§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, picking up the threads from our previous debate, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, on his maiden speech. As a former director of social services I look forward to his contributions on children's issues in our debates and the wisdom that he has demonstrated today. I suspect that he and I will be arguing from similar positions in future debates. It is also a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. As a resident of Southwark I know well not only the problems that it faces but also some of the effective responses which local agencies are making. In my capacity as chairman of the Youth Justice Board I recently spent some time with the Southwark Youth Offending Team which is located within 100 yards or so of where Damilola Taylor so tragically died. The changes which the youth offending teams are making in Southwark and elsewhere in implementing youth justice reforms are making a real difference. Although further changes must be orderly, I am more confident than the right reverend Prelate that youth offending teams and the police will be able to take on in a measured way the further changes that the Government envisage.
I also share the right reverend Prelate's concerns on rising street crime in London and other major cities. As he said, it is an uncomfortable fact that the great majority of that street crime involves young people robbing other young people; and some of it is undoubtedly drugs-driven. The Youth Justice Board is working closely with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and hopes to come up with some new initiatives in this area in the not-too-distant future.
I wish to express my support for the Government's continuing commitment to reforming the criminal justice system and producing measures that tackle problems of crime and disorder in our society. Regrettably, violence and disorder on our streets is a continuing feature of life in some of our communities. However, the onset of the upward trend in violent crime goes back to long before this Government came to office. The roots are in the rise in child poverty and unemployment in the 1980s. In parenthesis, I was a little surprised to hear the Conservative Front Bench chastise the Government for not having more legislation on children given the track record of the previous government in overseeing the rise in child poverty and some of the damage that that has caused 399 in our society. Some of the trend in rising violence has strong links to alcohol and drugs. Sadly, while crime has gone down by about 10 per cent since this Government came into office, violent crime still continues to give cause for concern.
The Government's sound economic management, anti-drugs strategy, family policies and tax and benefit changes that help children and families will have an impact on crime. But action on other fronts is essential, particularly earlier intervention in criminal and disorderly behaviour. At the heart of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was reform of the youth justice system, drug testing and treatment orders and antisocial behaviour orders. Underpinning those changes were the ideas that tackling crime and disorder could not be left to the traditional criminal justice system; there should be more concern with outcomes rather than process; and partnership working by different agencies was critical to success. Some of the measures in the new legislation that we shall discuss this year, such as curfews and fixed penalty notices, continue along that path. As chairman of the Youth Justice Board, I welcome them as long as they are integrated, as I expect, into the earlier reforms now beginning to work well and have professional acceptance from the police and other agencies.
One of the issues that the new local crime audits and local crime reduction strategies have identified is the strong link between alcohol and crime. About two-thirds of these strategies identify alcohol-related crime as a problem. In recent years we have seen a huge increase in what is called in the jargon mass volume vertical drinking. That is a fancy term for describing large numbers of young men in crowded rooms with no seats and little, if any, food consuming alcohol. Unsurprisingly, this has led to more and more violent incidents outside pubs and clubs. I am sure that the Government are right to defer legislation on licensing changes so that we can be sure that this phenomenon of recent years can be taken properly into account. No one wants to be a killjoy, but we cannot continue along a path of increasing numbers of young men tanking themselves up, releasing themselves on to crowded urban areas and expecting the police to sort out the problem. I suppose that what I am saying is that the Conservative leader's youthful 14 pints in a day has to become a thing of the past.
There has been much debate about police numbers. As a Londoner I share the concerns of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police about police numbers in London. I pay tribute to the leadership which he and his deputy provide in tackling crime in London. But again London's policing problems have their roots in the past. I know from my earlier work in the Home Office how much the current Home Secretary did in 1997 and 1998 to address the rather parlous funding position of the Metropolitan Police inherited from his predecessor and to put the boundaries of the Met on a more logical basis that made partnership with local authorities easier.
The Government have a good record on working constructively with the police to improve police efficiency and effectiveness. I am sure that they will 400 continue along that path. We know from Audit Commission studies that there is not a simple correlation between spending more money on uniformed police officers and reducing crime. More bobbies on the beat is a simplistic cry on its own. Simply putting more uniformed officers on the street will not have much impact on crime, however desirable that may be, unless other measures are also taken.
New police officers need to be properly trained, to have access to new technology, to have good personnel policies and to be managed by high quality leaders. The Government have an excellent record on increased investment in forensic science, information technology and police radio systems that will make the police more effective. New legislation to underpin reforms in police training will help that process further, alongside the extra money being put into police budgets.
In recent years the police have learned to work in partnership with other agencies and local communities in tackling crime. The private security industry is an important part of the framework of tackling crime and disorder. I am pleased that the Government are producing legislation to regulate it. The area was seriously neglected by their predecessors, despite support for reform from responsible parts of the security industry. The reform is long overdue and I hope that the House will give the Bill a speedy passage.
Other measures in the legislative programrne will also help to tackle crime more effectively. I shall not go into all of them, but I hope—this is more hope than expectation—that we can adopt a more responsible attitude to debating the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. The noise of grinding axes in our previous debates on the subject was sometimes deafening. The criminal justice system still has many shortcomings in terms of cost-effectiveness. As it is a tax-funded service, we should continue to question its cost-effectiveness and efficiency. The Bill is a legitimate, modest reform that we should adopt. I suspect that it may look extremely modest compared with—
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I do not think that it is the convention that we interrupt each other in this debate.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, what does the noble Lord mean by "efficiency" when it comes to the criminal justice system? Does he mean more convictions, regardless of whether a person is guilty?
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, that is a question for debate, but the short answer is that the money spent on input has to relate to the output achieved. The criminal justice system does not always score highly on that scale.
Lord Justice Auld's review and the review of the sentencing framework may come up with more far-reaching options. I hope that we shall consider the Bill in that context.
401 Lastly, I shall say a few words about the public. The crime and disorder measures that the Government have introduced and are introducing this Session have at their core increasing public confidence in the policies and processes for tackling crime and disorder. I am sceptical about opinion polls, but in preparing for the debate I tried to find a recent opinion poll on which party had the best policies on law and order. I found that a MORI poll conducted in July for the Mail on Sundayhardly a staunch supporter of the Government—found that more people thought that Labour had the best policies compared with the opposition parties. It was not an overwhelming vote of confidence, but it suggests that the Government might be heading in the right direction for the public. That view is reinforced by the English Housing survey published two weeks ago, which revealed that the number of people who thought that crime was a serious problem dropped by a third in the past two years. In some neighbourhoods, the drop was by more than half. That suggests that people think that the Government are adopting the right approach in tackling crime and disorder and that a bit more of the same would not go amiss.
§ 5.4 p.m.
Lord Butler of Brockwell
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, on his maiden speech with sincere warmth, but not at such length as would prevent him from going for a well earned cup of tea. With that in mind, I assure him that I shall not speak about policy towards children.
My contribution to the debate will be modest. My sense of the general atmosphere tells me that there will not be much place in the next few months for nonpartisan contributions from Cross-Benchers who do not hunt.
I urge the Government not to lose sight of three items that were not mentioned in the gracious Speech and to make progress with them if possible over the period ahead.
The first is the reform of your Lordships' House. I warmly welcome the clear statement of the Leader of the House that the Government will bring forward their proposals for further legislation before the next election and are seeking to establish a Joint Committee on the parliamentary aspects of further reform.
I do not want today to deal with the balance of elected and appointed Members of the House. As a member of the Wakeham Commission, I fully support its recommendation that the House should comprise a mixture of appointed and elected Members in a proportion that gives all regions of the United Kingdom a voice through election and gives a voice to other areas of experience and expertise through appointed Members.
I shall concentrate on how appointed Members reach the House. I welcome the establishment of the Appointments Commission, under the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, to appoint Cross-Benchers. I hope that the Government and the other 402 parties will not be tempted to confine the commission's operations to the appointment of Cross-Benchers, but will follow the Royal Commission's unanimous recommendation that all appointments to this House, whether party or Cross Bench, should be in the hands of such an independent commission.
The Royal Commission felt strongly that the authority of appointed Members of your Lordships' House would be compromised for as long as appointment rested on the patronage of the Prime Minister. It may be argued that political parties should have the choice of those who are to take their Whip. Like the Royal Commission, I acknowledge and advocate that nominations by the Prime Minister and leaders of other parties should carry great weight with the Appointments Commission, but that should fall short of total control. If party leaders had total control over party appointments, the logical corollary would be that the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties should be able to nominate directly rather than having to do so through the Prime Minister.
A better solution, which is most likely to quell public misgivings about appointments, is that all nominations—party affiliated and others—should be made through the Appointments Commission, which should contain a nominee of the three main parties and the Cross Benches to see that political considerations were properly taken into account. I hope that all parties will support that in the preparation of proposals in the period leading up to the election. It is an important aspect of the future authority and public standing of your Lordships' House.
The second issue to which I urge the Government to give further attention before the election is the West Lothian question. After the next election, Labour may well have a majority of United Kingdom seats but a minority of English seats. Apart from the landslide of the last election, that has been the normal situation since the war when there have been Labour majorities in the other place.
With the greatest respect, the Opposition's suggestion that only Members of English constituencies should be able to vote on legislation affecting England is not a solution. It would mean that Labour Governments of the United Kingdom, but not Conservative Governments, would have difficulty in passing legislation that affected only England. That, I believe, would be unacceptable. Not only that; it would be an important step towards separate English, Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and, through that, a step towards the break-up of the United Kingdom, although I am sure that the authors of the proposal do not intend that. For that reason, I profoundly hope that a future Conservative government would not persevere with that proposal.
I believe that the only solution to the West Lothian question may lie in a more informal self-restraint on the part of government parties of both sides not to push through seriously opposed legislation affecting one part of the United Kingdom by relying on votes from areas not so affected. In the Britissh constitution 403 we have been used to informal self-denying ordinances of that sort. This House has been particularly used to such self-denying ordinances, and I feel sure that this is a better route than formal restrictions.
The final matter to which I urge the Government to give attention is one in which I have a personal interest—the preparation for a Civil Service Act. I have come to the conclusion only reluctantly that such an Act is desirable. Previously I have believed that, provided both parties respect the conventions governing an impartial Civil Service—as I believe they have—the flexibility provided by the absence of legislation is an advantage.
But we now live in a world where everything is being codified. It is possible that at some time in the future the Civil Service will become a political football between the main parties, as has happened in other countries which have even had the Westminster and Whitehall tradition. That would undermine once and for all the non-political nature of the Civil Service, which I consider to be an important asset of this country.
Many of us were very encouraged by the Government's response to the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and by the Government's affirmation of their resolve to put in place defences for Civil Service neutrality. Those defences depend to some extent on a Civil Service Act on which the Government sensibly said they would consult before introduction. For that reason, I was not surprised by the lack of a reference in the gracious Speech to legislation on the Civil Service. However, I hope that when the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General replies tonight he may be able to tell us that consultation will begin in the near future with a view to legislation on this matter being introduced in the next Parliament.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, from these Benches I welcome the maiden contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham. I hope that he will not be constrained by party Whips when matters concerning the care of young people are debated in this House. I, for one, will look forward to his support on future occasions.
I am delighted to respond to Her Majesty's gracious Speech. Legislation on matters relating to the Home Office is a mixed bag. Cracking down on crime, criminals and benefit fraudsters is laudable. However, it is clear that this Government have turned law and order policy into a Dutch auction, with both the Conservatives and the Labour Party aiming for the high ground.
Although we welcome some of the measures proposed by the Government, we are concerned that too much emphasis is currently being placed on the problem of yob culture—being tough on crime—at the expense of a sufficiently wide range of measures to address the causes of crime. The Government's duty is also to lead; not simply to compete. The amount of money spent on tough measures relating to crime is 404 completely out of proportion to money spent on crime prevention strategies. It would be helpful to have the Minister's observations on this point.
There are, of course, significant omissions in the Home Office Bills; for example, we need a national network of neighbourhood mediation programmes to help to prevent conflicts between neighbours escalating into crime. That would do much to improve the quality of life on deprived housing estates. We need a range of other measures to address the personal, family and social problems that often confront offenders. In particular, we should like to see a youth offending team plus a regime for 18 to 21 year-olds. Here, I certainly welcome not necessarily the political opinion but the valuable and effective work that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and his youth just ice boards are doing.
Where are the measures to identify the positive benefits of immigration, particularly in a country with a static or declining population? We shall pay a heavy price if we simply stick to being Little Englanders when we know that the prosperity of future generations depends on the working population of today. Where are the measures that would, once and for all, remove the stigma of vouchers handed out to asylum seekers? That remains a blot on our civilised values concerning the care of victims of torture.
Of course, the Home Office will say that some of those matters are under review. However, it is unlikely that we shall see the implementation of such measures this side of a general election. After all, the measures proposed clearly indicate that such an election is due in the not too distant future.
I have another concern, referred to by other noble Lords. It relates to the creation of a substantial number of criminal offences since this Government came to power. As is often asked, do we need all those measures? Should we not allow a breathing space for our criminal justice system to bed down? A good example is the proposal for a curfew order. The Home Secretary has admitted that introducing curfew orders for children under the age of 10 was a mistake. As has been pointed out, not a single order has been issued since the law was introduced.
Let us consider other measures in the criminal justice Acts. We have not even had time to measure their success or failure before embarking on further legislation. I suspect that before long the Home Secretary will admit in the other place that some of the measures have no impact on crime and disorder in the community.
We recognise that there are serious problems in troubled inner city areas and that they need to be tackled. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who spoke eloquently about those concerns. However, we have serious worries about curfews for under-16s. We note that the Association of Chief Police Officers expressed concern about the practical implementation of some of the new measures and, in particular, about the practicality of curfews. In part, that is due to the doubts abut their workability and whether the police forces have the 405 manpower to enforce them. Only today I spoke to a retired chief constable, who told me that such proposals will not work. Did the Minister consult those who have to implement such measures?
