HL Deb 14 October 1997 vol 582 cc411-34

4.41 p.m.

Lord Birdwood

asked Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that the views of minorities are taken into account in parliamentary and democratic processes.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a favourite line of attack used against this House is that too often it is just a talking shop. In truth, wherever there are officially constituted gatherings and no immediate executive actions can be seen to be outflowing, they attract this patronising label of legislative impotence. For me, one of the greatest strengths of our unconstituted constitution, itself a legacy of a thousand years of trying to get things right, has been the freedom of our House to be a talking shop. Perhaps its few moments of something approaching grandeur of moral authority are just when it is being a talking shop, for these are the instances when we give ourselves time to reflect on the bedrock principles by which a society measures its worth.

I badly needed to be reminded of what some of the great voices of the past have said about minorities. John Stuart Mill held to the idea of popular control all his life but left a legacy of elitism which might be politically less acceptable today. The Encyclopedia of Democracy comments that Mill was so convinced of the necessity of providing representation for knowledge and intelligence, as well as the numerical majority, that he distinguished between true and false democracy. The true kind included representation of the intellectual elite; and because it was government by this minority as well as by the majority, he regarded it as genuinely egalitarian. In contrast, the false kind was government of the whole people by a mere majority. I like the ring of those last words. Mill knew that democratic majorities have built into them an intolerance of those who do not comply with conventional norms of belief and conduct; that is, those with individuality.

I turned to Thomas Jefferson. He said: All too will bear in mind this sacred principle that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable, that the minority possess their equal rights which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression". Sydney Smith's mischief appeals to me in his remark that, minorities are almost always right". The last of my historical voices is James Fitzjames Stephen: The way in which the man of genius rules is by persuading an efficient minority to coerce an indifferent and self-indulgent majority". Everything I have said so far has been culled from other men's thoughts, other men's insights. It would be nothing short of impertinence for me to think that I could build on Burke, or Locke, or Adam Smith, or Mill. But I live in the present and I have the privilege of questioning the Government about their safeguards for these sacred principles of Jefferson. So let me focus on some specific questions for the noble Lord opposite.

What effect would the framing and acceptance of a Bill of Rights have on not just tolerance but cherishing of minorities? What is the experience of those countries which do underpin their own law with a Bill of Rights? Do the Government foresee a more dominant role for European Court rulings in Britain's legal processes? After the fragmentation of the United Kingdom, are there any guarantees for minority protection in the machines being cranked up in Cardiff and Edinburgh? Do this Government believe that the practice of plebescite before parliamentary process protects individualism? I am implying that it is not possible to be too vigilant as individuals or as groups as the Government themselves in watching for the oppression of minorities.

I believe that a precious word has been dropped from the lexicon of government. That word is "freedom". Of course no one is suggesting that this regime, elected as they were on perceptions of compassion, will care any less about freedom than their predecessors. But if one is in some easily defined minority holding individual counter-populist views, the quiet shelving of the word itself can be curiously menacing. In our sedentary society we do not on the whole have the terror of the mob. We do not generally today have riots or lynchings. But it seems that we do still celebrate collectively; and as recent events have shown poignantly, collective grief does seem still to produce group social interaction, only slightly managed, in its later stages at least, by media intervention. We do not have the mob but, with the modern media, we have instead the mob by proxy.

If in my exploration of the sharing of power between government and the media I see power on the move, I see clearly loss of power from one institution and its re-attachment to another. What I do not see is power being used to serve the safety of a minority, at the expense of the majority if needs be, to support that very principle. Does the legislation which followed Dunblane refute this or endorse it? As a textbook example of the mutual interests of an outraged group and the media, it cannot be faulted. At the time we saw what I would call a transient majority regarded as heaven-sent by a government hungry for any populist measure. I leave it to the noble Lord opposite to guide my reflections.

Above all, the new ingredient in the management of democracy is the extraordinary power of the media. This is the wild card which none of our past political philosophers predicted but which has deeply, deeply changed the political map of all modern democracies. My newspaper tells me that it speaks for "the people"; my radio interviewer begins the ritual flaying of my representative in Parliament with the words, "People are saying, Minister"; and my television programme-makers are giving me their perception of "the people" with images of grief, or delirium, which they believe reflect the mood of the people. But the bottom line is that it is their interpretation of this collective mood.

If there is one thing that we have learned from history, some of it uncomfortably recent, it is that the collective is the enemy of the minority. The media are the agents of the collective—but why not? It is their job and they do it well. They feed me with news and entertainment, compete for my leisure hours and comfort me with opinions which they say are what people are thinking. Well, yes, but there is a moment, mediated by the camera or the interviewer, when my legal but minority pursuit is transformed into an affront to the will of the people. I am not sure that I am wholly comfortable with that process.

Governments understand power; governments do not understand helplessness, yet helpless is what too many people in our society feel. None of us is immune from fear, but hidden in our midst are those who feel nothing else. It must be the first duty of government to protect diversity.

The minorities in a society are what give it vigour. Every culture-moving idea started as a minority credo. I want the groups which wield the real power in our land to keep precious the protection of beliefs, even when those beliefs are at odds with that great tyrant twin of democracy, the people.

4.53 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, for introducing this debate. It is the kind of debate which needs to be more often repeated in this House because it is an attempt to deal with some of the underlying trends in our society and some of the crucial philosophic values which inform it.

All our speeches in this debate are necessarily brief, but I wish to touch on three issues. The first is that raised by the noble Lord concerning the way in which the executive in this country has had added to its powers a much more sophisticated understanding of public opinion and makes much more conscious use of it to inform government actions. That combination of factors can make the executive yet more powerful than it is already. It is one of the reasons for my belief—this is where the noble Lord and I part company—that we need a Bill of Rights. We need to lay down precisely the limitations of the power of the executive. I much respect the customs and traditions of a United Kingdom which has no constitution, but I fear that in a multicultural and rapidly globalising world they will no longer prove powerful enough defences for our democracy.

I agree with the noble Lord as regards government by plebiscite. I understand why there have been referenda on certain issues. I believe that there should be very limited use of referenda because there are real dangers in using them instead of public deliberation in the democratic process.

