour Government have inherited a divided Britain. Since 1979 the divide between rich and poor has not only widened in income but also in life chances and in opportunities. We are today a more unequal society than any country in the OECD. To be poor in Britain today is not only to be work-poor and therefore cash-poor but also to be exposed to poorer health, inadequate housing, sub-standard schools, unsafe streets and a squalid environment. To be poor is to be excluded not only from the graces but also from the very decencies of life.

Looking at this landscape during the war, Beveridge said, "Want, squalor, disease, ignorance and idleness are common enemies of us all—not enemies with which we may individually make a separate peace, escaping oneself to personal prosperity while leaving our fellows in their clutches. That is the meaning of social conscience: that one should refuse to make a separate peace with social evil". We are one nation. The Labour Government of 1945 swept to power because ordinary, decent people who remembered the 1930s said, "Never again. We are one nation." They built a welfare state and founded a National Health Service. Indeed, some of your Lordships in this House were in that 1945 Parliament and helped to build that new society. Fifty years later we face no less a challenge: to renew our welfare state and to rebuild our health service in a society where we live longer, where women work, where family structures have changed, where rights and responsibilities must again be reconnected; but together we can do it, and we will.

Reform of the welfare state is at the heart of the Government's agenda. The past decade has seen the welfare bill rising and rising from £50 billion in 1979, adjusted for inflation, to over £92 billion in 1997. Whereas social security spending took £1 in every £5 of government spending in 1979, it now takes £1 in every £3. Social security expenditure has nearly doubled in real terms, yet it has not made the poorest better off. It might be more defensible if it had. Instead, we know that they are poorer then ever they were. How come?

I accept that some of the growth in social security has come from the growing number of elderly people in our society who claim benefits to which they are rightly entitled. They are valued members of our society. However, the ratio of our elderly to our working-age population has now steadied, ahead of most of Europe.

The unacceptable and deeply worrying growth in our welfare budget has occurred for a very different reason. It is because welfare money has been spent in the wrong way on the wrong things. It has subsidised our economic and social failure rather than built economic and social opportunity. Spending on "failure" benefits, which are unemployment driven, has tripled in real terms—from £10 billion in 1979 to over £30 billion today. We are all paying the price: our taxes are the equivalent of an extra 11p on the basic rate of income tax since 1979 to subsidise failure.

The real price of this failure, however, is born not just by the taxpayer, not even especially by the taxpayer, but above all by those lingering on benefit. We have trapped too many people, especially young people, lone parents, and the long-term unemployed into an unwilling dependence on benefit when they would much rather be in work and independent. For we know, and they know, that the only path out of poverty is work. The Government's welfare bill has too often funded failure. We can see the evidence of that failure around us.

One of the fastest rising sectors of welfare expenditure has been in-work benefits. The result is a welfare system that subsidises the employer who pays low wages rather than the unemployed. It is ironic that the only thing the Conservative Government nationalised was the employers' wage bill. We all own a bit of that. Of course there is a role for in-work benefits for those marginal to the labour market—the long-term unemployed, or disabled, or those with many dependants. The basic schemes will continue under this Government. But they will be underpinned by the floor of a minimum wage. In that way, in-work benefits will meet the real need of the claimants rather than subsidising the exploitative employer. Those who do not now pay a living wage will have in future to pay a minimum wage.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, will the Minister say what the minimum wage should be and what is a living wage?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, the noble Earl will be aware that we are setting up a low pay commission which will make recommendations to us based on consultation with all the employers and employees concerned.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, will the Minister give way, because it is an interesting point? Is she saying that the Government will be bound by the commission's recommendations or be advised about the level of a minimum wage?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we shall be advised by it, but I understand that we will take the advice extremely seriously.

A second example of unwise government expenditure, wasting welfare moneys, is that the Conservative Government deregulated private rents and in a decade housing benefit in real terms more than doubled to £11 billion today. Landlords did not invest that extra rent, courtesy of the taxpayer, but pocketed it. Meanwhile many tenants on housing benefit found that they could not afford to work as they lost 93p in benefit deductions from every pound in wages. We trapped them because we spent welfare money on the wrong thing, subsidising the greedier private landlord's rent rather than investing in the supply of socially rented housing which would help drive down rents. We will release council house receipts, add to the supply of social housing and to the wealth of the country, and thereby begin to spring that trap.