Blanket curfews will needlessly penalise law-abiding youngsters who are out for legitimate reasons, such as playing sport or other after-school activities. There is also a risk that they will worsen already fraught relationships between some young people and the police. Ample evidence already exists of adversarial relationships between young people and the police. Why add to that?
There are alternative and more constructive ways to address these problems. In particular, we know that many young people in deprived localities cause trouble because insufficient provision is made for them to engage in positive activities. In Peckham, which has been cited as an example and where Damilola was killed, over 100 youngsters have been excluded from schools. They have nothing to do. Further investment is needed in constructive activities such as youth clubs and sporting facilities, as well as in mentoring schemes. My own organisation, NACRO, commented that a network of support and constructive activities will do far more to reduce the likelihood of youth delinquency than simply extending an idea that so far has proved to be unworkable.
More generally, removing young people from the streets does not address the problem that leads some people to become involved in crime and anti-social behaviour in the first place. Curfews may keep potentially troublesome young people off the streets but they do nothing to address the problems which may lead them to offend in the first place. That needs to be looked into. Legislation can be effective only if all else fails.
I turn now to the new powers to address alcohol-related anti-social behaviour and violence. Some of the measures announced in the Queen's Speech are eminently sensible and should help to address some of the situational factors that link alcohol consumption and crime. In particular, we welcome the new powers for councils to ban drinking in some public places—so long as they are used sensitively and appropriately—and provision for tougher action against publicans who repeatedly flout the law.
We have concerns about the introduction of fixed penalty notices along the lines of tickets for motoring offences. That may not be conducive to good police/ community relationships. It may be difficult for the police to distinguish between high-spirited revellers and those whose drunkenness may result in crime. Moreover, we fear that there may be significant variations in the extent to which those measures are used in different neighbourhoods and localities, which is likely to undermine public community confidence. Therefore, there is a question as to the workability of those provisions.
More important, we should never ask our police to act as prosecutors, which is what they are doing when issuing a fixed penalty ticket. We have courts for that 406 purpose and they are better placed to decide what punishment is appropriate. Fining people is not always the answer.
As well as addressing situational factors which may contribute towards alcohol-related crime and disorder, there is a need to expand and develop education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes similar to those which have been employed effectively in work with convicted drunk drivers.
I turn now to the regulation of the private security industry and bouncers. Clearly, with large numbers of people entering the city and town centres at night, especially at the weekend, and the limited police manpower, the private security industry—and that includes bouncers—plays a key role in maintaining good order for the foreseeable future. The absence of any real regulation to date has been a cause for concern. It is clear that inappropriate people are often being employed in the security industry. Regulation is long overdue.
I cite a couple of examples. Manchester City Centre attracts an average of 75,000 people on Friday and Saturday nights who are policed by just 30 police officers augmented by 1,000 door staff and bouncers. Nottingham has about 30,000 night-time weekend visitors who are policed by 12 to 15 officers augmented by 400 door staff and bouncers. There are an estimated 100,000 door staff and bouncers working throughout the country. Who regulates them? No one. It is for those reasons that we should certainly welcome the regulation of that industry.
The Government seem to seek easy answers to the problems of yob culture, social exclusion and treatment programmes. We welcome many of the measures announced to deal with the situational factors associated with alcohol-related crime and disorder. However, we are concerned that the Government's rhetorical emphasis on the so-called yob culture should not deflect attention from the wider social causes of crime and the importance of tackling social exclusion and addressing the problems which many offenders face.
In that context, we welcome the proposal that ex-prisoners and children leaving care should be classed as priority needs for local authority housing and that councils should carry out a census of rough sleepers once a year. Links between homelessness and crime are well established and lack of access to housing is a major barrier to rehabilitation. Prisoners who are released homeless are more than 2.5 times more likely to reoffend than those with homes to go to. Providing ex-prisoners with accommodation and reducing homelessness will go a long way to reducing crime.
Further changes could be made to the law to tackle homelessness among ex-prisoners. When those who come out of prison have no job and no place to go, the risk of reoffending is very high indeed. Until 1995 housing benefit was available to meet the rent payments of convicted prisoners serving up to 12 months in custody. In April 1995, the rules were changed to limit that provision. For convicted prisoners, housing benefit is available only to those 407 serving up to 13 weeks. Anyone with a sentence exceeding 13 weeks receives no benefit at all. We should like to see restored the right of benefit up to 12 months.
Local housing departments and housing associations should not be permitted to operate blanket bans on offenders or particular groups of offenders in their allocation policies. We are pleased to note that the Government have now begun to address that issue. Housing benefit restrictions which have reduced benefits to below the real level of rents should be reversed. The stock of affordable rented housing in areas where there are shortages should be increased. Increased levels of housing and capital investment should also be made available. Is it not about time that we examined those issues?
But the most contentious issue is legislation restricting trial by jury in certain cases. The Government have suffered major defeats in your Lordships' House and yet they are back to their old tricks. The Government have now established the principle of "two strikes and you are out". They have already had two strikes. Why are they aiming for the third one from your Lordships' House? Is it not time that the Government stopped their insatiable appetite to promote criminal justice legislation? Since Labour came to office, we have had the Crime and Disorder Act, the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act and many other orders. As a prominent politician once said, "Bad laws are difficult to justify. They are even more difficult to implement". The only consolation we have is that some of the measures proposed by the Government will fall by the wayside when the general election is called. Criminal policies should never be based on one-upmanship, or "one-upwomanship", but they should be based on sound research supplemented by care and concern for all people in our society.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of Haringey
My Lords, I am delighted to contribute in today's debate as two of my particular interests in your Lordships' House are coupled neatly together in terms of health and home affairs. I want to endorse also the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath about the legislation to be brought forward in respect of the health service.
Clearly, legislation which will modernise the NHS in line with the NHS plan will, by and large, be extremely beneficial to the users of the health service, who will be placed, perhaps for the first time for many years, at the centre of the organisation of healthcare delivery. When that is coupled with the substantial extra investment that the Government are putting into the NHS, it is clear that there will be a major reshaping of the NHS to meet the standards of care which people expect.
I believe that if we look at the details of what is proposed in the health and social care Bill, we can see that there are many elements there which will make it possible to see and deliver improved performance in 408 respect of local NHS bodies. In particular, powers to provide direct payments to NHS bodies to reward good performance will provide a worthwhile carrot to local health service bodies. Secondly, arrangements in extremis to provide powers to put replacement management teams into failing NHS bodies will perhaps deliver the stick which may on occasions be necessary.
There are also other measures which are long overdue; for example, proposals to make it easier for nurses and other healthcare professionals to prescribe medicines, making nursing care an NHS responsibility and therefore free of charge in all settings. Those are all beneficial and valuable proposals which I am sure your Lordships will want to endorse.
However, I express reservations in respect of what is Chapter 10 in the NHS national plan, which is concerned with providing new arrangements for protecting and representing patients' interests. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, was kind enough to remind the House of the debate that I initiated on the future of community health councils. There was much in what he said in his earlier remarks to your Lorclships that I would endorse absolutely. I make it clear that as a former director of the Association of Community Health Councils I am not blind to the faults that CHCs have and have had in the past. However, I am fascinated by the sudden espousal of the value of community health councils displayed on the Conservative Benches.
I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, of Roding, published a Green Paper that proposed the abolition of CHCs. He had to back down from that in light of the cogent arguments put forward at the time. I also am aware that Kenneth Clarke, when Secretary of State for Health, remarked that he would have abolished CHCs at the same time as he removed local authority representation from health authorities had he realised how little fuss there would have been at that stage. The support for CHCs from the Conservative Benches is a new phenomenon but none the less welcome.
The Government's proposals contain much that is beneficial to the users of the service. The scrutiny role that is to be given to local government will be an extremely important part of the armoury and will ensure that the health service is more accountable. But, if local government and local councillors who will be engaged in those scrutiny exercises have independent resources that are knowledgeable about the local health service, informed by what is going on, by the work that they do on complaints and local advocacy and who would be able to provide and service that scrutiny function on which they could rely, it would be even more effective.
I want to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Earl, who highlighted the problems that there will be in any system of advocacy that is not seen as independent of the local NHS bodies. To have people who are not only paid by the local NHS body, but located within it and seen to be accountable to the chief 409 executive of that body, means that it is highly unlikely that the public will have confidence in the nature of the advocacy that they will receive from that source.
To remove that system of independent support for patients and at the same time to remove the mechanism that allows the work that the CHC carried out in terms of individual representation in responding to consultation, in monitoring what was going on in the service and in integrating that to bring together an informed view of what is happening in the local area is a substantial mistake. That point was aired extensively by Members of this House on all sides in the short debate that we had earlier. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will have taken that back to his colleagues in the Department of Health.
I trust that he is making progress in convincing them that that would impede what I am sure otherwise would be the serene progress of the Bill when it is introduced into your Lordships' House. I refer to unhelpful references being included in it to abolish CHCs or, if CHCs are to be abolished, what is to replace them must be palpably better and more able to deliver an independent service that is able to operate in a way that integrates all the learning that CHCs currently have.
I want to focus on what has been done in respect of crime and the measures that are outlined in the gracious Speech. We should be delighted that there has been a clear reduction in crime since the last election. The figures suggest that crime overall is down by 10 per cent and that domestic burglary is down by 21 per cent. Those are the lowest levels for a decade.
However, it is important that that progress is maintained across the country and that work is carried out to look at the incidence of violent crime and disorder. Noble Lords may know—I declare this interest—that I chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority, which is responsible for policing in London. Progress has been made. There has been an 8 per cent reduction in burglary since the beginning of the financial year. In some boroughs, but not all, there have been reductions in the incidence of street crime. That may give an indication that the levels are beginning to turn round. That is progress and I am sure that we all support it.
In the measures to be put forward in the coming year, the Government are clear about the importance of what has colloquially been called "cracking down on the yob culture" and giving the police the powers that they need to deal with disorder and crime. On the idea of new fixed penalty notices for offences such as being drunk and disorderly or using insulting words or behaviour, although there may have been initial concerns about the practicalities, as people look at how that may operate it can be seen that it would have beneficial effects which we should all support. I am sure that your Lordships' House will want to support powers to close down disorderly bars, wider powers of arrest and perhaps for the first time powers to tackle kerb-crawling effectively, which are all positive points.
410 It is critical that the police are given the resources to carry forward that work. The Government have been quite clear that spending next year will rise substantially. The proposed figure is some 10 per cent—again the biggest increase for a generation. That is extremely important.
In relation to London, the Mayor of London, who is independent of political party, has announced that he is minded to put forward an increase of 60p per week in the amount that Londoners pay, on average, for police in the capital. For my part, I am clear that if that is to happen, that money should be spent on the improvements in the number of police officers in London. Certainly the intention of the Metropolitan Police Authority is that we should budget for more than 1,000 additional police officers in the London area.
I also want to make it clear that it is essential that those extra police officers are based in the boroughs so that they are visible on the streets of London, which is what Londoners want. Those extra officers must not be allowed to disappear into specialist units at New Scotland Yard.
We must recognise that in the past 10 years—that pre-dates the current government—a number of factors has combined to reduce the visible presence in the boroughs. First, a number of specialist units have been created or expanded. Such specialist units are important and carry out essential work; for example, putting highly trained expertise into murder inquiries or into tackling racist and hate crime. However, a byproduct has been that some of the officers have been transferred from the boroughs.
Secondly, there have been severe problems in recruiting and retaining police officers in the London area, which has led to vacancies. As I speak, the Met is now some 370 officers below establishment. That is being addressed by a substantial pay increase, amounting to some £3,500 in the pay awarded to London officers who are newly recruited. I am pleased to say that there is evidence that the figures for recruitment and retention are improving.
Thirdly, there are comparable levels of vacancies in the civil staff who support the work of police officers. There are about 1,000 such vacancies because of the high turnover. Therefore, about 250 to 300 police officers backfill civil staff vacancies. That means that they cannot be deployed elsewhere because of the work that they have to do in backfilling such vacancies. I hope that tomorrow the police authority will agree a substantial package to improve the pay and conditions for civil staff and that that will ensure that the vacancies can be filled and police officers can be returned to traditional policing duties.
Fourthly, there has been a trend in the past decade for resources to be transferred to the rest of the country. That has seriously affected the Metropolitan Police, with the adoption of the police funding formula which failed adequately to address the needs of London. Two weeks ago in your Lordships' House I referred to the extent to which London subsidises the rest of the country. At that time I said that the subsidy 411 was £19.5 billion. Since then work carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has been published which shows that in fact the subsidy has risen to £22.6 billion a year.
With that level of subsidy being passed from London to the rest of the country, it is surprising that successive governments appear to continue to transfer resources from London to the rest of the country. I do not deny that there are needs in the rest of the country, but that seems to ignore the level of need that exists in London.
London contains some of the most extreme pressures on policing in the country yet the police funding formula continues to penalise London. The impact of that has been not only to push up precepts in London but it has also meant that at the same time there has been reduced policing in the boroughs. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary addressed that by increasing the special grant for London, but I suspect that more needs to be done if the imbalance is to be redressed.
Hand in hand with any increase in the resources to the Metropolitan Police must be a recognition that the efficiency of their operations must be subject to thorough scrutiny. I am aware that it is only a few years ago that the Metropolitan Police Service adopted double entry book-keeping. It may be felt that that is a new concept; that it is not right for the police to rush into it; but that is the case.
The Metropolitan Police Service can and must be streamlined and must improve its processes. It cannot be right that police officers should spend six or seven hours in custody suites to complete paperwork following an arrest. Therefore an investment in technology will help to allevaite those inefficiencies and enable resources to be re-invested in front-line policing. More needs to be done in that area and an external review will need to take place to ensure that that happens.