The second issue I wish to mention follows again from what the noble Lord said about the power of the media. I wish to make two points. The first is that I believe that none of us has taken sufficiently seriously the concentration of ownership of the media. We are moving into a digitalised world where the concentration of power is in a very small number of hands for the press, television and radio. It is becoming positively frightening. If one looks at the movement of global markets one can see the way in which control over digital outlets is becoming highly limited in the hands of a very small number of people. For democracy that must be an extremely disturbing development.

In that context I wish to mention a second matter; namely, the recent proposal on the part of the BBC, and in particular by the director-general, to replace existing editors and deputy editors of BBC news programmes with a single, overall control of all the news programmes in one place. I am sure that Mr. Birt is owed a debt of gratitude from all of us for the way in which he has sought to modernise the BBC, but I am very fearful of any steps that might end the individualism and, if one likes, even the idiosyncrasies of our distinct news programmes which have enabled the BBC's quality and independence to rise to a point admired throughout the world. I hope that the governors of the BBC, some of whom have the honour to sit in this House, will very carefully consider any changes that might limit the diversity and autonomy of the BBC's editors.

Lastly, I wish to refer to one other group of minority issues. I believe that for all of us it is a pleasure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is responding to this debate since his wit and wisdom will no doubt enable him to reply to a very large number of subjects which are likely to be raised under such an umbrella title as this debate enjoys. I shall conclude with some specific questions. I give the Minister due warning.

The third issue I wish to raise concerns the position in this country of our ethnic minorities. I find myself in profound disagreement with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, reported from the Conservative Party conference. He said that there could be no such thing as a dual loyalty. I felt like saying to him that he needed to listen to the words that were applied originally to the great Sir Christopher Wren, "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice". (Look around you if you wish a monument). In his case it was, "Look around you if you want to see the truth." The truth, which I welcome, is that we live in a multicultural and multinational society today. There is no turning back of the clock and therefore we have to come to terms with the fact that we can now rejoice in the resources and richness of such a society and benefit from it.

Her Majesty's Government—and I pay them due respect in this regard—have made a very good start in terms of having announced new initiatives on a whole range of issues in order to try to encourage the ethnic minorities in our midst. For example, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has encouraged more ethnic-minority people to come forward to fill the position of magistrate. The Minister of Health has announced his intention to hold a joint conference on the issue of the health of ethnic minorities and the Minister of State at the Home Office has announced his intention to look very closely at racial assaults.

Perhaps the single most disturbing area is the total failure of anybody from an ethnic minority to reach the higher ranks of the Civil Service. As many of us know, that is at least a part of where power lies. In that respect, I hope that we can have an assurance from the Minister that the recent private report undertaken by Keith Vaz, the Member of Parliament in another place, will be taken very seriously and that there will be action not just to monitor the recruitment, but also the promotion and advancement, of people from ethnic minorities in the Civil Service. With that I wish to associate also the extreme importance of looking again at the position in the Armed Forces.

Noble Lords know that I spend part of my time in the United States. I do not believe that the Government should follow that country in every aspect of policy. In some of their welfare reforms the Government are making a mistake in pursuing American policies. But I believe that the Government can learn a very great deal from the United States in the action that was taken following the decision made 50 years ago by President Truman to desegregate the armed forces. That action took the form of training people in an understanding of human rights in order to begin to change the culture of the armed forces. I respect our Armed Forces. Every generation in my family has served in the Armed Forces in one capacity or another. However, I find it appalling that an examination of the structure of our Armed Forces reveals that there is not a single black or Asian face of anywhere near senior officer status. Given the huge contribution made by Indians and West Indians to the defence of this country on many occasions, I find that shocking.

In that context, I should like to refer also to the police. I believe that the Metropolitan Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, has made a tremendous effort to try to encourage more ethnic minority police recruits. Up to now, the figures have roughly doubled, but the trouble is that that doubled recruitment is associated also with a massive rate of wastage. That suggests that young police recruits are encountering a very unfriendly atmosphere in at least some police stations. There is also disturbing information about people who have lost their lives or been badly injured while in police custody. There have been far too many such instances.

I conclude where I started. As I said, I believe that the Government have made an excellent start, but I must stress the importance of any government (including one as energetic and as vigorous as this) recognising how very much they can learn from dissenting voices. It is vital that no government ever try to prevent those dissenting voices (even from within their own ranks) from being heard because the greatest enemy of good government is almost always the pride that comes before a fall and the belief that one cannot be mistaken. I commend those words even to our present Government, just as I would have commended them a few months ago to their predecessors.

5.1 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Birdwood for initiating this debate. It is with some diffidence that I follow the excellent speeches that we have heard from both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Fortunately, however, the breadth of this Unstarred Question allows me to strike off in my own direction and to start with a general consideration of cultures and the way in which they interact before returning to what light that might throw on to minorities.

It seems to me that there are three principal characteristics of cultures in this regard: conflict, diversity and change. Looking at the way in which cultures interact, one sees that conflict is an obvious part of that. One need look only at history and at the world around us. Indeed, it is natural enough that that should be so because if one is part of a culture, presumably one believes that that culture has something worth offering and worth defending. It is but a short step from that to believing that the benefits of that culture should be spread to other people or that the territory (emotional or physical) that that culture occupies should be enlarged. Therefore, conflict is natural when it comes to cultures living together and it is something which governments need to manage.

Governments also need to have regard to diversity. Cultures do not stand still. They change and, in the process of change, they split off one from another. Perhaps the best example of those two processes is the Labour Party. Over the past 20 or 30 years, the culture within the Labour Party has changed enormously. Indeed, over that time, the Labour Party has spawned other cultures which perhaps may return to the fold one day. As I have said, one can see those processes in the Labour Party—

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me to intervene, perhaps I may point out that those who sit on these Benches come from a very old culture indeed.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, yes, and perhaps one can see those processes at work in many cultures, large, small and historical.

Another aspect of cultures is how hard-edged they are. One may take being Jewish as an example of belonging to a hard-edged culture. If you are Jewish, you know that you are Jewish. There may be some fuzzy edges but, by and large, being Jewish is a defined state. Moving on slightly, if you claim to be Scots, you could be the Italian waiter mentioned previously by my noble friend Lord Mackay and you could still be Scottish. You could be a Scot who has lived all his life in England and you could still feel Scottish. That may even apply to several generations. This definition of culture is more diffuse and less easy to determine.