Again, during the past 18 years we have used benefits to subsidise inertia, to encourage passivity. I know that the previous government produced a few pilot schemes in their last year of office, but it was too little, too late. For years we have allowed young people and lone parents to face a decade or more on the dole. We have left them to linger there. We know that they want to work, full-time or part-time according to their family responsibilities. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was right in saying that we must work with the wishes and choices of lone parents. They want to own their lives. But today's welfare state discourages them from working. Too often it is not financially worth coming off benefit; for others it is financially risky to do so. Tomorrow's welfare state will be on their side, offering training, reskilling, education and child care; it will provide bridges for them to a decent future. Because too many people have lingered on twilight benefits for too long, they carry the poverty of their working age into a poverty of old age. A quarter of all pensioners now depend on income support, though not all of them claim what they should. We will get help to the poorest pensioners. We will also ensure that people at work today have a good second pension to lift them off poverty in retirement.

But if we are to renew the welfare state, as I believe we must, we must restore faith in its integrity. So we have to take firm action to counter fraud. Fraud not only wastes money, it wastes good will. If people believe the welfare state is being abused, they will be tempted to abuse it themselves. None of us, certainly not people on benefit, can afford a culture of fraud and fiddling. Our actions will not only allow money to be used more wisely, but will mean that those who rightly will continue to depend on benefit will receive their entitlements without stigma and with dignity.

Our first step will be to bring forward, in the first Session, a Bill which will pave the way for the modernisation of social security delivery. This Bill will make changes in two main areas. First, it will introduce changes designed to simplify the process for making decisions and hearing appeals. Some of the current processes were developed before 1948 and much was introduced before the advent of computers. The complexity of the system confuses both claimants and the staff who have to operate it. It also constrains the design of new technology to improve service delivery. We will improve customer service through faster, more accurate decisions. We hope that as a result the system will be less prone to error and easier for public and staff to understand. The simplifications will pave the way for the developments of more effective benefit processes and of supporting technology to improve the delivery of benefits and make the system more cost effective.

Secondly, the social security modernisation Bill will contain a range of measures which will improve the procedures for the collection of National Insurance contributions. A key element of these proposals is further alignment of tax and National Insurance contributions arrangements to reduce burdens on business. We will also streamline the procedure for collecting them by introducing a new and more appropriate financial penalty regime for the Contributions Agency following on the success of regimes operated by the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise to combat tax evasion. This is a well-balanced package of measures. In the delivery of benefits it will make the system more cost effective while enabling real improvements in customer service. The proposed measures on National Insurance will reduce burdens on compliant businesses while getting tough on those who evade paying contributions which are due.

Let me turn to another area of social security; that is pensions and divorce. The House will know the commitment of your Lordships—in particular, the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady O'Cathain, on the Conservative Benches, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, on the Cross Benches, and the greatly missed Lady Seear on the Liberal Democrat seats—to pension-sharing on divorce. Together, we overcame government opposition to pension sharing. That measure now has all-party support around this House. It will lead to fairer financial settlements at divorce and allow a better income, particularly for women, in retirement. The previous Government's consultation paper has been widely, and rightly, welcomed. In that, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, gamekeeper turned poacher, played no small part. I am determined that despite a heavy legislative programme ahead, we shall not let slip the previous Government's date to implement pension sharing by April 2000.

I turn now to health matters. The Government are committed to abolishing the NHS internal market and taking steps to ensure that all patients have equal access to high-quality care in accordance with their need.

The problems of the NHS internal market require early action. The Secretary of State has already put this in hand through programmes of work, first, to see how resources can be distributed across both secondary and primary care, to ensure that they fully reflect local population needs and operate as fairly as possible; secondly, to tackle two-tierism, to ensure that fundholders do not enjoy unfair financial advantages, and that non-fundholders' patients do not suffer disadvantage; and thirdly, to tackle, the current paper-chase—cutting down on the flow of invoices, streamlining the existing system and learning from good practice on longer-term contracts.

Moreover, the private finance initiative in health has been dogged by a lack of progress since its introduction in 1992. The Government will introduce a Bill at an early opportunity to clarify the powers of NHS trusts to enter into those agreements. The legislation will unblock the PFI in health, enabling major hospital projects to proceed without delay.

The Government are committed also to introducing a ban on tobacco advertising. Smoking is a complex and difficult issue. A ban may be the single most important step that the Government can take to help to reduce the number of people who smoke and to prevent youngsters taking up the habit. However, we recognise that that is part of a well thought out overall strategy to tackle the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK. That is why we announced a White Paper on wider measures to reduce tobacco consumption.

I turn now to the other issues raised by your Lordships in the course of the debate. With some 35 speakers, your Lordship will understand that I cannot reply to all questions. Indeed, to reply to the 36 questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, alone would take 20 minutes. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will permit me to write.