I note also that there is to be a police Bill. I hope it will be possible to address one other specific problem that exists for police authorities. I refer to the arrangement for the payment of allowances to authority members. I emphasise that I do not have an interest in this, in that members of the London Assembly, like myself, who sit on police authorities are not eligible to claim member's allowances. But the reality is that, certainly for a police authority covering the metropolitan area, members will be spending approximately 100 working days a year on authority business. That is three times what people were originally promised when they applied to become authority members and it will have a severe impact on their existing and future employment. The maximum allowance of time for reading and so forth fails to address that issue, and I hope that an opportunity will be taken in the passage of the Bill to review the matter and ensure, not only in London but also in some other police authorities, that the system of allowances is addressed.
My final point is that it is clear that if we are to address crime in London and elsewhere the work that the Government are putting forward in the gracious 412 Speech in terms of addressing the yob culture must be part of the package. But the other part of the package must be an investment. in resources to divert young people from crime and the provision of direct services to enable young people to avoid the temptations that undoubtedly exist. I hope it will be possible to put forward proposals in that regard, and I want to see the police service playing the fullest possible part in such work.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kirkham illustrated, I felt in a most moving way, the advantages to a child of being brought up in a. loving family. I hoped that the Government would bring forward proposals in the Queen's Speech which could play a part in strengthening the family.
Mr Blair is a family man and must know that children of parents bound by their marriage vows to a lasting relationship are far more likely to have a stable upbringing and to get a good start in life. He must have read the research which shows that the children of unmarried couples are twice as likely to see their parents split up and that the decline in the institution of marriage has meant more and more children being deprived of a stable upbringing with the consequences of which we are all aware; that is, more of them dropping out of school, failing to hold down a job and some of them drifting into crime.
Yet not only are there no proposals in the gracious Speech to strengthen the family and encourage marriage, but a government Minister, Miss Tessa Jowell, said recently that the Government would not promote marriage as the ideal context for bringing up children for no better reason than that it might upset the offspring of the unmarried as though the assertion of any standard is not likely to upset somebody. All that comes after a Session in which the Prime Minister associated himself with a major attack on the traditional family arid traditional morality by supporting the attempt to repeal Section 28, and on top of the Government forcing through a Bill to reduce the protection which young boys used to have against the intentions of older men minded to prey on them and abuse them. It is sad, and there will be a reaction against that contempt for standards and refusal to give proper protection to young people.
My second disappointment is that there is nothing in the gracious Speech to strengthen Parliament. The Prime Minister has a poor record as a parliamentarian. In fact, he has the worse Division record of any Prime Minister since the war. Time and again he was taken to task by the last Speaker for making important announcements about government policy outside Parliament rather than within. He has diminished Parliament by refusing to allow it to be the forurn, the sounding board of the nation at times of crisis and when momentous decisions have been made. It is astonishing, for instance, that Parliament was not recalled when the fuel protest took place. It is astonishing too that no debate was allowed when the decision was made to commit troops to a European defence force.
413 But recently far worse has happened. Under recent proposals all government Bills will be timetabled. And if business is taken after 10 o'clock at night in the Commons, voting on that business will be postponed until the following Wednesday when the Government supporters will deign to be present at a time convenient to themselves.
If that was all about making Parliament more family friendly it would be bad enough—surely people should not go into the House of Commons to change the rules to make life easier for themselves. But the changes will not just make life easier for the Blair babes to get to bed in good time; it will also make life much easier for the Government, and that is an important point.
Up to now I have always been against an elected Chamber. I broadly supported the proposals of the Wakeham Commission, of which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who spoke a few minutes ago, was such a distinguished member. But so effective have this Government been in neutering the Commons that I am beginning to wonder whether perhaps I was wrong. The argument for a thoroughgoing constitutional settlement with an elected second Chamber assigned functions which would never be countenanced had it not got a democratic mandate grows stronger as the Commons, far from reforming itself, drifts further into impotence.
I am afraid that to finish I must strike an even more sombre note. Recently the Prime Minister appointed a Minister for Patriotism. That is odd when this Government have spent much time attacking our identity as a nation. If we look at devolution we can study how people now see their country and where their loyalties lie. If we look at the polls on people's attitudes we will see that, since devolution, fewer people look upon themselves as British; that the very word is becoming obsolete as a result of the follies of this Government.
I hope that those who produced the report under the auspices of the Runnymede Trust are not typical. But they did not do much to encourage patriotism and love of Queen and country when they declared, without any foundation of truth, that Britishness has systematic racial connotations. Not much patriotism was shown by Mr Jack Straw—he was responsible for nominating some of the people to that committee—when he talked of the "baggage" of Empire; nor by Mr Blair when, in speech after speech, he derided history.
Those latter day socialists seem to have no comprehension that what we were has made us what we are; that, for instance, the strength of our institutions has, almost alone among European nations, enabled us to escape tyranny and/or conquest; and that it is our imperial past, of which the Commonwealth is the child, it is our ties of history with America and countries throughout the world and the use of the British language throughout the world that enable us to play a role far beyond the shores of Europe.
414 I cannot help but feel that new Labour's complete lack of understanding of these matters is bound to shape, and to some extent does shape, its attitude towards the European Union. I am not saying that this Government have a fixed federalist agenda, but I do say that their general beliefs and attitudes make them pretty relaxed about the European Union taking on more and more of the attributes of a sovereign state. First, it had its own flag; then its own anthem; then its own citizenship; then its own currency; and now its own defence force and constitution. According to what was said by Mr Prodi yesterday, it also has its own capital city.
I am not relaxed about it because if year after year there continues to be a leaching of power from the member states to the centre and never any traffic in the other direction, we will finish up with what Mr Prodi says he wants; a single political unity.
Despite the battering which our national institutions, national identity and patriotism have taken from this Government, I believe that the British people are still proud of the role that we, as a country, can play not only in Europe but world-wide. The British people want us to be in Europe and to have a happy and profitable association with other members of the EU. But I do not believe that they want to see us lose more of our ability to run our own affairs to an ever burgeoning Brussels bureaucracy, let alone see our identity lost in a European state with folk dancing the sole expression of nationality, as in the former Soviet Union.
The British people are not "barking", to use the elegant expression of Mr Patten. They know that we do not have to finish up this way but that it is the way that we could finish up. One day, a Government with a lot more spunk than this one may have to say, "Enough is enough!".
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gresford
My Lords, I want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that I have never swerved in my devotion to my country, to my language, to my anthem and to my flag—it just happens to be Welsh. I am pleased that the coalition in Wales of the Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties is forging direct links with Brussels and will continue to do so.
I very much welcome the private security industry Bill which is proposed in the gracious Speech. It has long been the policy of those on these Benches that organisations which are engaged in that industry should be licensed in order to monitor the training, character and integrity of those who are employed in it. However, that is a matter for Monday's Second Reading debate and I do not propose to address the issue any further.
However, another criminal justice Bill is to be introduced to "crack down on yob culture", as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, put it. The Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 received the Royal Assent on 25th May last. It was declared to be an Act to consolidate the powers of 415 courts to deal with and treat offenders and it contained amendments to give effect to the recommendations of the Law Commission. It ran to 168 sections with eight schedules. It went through this House with little controversy because it was said to tidy up the law.
On 30th November last, a fortnight ago, we had both the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, which amended Section 161 of the previous Act, and the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 which contained, in Schedule 7, 44 paragraphs of amendments to the consolidating Act of the same year extending over some 10 pages, and in Schedule 8 repealed the whole or part of 23 different sections of an Act which had received Royal Assent only a few months before.
The criminal justice system cannot take that constant shaking around. It takes time for legislation to settle down and for the courts and agencies involved to come to some conclusions as to whether the latest fashionable solutions work. Crime prevention measures have been introduced. Although the Home Secretary provided a significant and substantial budget of some £383 million to deal with that, only 2 per cent of it was spent in the first year. And now we are off again!
This time, the Home Secretary finally recognises that the introduction of curfew orders for the under 10s was a mistake. I opposed the Motion that Section 14, which contained that provision, should stand part of the Crime and Disorder Bill. In the debate on 10th February 1998, I said that the whole of the proposed scheme for the under-10s was cumbersome and ineffective. Chief constables, local authorities and magistrates have clearly felt the same because no orders have been made.
Now, without any piloting or consultation, it is proposed to extend that type of curfew to 10 to 16 year-olds. It is objectionable in principle that young people who have done nothing wrong are to be cleared off the streets simply by reason of their age and the fact that one, two or three other young people of the same age have been engaged in trouble. In practical terms, the huge cost in time and resources can be so much more constructively directed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred to the twin pillars of order: the police and the co-operation of the public. The one needs the other. One cannot demonise young people while young people demonise the police. One simply cannot change the way of life, habits, attitudes and recreations of young people by wielding the big stick of the criminal law and the criminal justice system.
At night, young people have taken over the streets. That is the case throughout the country, not simply in inner city areas. They are ebullient, full of life, occasionally aggressive and they drink too much. There is nothing particularly new in that. MVVD—multi-volume vertical drinking, to which the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred—was not unknown in my rugby club. I remember it in my youth. Indeed, going further back, I remember that my father, when he policed the streets of Wrexham, North Wales, was 416 involved in various fracas. He once told me, "Never run to a fight. Always walk". That was one of his precepts. On another occasion he told me that once when policing with a young, chapel-going police constable from up country and engaged in a fight in York Street, Wrexham, his colleague said, "'old me coat, Hywel, I 'ave me rights as well", and, in his shirt sleeves, laid in with a will. Therefore, such incidents were not unknown in the past.
Perhaps today young people have more money in their pockets, but the idea that the police should go around creating no-go areas, arresting youngsters, spending time finding out who they are, questioning their excuses for being on the street when a curfew order is in operation and then taking them home afterwards is ludicrous—just as imposing on-the-spot fines is ludicrous. One has only to think of the situation in which a young person is so aggressive or drunk that a policeman feels that he must interfere and speak to him. Is that the moment to remove money from his pocket? Clearly, it is not.
I have no illusions about young people today. I was involved in the Philip Lawrence case and in the more recent Hungerford Bridge case where two students were thrown into the river. I know of the effects on young people of too much money, drugs, drink, truanting and so forth.
The problem to be addressed is one of attitudes. However, the measures which have already been introduced to deal with certain youngsters, for example, parenting and anti-social behaviour orders—not a specific ban—have not as yet been tried or properly assessed. When they were introduced in various pieces of legislation I suggested that they were merely gimmicks, but as yet we have not seen the effects of those orders. The pilot schemes of other initiatives which we supported, such as youth offending teams, are only now beginning to be assessed by the six national evaluators headed by Dr Norman Davidson. Experiments are beginning with intensive supervision and surveillance programmes to target hard core repeat young offenders in the main metropolitan areas.
Projects in restorative justice are being considered in Brixton to deal with bullying and street robbery, and the Youth Justice Board is to co-operate with organisers of the Philip Lawrence Award to recognise outstanding collective achievements by young people in active citizenship. Had the noble Lord, Lord Warner, been in his seat I would have said how much I had been impressed by the direction in which he had steered the Youth Justice Board, of which he is chairman. I am so impressed that I had hoped he would have said one word to challenge the Government's new proposals, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. Unfortunately, in that I was disappointed.
There are many positive initiatives currently under way. I refer to the youth inclusion programmes of NACRO, to which my noble friend Lord Dholakia alluded, that involve young people in constructive activity. In Wales NACRO CYMRU is engaged in 417 advising the National Assembly in building a crime and disorder strategy for Wales. Those initiatives begun by the Government—they deserve credit for that—are the areas towards which resources should now be fully directed. Resources should not be diverted to new gimmicks which is the apparent danger in the proposed Bill.
Yob culture is unpleasant, irritating, invasive and anti-social but it is not the core of crime in this country. The real problem is the pervasive drug culture which is illegal, dangerous and uncontrolled. There is room for serious debate as to whether the public interest is best served by maintaining that culture underground to the huge financial advantage of drug barons who control their empires with blood and sometimes, in my direct experience, death. So much burglary, theft, street violence and criminal activity of all kinds is attributable to our failure to tackle the problem face on. I do not know for how long responsible politicians can avoid the need at least to ascertain the facts and consider the options by means of a royal commission, for which we on these Benches have long called.
If we must have yet further legislation, I hope that when the Bill is published it will be positive and constructive. What we do not want, and shall oppose, is another Dutch auction, to use the phrase of my noble friend Lord Dholakia, between the Home Secretary and the Shadow Home Secretary on crime and punishment issues. In that category comes the renewed mode of trial Bill which cannot become law before the general election and will be overtaken by the Auld report which is imminent. This measure merely smacks of personal machismo on the part of the Home Secretary. To bring back that proposal in the Queen's Speech is empty posturing. If the Government concentrate on the good things that they have done and really tackle the drugs crisis and forget the baubles in the shop window because of an impending election they shall have our support.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate
My Lords, in rising to welcome the contents of the gracious Speech, I congratulate the father of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Based on my experience, he was obviously a very wise police officer.
When I was preparing my speech I was visited by some friends who had a minimal interest in politics and constitutional matters. They saw that I was busy in my study and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was busy with the Queen's Speech. I was tremendously honoured to be asked in all seriousness, "Is that the one that she makes on Christmas Day?" Chance would be a fine thing!
Since coming to power this Government have placed on the statute book numerous measures to help local communities to win back the streets from people who commit crime and cause disorder. They include new final warnings for young offenders, anti-social behaviour orders for persistent troublemakers who intimidate witnesses and victims and measures to 418 tackle social exclusion. Partnership between the police and other local agencies is at the heart of the Crime and Disorder Act and is working well in most areas.