Let us consider a culture which is more diffuse still and which has an even softer edge. One may say that one is a countryman. There is a continuum between being a countryman and being a townie. Where one finds oneself in that continuum depends very much on the challenge that one is facing. If my status as a countryman is challenged, I am a countryman; but if I am challenged over my right to live, and to enjoy living, in a town, I am a townie. That is a characteristic of many soft cultures. Indeed, one is a member of many soft cultures and one could be all three—one could be Jewish, a Scotsman and a countryman; or one could be some of them or none of them. We are all members of many cultures and most of those cultures are minority cultures. With reference to my noble friend Lord Tebbit, one can both be English and support the Pakistani cricket team. I certainly do because I like to win sometimes!

Other characteristics associated with cultures are stability and chaos. Again, that is a continuum. Stability can be produced by two main influences. There may be a confident and dominant culture which is able to control the minorities as it wishes, while also allowing them to flourish because it does not feel them to be a threat. There may be an external threat, binding cultures together and encouraging them to forget their differences in the cause of the common good. One can see chaos as a precipitate end to such stability, as happened in Russia, and when that happens there is complete disorganisation.

It seems to me that one must aim at the state which exists in this country now. There is a waning stability. One can see both those influences for stability in our past. Our dominant culture is noticeably less confident than it used to be. One could take the Church of England as an example. Also noticeable is the fact that external threats to our existence have decreased considerably. Indeed, I am sure that many people will feel that in their day-to-day lives such threats have disappeared. The result of that, and of the mix of cultures in this country, is that those cultures are growing more confident and more assertive and less willing to take central domination from a central government, however that government might be elected. We saw a good deal of that in the referendums this summer.

It is no bad thing that cultures develop such self-confidence. One gets a lot of strength from a diversity of cultures, but we need to understand how to manage that. In particular, the Government need to understand what they can and cannot do. It is no good the Government trying to impose their will on people in such circumstances. They will find themselves coming up against soft-edged cultures and making enemies rapidly.

Let us consider the culture continuum between rich and poor. Looking back, the Conservative Government made the mistake, with the poll tax, of challenging the poor. Even those who were not poor knew people who were or could imagine becoming poor themselves. That is why the number of people who were affronted by our attack on that continuum was much larger than one might have thought.

In their turn, in their tax proposals in their 1992 manifesto, the then Labour Opposition made the mistake of attacking the concept of being rich. They were attacking not only the rich, but anyone who thought that they might one day become rich. The then Labour Opposition lost a lot by attacking a minority in that way. It is difficult for any government to impose their will and to think that they are part of a dominant culture without encountering some backlash within a surprisingly short period of time.

There is very little future in consensus either because consensus is the process whereby, generally, the people who shout loudest are seen to win. If one allows that process to determine what a government do, one invites chaos and dissention. One invites individual cultures to shout louder and louder so that they can have their way in that process.

The key which the Government have to find is how to manage the boundaries between cultures while not trying to manage the cultures themselves. Within an individual culture the writ of government no longer runs. We know what we want for ourselves and no longer wish to pass that up to government. But we all recognise the role of government in playing the arbiter between cultures and in deciding how conflicts between them should be resolved.

In that respect I suggest that there are some rules that the Government may follow. I should be interested to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, agrees that this is the way in which the Government should conduct themselves. First, they should respect diversity. Secondly, they should be fair and open in consideration and judgment, hear all sides and argue and reply in public. When I look back at my experiences in MAFF I can see in how many ways we failed in that regard. Thirdly, they must deal firmly with misbehaviour. If the Government have decided a difficult issue, for example what is to be allowed in respect of abortion, and people begin to dissent by attacking doctors who carry out abortions, unless one deals with that extremely firmly one encourages a cancer in society that is very hard to eradicate. Lastly, they must moderate the pace of change. All of us find it easier to accept change when it is gradual. A gradual change tends to have less in the way of violent and unpredictable aftershocks that are difficult to manage.

How do the Government measure up against those matters? There are good and bad signs. The good sign is the talk of inclusiveness. Perhaps I shall come to refer to noble Lords opposite as my noble friends. If one reached that stage one would truly have inclusive government. But it is hard to find other signs that this Government are intent on what they say they are intent upon. For example, in the process of devolution the English were not consulted. There are always two sides to a cultural boundary. In this case it involved the English, Welsh and Scots. The views of the English were not ascertained. That is not a fair way in which to deal with a boundary dispute. One looks at the way in which the Government control their own ranks, not so much in this House, where there is a good deal of open debate, but in another place. There one finds an imposed uniformity that sits very oddly with the hoped-for commitment to do exactly the opposite as far as concerns outside minorities. When one looks at the Government's proposals on the boundary between town and country one is greatly concerned that it will be a matter of imposing the town on the country without consultation and regard for the fact that country people are different and live differently. When it comes to looking after minorities one's fear is that the Government's words are in the right place but not their hearts.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I join previous speakers in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, for providing the opportunity to debate this wide-ranging subject. One can go up and down various highways and byways. When something is proposed for the future we must look as far as we can at the past in order to draw conclusions. In view of the behaviour of the previous government, I believe that this debate could well have taken place 10 or 15 years ago when they were hell-bent on an elected dictatorship. As far as I know, it was not something quoted by any Opposition party, but it had its origins in a former distinguished and learned Lord Chancellor who did not like what was going on.

I came here in 1983, four years after that government entered office. I quickly came to the conclusion that there was only one check on the previous government in those subsequent 10 years. It was not the elected Members of the House of Commons. They had no say in the matter. The government of the day made sure that they had no say. Even government Back-Benchers in another place and Cabinet Ministers who attempted to change anything were quickly dealt with and sidelined. It was said at one time that there was a better Conservative cabinet of ex-Cabinet Ministers in this House than those who were sitting in the other place running the country. They had been got rid of. It was accepted by the public that their only protection against the excesses of the previous government were the Members of your Lordships' House. I do not have the exact figure but on about 150 occasions the House of Lords told the Government to think again.