I turn first to the constitutional issues raised by your Lordships. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, emphasised that in her view, devolution undermines the Union. That position was stoutly attacked and our proposals stoutly defended by my noble friends Lady Ramsay and Lord Ewing in splendid speeches which emphasised that devolution is not independence; that, indeed, devolution is the best and only way in which to repair a Union of the UK long now under strain. The lack of Conservative MPs in Scotland and Wales does not suggest that the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, are widely supported by Welsh and Scottish people, as the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, suggested.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to the West Lothian question, as did the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Scotland retains a major interest in Westminster matters. Therefore, it is right that it should keep Scottish MPs, especially when we come to discuss the dispersal of UK resources. The UK Parliament will continue to have full responsibility for the overall interests of the UK and it is essential that Scotland's voice is heard at Westminster.

I was asked why Wales should be treated differently from Scotland. The reason is that Scotland has a different legal system to which the devolution proposals should conform.

I was asked whether we would reduce the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster. No, we shall not. I was asked whether there will be Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales at the Westminster Parliament. My Lords, yes. I was asked who will pay the tartan tax. That will be determined by residency, as will the question of who will be entitled to vote, including the right of Peers. I hope that noble Lords will accept from me that other and detailed questions which have been raised tonight must await answer in the White Paper.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, asked how the voters would know the details on which they will be asked to vote. The White Paper will be published in the summer, well in advance of the referendum in the autumn, and we have every reason to believe that the voters will be well informed.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister in full flight but, although the hour is late, I have a question about the White Paper. The Minister said that the latter would be published in the summer. I gave dates in my speech and, when people return from their holidays, my suggestion would give them three weeks during which they could study the document. Does the noble Baroness consider the time she mentioned to be adequate?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I cannot confirm the dates at this stage; indeed, I do not believe that they have as yet been decided.

I should like to throw back a question to those Members on the Opposition Benches, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Should the electorate favour the plans for a Welsh assembly and a Scottish parliament, do the Conservatives intend to contest such elections? Alternatively, is their abhorrence of what we propose such that they will stand aloof? It would be helpful at some stage to have an answer to that question.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked whether there would be a minimum vote requirement. That does not exist in any part of the UK's constitution. Given the interest and the high turnout at the general election, I cannot believe that that question is other than a hypothetical one.

I turn now to some of the points raised about the Welsh assembly. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, asked why Wales would not have primary legislative powers. The assembly would take over the current powers of the Welsh Secretary of State and make the secondary legislation determining how policy would be implemented in Wales. It would also democratise Welsh quango government which the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, vividly described. Again, if the vote in Wales is "no", then obviously we would have to consider the matter. However, we believe that question to be hypothetical.

The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, asked for reassurance against the domination of the whole of Wales by South Wales. Yes, we are proposing an electoral system with a degree of proportionality and area committees to ensure that all interests are considered. We are not proposing a talking-shop for Wales: it will have a budget of £7 billion and very real responsibilities in health, education, social services and economic development to make a difference to the people of Wales.

I was also asked about Northern Ireland by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. I welcome the remarks made in that connection by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice and by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. The internal arrangements within Northern Ireland, including a devolved assembly, are part of the agenda about the talks on the future of the Province; but they will be held within a comprehensive framework of relationships with Northern Ireland, the Republic and Westminster.

In addition, on constitutional matters, there were a number of contributions on the question of the fate of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, asked why measures to reform this Chamber were not brought forward earlier; the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Harptree, asked why they had been brought forward at all and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, asked that the House should be reformed in such a way that would send him away happy. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, spoke about a system that would make our daughters happy. The proposals have not been put forward in the first Session because of the pressure on legislative time, especially for constitutional reform. That pressure is immense but we shall introduce the Bill as soon as time permits.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, also asked about elections to the European Parliament. These will take place during the summer of 1999. I can tell the noble Lord that elections of MEPs to the European Parliament will eventually be subject to proportional representation, but we cannot yet confirm the timing of those changes. They will need some consideration and I doubt that such electoral changes will be in place in time. Of course they may be, but I rather doubt it.

Questions were also raised about the European Convention on Human Rights. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked whether that simply meant a transfer of power to non-elected judges. I believe that many of the questions and concerns of the noble Baroness were answered by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Thorndon, drawing on his experience of New Zealand. At present, British people who believe that their human rights have been breached have to go to Strasbourg. However, with incorporation they will be able to argue for their rights before our courts. Parliament will remain sovereign; the courts will continue to interpret and apply the law which will now include the rights and freedoms protected under the European convention. In response to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I can also confirm that incorporation of the convention will apply to Northern Ireland.

Finally on this matter I was asked whether the freedom of information legislation would imperil the independence of the Civil Service. We believe that it will strengthen the workings of government. We are committed to preserving the impartiality of the Civil Service. A White Paper will detail our proposals.