My many years' experience as an operational police officer indicate that we need to do more, and I believe that the measures in the gracious Speech take forward the objective of making the streets safer for all our citizens. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said that that was not the real concern. However, that is the major concern of people in this country. Surveys reveal that people are not concerned about serious crime but the quality of life on the street. For example, they cannot walk along the street without being disturbed, pushed off the pavement, or seeing people urinate in doorways, being drunk and swearing. That is the perceived problem.
Everyone was horrified by the recent tragic murder of Damilola Taylor. At the heart of that tragic murder is a culture of bullying at school and in the community. I remember well my maiden speech in this House in October 1998 which, ironically, addressed the question of bullying in secondary schools. I said then, and repeat now, that bullying occurred in all walks of life and should be treated extremely seriously. One of the difficulties lies in finding out that bullying is taking place. Police officers are only too well aware that victims or witnesses are frightened of being labelled as grasses or snitches. Individuals, quite understandably, believe that they may be intimidated because they have told the authorities what is going on.
My maiden speech has particular relevance to the proposed measures to help make our town centres safer and to deal with so-called drunken yobs. I said then:My experience both as a child and as a police officer is that those who bully prey on the weak and have to be stood up to. Appeasement, as with blackmail demands, does not work with bullies. As a policeman I found that in dealing with an incident the one thing you never did was bark unless you were prepared to bite. If there was the glimmer of a suggestion [when dealing with a group of so-called yobs] that you were not going to carry out what you had suggested if the person did not desist from what they were doing, then you had lost the game…In the same context bullying has to be confronted. Of that I have little doubt".—[Official Report, 6/10/98: col. 326.]Those comments are relevant to the measures in the Crime and Disorder Act, but they are even more apposite to the proposals announced last Wednesday. The police are given more power to bite, not just bark. They can bite if they need to do so, but officers use discretion. We are talking about new powers immediately to close licensed premises where disorder occurs and more effective powers available to the police and local authorities to ban on-street drinking, which is a source of endless trouble and reduces residents' quality of life. I refer particularly to the elderly in many communities. There are proposed powers to enable the police to issue fixed penalty notices in respect of a range of offences of disorderly conduct in order to hit often well-heeled yobs where it hurts—in their drinking fund. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to taking money from the youths concerned. I am sure that the noble Lord is aware that 419 that is not part of the proposal. Marching people to cashpoints was an original suggestion which was rightly dismissed as a nonsense.
Noble Lords have referred to the amount of time taken by police officers in processing a prisoner in the police station after arrest. The provision allows the police not to issue a fixed penalty in the street—they could if they wanted, but I suggest that if it is a violent incident the person concerned would be arrested—but at the police station, perhaps after the prisoner has sobered up the following morning. He would be given the option of accepting the fixed penalty as opposed to going to court. That makes eminent sense because the police officer can go straight back out and carry on policing the streets, which is what he is paid to do.
The gracious Speech provides for regulation of bouncers and door supervisors to ensure that they are not involved in committing crime and creating disorder. There is evidence that some of those people get involved in—as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, rightly mentioned—the selling and supplying of drugs. It will be a great help if we can regulate the people in that industry.
There is the power to arrest kerb crawlers in some of our cities and towns who cause such misery and embarrassment to innocent women going about their lawful business. Again, that is a quality of life issue.
There is the power, where it is needed, to impose curfews on those under 16. Perhaps there has been some misunderstanding with regard to that. Where youngsters are causing problems, which may be because of home conditions or circumstances at home which are causing them to react, the idea is to take them back home and find out what the circumstances are. That will cause a kick-in of the provisions. Perhaps the conditions can be looked at and the youngsters can be kept on the straight and narrow.
Some of the scenes on Friday and Saturday nights in our town centres are a disgrace to a civilised community. In this country, quite rightly, there should not be any "no go" areas. The police should have the powers they need to deal with those problems. Therefore, I welcome the Government's proposals.
I have long complained of the lack of regulation of the private security industry. At this stage I should declare an interest as the president of the Joint Security Industry Council and also as vice-president of an organisation called EPIC. That is an organisation of ex-police officers, many of whom are involved in the security industry. I also have two non-executive directorships in security companies.
I recall Sir John Stevens, then Chief Constable of Northumberland and now the Commissioner, producing a wealth of research which showed a remarkable number of people operating in the private security industry with serious convictions for dishonesty and, in some cases, murder and rape. The private security industry has a key part to play in reducing crime. These measures are welcomed by those responsible organisations in the security industry. It is an industry that employs thousands of people—far more than the police service—and by driving out the 420 crooks and cowboys standards will inevitably improve. It is to be hoped that the new measures will root out the criminals who often work in positions of trust.
I hope that the establishment of a private security authority will achieve the success that the Gaming Board did some 30 years ago. It snatched the gambling industry in this country from the jaws of gangsters such as the Krays and the Richardsons. It created—I am proud of this—the cleanest and most respected gaming regime in the world.
I recall following a van on the M1 recently. The van bore the legend on its side, "Nazir Ali & Son, Security Consultants". Then it said, "You've tried the cowboys—now try the Indians"! It is to be hoped that the Bill will eradicate the cowboys.
Finally, we have probably all suffered from car crime at some stage in our lives. That has been targeted by the police and it has fallen by 15 per cent since the last election. The Bill will crack down even further by protecting the motorist from car theft and removing, again, the cowboys from the car salvage trade. It is big business. Each year 12.000 stolen vehicles are never recovered. Many are resold with a new identity. Again I should declare an interest as a consultant with a company which provides indelible, covert encryption on vehicles and other property.
Recently my son had his car stolen. It was a brand new, quite expensive car. The thieves broke into his house while he was in bed to steal the keys of the car. At about 4 a.m. he was woken up by the police asking him if he could check and see if his car was there. He had a tracker device fitted to the car which was triggered as soon as the car was driven away. The thieves were arrested and he got his car back in mint condition, so he was quite happy with the circumstances. But that illustrates the measures that can be taken if we think carefully about the matter.
The vehicle theft measures will help the police to achieve the challenging target set for them of a 30 per cent reduction in crime by 2004.
I conclude by recalling the craze in the North East of ram-raiding where vehicles were driven into shop windows to steal the contents to make a rapid getaway. I am not proud that the craze started on Tynesicle. But fortunately some of those lads were not very bright. I remember two of them committing their first offence and escaping with goods worth about £700 About a week later Jimmy said to Geordie, "I'm a bit short. Let's do another ram-raid". "To hell with that", said Geordie, "Last time it cost me £1,000 to get my car repaired". That illustrates that the police have some advantages in the people they are dealing with. Would that all wrongdoers were of that calibre. I commend the provisions in the gracious Speech to your Lordships' House.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Baroness Noakes
My Lords, the gracious Speech signalled a health and social care Bill to implement the NHS Plan. 1 shall not address the patient care and health aspects of the NHS Plan; many in your 421 Lordships' House are much better qualified than I am to do that. I should like to talk about the management in the NHS. Getting management right in the NHS is critical to the delivery of patient care. Managers need to be free to manage. We cannot expect managers to cope with the complex agenda of delivering patient care while constantly looking towards the centre to see who is watching them and measuring them and waiting for them to fail. That takes the eye off the ball and does not encourage effective management.
The NHS Plan says that it believes in maximum devolution of power. It says that the centre will not try to take every last decision. It says that there will be progressively less central control and progressively more devolution. Those are laudable aims, but will they be realised?
The NHS Plan created a Modernisation Agency with responsibility to spread best practice and stimulate change. That too sounds like a good idea. Who could argue with spreading best practice? But the Modernisation Agency is in addition to other central agencies or bodies with similar agendas. There are the regional offices of the NHS and the new Commission for Health Improvement, not to mention the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the Audit Commission. What is an NHS manager to make of that? To how many bodies will he or she have to report?
There is always a tension between the right size and style of activities at the centre compared with those locally. I am concerned that the resources being siphoned off to support the new Modernisation Agency and the Commission for Health Improvement may not be best use of NHS resources. How many people and how much extra money will be absorbed by those bodies? What value for patients will they deliver?
Another part of the plan is the creation of a system of earned autonomy linked to a traffic-light system of red, yellow and green. The principle is easy to understand: let the good performers get on with it and concentrate efforts on the rest. The worst performing organisations—those with red status— will be the most heavily interfered with. They will have the reverse of earned autonomy. The red light bodies will have more interference—more visits from the Commission for Health Improvement, heavier involvement from the regional offices and more oversight from the modernisation agency. The Government have already decided that 25 per cent of health bodies will have red status and so one in four will get that kind of interference. Is this really a plan based on devolution of power?
And how, precisely, will NHS bodies be classified into green, yellow and red? This is hugely important. My noble friend Lord Howe referred to the categorisation by the King's Fund in last week's Health Service Journal using criteria outlined in the NHS Plan. It showed a marked regional bias, with most of the red status bodies being in the deprived areas of the north and most of the green status bodies 422 being in the south. Is that really what the Government intend? I do not believe that the distribution of management skills follows that geographic pattern.
There are many detailed questions. How often will categorisations be checked? Will there be appeal procedures for health bodies which believe that they have been unfairly rated? Who will review the arbitrary percentages? What additional resources will be used in operating this system, as this too will suck money away from patient care? Significant sums of NHS money will be held back from the general system of resource allocation for a new performance fund—eventually £500 million a year; a vast amount, enough to build three or four new hospitals every year. That will be dished out according to the traffic lights. Are the Government satisfied that there are robust systems to measure performance in the NHS to underpin this system? Do those systems command the support and respect of the NHS bodies affected? Are the Government happy that the money will be used effectively? How can the NHS bodies plan if they are worried that the lights might suddenly change from yellow to red or from green to red?
I understand that already in this current year a significant amount of performance money is being held back for allocation to bodies based on how well they are doing. Is that system working well in practice? Is it directing performance funds to the most deserving health bodies? Will that system, with which the NHS is becoming familiar, underpin the new, much more ambitious, £500 million performance fund? If that is not the case, precisely what system will be used? Many people in the NHS need answers to those questions.
Improving the performance of the NHS is a nonparty matter. We all want to see a path towards an NHS which constantly improves its performance and delivers more and better patient care. But we must be careful to ensure that the involvement of the centre is well designed and involves as little central intervention as possible. I do not make a case for no intervention. That is unrealistic. But I do make a case for devoting the bare minimum amount of resources to central activities, thus maximising the money available for patients. At the end of the day, patient care and health improvement are delivered by the front-line staff, supported by their managers. A worthy aim should be to liberate those managers and keep the heavy hand of the centre as far away as possible.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Baroness Linklater of Butterstone
My Lords, I have followed with interest those parts of the Queen's Speech which relate to crime. The emphasis on addressing certain aspects of the problems of crime in our society is of course to be welcomed. The attempt to do something about the unacceptable anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related violence which makes life such a misery for our law-abiding citizens should be supported—such as giving councils greater powers to ban drinking in some public places and tougher action on publicans who repeatedly flout the law. Giving priority to children leaving care and to ex-prisoners for local authority housing is likely to 423 impinge significantly on the incidence of crime, since the correlation between homelessness and crime is well established.
However, as we have already heard, the proposal to impose curfews on those under 16 years of age is much more complicated. Not only is the problem of the adequacy of police manpower to implement such a scheme a very real one, but also the potential for damaging delicate relations between the police and very difficult young people is high. Curfews would simply have the effect of pushing the problem out of sight while doing little to address the causes of it. However, I do know of a scheme initiated by the police in Hamilton, Scotland, that has been successful. It has cut crime on the streets after dark and has helped to protect youngsters at risk. It has also involved the police in very positive initiatives such as a football club for children who otherwise had nothing to do. But they—the police—do not see this initiative as a curfew. It is, rather, an exercise in child protection, which is very different. If the Government were able to make it possible for similar initiatives to happen in England and Wales, they would have our support.
However, there are existing trends in this country relating to the imprisonment of children and young people which the Queen's Speech does absolutely nothing to address and which should be of the greatest concern to each and every one of us. I really wonder whether Members of your Lordships' House or people in the country at large are aware that we are now locking up children of 12, 13 and 14 years of age in detention and training centres which are essentially child prisons and that we are doing so at an increasing rate. There is an important distinction to be made between detention and training centres and local authority secure units. The former represent the nearest equivalent to prison, where the regime has a punitive rationale and the children are called "trainees". The latter, which cater for exactly the same group of highly disruptive, dysfunctional and even dangerous children who have all committed imprisonable offences, have a therapeutic rationale.
According to the Youth Justice Board, on 5th December there were 93 children of 14 years and under in detention and training centres and a further 49 aged 15 and 16, making a total of 142. I believe that figure to be 142 too many. I am well aware that since the Youth Justice Board began its work in setting up youth offending teams the general thrust has been to address offending behaviour, to promote non-custodial penalties and to start to implement the principles of restorative justice, all of which are greatly to be welcomed. But despite those aspirations, the reality is that we are imprisoning more children and young people than ever before, and the younger the child the faster the rate of increase.
The population of 15 to 17 year-old boys has more than doubled since 1993 and about 12 per cent more under 18 year-olds are being detained than a year ago. The figure for girls is even worse. Their numbers have increased fivefold since 1993, and despite a commitment from the Government that after April, 15 and 16 year-old girls would not be held in prison but 424 in local authority care, that has not happened. if you then set that against a background, according to the Office for National Statistics, of between a third and a half being functionally illiterate and innumerate and, worse still, nine out of 10 young offenders having a mental disorder, it serves to illustrate how wholly inappropriate detention and training centres are in their very concept. It is also not surprising I hat: three boys have committed suicide in prisons since the Youth Justice Board took over in April.