To see the worst excesses of people being driven into the Lobbies to vote, we should look at the disgraceful episode of the poll tax Bill which was forced through the House. Although members of the Government's party spoke against it, they had their arms twisted to vote on the government side. I believe that it was the biggest vote in your Lordship's House that had ever taken place. I did not hear squeals on the other side then. How many times has the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, entered the Opposition Lobby to vote against his own government? I may enter the Opposition Lobby against my government on the question of devolution, with which I am not very happy. I never have been very happy about it. I believe that it is nonsense. I have yet to be convinced that it is right. But I shall consider the matter and may take certain action. But who stood up to be counted on the other side? Very few indeed.

When we look to the future we must try to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. I hope that the new Government give time to debate Opposition views. Given the way that government works today and the pressures from those outside who want their case put forward in the other place and in your Lordships' House, it is extremely difficult to get a substantial programme through both Houses in one Session of Parliament. I do not believe that the public want to swap the House of Commons and the House of Lords for a debating chamber that does nothing. We have enough such debates as it is. We must have a mechanism by which we can do something. The Government could make a good start by giving back to local authorities of all colours a whole range of responsibilities. They have been almost completely stripped of power.

For my sins I had the privilege of being leader of what I believe to be a very great city, Manchester. It had a good and progressive council that had various responsibilities. The council was run mainly by Labour and Conservative members, some of outstanding ability. There were members of both parties who were the equal of any Cabinet Minister I have ever seen at the Dispatch Box in the other place. One does not see such talent today because those people were not replaced by people of a similar calibre. There is nothing for them to do. They have been stripped of all power. For example, my noble friend Lady Hayman dealt with a little Bill today. We hope that it may mean that local authorities can begin to build council houses again, though that has never really stopped, even though councils have been denied the necessary funds.

When I was in local government the biggest landlords in the country were local authorities. I do not mean to say that I wanted to see everyone ensconced in a local authority house; it was time to review the situation. But your Lordships will know that when I spoke about housing from the Dispatch Box, periodically I asked the Government why local authorities were not allowed to build houses. Some of them still had the funds in the form of capital receipts but they were in abeyance. No Minister could give a reason. I was just told that it had been decided that councils would not build any more houses. That was in spite of in-depth reports on the housing problem, especially at the bottom end of the social scale. I refer to the report of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie, Faith in the City and the report on housing commissioned by the Duke of Edinburgh. Once again that was a non-party body of people involved in housing drawn from all sections of the community. That report showed the road ahead, but did the government listen? They did not want to know. We reached the position where eventually council house building almost ceased. I was always told that it would be the responsibility of the Housing Corporation and that it would hit the target of 63,000. I do not think it ever got above 40,000. In the last year of that government's term of office it was down to less than 40,000, from the figure of 100,000 council houses being built when Labour left office. That was their form of democracy.

I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, telling us why Labour lost the election in 1992. There may be a little truth in what he said, but I do not think that he was completely right. At that time the electorate had not tumbled to what the government had been doing to them. But will he tell us what he thinks happened on 1st May to cause such a dramatic change, because everything seemed to be going along in the same way? There must have been something to cause the electorate to demand a change.

If you want to do away with democracy, do away with the elected people who represent the points of view of the public. They can be removed. I lost my seat at the general election. I thought that I had worked hard, but the electorate did not want my party at the time. So I was removed. But what mechanisms did the Government put in place? Time after time Bill after Bill was rammed through this House giving Secretaries of State unlimited powers to do what they wanted. It did not matter what was said in the Commons or in this House. Why do your Lordships think all the fiddling and sleaze went on in the quangos?

I know of a case. I shall not name it. Noble Lords will know what I am talking about. Instead of being dealt with properly, one of the chief perpetrators ended up with a knighthood and another job. He is still in that job. When we talk about using power properly, we must be careful. I shall not make excuses for this new Government if they go over the top. I am a politician who believes that people should have their say. It would not be the first time that I have gone into the Lobby against my own government. My noble friend the former Chief Whip will bear that out. When I was in another place I was sacked from a job I did not know that I had for doing that.

Having said all that, it has been a good debate. I hope that we will shall see some powers that have been taken away from elected authorities returned to them as quickly as possible. Then we might start to have an increasing number of people of quality coming back into local government, people who can shoulder the responsibilities. They have shown in the past that they can carry out those responsibilities properly. I am not saying that everything in local government is right, but it is far better than dictatorships appointed by Secretaries of State which answer to no one.

5.23 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Birdwood for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter. "Decentralisation" and "greater accountability" are buzz words of the moment. The modernisation of our constitution is necessary to impose, limitations on parliamentary sovereignty and additions to popular sovereignty". There is nothing wrong with that per se but, as my noble friend Lord Birdwood implied, that shift towards a greater and purer pluralism is deceptive.

Will Hutton makes the point: The paradox of Thatcherism/Majorism is … that a strong state has been required to impose market freedoms and a wider individualism, taking to new extremes the centralising tendency built-in into the British state which has been obvious since 1945". He is less forthcoming in acknowledging that that is as much a paradox for New Labour as it was for previous administrations.

What is extraordinary about the Government's constitutional experiment is that, among all the eulogies extolling the virtues of more power to the people, there are parallel thrusts towards less accountability and a strengthening of the executive. That is a sleight of hand, a giving with one hand while taking away very much more with the other.

Reforms to the Labour Party demonstrate the point. The modernisers have expunged debate and criticism. Discipline, as measured against the merest whiff of dissent, is all. Control is now concentrated in an elite at the centre. Far from giving more power to the people, that stultifies the freedom to express any, let alone a minority, view. It disavows that the lifeblood of any democracy is the free expression of ideas.

I do not make that point from any partisan bias. As Hutton suggests, the "centralising tendency" is endemic within our system. What disturbs is the hint of hypocrisy with which New Labour has carried it forward into government. The whole nation, not just the party faithful, is now exhorted to join the "new euphoria". As Janet Daley puts it: Mr. Blair actually seems to believe that there is something called the People who have one unified voice and mood, and who will be best served by making party differences disappear or blur into a 'constructive' back-scratching club that freezes out dissidence at both ends". We are all being coerced into supplication to a "one-and-only"—thereby, essentially exclusive and intolerant—Blairite vision, and any and all minority views are thereby being emasculated.