I move to Home Office questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, scorned our proposals. I have to say that a Tory record in which crime has doubled since 1979 and in which the number convicted has fallen by a third is not a record I would wish to be proud of. The noble Baroness asked about the position on handguns. That question was also asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough. We believe that the firearms Act does not go far enough. We believe that all handguns should be banned but we are committed to a free vote. Is the Conservative Party? Part of the money needed for that measure is already built into our spending plans. It will cost an additional £19 million, bringing the total sum to £166 million.

I was asked whether the Home Secretary's taking full responsibility for prisons meant the ending of an executive agency. It does not but it means an accentuation of ministerial responsibility in terms of a Minister answering questions rather than a civil servant. I was asked about sentencing by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. Sentencing policy will form part of the crime and disorder Bill. Consideration is being given to the Court of Appeal having a duty to produce sentencing guidelines for major offences, as it already does for rape and drug cases. We shall of course consult with the senior judiciary on this. As for the mandatory life sentence for murder, I am sure we shall return to that subject.

I am mindful of the time and I move on to health. I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whether the Labour plans would increase bureaucracy. On the contrary, we are not only concerned that the 60 per cent. of the population who currently enjoy fundholding should continue to have a quality health service, we are also anxious about the delays that the other 40 per cent. experience. We believe that reforming the internal market will save £1.5 billion for patient and pensioner care. It is worth reminding ourselves that waiting lists and waiting times are rising. Meanwhile, in the past year, 37 of 100 health authorities were in deficit and 111 of 425 trusts were in debt. As with law and order, if I were the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that is not a record I would care to boast of.

I turn to questions raised on the DSS and welfare to work proposals. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, scorned the ability of the welfare to work scheme to create jobs. What would the noble Baroness prefer to see, an ever increasing spiral of disaffected young people who are not even employable, or the offer of a chance for real and worthwhile job experience and training leading to recognised qualifications which hope will take them into permanent jobs? The noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, talked about the wealth of utilities being squandered in getting young people back to work. We come from different worlds. I believe that the true wealth of this country lies in the skills and abilities of its people which our programme of welfare to work will muster.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, knows that we have inherited policies on housing benefit, asylum seekers and other matters that I, alongside him, resisted as strenuously as I could. He will also know that the savings from those programmes have been built into the previous Government's expenditure plans which we have inherited. To mitigate the effects of those proposals we shall have to find savings elsewhere in the DSS budget. We do not yet know whether we can do so. If we can, we shall, but no decisions have yet been taken on that. What will happen to young people who do not take part in the new deal? The new deal offers young people a real opportunity to better their prospects for finding work. We are not offering them the option of remaining permanently on full benefit.

My noble friend Lord Ashley referred to disability. We are committed to comprehensive and enforceable anti-discrimination legislation. There are several Ministers—two in the DfEE and myself in the DSS—with particular responsibility for that. As he will know, we shall pursue their rights actively.

To conclude, welfare issues are close to the heart of any Labour Government. We created the welfare state; we created the NHS. That 1945 Government built institutions that were widely admired and widely copied and put down deep roots. We cherish them and we glory in that inheritance. But we must reform the system. The welfare state has taken the strain of long years of social division, public squalor and economic failure. The policies of the last Government interlocked to increase the costs of welfare while at the very same time they increased inequality, poverty, dependency and division.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. The noble Baroness gave a rather alarming statistic. I should like it confirmed if she will do so. I understand that the noble Baroness is looking for £1.5 billion worth of savings from the NHS as it is run at present. Will she confirm that figure?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, that was the figure I gave. If I have mis-stated the figure, I shall write to the noble Baroness. We cannot continue to fund failure. I just ask your Lordships to remember that under previous Conservative administrations the number of people dependent on benefit doubled from one in 12 to one in six; one in five households of people of working age are not in work; one child in four is growing up in a family on income support; and one quarter of all Europe's poor live in Britain today. Children are born in poverty, live in poverty, and then pass on poverty to their children as they move into an impoverished old age.

The knee-jerk response of the previous Government was to cut already meagre benefit payments to their already poor claimants in the forlorn hope that they could contain the growth in expenditure caused by their own economic and social failure. We can do better. We must, and we will. As Beveridge said—no opting out into private pacts with social evil. One nation; a society not divided; one that does not create outsiders or allow outsiders to become outlaws. As Beveridge said, that is the meaning of social conscience. Together we will renew our health service and rebuild our welfare state. I am confident that all noble Lords around this House will want to join us in that enterprise.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blackstone, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Baroness Gould of Potternewton.)

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

House adjourned at eight minutes before eleven o'clock.