After the Medway Secure Training Centre opened in 1998 and was forced to close less than a year later following a fire, it was the subject of a highly critical report. It then reopened, despite strong recommendations from many quarters that it should not do so. It was followed by two more STCs. all in the teeth of evidence that these regimes do not and cannot help such children to change their behaviour and attitudes and thus stop their anti-social and criminal ways. Instead, they reinforce them. The recent follow-up inspection at Medway noted improvements, but also indicated that there was a long way to go. These institutions are far too big and far too remote from the homes of the children who are sent there. The lack of adequate numbers of experienced professional care staff means that achieving anything lastingly positive is an impossible task.
Local authority secure units provide all these elements, at a fraction of the cost, which is around an unbelievable sum of £2,500 per week in DTCs. Local authority units must comply with the Children Act which, if noble Lords will forgive the acronyms, DTCs and YOls do not. For those children who do need to be locked up—I certainly believe that there are those who need to be in a secure unit for the public safety and for their own safety, and as a children's panel member in Scotland I have on a number of occasions committed young people to secure accommodation—then it is these units which need to be made available in much larger numbers.
In March this year, a Written Answer from the Home Secretary stated that local authority secure units have to keep some places free and unavailable to the Youth Justice Board "for welfare purposes", thus making the distinction between those who offend and those who do not. I am glad to say that in Scotland, where no child under the age of 15 is imprisoned, and very few under the age of 16—even then, only briefly—the children's panel system makes no distinction, but regards all children in trouble, whether or not with the law, as in need of help with their welfare.
It is little wonder that the Children's Society, which just the other day produced a report called Tough Justice, has urged that no children under the age of 18 should be imprisoned anywhere. These people work at the coalface, as it were, as I did at one time. They have a deep understanding of the problems. Furthermore, we should greatly welcome the wholehearted endorsement of the report from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, who is not in his place, feels that this is "unrealistic". If the limitations of knowledge and understanding and, indeed, the imagination of sentencers and the Youth 425 Justice Board are such that they cannot imagine that measures of public safety and the management of persistent young offenders could possibly exclude imprisonment, then the future is indeed grim. Imprisonment provides momentary relief by taking children and young people off the streets, which in the current jargon is called "incapacitation", and further compounds the problem it purports to solve, both for the public and the offender. The irony is that, while imprisonment is relatively momentary, the subsequent incapacitation of the young person is not.
We have a solution in the local authority secure units for those who need to be removed in the interests of public safety, and we have a wide range of community penalties which do attempt to address the core of the problem. We must stop demonising our children and locking them away in greater numbers and at greater expense than almost any other European country, believing that there is no effective alternative, because there is.
Finally, I believe that it is also a question of common humanity. In these tearaways, for whom violence and aggression is a common, casual and routine experience, such behaviour must always be condemned and never condoned. But the behaviour is not synonymous with the individual. The individual in this case is a child who, like all children, has a fundamental need to be cherished—somehow. Meanwhile, what we are currently doing is ineffective, counter-productive and wrong.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Earl Baldwin of Bewdley
My Lords, as we jump between health and home affairs, I am tempted to begin with a topic which bridges the two. I think both noble Lords on the Front Bench may be aware of my interest in the effects of diet on criminal behaviour. I was particularly pleased to see a mention of this in the Committee on Toxicity's report in July on Adverse Reactions to Food and Food Ingredients, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was good enough to bring to my attention when it came out. Although the committee rather played down the evidence, and the Home Office has never been too keen on it anyway, it was good to see the link made in its recommendations for research, especially in the area of childhood hyperactivity. I believe that mainstream recognition of this factor, in some behavioural problems at least, is long overdue.
But it is about other "alternative" approaches that I principally want to speak this afternoon, in the hope of discovering more about the Government's policy towards complementary and alternative medicine. CAM, as we are now learning to call it, was the subject of a recent inquiry by a sub-committee of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, on which I was fortunate to serve as a co-opted member. It is noticeable that CAM is still barely mentioned in policy documents. It was not, perhaps understandably, in the gracious Speech; not, so far as 426 I could find, in the recent NHS Plan, nor even in the more recent NHS Cancer Plan—despite the fact that about one-third of all cancer patients use complementary therapies, and possibly the same proportion of patients in general.
What our committee has done, most ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant, is to map out a way forward under a number of headings, notably regulation, professional training, research, information and delivery. We shall have the opportunity to debate our report in due course, so it would be wrong to go into detail today; but it would be useful if the Minister could give the House an idea of the Government's thinking on some of these fronts.
Much of what we recommend is, I hope, good common sense. Therapy bodies need to organise themselves better and more transparently, and put in place proper systems of regulation, which in many cases need not be statutory. Practising doctors and non-medical practitioners need to work more closely together and train to the same standards, under independent accreditation. Medical schools need nowadays to familiarise their students with CAM, so that doctors will know at least as much about the possibilities as their patients. CAM practitioners need to be better schooled in evidence-based medicine. Access to therapies on the NHS should continue to be through GP referral.
Where we have asked the Government to step in is in two areas where we felt there would be little progress unless they did, to the disadvantage of patients at large. The first is research. It is true that in the past some therapists, not usually from the major disciplines such as acupuncture or osteopathy, have been reluctant to test what they have been doing in a methodical way. Now the problem is more to do with a lack of infrastructure, know-how, and especially of funding. We ask the NHS R&D Directorate and the Medical Research Council specifically to pump-prime this area with some dedicated funding to create a few integrated centres of excellence, on the successful American model. This would do more towards discovering what works for what conditions, and how safely and economically, than any other approach. I believe it has the potential to pay handsome dividends in public health, and I very much hope that the Government share this vision.
The second area is information. As we say in our report,We see the NHS as the natural home in the United Kingdom for reliable, non-promotional information on all types of healthcare".It is quite difficult for patients to get good information on CAM at the moment. They already ask their GPs about it, which involves the health service willy-nilly. Through a combination of NHS Direct, the National Electronic Health Library, the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, the UK Cochrane Centre and the British Library, working together with CAM 427 bodies such as the Research Council for Complementary Medicine, the field could be well covered to the benefit of all. I very much hope that the Minister can give an encouraging reply about that as well.
I turn lastly to the vexed matter of water fluoridation. In the 1999 White Paper, Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation, the Government announced that they were setting in motion an,up-to-date expert scientific review of fluoride and health".Possible legislation was foreshadowed. Partly because of the many questions I had tabled on this topic, and the debate in my name in December 1998, I found myself on the advisory board to the review team at the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at York, in close contact with the scientific process from the summer of 1999 to the publication of the final report on 6th October this year.
The expectation of the dental and medical authorities, and it is fair to say of the Government also, was that the safety arid effectiveness of fluoridation would be confirmed. That expectation was disappointed. In addressing the five principal questions that were asked, the report is studded with phrases such as "limited quantity", "moderate quality", "a small number of studies", "needs further clarification", "surprising to find that little high quality research has been undertaken", "insufficient quality to allow confident statements", "not…enough good quality evidence…to reach conclusions". Important gaps in the evidence base were identified.
I pay tribute to the Government for having agreed to institute a high-quality scientific review…the first and only systematic, that is unbiased, assessment of the evidence in half a century of water fluoridation. I pay tribute to them for now taking steps, through the Medical Research Council, to put some much-needed research in hand, not before time. I cannot, however, pay tribute to the dental lobby in the aftermath of the York report.
I am aware that many of your Lordships have had briefings from the British Dental Association, the British Fluoridation Society and/or the National Association for Equity in Dental Health. I am aware, as we all are, that briefings by professional bodies, including professors of dentistry, carry weight with the public, are likely to be believed and therefore bear a particular responsibility for accuracy. These briefings and press releases are little short of extraordinary.
I have collated four pages of statements culled from these documents, with alongside them for comparison quotations from the text of the report itself. I can give the flavour of them in two or three short examples. I have placed copies in the Library for those who would like to read more.
The British Dental Association says,The report confirms that there is clear evidence that fluoridation reduces [decay]";the report says,To have clear confidence in the ability to answer [this] question—the quality of the evidence would need to be higher".428 The British Dental Association says,There is no evidence that…fluoridation is linked to cancer, bone disease or any other adverse effect";and,The report confirms that fluoridation reduces dental health inequalities";the report says,The research evidence is of insufficient quality to allow confident statements about other potential harms [than dental fluorosis] or whether there is an impact on social inequalities".The British Fluoridation Society says,If there were any adverse effects—it is inconceivable that the York review would have missed them";the York review says,Some possible adverse effects…may take years to develop and so…the relationship may go undetected",and,High quality research [into adverse effects]…is needed".One might have thought, if one did not know that fluoridation had been an article of dental faith for fifty years, that this was simply carelessness. Such a thought is dispelled when one finds a wrong figure quoted for seriously mottled teeth, which could only be cited by the author having read, and misinterpreted, some of the very small print.
This is an important public health issue. It is not the Government who are likely to be misled by such inaccurate statements—at least I hope not—so much as local councils, the public and, dare I say it, Members of Parliament, who have even been urged to put down Questions on this false basis. It is essential to put the record straight. Anyone in doubt about the facts should, as always, go to primary sources. The York report is a long one, but the summary and conclusions are only four pages each and are not hard to understand. I would urge any noble Lord who is thinking of tabling Questions not to rely on briefings, whether from dentists or opponents, but to go to the report itself.
Because I am known to oppose the fluoridation of water, I have taken the greatest care to keep in step with the leading scientists at York and to write and say nothing in interpretation of their report which goes beyond the evidence. I have the permission of Professor Sheldon, the founding director of the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at York, who chaired the advisory board which oversaw the whole review process, to quote him as follows.It is particularly worrying…that statements which mislead the public about the review's findings have been made in press releases and briefings by the British Dental Association, the National Alliance for Equity in Dental Health and the British Fluoridation Society. I should like to correct some of these errors".He continues:I shall skip most of what follows and just give Professor Sheldon's final point. He states:
- "1. Whilst there is evidence that water fluoridation is effective at reducing caries, the quality of the studies was generally moderate and the size of the estimated benefit, only of the order of 15%, is far from 'massive'.
- "2. The review found water fluoridation to be significantly associated with high levels of dental fluorosis, which was not characterised as just a 'cosmetic issue'.
- "3. The review did not show water fluoridation to be safe. The quality of the research was too poor to establish with confidence whether or not there are potentially important adverse effects in addition to the high levels of fluorosis. The report recommended that more research was needed.
- "4. There was little evidence to show that water fluoridation has reduced social inequalities in dental health".The review team was surprised that in spite of the large number of studies carried out over several decades there is a dearth of `reliable' evidence with which to inform policy. Until high quality studies are undertaken…there will continue to be legitimate scientific controversy over the likely effects and costs of water fluoridation".My only questions to the Minister, in the light of the state of the evidence as set out by one of the two principal scientists involved in the review and of these extraordinary briefing papers, are whether the Government still think it appropriate, first, to go on making financial contributions to the British Fluoridation Society, and, secondly, to encourage certain health authorities, as they have said that they would, to consider water fluoridation schemes. The noble Lord would also do me a good turn if he could secure for me a reply from his colleague the Secretary of State to the personal letter I wrote to him on this matter on 5th August, repeated on 7th October, and reminded again on 14th November. With fluoridation, things tend to take a long time.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford
My Lords, I welcome the continued and much needed investment of Her Majesty's Government in the National Health Service and in the health of our nation generally.
One prime example is the encouragement of a move towards care trusts. This is a vital step in attempting to see that individuals do not fall into the gaps in provision between health and social care. It is often the most vulnerable who do so. Indeed, "Mind the gap"—the echo of the Underground platforms—might be a good motto for the Secretary of State to bear in mind. We surely all look to a seamlessness in care provision as an ideal for which to aim.
It is a gap in the care of the whole person upon which I wish to comment. The Secretary of State, when outlining plans to improve GPs' surgeries, particularly in the inner cities, reminded us that primary care is the first port of call for patients. Indeed, it is within primary care that we have the greatest opportunity to make a lasting difference to the well-being of individuals and strengthen the fabric of communities. But, as I look ahead, I see an increasing risk of isolation and a loss of a caring community for many people. Isolation, of course, leads to the disintegration of health and of order and cohesion in society, for no one is an island.
With the decline of the traditional supportive family unit, increasing numbers of single-person households, an ageing population, the proliferation of headphones and mobile phones in the street, of dot.com shopping 430 and the information technology revolution, care of the whole person—body, mind, spirit, emotions and relationships—has never been so important.
Of concern is the fact that primary care within the National Health Service is ill-equipped to improve matters. Healthcare is becoming increasingly fragmented. Shopping precinct drop-in surgeries, NHS Direct, large GP co- operatives, developments in information technology, increasing medical specialisation, even in general practice, have all come about with good reason, but they have greatly increased the chance of an individual patient falling into the gaps through a lack of consultation and joined-up care.
Time pressures in traditional general practice mean that consultations are all too brief and there is little chance to listen carefully to the many factors—disease of body, mind, spirit, emotions and relationships—that can precipitate ill health. All these factors can inform the medical diagnosis.
People need to be heard, understood, believed and valued. Perhaps that is one reason why increasing numbers are turning to complementary medicine and alternative approaches to healing and good health—the noble Earl touched on CAM. They receive a particular treatment which may or may not be helpful but, above all, they are buying attention and time to be heard. It must also be a cause for concern that many therapists are unregulated and have no medical training. They may be unable to draw together the signs and symptoms that become evident and a key diagnosis may be delayed.
I recently chaired a House of Bishops working party, which included members of the medical and healthcare professions, to assess the state of the ministry of healing in the Church of England in the contemporary healthcare context. The substantial report—some 400 pages—A Time to Heal was published in May this year. Many of the recommendations, together with a Guide to Good Practice which was sent to all clergy in the Church of England, reflect the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to healthcare that overtly includes the spiritual dimension that is so frequently overlooked or ignored. If life becomes more isolationist and lacks the meaning that community brings, then spiritual loss and pain will become increasingly significant, often manifesting itself through the only acceptable route—that of physical pain and sickness.
The importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to healthcare was brought home to me not long ago when I confirmed a patient in the neurological ward of one of our hospitals in the diocese. It was a moving, communal occasion, as the other patients, the nurses, the neurosurgeon and the manager of the unit, as well as the chaplaincy team shared in the simple service, all of us united in care for the wholeness of the patient.
I believe that the training of doctors, nurses, clergy and theological students in the pastoral and spiritual aspects of collaborative healthcare and ethics will become increasingly necessary. I urge Her Majesty's Government, when looking to take forward the 431 implementation of the NHS modernisation plan, to give higher priority to the spiritual vacuum, malaise and pain, the search for meaning by many people in our nation today and its interaction with our health and our community cohesion. There is a need for time to be given and for greater continuity to be offered within primary care.
At the end of the day, modern, efficient surgeries will have a limited impact on health. Providing training in pastoral and spiritual care and time for hard-pressed doctors and nurses and all those involved in social and healthcare to offer more truly joined-up treatment and care will be a vital step in reversing the trends to which I have alluded. If that happens, "Mind the gap" will no longer be an echo that points to deficiencies in our NHS provision.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Baroness Gale
My Lords, I was pleased to note that the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill was included in the gracious Speech. I had personal satisfaction in seeing the Bill published yesterday. In my previous role as general secretary of the Labour Party in Wales, I helped to draw up the Labour Party manifesto for the Welsh Assembly elections in 1999. One of our commitments in the manifesto was to the introduction of a children's commissioner for Wales.
A Children's Commissioner for Wales was the first recommendation of the Waterhouse Report on child abuse in North Wales, presented to Parliament in February this year. This measure is included in the Care Standards Act and is now being put into effect. The Children's Commissioner, Peter Clarke, has been appointed and will soon take up his post. He is a man of great experience; and I am sure that everyone in Wales will welcome his appointment and wish him every success in his demanding new post.
The new Bill will extend the power and role of the children's commissioner. The interesting point about the new measure is that it came into being as a result of close co- operation between the Assembly and Westminster. The Bill is based on the recommendations of the Assembly's Health and Social Services Committee in its report, A Children's Commissioner for Wales, published in May this year.
This is an excellent example of devolution working at its best. Those of us who campaigned for devolution for many years can now see the benefits. The introduction of the Bill shows clearly that the Government are prepared to embrace the central concept of devolution—with different parts of the United Kingdom tackling today's important issues in their own ways. It is the first example of "Wales only" primary legislation since the establishment of the Welsh Assembly. It shows, too, that the partnership is working well: I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Wales for his commitment and dedication in ensuring that the wishes of the Assembly were listened to and are now included in the Bill.
The idea of a children's commissioner is an excellent one. The principal aim of the commissioner is, according to the Bill, to, 432safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children".The commissioner will truly be a children's champion, safeguarding their rights and promoting their welfare. The Bill will extend the role of the commissioner, as set out in the Care Standards Act, by, for example, applying the power to review and monitor arrangements for complaints procedures, whistleblowing and advocacy to a wider range of bodies providing services to children in Wales; and applying the powers to examine cases of particular children and to assist in particular cases a wider range of bodies. It will also bring in a power to review the effect on children in Wales of the operation and the policies of the Assembly and public bodies in devolved areas. This is what devolution is all about: working together—Westminster and Wales—for the good of all children in Wales.
In the past, children's voices have not been listened to: we are all aware of the tragic cases of child abuse. We have debated and discussed reports in your Lordships' House. The children's commissioner will not, of course, be able to prevent all cases of abuse. But at last the children of Wales will have a much greater degree of protection, as well as the new powers in the Bill ensuring their welfare and rights. I am delighted with the measures set out in the Bill.
In conclusion, I am certain that over the years this new post of Children's Commissioner for Wales, and all its implications, will be closely watched and that it will provide a good example to others, who may wish to follow the Welsh example. Much is expected from this new post, but one thing is certain: the children of Wales will be the beneficiaries.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, this is a health and home affairs debate in which I wish to speak only about the constitution. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, was particularly welcome. One hopes that it will warrant a considered response. Noble Lords on all sides of the House will have taken note of the recent criticism of the monarchy and disparagement of the parliamentary process, which could well engender disintegration of the constitutional structure. Dismemberment of your Lordships' House and devolution have already weakened that structure.
The purpose of this speech is to consider some of the questions arising and to suggest, as I have discussed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, with whom I always discuss what I propose to do, that there should be a full debate on the constitution arranged through the usual channels; and, if that cannot be done, that a curtailed debate should perhaps ensue on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree currently to be found listed under the "No Day Named" business in the Minutes of Proceedings.
As concerns the Monarch, the criticism in the Guardian newspaper and in the Early Day Motion, not normally debated in the other place, could be directed to undermine our evolutionary, constitutional structure under the Queen in Parliament, the 433 Parliament Acts, usage and convention. Indeed, such would be the inevitable consequence if the objective were to abolish the royal successory hereditary entitlement, dis-establish the monarchy and set up a structure for a written Republican constitution. Or is the objective to retain the monarchy, subject to the assent of the monarchy, and amend the Act of Settlement to confer successory and other entitlements in favour of Catholics; and perhaps to proscribe the traditional trappings of the royal ceremonial—the pageantry of our great occasions of state?
The people are simply entitled to know where this Government stand and in due course to read the intentions of all political parties, including my own, in substance and in some detail in the election manifestos. They need to understand how such intentions will affect the monarchy, the constitution, the Commonwealth, international relations, the economy, voluntary bodies and much else besides. If there is not to be a political turmoil of unimaginable distress and disaster, implementation of any such measures would have to be approved by a very substantial majority of the people on a referendum.
On another plane, in the Quintine Prophesy of "elective dictatorship", the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, identified a virus that would infect, debilitate and destroy the body politic. It is indeed sad and most unfortunate that the wisdom of the noble and learned Lord is not at the disposal of the House this evening to prescribe an antidote, as his prophesy has now been all but fulfilled. That is not because the bread of the hustings has become the telly-snack, but because the parliamentary process—the dignity of Parliament—has been disparaged in favour of the doctored spin, the contrived leak and overt ministerial dissension, which has pre-empted debate in Parliament on what is the business of Parliament. It is also because the Parliament Act is now routinely misused for a purpose for which it was never intended; namely, to enforce government by decree.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington—whose personal and political integrity is not to be called in question—considers, as Leader of the House, that this House should be treated as subservient to another place. Albeit that since 1911 this House, by convention, has acknowledged the supremacy of another place: it has never been subservient. Its independence was expressly preserved by the Parliament Acts and remains as such under the House of Lords Act, which altered the composition of this House but in no way changed the powers and functions of this place. In particular, one refers to the exercise of the function, as sole guardian of the constitution, asserted by Lord Bryce (over 80 years ago) and as accepted by Lord Home of the Hirsel in his report on the House of Lords.
The untoward constitutional precedent set by resort to the Parliament Acts on the War Crimes Bill has been misused to forge a sort of Sword of Damocles suspended over the head of this House, as a permanent 434 threat to seek to ordain subservience to the will of government: contrary to the long-established ethos of our system of bi-cameral government.
There was much ado in the White Paper and in the debate on the House of Lords Bill about "modernising Parliament". But no proposal, indeed, no attempt, has been made by government to seek to safeguard the constitution, much of which is unwritten. No such measure was envisaged in the gracious Speech.
On the benign assumption that our evolutionary constitutional process and structure shall remain such as it is, a parliamentary reform Bill, an enabling measure, was read for the first time today. That Bill subsumes amendments moved and withdrawn on the then Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill which was spoken to on Report by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and by my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree and on Third Reading by my noble friend Lord Cranborne—the originator of this concept, albeit by another means, the concept being to seek to safeguard the constitution from piecemeal erosion by statute at the behest of government.
So, what should be done to safeguard the constitution from disintegration or from erosion? It can only be respectfully suggested to your Lordships that such is a question worthy of your Lordships' consideration in a full debate as soon as may be convenient. The measure of requisite clarification and assurance as I have agreed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, cannot possibly be afforded in winding up on this debate.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Greaves
My Lords, I regret the absence in the gracious Speech of government proposals to improve the system for dealing with asylum seekers and for the support of asylum applicants. I realise that we are now in a pre-election situation and that there are not many votes in ensuring fair treatment for asylum seekers.
I do not question that this country in most cases is carrying out its basic obligations under international treaties and agreements. It is certainly carrying out the letter of them if not the spirit. How we deal with these, in many cases, desperate people who seek to escape from tyranny and threats to their lives and well-being has a great bearing on how we as a country are judged by the rest of the world. It is a test of our humanity and of our civilised values. I submit that at the moment we are failing in that respect.
During the past few months, as a result of the Government's dispersal scheme, I have got to know a lot of people who are labelled "asylum seekers". Some of them have become friends. I have got to know a shop assistant from Ethiopia and her friend from Eritrea; a college lecturer from Zimbabwe; journalists from Iran who are highly educated, intelligent and energetic people; teachers and students; and Kurds from Iraq. I do not comment on the validity of any of their applications; that will be sorted out in due course. However, having talked to these people I realise that they did not come here to seek a comfortable life. They are not, as some of the tabloid newspapers would have 435 us believe, trying to sponge off this country, holding out a begging bowl. These people have given up their former lives and have left their families, their friends and their property. They seek freedom from oppression. They have come to this country to escape repression. They certainly do not expect things to be easy when they reach this country. They know that things will be extremely difficult, as they have left behind almost everything they possessed and in many cases their families, friends and communities.
What is wrong with the system as it is currently operated? On 7th July I spoke in your Lordships' House of the way in which the dispersal arrangements are operated. I shall not repeat what I said then except simply to say that little has changed. The national providers and the local housing service providers are still in many cases simply not carrying out the contracts that they have with the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) or with the Government.
I wish to mention one or two aspects of what happens to people when they claim political asylum in this country. First, they have the problem of getting here. Some noble Lords may have seen yesterday's Dail' Mail which ran a big story on a gentleman from Iran who has tried 20 times to get across the Channel from France. He will continue to try until he succeeds. Due to the "Fortress Britain" policy which is now in place, people are finding it almost impossible to get into this country to claim asylum, as is their right, without putting themselves in situations of acute danger. Yesterday my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby said,I shall say clearly and loudly that today it is almost impossible for a genuine refugee, who has suffered for his beliefs, to get to this county legally in any way".—[Official Report, 12/12/00; col. 243.]Yet the number of people trying to get here shows no sign of diminishing, with the exception of refugees from the Balkans, where the situation has obviously substantially improved in the past year. As I say, people are still trying to get here. When they get here they are supposed to receive emergency support provided by NASS, which is supposed to last seven days before they are dispersed to their accommodation. In many cases that process is taking much longer than seven days and in some cases it is taking months. My honourable friend in another place, Simon Hughes, tabled a Question for Written Answer and received a reply from the Minister, Barbara Roche, only two days ago which states:Information on the proportion decided within seven or 14 days is not available".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/00; col. WA51.]Therefore, no one knows what is happening. However, the people who deal with asylum seekers know that the system is not working. It appears that it is another example of the bureaucratic shambles which characterises the whole of the reception and dispersal of asylum seekers. It is time that Ministers started to take some responsibility for that and to do something about it.
Asylum seekers may eventually be given addresses to go to in other parts of the country under the dispersal scheme. Some are sent on specially chartered 436 buses. Others are simply given what I am told are called "self-write" tickets provided, I assume, by NASS. It appears that many of the people who are given tickets and consigned to the vagaries of the railway system in this country simply do not arrive at their destinations. I do not know whether they do not arrive because they have decided to go somewhere else or because of the chaos of the railway system at present. However, again, no one can tell me the proportion of people who do not reach their destinations.
At least part of the voucher system is being reconsidered as a result of a revolt that occurred last summer at the Labour Party conference. However, a tiny detail of it is being reconsidered. A much more fundamental review ought to take place, because the voucher system is a disgrace to a civilised country.
However, people have to apply for asylum. The provision of legal representation and support are at best a lottery. There is meant to be a one-stop shop system. Where I live, the nearest one-stop shop is 30 miles away in Manchester. No transport is provided. Before dispersal, some people were provided with solicitors in the south of England. No funds are provided for the necessary telephone calls, postage, faxes and so on. These are not trivial matters but issues associated with their future. In many cases, they may be life and death matters. The quality of legal support and the assistance given are dismal.
I know of people in the north of England who have to travel 250 miles to Croydon for interviews. Some in the south of England have to travel to Liverpool for interviews. There seems to be no joined-up thought in that regard. People are told that they must turn up at 11 in the morning. They are provided with no money for an overnight stay but simply tickets for travel to and from the place of interview. The whole system is designed to make the situation as difficult as possible. It is an obstacle course. That cannot be right. Whether or not a person is entitled to asylum in this country, the system should ensure that the right decision is taken rather than providing obstacles.
Many of those people need friends with them because they do not speak the language; they are in a foreign country. Many are bewildered. There is no provision for transport for friends. Volunteers from the local community where those people have settled temporarily have to provide their own transport. The local voluntary group in my area attempted to obtain funding. It received a small amount from local authorities but made effort after effort to obtain funding from different grant-making bodies. It failed, despite what I believe were excellent applications. Far from being cushy, cosy or comfortable, the system is stacked against the applicants at almost every stage. That cannot be right in a civilised society.
In conclusion, perhaps I may tell noble Lords about someone I met last week. To my surprise, I found myself on Thursday night on a bus travelling from Budapest to Sarajevo. The journey took 12 hours. The young lady next to me on the bus was returning to Sarajevo for the first time in six years. She had been a 437 refugee from the war in Bosnia and had managed to escape from Sarajevo at almost the worst time in the siege of that city. She reached an asylum centre in Amsterdam. Almost the first person she met there was a refugee from North Africa; they are now married. She settled in Holland and obtained a job in a large hotel as a chambermaid. She told me with some pride that she is now in charge of the organisation of the laundry in that hotel. Having met her, I have no doubt that in a few years' time she will either be managing the hotel or the whole laundry business. She is clearly a person with great ability and drive. She was returning to Sarajevo to see her mother and father for the first time in six years.