It is an essential quality of good government that it accedes not only to the existence but also the merits of views other than their own. That is the seedbed of true tolerance and compassion. As Roosevelt said: No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities". Contrary to what seems to be this Government's intent to characterise those views with which they disagree—whether from within or without their own ranks—as the last refuge of the scoundrel or lunatic, they are inherently beneficial. That is important at any time, but becomes infinitely more so as we experience, the most limited political spectrum that Britain has had in living memory". In that, I am uneasy that the concept of parliamentary sovereignty—with its chain of accountability from the people through MPs, to the executive—seems to be metamorphosing into a doctrine of the "Divine Right of the Commons" as dictated by the governing party. I share also the discomfort of my noble friend Lord Birdwood at the burgeoning power of the media within the democratic process.

Of course, that interdependence is nothing new. It is an essential symbiosis. There must be an intimate relationship between the substance of policy and its presentation. Only in that way can it be subjected to critical examination by the public. To that extent the media are very much part of the matrix of parliamentary accountability but, as an article in the Daily Telegraph suggests: Where past governments were content to fill Parliament with pliant placemen, Mr. Mandelson will not rest until he has done the same with the media. Manipulation of consent is the name of the game. The ultimate aim, of course, is to maximise the government's power". As part of that, we now hear that there is to be a "school for spin" for government press officers. In effect, New Labour is seeking to absorb the Civil Service into its campaigning team. That manipulation of consent, sinister enough of itself, is bolstered by the fact that, as was said in The Times: The real political debate takes place in the studios of W12, not the chambers of SW1". That in part represents a triumph of populist opinion over public interest. That is a fine distinction, but the reality is that government is about hard choices. It is for the Government to make up their mind on the merits of the issue, not by holding up a finger to see how the wind blows. But policy, in so far as it exists, and its presentation are now almost wholly concerned with perception: how it will play in the minds of voters. The tail is wagging the dog. Hence the massed legions of focus groups and so on under whose siege we now operate.

Of course, at one level these are part of the process of consultation, but they also have the less desirable effect of reducing policy to the status of product. The point is that pursuit of market share is no substitute for proper governance because of the way in which such an emphasis can subvert the democratic process and work against minority interests. Recent firearms legislation illustrates the point. Of course there is a public safety dimension to that debate.

Nor do I question the sincerity and integrity of those campaigning for a ban. But we should not lose sight of Dryden's warning: The most may err as grossly as the few.". There is a very real sense in which, in political terms, all that has mattered is the stampede—and votes—of the herd. Concern over freedom and fairness, it seems, can be shouted down if sufficient moral outrage exists. More and more the sine qua non of modern politics is to go with the flow of "tabloid populism". A kind of political ethnocentricity goes to work. The idea that things are intrinsically right or wrong has given way instead to whether they are expedient. What matters is to cherry-pick those minority interests that have most resonance with the electorate. This worship at the altar of the populist deity, as well as entrenching the power of the executive, strengthens the supremacy of popular opinion over public interest. Government become no more than "a dedicated follower" of the electoral fashion of the moment.

As Charles Secrett of Friends of the Earth has suggested, single-issue adherents are distrustful of our process for this very reason. Not without justification, people do not see empty rhetoric and manipulation of their interests as an appropriate or effective way of addressing their concerns. In this sense, we can be justifiably concerned that political responses to their aspirations seem to be guided more and more by a process of auditing electoral consequence. This approach frustrates rather than enhances both the interests of minorities and the concept of "the greater good".

My noble friend Lord Birdwood cited John Stuart Mill's distinction between true and false democracy. This is a point of especial relevance in the contours of our democratic process today. In this—and I am conscious of a tinge of irony here—I have saved the last word for Oscar Wilde. I wonder to what extent we will be obliged by this Administration to live under the yoke of his assertion: Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.".

5.33 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, this has been an exceptionally interesting debate with some notable contributions, not least from the noble Earl, Lord Northesk. Such was the diversity of the contributions, I shall take as my text what I believe to be the central issue. To draw on John Stuart Mill, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, in his introduction, we are talking about the will of the majority and the protection of the rights of minorities. Incidentally—and it is a matter to which I shall return—it is a paradox of British constitutional arrangements that we have had the will of the minority without the protection of the rights of the majority.

I remember going to Colombia 10 years ago with one of those American institutes which has more money than sense and sends people around the world to advise such as the Colombians on their democratic system and the protection of human rights. We were not an enormous success, as one can tell from the results. However, I was struck by the fact that in the minds of the Americans on the deputation there was no conflict or difference between majoritarian democracy and the potential for the protection of the rights of individual minorities. They assume that democracy is a package within which everything is contained and if the will of the majority prevails surely everything will be all right. For reasons that several noble Lords have mentioned, I do not believe that to be the case.

I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, for introducing the subject. The fact that it has been moved from the Conservative Benches is particularly appropriate. It must be difficult to adjust from the Conservative's long years of majoritarian rule to the new experience of being the minority not only in the country, which the Conservatives were through the long years of majoritarian rule, but a minority of course not in this House but in another place. It prompts the deep reflection which led the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, at a similar point in history when Labour won the election, to discover the concept of elective dictatorship. When the other side get their hands on the levers of power it always prompts a rather deep existential angst about, "Where is it all going? Aren't we in deep trouble now that the wrong people have got their hands on the levers?".

We on these Benches have long practice of being a minority. We know all about minority status. No one can tell us anything about it because we know exactly what is involved. I suggest that it draws on several comments that your Lordships have made.

There are three elements to the discussion. The first is the political institutions. The Government have set their hand to the most ambitious programme of constitutional reform that this country has seen for a very long time. In that, we on these Benches are marching with them shoulder to shoulder. Proportional representation, which your Lordships would expect me to mention, has a bearing on the matter because it ensures that, broadly, people are represented in proportion to the views held in the country.

With respect, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, was mistaken about a Bill of Rights. The essence of such a Bill, whether it is simply the incorporation of the European convention, which the Government are proposing, is to state that there are limits on executive power—

Lord Birdwood

My Lords, I was at pains to frame what I said as a question. I did not intend a pejorative colouring in my reference to a Bill of Rights.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. If he is not being pejorative I wish in return to be positive. I believe that there is a strong case for saying that if one regards the rights of the individual as inviolable then there are limits on executive power. I hope that that will be one of the results of the legislation which the Government are contemplating.

Next, there is the question of freedom of information, to which we hope the Government will turn sooner rather than later. Freedom of information is precisely about the individual and minorities having available to them information which too often in Britain has been available only to the Executive and to the Government.

Thirdly, there is devolution, about which the noble Lord, Lord Dean, was not too enthusiastic. It recognises that the elective dictatorship is susceptible to being broken down by the stronger local government to which he referred and by allowing centres of power other than Whitehall and Westminster.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, have not the effects of the devolution process so far shown that for the first time the electorate in England has been lumped with us and denied the vote?

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, that is a fair point to which no doubt we shall return in debates in this House. In addition to political institutions there arises the question of whether we have diversity of media, to which my noble friend Lady Williams referred. The Conservative Party was not at all averse to trying to manage the media, to getting close to the owners of the press and television and to getting a favourable press for their policies and views when in government. It is not altogether reasonable to attack the Labour Party for trying to do the same. That is an issue for the country as a whole and for all parties. It must be wrong for there to be, first, an over-concentration of ownership; secondly, for there to be an over-concentration of the ownership of certain technologies which represent gateways into the media system; and, thirdly, for there to be insufficient diversity of editorial view. I understand the concerns which my noble friend expressed about recent developments at the BBC.

The third issue is the question of culture, the culture of civil society which is partly made up by the media and partly by the values which we all share. I am proud to say that the introduction to my party's constitution says that: No one shall be enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity". It is the word "conformity" on which I wish to place some emphasis. We must recognise that over-conformity is the enemy of learning. Karl Popper, in his great work The Open Society and its Enemies, talked about what constitutes a society which is capable of making progress. It is the ability to learn. We learn only through disagreement, through debate, through learning from experience and through not concealing things which go wrong but trying to learn positively from them. For example, if one sees non-conformity as a possible enemy there is an overwhelming tendency for political correctness to take over in the belief that there is a correct way of seeing things. I do not believe that at all. Diversity of view is an important driver of change in society.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, might refer—and he did briefly—to freedom of association and expression. Those are rights provided expressly in the European Convention on Human Rights, which I hope your Lordships' House will shortly be enacting into law.

Perhaps I may address one remark directly to the noble Lord, Lord Williams. The noble Lord and I have shared many late nights in this House on the subject of Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lord Alderdice sits behind me. Perhaps I may say that Northern Ireland and the current peace talks are the very paradigm of what we are talking about here because there is a minority in Northern Ireland and there is a majority. The only way in which to reach an equitable settlement in Northern Ireland is to contemplate that those who are at present the majority in Northern Ireland might, at some point in the future if the people of Northern Ireland agree—and I think it will be a very long way away—become a minority in a united Ireland. In discussing that subject, it is extremely important to remember that minorities of today become majorities and majorities become minorities. Therefore, the rules that we put down are the rules that we all share.

5.43 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in offering congratulations to my noble friend Lord Birdwood. I offer my congratulations to him also on his timely arrival. Some of us thought that sadly this debate might never take place. We were very pleased to see my noble friend arrive and, as a result, we have had a very useful and constructive debate.

It is often the case that an Unstarred Question of this kind is the first opportunity for one to make a speech as a spokesman on this or that from the Dispatch Box. This is the first occasion, other than at Question Time today, when I have had the opportunity to speak on home affairs. I have been amazed at the range and breadth of the debate and I offer my commiserations to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, who must wind up the debate in what I understand will be a mere 12 minutes. I shall try to keep short my remarks so that the noble Lord will have extra time, should he wish, to address all the points put to him. However, I am sure he will agree that even if we were to have a five-hour debate or even a debate lasting all afternoon on this subject, the noble Lord would have an equally difficult task in winding up a debate of this sort which covers a wide range of different subjects.

My noble friend spoke of attacks on this House as a mere talking shop. My noble friend made it clear that that is not so. He quoted from John Stuart Mill, Jefferson and Sydney Smith. I did not know the particular Sydney Smith quotation but I rather like it—that minorities are almost always right. That is very encouraging to us on these Benches at the moment. Perhaps I may add one rider to the remark that minorities are almost always right. My view, formed when I sat on the Front Bench opposite, and one to which I still adhere, is almost the opposite of that. I believe that possibly, when all Front Benches are in agreement, they are almost always wrong. I ask all Front Benches to bear that in mind. We shall try to make sure that we are not often in agreement with the Government because we feel that we have a duty to oppose. I hope that that duty will be joined in as often as not by, if I can express it in this way, our noble friends in opposition on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Having said that, I was extremely interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said about his experiences in Colombia, and that they may have had a less than positive effect in relation to the advice given to the Colombians on the procedures to follow in creating a proper democratic government. The noble Lord might like to look at Gulliver's Travels and the descriptions which Gulliver gives of some of our early 18th century political institutions to, I think it was, the King of Brobdingnag who was increasingly mystified. He gave those explanations in all good faith, thinking that he was describing matters as perfectly as he possibly could. That is something which might bear looking at when any of us ever contemplates constitutional reform.

That brings me also to the mention by the noble Lord of proportional representation. I imagined that there would be some mention of proportional representation by the noble Lord's party. I was justified in that thought because the noble Lord raised the matter at the end of his speech. Very often it is seen as the universal panacea for dealing with the interests of the rights of minorities. I do not share the noble Lord's views. His view that proportional representation would allow all peoples to be properly represented is not one that I share. It allows not for greater representation of the people but greater representation of the parties. That must be seen as very distinct from the noble Lord's view. It is certainly something which is very different.