Some may say that once the war was over, she should have returned to Bosnia where she belongs despite the fact that there would have been no job for her. I believe that the dispersal of people of different ethnic origins, backgrounds and cultures throughout Europe enriches us. In many cases it invigorates our economy. Culturally and socially it is an enrichment. We should welcome it. This country's attitude is now far too defensive. All that we seem to bother about is keeping as many people as possible out of the country. But many of the thousands who manage to get here—as my noble friend said, there is almost certainly no legal way to do so—are fully entitled to asylum. We should welcome them and value the contributions they will make in the future, remembering the many refugees in the past who have enriched the society of this country.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, having attended here for so many years, people often ask me, "What is great about this House?" I reply, "The humanity." I hobble about slowly these days with a stick. However, yesterday someone hobbling even more slowly was helped to his seat by an assistant. No doubt he later made a great speech. He is an eminent person having held one of the highest positions in this country. He was treated with great respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke with humanity. It does him enormous credit. I hope he will not think I am patronising him when I say that he is a young and vigorous man and, as the years pass, he will realise that he is contributing to the humanity of this House, as he demonstrated by his speech today.
Mark Anthony said,I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him".I have not come to bury the Government or to praise them. They are above that. They do not need me to be a somewhat obsequious supporter. However, I am not their devotee in one connection. I wish to interrogate them on the penal area—surprise, surprise! Although, in theory, there are no time limits on the debate, the patience of the House is limited. Therefore I cannot deal in a few minutes with the whole issue of penal policy or the Government's policy with regard to crime. The striking fact is that over a period of six or seven years under the former government and this 438 Government the number of police has decreased. No one knows why. The Government now have ambitious plans which we hope will succeed. I reserve judgment. I give them credit for good intentions.
The police are all-important in the prevention of crime. I want to concentrate on one essential question. Is the penal policy of the Government any different in essentials from that of the former government? After three and a half years in power is the policy of this Government any different from that of Michael Howard? Michael Howard was condemned by every humane or liberal-minded person—certainly by all the Labour people I knew. Michael Howard was supposed to be the worst Home Secretary on record. Within four years the prison population had increased by 50 per cent despite no increase in crime. Is this Government's policy any different?
One of the most astute dialecticians of the age will reply to the debate. I know how clever he will be. There are 30 speeches to reply to; he will ignore this speech. He is a very clever man. I do not expect an answer today. No answer is available that is any good and he has a lot of other business on hand.
I ask this question. Is the policy of this Government on penal matters any different from that of the former government? It would be sad if it were not. The Government always said that their policy would be totally different. What are the facts? In the age of Howard, the prison population went up by 50 per cent despite no increase in crime. This Government have kept it fairly steady, but it is going up now. Some forecasts say that it may go up a lot in the next few years; others disagree. I was given an Answer in the House on that some time ago. The Minister may be too busy to reply tonight, but I am at least entitled to ask him the question, which may come back to haunt him in his dreams: do the Government have any plans for reducing the prison population in the next few years instead of letting it increase?
I understand that there are more life prisoners in this country than in the rest of Europe put together. There are currently 4,000 more people in prison than what is regarded as the official norm. Are the Government doing anything to alter policies or are they sticking to the same old Howard policy? I shall be lucky to get an answer, but the issue will come back again and again.
When they have a moment to spare, the Government may well say that the number of people in prison does not depend on them. There was no legislation to produce the 50 per cent increase during the age of Michael Howard. There was simply an atmosphere that no one doubted was created by the Government. My subsidiary question is whether the Government accept any responsibility for the number of people in prison or whether they say that the issue is nothing to do with them and is just down to the courts.
As I draw to a close, I shall try to hold out some hope to the Government. I am not so simple as to suppose that any penal reformer would last more than five minutes as Home Secretary. My dear old friend the great writer Evelyn Waugh once said, "If I were Home Secretary, we would all be murdered in our beds". If 439 any penal reformer were in power, he would not last very long. He would resign or be sacked or something. The Home Secretary has to retain the confidence of the public. I make allowances for him just as I make allowances for prison officers, whom I admire enormously collectively, although they often make terrible mistakes. They have the hardest job in the world. I am not sure whether their job or the Home Secretary's is the harder, but they are both very hard jobs and I am full of sympathy.
At least the present Home Secretary, who is an enlightened man and a Christian socialist, has said that he wants prison to be constructive. How can it be constructive if the numbers are increasing? That is the crucial question. This is not a brilliant idea of mine. All the penal reform organisations and the House of Commons have said the same. I hesitate to quote the Chief Inspector of Prisons, whom I admire more than anyone else in his field, but anyone reading his reports will reach the same conclusion as I did: that it is impossible to call prison constructive when it is so disgracefully overcrowded.
So there it all is. Do the Government agree that they are essentially pursuing the same policy as Michael Howard? There have been one or two good things, such as tagging, and one or two bad things, but in the essentials the policy is the same. It is no good Ministers denying that, because it is the general opinion. I talk to people involved in all aspects of the penal system and everyone agrees that there is no difference between the policy of this Government and that of the previous government. Leaving aside the past three years, are they going to make a difference in the future?
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
My Lords, it is always a pleasure—indeed, it is a great honour—to follow the noble Earl, whose views on penal reform are always succinct. There is no doubt in any of our minds that he is a very considerable human being.
Having listened to a substantial proportion of each day's debate on the Queen's Speech in this House, I am struck by the way in which the Government's thinking is coming off the rails. I do not mean that as a quip or a comment on the present deplorable state of our railways, but the cracked rail seems to reflect the state of the Government's thinking on a number of issues.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, opened the debate euphorically last Thursday, banishing the condition of economic bust to Never Never Land and claiming perpetual economic boom as the Government's domain. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, corrected the imbalance in her assessment with a gentility that I could never muster.
I would feel more assured of the Government's command of the economy in the global marketplace if they occasionally hinted at the faintest possibility of a recession in the not too distant future—not necessarily one of their own making, but one thrust upon them by external forces. What would then become of their long-term spending plans for the NHS and other services, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, at 440 the start of today's debate? How would those spending plans, about which we have heard so much, be sustained in those circumstances? Already the planned growth in spending exceeds the country's economic growth rate. Suppose we have a recession some time in the next two or three years and our economic growth rate becomes negative—a usual concomitant of a recession? Have the Government given any thought to that possibility, or do they believe in their own spin and live in a fool's paradise, knowing that the folly of it is unlikely to be revealed before a spring election, even though some of the major harbingers of the bust phase are gathering now? That is a major fault line in the Government's thinking. There are others, but I shall not follow them this evening.
It is not easy to find new subjects on the last day of the debate on the Queen's Speech, but I shall say a little about what has become known as postcode prescribing—the situation in which certain drugs are available in certain health trust areas, but not in others. I think that the Minister agrees that that is inequitable and tends to create a two-tier health service.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is responsible for examining new drugs and advising authorities on their use. Unfortunately, the process takes time. As many of the new drugs are expensive, there is a suspicion that a reference to NICE is a delaying tactic that means a rationing of availability. My honourable friend Dr Liam Fox in the other place has come up with the idea of an exceptional medicines fund to reduce postcode rationing and restore clinical judgment to its proper primacy in deciding on treatment. I commend that proposal to the Government.
We have heard a great deal about the partial availability of beta interferon, which can bring relief to sufferers from multiple sclerosis, but there are other drugs and treatments, such as enbrel and remicade, used to relieve the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, that are available in the United States but are not widely used here, despite clinical judgments in their favour. I hope that the Government will look again hard at the issue, because they could relieve a great deal of suffering and improve the lives of thousands of people.
Like my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, I also wish to draw attention to the reference in the Queen's Speech to the proposal to extend the functions of the children's commissioner for Wales, established under the Care Standards Act, which we passed in the last Session. I do so for two reasons. First, it stems from a prime recommendation in Sir Ronald Waterhouse's extensive and thorough report on child abuse in North Wales, entitled, Lost in Care.
The contents of that report shocked all who read it. As the noble Baroness said, the report stated that there should be an independent children's commissioner for Wales whose duties should include ensuring that children's rights are respected through the monitoring and oversight of the operation of complaints arid whistle-blowing procedures, examining the handling 441 of individual cases brought to the commissioner's attention, and publishing reports, including an annual report to the National Assembly for Wales.
Sir Ronald's recommendation, which mainly concerned children in care, was endorsed and amplified by the National Assembly, which sought special primary legislation to extend the commissioner's functions to cover the protection of all children in Wales. That, of course, has meant that the Care Standards Act 2000 must be amended. That is essentially what the Bill now does so far as concerns Wales. Why the benefits of the Bill, of which the Government are clearly convinced, are not extended to England is a question for the Government to answer. Personally I would appreciate the views of my noble friend Lord Kirkham, who made such an eximious speech earlier in our debate and who is clearly interested in this aspect of care.
I also focus on the Bill which relates to the commissioner because it is a landmark in the Assembly's history. It is the first time that the Assembly has applied to Parliament for primary legislation to meet a perceived Welsh need. It means that the arrangements laid down by the Government of Wales Act for the provision of special Welsh legislation are beginning to work, even though the draft protocol on the primary legislative procedure to be followed by the Government and the National Assembly has yet to be formally agreed between them.
I believe that the lack of a clear understanding and transparent collaboration to date led to arguably inappropriate provision for Wales in some of the measures that were presented to your Lordships last Session. The very fact that we now have to adapt the Care Standards Act to the needs of Wales with this new Bill is proof of that. It is hoped that that period is drawing to a close.
This is not the time to discuss the Bill in any detail. However, there are obvious caveats related to the proposals. While there is clearly a proven need to safeguard children in the care of the statutory authorities and, indeed, to safeguard their interests more generally, the position and responsibility of parents must not be undermined. Most of us would consider that parents should be encouraged and supported in their role, as my noble friend Lord Waddington suggested earlier.
I hope that we shall have an interesting discussion on the Bill when it comes before your Lordships and that the Government will assist us by providing a synopsis of the Assembly's views so that we may take proper account of them in our deliberations. I urge the Government to assist us in that because I know that I am not the only Member of your Lordships' House who finds it difficult to follow the proceedings of the Assembly on the Internet, aspiring nerd that I am as well as bard.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I propose to interpret home affairs rather widely and, as have one or two 442 other noble Lords, to treat the subject as including constitutional issues. In that I certainly do not intend to speak about the monarchy. It seems to me that the future of the monarchy is simply not on the agenda, and I do not believe that all the huffing and puffing that we have seen in the past few days in the Guardian is likely to put it there. There is one qualification to that: the Act of Settlement discriminates against Roman Catholics and I believe that good arguments exist for saying that that should be changed. Certainly any proposal for a change of that kind is one that I am sure we on these Benches would support.
This Parliament has seen more constitutional reform than any Parliament for a very long time, certainly since the Parliament elected in December 1910. The programme for reform has been strongly supported by the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, not only have we supported it; we have actively co-operated with it through the membership of some of our leaders in the Joint Cabinet Committee. I believe we could say that the programme is one which the Liberal Democrats have initiated. These are constitutional changes for which we have been calling for many years. It is our agenda to which the Labour Party is a latecomer, although it is welcome for all that.
This is almost certainly the last time in this Parliament in which we shall debate a gracious Speech. It is time to review what has been achieved in terms of constitutional reform and to consider what remains to be done.
I start by referring briefly to two Bills enacted at the end of the last Session which have constitutional implications. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act has gone some way towards cleaning up the political process by requiring transparency for substantial donations and by limiting spending on election and referendum campaigns. We welcome it. The Freedom of Information Act is not the Act that we wanted, but it has been greatly improved as a result of scrutiny by Select Committees in both Houses and by further improvements secured on the passage of the Bill through Parliament. It represents a useful first step but it needs—and we hope will get—further improvement.
Only one Bill in this Session has constitutional implications—the Regulatory Reform Bill, which will involve significant shifts from regulation by Act of Parliament to regulation by order. It will need to be examined with great care. We shall have the opportunity to look at it on Second Reading tomorrow week. Therefore, I do not propose to say any more about it now.
That leaves four main issues: the Human Rights Act, electoral reform, devolution and the future of your Lordships' House. I take, first, the subject of human rights. The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into United Kingdom law through the Human Rights Act is up and running. It is off to a good start. No doubt many bad human rights points are being taken in the courts, but the judges are proving themselves to be adequately robust and have thrown them out. Many members of the 443 press will have been looking for decisions which they can use to pillory the Human Rights Act, but so far they have not found them.
One decision that was pilloried was the decision of the Scottish court in Stott v. Brown, which held that the obligation of the keeper of a car to disclose the name of the driver breached the convention right not to incriminate oneself. That decision was overturned by the Privy Council a couple of weeks ago. I believe that it is unfortunate that that very sensible decision of the Privy Council received little or no publicity in the media, whereas the original decision had a great deal of publicity.
Even in relation to human rights, where I believe the Government have achieved much, there is more that needs to be done. First, we need a human rights commission to inform and educate people about their rights and to help them to enforce them. Secondly, we need to ratify the 12th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights which will provide a free-standing ban on discrimination to supplement the more limited ban on discrimination which is at present contained in Article 14.
I turn to electoral reform. What has been achieved is not something contained in a single Bill but in several Bills which have produced several different systems. We have the additional member system for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Greater London Assembly. We have STV in Northern Ireland. We have the closed list system for European Union elections. We have the supplementary vote system for the Mayor of London. Those are steps in the right direction and I believe that they have justified themselves.