My noble friend Lord Birdwood asked a whole range of very difficult questions. He asked what effect a Bill of Rights might have on minorities. He sought comparisons with other governments. He asked whether there should be a more dominant role for the various European institutions. He asked about devolution, plebiscites and their use. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, gave her views on referendums. I share a great many of her views about the dangers of referendums. Should we have referendums on more and more subjects, that is something which Parliament as a whole should look at in greater detail.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, will the noble Lord give an assurance to the House that when the Scottish devolution Bill is being considered in this House, he and his party will vote against the proposals for proportional representation which are likely to be put in that Bill, even though the outcome may be no Conservative representation at all in the Scottish Parliament?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I was giving my views on proportional representation. I have not said that I believe that PR is always the wrong route to pursue. I certainly would not like to see it in our imperial Parliament. There may be arguments for it on other occasions. The noble Baroness will have to wait until the Bill comes before the House to hear other noble friends of mine, and possibly myself, address those specific questions. However, as I was saying, we should be most concerned about the use of referendums, plebiscites, or whatever one calls them, on every possible occasion. If we are to make greater use of them, I see that there is a case, as has been put on a number of different occasions, for stricter controls and guidelines regarding how they should be run and in what manner.

I particularly welcomed what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about ethnic minorities, especially as regards their role in the Civil Service. She was right to say that we have not seen enough at the highest levels. Indeed the noble Baroness quoted from the research conducted by Keith Vaz, a Member of another place. I believe that some of what he produced gave a rather negative picture. For example, he implied that there were very few members of ethnic minorities in different ministerial offices. In my eight years in government in a whole range of different departments—indeed, four different departments—I certainly did not find that to be the case. It is possible that there may not be enough of them at the higher levels of Grades 4, 3 and above, but I do not think that that is the case in private offices. However, I have not read the report in detail and would certainly welcome the chance to do so in the future.

Following on from what the noble Baroness said about the position of ethnic minorities in the Armed Forces, I have to say that I greatly welcome the announcement by the Ministry of Defence that it is to conduct a recruitment campaign. Indeed, I wish it well. I hope that all like-minded people will wish it well in terms of making the Armed Forces more representative of the community at large.

I was most interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, said about this House, especially as he seemed to start with a defence of this place in the year 1983 stating that it acted as the only opposition to the then government. The noble Lord went on to say, somewhat more critically, that there were very few members of my party when we were in government who stood up to be counted, as I believe he put it, against the then government. Again, I have to say that that was certainly not my experience in my time as a Minister as I went down to defeat after defeat after defeat. Perhaps I should not exaggerate the number of defeats that I suffered for fear that Chief Whips or former Chief Whips might remember. However, I can assure the noble Lord that there were many occasions when those on my own Benches were sticking the knife in and twisting it pretty hard. I can tell the noble Lord that they were there and that they were prepared to be counted.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. However, I should point out to him that I believe he will find that a good percentage of those Members came from one of the most involved professions with an interest in those particular Bills; namely, the legal profession.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot remember whether it was particularly lawyers who were defeating me on the different occasions that I was defeated in this House. Indeed, it is not my particular memory that lawyers were the ones sticking the knife in. I have had lawyers do so, as have many others. However, at this time of night we should not cast aspersions on a very honourable profession and one which I have the honour to be part of; indeed, I see that other lawyers are present in the Chamber tonight.

I must now bring my remarks to an end. Some pretty fundamental questions have been raised by this Unstarred Question as to just how we can ensure that the views of minorities, whomsoever they may be, are heard. It may be the case that we are all minorities. We must consider how those views can be taken into account when government, especially in another place, have such an overwhelming majority. I dare say that the same questions would also be raised were we to have proportional representation. Just because the majority wishes something, that does not always necessarily mean that minority views or beliefs should be ignored in favour of those of the majority.

One of my noble friends quoted the example of Dunblane. Indeed, one could add the views of different people on hunting or on the ritual slaughter of animals. Obviously, there must be occasions when the majority views do override those of the minority; for example, when the views of the minority are so objectionable that that has to be the case. But that is a very difficult situation and one which needs to be addressed.

In a multicultural society—not an expression that I like, but one for which I suspect there is little alternative—such problems will be even greater. They are the ones that the Government should address and certainly those which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will, I fear, have to address in the 12 minutes which remain for him to make his speech.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, what a feast has been provided at the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood. I shall be acquitted of discourtesy if I do not mention the identity of every speaker with his or her particular points. If I were to do so, my 12 minutes would have come and gone. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, offered me the final benefit of the poisoned chalice of extra time. However, happily and in a civilised way, he snatched it back because he used all of his 10 minutes.

It is idle to think that all minorities are stereo-typical. They are not. Indeed, they vary with time and change. I should like to give your Lordships examples. My wife is Indian, so she is plainly in a minority in this country and in an apparent minority because her skin is brown. Her religion is Hindu. Therefore, had she lived in India, she would have been in the majority in that great multicultural society which remains a secular democracy, governed by the rule of law. As it happened, my wife was brought up in Durban in South Africa and was, therefore, part of a grossly oppressed minority for a substantial period of her adult life when she was living there, at a time when both her parents never had a worthwhile vote.

On the other hand, I am in a minority in my native land, Wales, because I speak Welsh. I am one of half a million; 2 million plus do not speak Welsh. I am in a minority where I live in Gloucestershire, in Evenlode, which is a hunting village. I believe I am the only Welsh speaker. I am constantly grateful that the English Liberation Army does not come and burn my house down. I am certainly in a decided minority in your Lordships' House. It will astound your Lordships to understand that I am not a hereditary Peer, nor have I ever been a member of the Conservative Party. So I am doubly disabled.

The fact is that the attraction of the United Kingdom is that it offers diverse tolerance. The noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, is not present in the Chamber this evening. I like him and his vulpine sense of humour. But he is profoundly mistaken in the effect that his remarks had. I readily accept that most people take notice only of the headlines, whether in newspapers or concerned with the media as a whole. However, the noble Lord was wrong. There are no two ways about it. The greatness of this country, which remains great, is that it is decent and tolerant of dissent. That was the significant reason why the year 1789 came and went and we had no guillotines here in this country. Even then society in this country was able to accommodate diversity and to be inclusive in the way that the late President Lyndon Johnson advised: it is better to have your enemies within the tent rather than outside the tent doing exactly the same thing.

We have much to learn from the United States. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, which was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The Americans are able to deal with differences, though not perfectly in every way. They did desegregate the armed forces, but I am bound to say rather late in the day; and it was Truman who did it. That great President is much maligned. He was a public servant. He was asked what he was going to do when he went back to independent Missouri. Having been President of the United States in times of the most appalling stress and difficulty he said, "Put the grips in the attic". We need more people like that in politics.

If I may take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, we need more stubborn and mulish independents who want no place or preferment but who believe that the ideal of public service with no selfish, immediate purpose is still a noble one. It is from minorities that some of those public servants sometimes come. We need people to ask, "Who are these people to tell us what to do?". Indeed, some would ask who am I to say that as I am speaking from the Front Bench. I say it because I mean it. I bear in mind as a cautionary guide what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said immediately after 1st May: Only stand at the Dispatch Box and say things when they don't stick in your throat". I believe that to be a useful guide for all of us, wherever we sit in your Lordships' House.

I wish to address one or two points put by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—I am breaking my own rule—because they deserve a reasoned response. He asked the Government to respect diversity. I entirely agree with that. We respect diversity and we shall continue to do so. He asked for fair and open consideration of others' views. I hope that we have made a beginning there. Certainly in the Home Office, the Home Secretary has stated firmly that all Parliamentary Questions must be answered as fully as possible and that all letters, whether from members of the public, Members of Parliament or the press, should also be answered as fully as possible. A number of your Lordships have been kind enough to say that they have detected a change for the better—not a perfect solution—at least in the Home Office.

The noble Lord asked us to be strong in dealing with misbehaviour. I agree with that. We have supported absolutely the Nolan crusade. We have invited Sir Patrick Neill to continue that work. We intend to bring forward legislation to deal with what has been a running sore in our society; namely, the funding of political parties, the registration of political parties and in particular the serious continuing vice of donations from foreign sources for questionable purposes. They do things better in the United States.

However, I parted company with the noble Lord when he asked for an assurance that the pace of change would be moderate. I use again that noble phrase from the United States; we intend to move with all deliberate speed. Those three words have equal value. The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, reminded me that trade unionists in GCHQ properly served the national interest but were abused monstrously for that by having their rights to free association taken away. I underline the point he made about that being a human rights issue. There is no moderate change of pace there. We gave them back their rights. They were entitled to retake those rights. We shall not delay on that matter.

We shall not delay as regards the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights. There has been enough delay. Even in your Lordships' House 50 years allows for mature consideration. As I said earlier in answer to the Question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, we intend to issue the White Paper next week and to place the Bill before your Lordships as soon as possible. We have done away with the primary purpose rule in immigration. We have set up an asylum appeals tribunal in national security cases. Those areas were blemishes on our body politic and we have done away with them. As we promised in the manifesto, we have asked the people in Scotland and in Wales how they wish to be governed on a decentralised basis. In many ways I regard highly the way in which we have organised ourselves in this country. Part of my purpose is to improve that organisation, not to diminish it. We have suffered from centralised state control in a way which crept up on us. We hardly noticed that. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, is absolutely right. Enormous constructions of local government which existed at the end of the 19th century were destroyed largely for ideological purposes. The freedom to act locally in financial terms according to the wishes of the local electorate has been substantially leached away.

One has to be careful if one complains too much about spin doctors with regard to the press and if one complains that politicians ask themselves how a measure will fare with the voters. One must be careful because we represent the voters. The voters are the people who put us in a position to serve. The voters can withdraw their mandate at any time. It is tempting for someone to say that a policy is populist simply because many other people agree with it but he does not. One needs to be cautious about thinking that simply because a large number of people want something that one disagrees with, it is automatically wrong. The levers of power are with us at the moment. I think it was the Tammany Hall politician who said that when one has hold of levers of power one should be sure to pull them. I omit some expletives!

The Prime Minister has made it perfectly plain that he is alert to this matter. We have a large majority in the Commons. However, I assure your Lordships that certainly in the Home Office time and again Ministers have said, "This could be pushed through; we ought not to do it". I believe that a decent respect for other people's opinions is not only morally right, it is politically efficacious. Therefore one has the penny and the bun. That is a lifelong ambition of mine which I hope to see translated into practice.

The noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, asked about the ECHR. The purpose of having those rights in writing is that we believe that structural mechanisms are valuable. First of all they inform the citizen of what he or she is entitled to. Secondly, they form a basis for obtaining remedies in the domestic jurisdiction. It is shameful that people have to wait year after year and apply to Strasbourg when they could be accommodated here. What is equally important is that when governments know that written rights are incorporated in domestic legislation, that informs the mind and disciplines political policy and political action. When Bills are put before your Lordships' House or another place a Minister may be asked whether he is able to certify that a measure is in conformity with the incorporated ECHR, in the same way as now we have financial memoranda which are sometimes of value and sometimes not.

I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said. If I had a day and a half to reply, or at least an hour and a half, I could not do justice to this subject. All I can do is to assure your Lordships that the Government are embarked on a venture which we hope will change the political landscape of our country forever. The changes we are embarked upon are equivalent to the changes that were introduced in the context of the National Health Service after 1945. Nothing will ever be the same again. That means that over-powerful governments will be subject to check. I do not make a partisan point as regards my next point as I believe that it would be ignoble to do so. If the Conservative Party wholeheartedly joins in the election, the assembly in Wales is likely to produce a result whereby of the 60 assembly members 12 will be Conservative; that is, 20 per cent. At the previous general election the Conservative Party in Wales gained 20 per cent. of the vote but no MPs. I do not think one could level the criticism that this Government are being selfish or exclusive. We want the Conservative Party to stand and we want Plaid Cymru to stand. We want all minorities to be decently represented.

Twelve minutes have passed. I am sorry that I cannot deal with further points. It is true that in our society discrimination against women and against ethnic and other minorities is endemic. There is no point in pretending the opposite. There is a long way to go as regards the Armed Forces. Dr. Reid and the CRE have made a start. There is a long way to go with the police. Sir Paul Condon and his predecessor have made a noble start with regard to the police. We know that things are wrong. We know that there are things wrong with this House. Perhaps I am becoming colour blind but I do not see enormous numbers of women and I do not see many ethnic minorities represented here either. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, and your Lordships who have contributed to the debate. All of us who sit in this House whether on the Opposition Benches, the Liberal Democrat Benches or the Government Benches, are enormously privileged to do so. We are privileged and we must seek to do the right thing.