Many people have criticised the closed list system, in particular for EU elections. We should prefer an open list. But first-past-the-post is, frankly, the worst kind of closed list system because the electors are voting for a closed list of one.
We want to see proportional representation introduced as soon as possible for all local government elections. That is essential to avoid the corrupt and complacent single party government which is found in all too many local authorities. That is perhaps relatively uncontroversial because many local authorities have already multi-member wards. But it is an important step forward.
The final and crucial step would be to have a referendum for proportional representation at Westminster. The constitutional implications of that are, of course, enormous. Even if a very limited system were proposed, as by the Jenkins Committee, an absolute majority of one party in the other place would be relatively rare and coalition government would become the norm, rather than the exception. We believe that to be a desirable result, but that is something for the people of this country to choose in a referendum.
The next issue is devolution. I have no intention of discussing Northern Ireland, which is a subject for a different debate in which I am not qualified to take part. I am not in a position to say whether devolution 444 for Scotland and Wales works to the satisfaction of the people of those nations. I am concerned with its effect on England, and that means the West Lothian question, on which Professor Hazell of the Constitution Unit gave an extremely interesting lecture on Monday.
There is no simple or clear-cut answer to the West Lothian question. I start with a couple of propositions which are clearly not the answer. The first is a separate English Parliament. That would be the high road and, I believe, a very quick road to the break-up of the Union. An English Parliament would very soon be seen as becoming more important than the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It would control most of the present Whitehall spending departments. Conflicts would undoubtedly develop between the UK and English Parliaments and if, as is likely, the English Parliament became seen as the dominant body, I believe that Scotland would opt very rapidly for independence.
Secondly, I believe that the solution is not to have a formal exclusion of Scottish MPs from voting on issues relating only to England and Wales. That could cause chaos. If an opposition had a majority in England and Wales, they could hijack government Bills and turn them into something very different. In other words, the opposition would set up a government of their own in relation to England.
Our view is that no formal solution is to be found which is workable and we need to develop a constitutional convention. A government whose majority is dependent on Scottish votes should not legislate for England and Wales in a way which is unacceptable to a majority of the Members of Parliament from those nations. But the government should be able to use the votes of Scottish MPs to stop unwelcome legislation being forced upon them by the opposition.
That means that the legislative programme for England and Wales would have to be negotiated between the government and the opposition on the probably relatively few occasions when the majority was dependent on Scottish votes. I admit that that is an untidy solution but it is workable.
Finally, I turn to the question of the reform of your Lordships' House. Stage One has been completed. In that, we on these Benches backed the Government. That meant that the House of Lords Act had the legitimacy of having been backed by parties which together represented a clear majority of the voters at the last election. The reforms of the House of Lords Act have given your Lordships' House greater legitimacy and authority and I think that it has shown that during the present Session.
During the debates on the House of Lords Bill, many Members of this House doubted that we should ever reach stage two. It now seems that we face a different danger. To judge from the messages coming from the Government, there will indeed be a stage two. The Government will include stage two plans in some detail in their manifesto and if they win re-election—and I must say that few people would bet against that 445 at present—they will then force those plans through, relying on the Salisbury Convention to do so. There will then be no opportunity for meaningful consultation.
It is also likely that the government plan will minimise the elected membership of your Lordships' House, restricting it to one of the smaller options proposed in the Wakeham Commission report. If that is true, I believe that in your Lordships' House we face real problems. I was by no means encouraged by the statements in the last Session that the proposed Joint Committee of both Houses would be restricted to discussing the implementation of a second House of Lords Act and could not discuss its composition or powers.
Ninety years ago, the preamble to the Parliament Act 1911 referred to an upper House being constituted on a popular and not an hereditary basis. Frankly, I find it astonishing that the Government are now apparently contemplating an upper House with only a small minority of elected Members. The composition of your Lordships' House is of fundamental constitutional importance.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, can the noble Lord think of any conceivable reason for introducing elected Members? It will make a nonsense of the whole place.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I believe that the introduction of a primarily elected membership is essential if this House is in future to have the power to do what it needs to do as one of the two Houses of Parliament.
As I said, there must be consultation. To say that there must be full consensus is going too far because that is potentially a recipe for paralysis. But if the Government attempt to ram through their proposals for stage two with no meaningful consultation, they will not receive support from these Benches. I have no doubt that a similar view is taken by many of those on the Conservative Benches too. Unless the Government win a majority of the votes cast at the next election—and that is very unlikely—they will be forcing through a fundamental reform of the constitution without the support of a majority of the electorate. That will raise constitutional issues which I believe are very serious indeed.
The constitutional agenda which was started at the beginning of this Parliament is not yet complete. On some issues like human rights, we are most of the way there but not quite at the end of the process. On some, like freedom of information and electoral reform, there is still a long way to go. But on the reform of your Lordships' House, we may well face very serious problems early in the next Parliament.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lord Wilberforce
My Lords, a week ago when considering on what subject to address your Lordships it occurred to me to speak, as I have often before, on 446 the subject of law reform. The advantage is that it is a brief subject and can be dealt with concisely. However, this morning I found that, by a mysterious process, I had been drawn next to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in the list of speakers. As he has spoken so eloquently on the subject before, I thought that my speech would be quite unnecessary and that I should be able to withdraw. But he went off into much wider and greater constitutional points, so I feel that I must adhere to my original idea of saying a few words on the narrow subject of law reform and on the necessity of keeping in use our splendid Law Commission, with its distinguished membership and chairman, that carries out work that ought not to be lost.
This year's gracious Speech did not, as some do, make any general reference to law reform. Often at the end there is a phrase saying, "Other measures of law reform will be laid before you". Nothing of the kind was contained in the present gracious Speech. There are simply brief references to regulatory activity, so I feel that a general reference is not out of order.
I am aware, as are your Lordships, that we have in front of us a short Session. Therefore, this is no occasion to bore your Lordships with a specific list of topics that may be examined. However, there is a counterbalance to the proposition that this will be a short Session; it is bound to be followed by a longer Session, whether that takes place in a new Parliament or in the existing one. There is bound to be a longer Session preceded as to its substance, as is invariably the case, by an initial period during which specific measures are not ready to be laid. Therefore, it is opportune and necessary that we should be prepared for that Session and that whichever government it is should have measures of law reform ready to be placed before Parliament, ready to be discussed and if necessary passed. The preparatory work cannot begin too soon and may well be carried out now.
I want to put down markers as to two specific matters that may be the subject of attention. The first is the subject of regulatory activity which was mentioned in the gracious Speech in relation to education. It is clear that the need for simplification and reduction in the amount of legislation has never been so great as it is now. Moreover, there is a great need, although one would not expect to find a reference to it in the gracious Speech, to greater consolidation of our existing laws, for which the machinery exists and which does not seem to have been used much in the course of the past year. I hope that is only a blip and not a trend.
The general matter of simplification is of enormous importance. It has been brought out in relation to specific subjects, particularly, for example, in the case of education, where it is clear that the mass of regulation, directives and legislation stifles the work of head teachers, ordinary teachers and professors to an extent that tends to paralyse great parts of the activities of the education service.
It is also specifically relevant to taxation and accountancy which have been referred to recently. A report of the Institute of Chartered Accountants to 447 which attention was drawn by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who I am sorry to see is not in her place, made clear that there is room for immediate and extensive measures of simplification.
The need is not limited to such technical and specific areas. There is a general need, in the interests and in the working of our legal system, for whoever has to work it. Do not forget that 90 per cent of the work is carried out by lay justices and they find it increasingly difficult to keep up with the mass of legislation. Many find it necessary to retire, to take early retirement or not to involve themselves in the work that is so essential. Therefore there is a trend—I cannot give statistics—towards a greater use of stipendiary workers, who are good enough in themselves, but they are no substitute for our judicial system and, incidentally, they are more expensive.
In the interdepartmental committee, set up under Mr David Lock, there is considerable hope. It may produce some good results, but I urge the Government, even in the six months of this Session, to press on with the work of simplification and reduction of legislative material.
The other marker is that of codification. To my surprise we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, that codification is everywhere. I was astonished and excited by that and I felt that we must be using the word "codification" in a different sense. At any rate, in the area with which I am mainly concerned at the moment, it seems to be progressing slowly. I refer to the area of the criminal law to which codification is and remains extremely urgent.
Codification has been advocated for over 100 years. It has never been objected to on any rational ground and recently it was reaffirmed by my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill, by the Home Secretary and by Dame Mary Arden in a distinguished lecture that she gave about a year ago.
There has never been any dispute that codification is needed. The Government, pleading lack of time, have segregated the big subject of criminal law generally into specific blocks and have carried out work on the blocks separately; for example, on the Offences against the Person Act. That has been effective and a good way of proceeding.
Surely the time has now come when it is necessary to reassemble the blocks to make an edifice or at least, if that is too ambitious, to legislate separately in relation to such blocks as are ready? One example is the Offences against the Person Act on which the Law Commission reported in 1993. That was the subject of a consultation paper by the Home Office, and the Home Secretary has expressed his willingness to legislate. There was an encouraging Written Answer on the subject in December 1999.
I hope that those two matters will be borne in mind, even at this late stage, in the present parliamentary situation, together with the great and important constitutional issues that have been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Goodhart. I express myself entirely in agreement with what they said. I suggest that there is a great need, in 448 the modest view to which I have referred, for work to be done and there are great opportunities to make valuable and practical progress.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, this is only my second Queen's Speech debate. Like last year I find myself bewildered by the range of subjects that noble Lords have covered during the course of today's discussions and on the three previous days. I have found absolutely riveting the topics that have been covered in just the last few minutes by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Goodhart, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce.
I hope that they will forgive me if I do not go down the road of the constitutional reform issues that they have covered. I want to deal with just one: the issue of protecting and promoting the health of young people and the proposal in the gracious Speech to ban the advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
This is a measure which has already attracted some comment—not in the course of today's debate—most of which has been favourable, and I say at the outset that I warmly welcome the Government's intentions. However, there has been some opposition, though not from the Conservative Front Bench either in this House or the other place. I was interested that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, used almost identical words to those of the Shadow Secretary of State in the other place when he said that he had an open mind on this issue. I am pleased about that because I hope that the proposals will command widespread support when the Bill reaches us some time in the new year.
The opposition has been best articulated in recent days by a strange editorial in the Independent on Sunday last weekend. It said:On tobacco advertising Labour pretends that there is a public health argument. There is not. There is no evidence that advertising encourages young people to smoke who otherwise would not: it is all a matter of persuading existing smokers that one brand is preferable to another".For a normally sensible newspaper that is nonsense. I commend the writer and other Members of your Lordships' House who are interested in the subject to look at some of the documents which were unearthed by the Health Select Committee in the other place as part of its investigation into the conduct of the UK tobacco industry. These were the internal working papers of the tobacco industry's five advertising agencies and amounted to no less than 16 large boxes of documents.
Those documents were analysed by the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Strathclyde and the report is available in our Library. It is entitled, Keep Smiling No One's Going to Die. Those words were taken from a gung ho signing off in a letter from the Benson and Hedges advertising agency to their client at Gallahers.
There is much remarkable material here and some of it is deeply shocking. In particular, the documents refute totally the suggestion made by apologists for the industry that advertising and sponsorship are 449 concerned only with attracting and maintaining brand loyalty. The advertising agencies make abundantly clear that their campaigns are intended to encourage people to start and continue smoking, especially young people. They aim to enhance the social acceptability of smoking per se; to increase per capita consumption; to recruit new smokers and to discourage existing ones from giving up.
Given that this is a product which kills 120,000 of its consumers a year in the United Kingdom, it is perhaps understandable that so much of the tobacco industry's sponsorship and advertising industry is aimed at young people and at encouraging them to start smoking. It is an industry that obviously needs to replace the older customers it kills with new young ones. That is why the agencies regard the youth market as vital to commercial success and do so much to research their lifestyles and aspirations. The report says,Again and again, the conclusion is drawn that young people smoke for emotional reasons and that branding can meet these needs by adding aspiration, coolness and 'street cred' to the product".That is of course totally contrary to the Advertising Standards Authority's code which says that cigarette ads should not suggest that smoking is associated with social success or play on the susceptibilities of those who are physically or emotionally vulnerable. There is more, much more in those papers in a similar vein. They also reveal the tobacco companies' motivation for sports sponsorship. In that regard the agencies see sponsorship and advertising as performing the same role of promoting the brand images which appeal to young smokers. They are used together in the same campaigns and are researched and judged in exactly the same way. The only difference is that sponsorship allows more covert and subliminal messages to be delivered than straightforward advertising. That is why it is so important that the Government's Bill should cover both advertising and sponsorship.
Your Lordships will recall that the reason it is necessary to have this Bill is that the tobacco manufacturers went to the European Court and successfully challenged the EU directive of 1998 to phase out all tobacco advertising and sponsorship by 2006. I gather that we may see the Bill tomorrow or early next week. Given that the Department of Health estimates that it will eventually lead to a 2.5 per cent reduction in the number of smokers and save 3,000 lives a year—that is almost as many people as are killed on our roads each year—why is it necessary to wait so long for the prohibition to take effect? It is not as though the industry had no warning. It had plenty of warning as it was in the Labour Party's 1997 election manifesto in clear and unambiguous terms.
The governing body of Formula One motor racing—a notorious receiver of tobacco sponsorship—for whom the deadline on eliminating tobacco sponsorship was originally extended to 2006, announced two years ago that it could phase out tobacco money by 2002. I ask my noble and learned 450 friend therefore, when he comes to consider these matters in due course, why that cannot be the year in which the ban takes effect.
I have two other concerns about the Bill which I hope will prove to be groundless when we receive the details. The first is the range of exemptions which the Bill may propose. Exemptions that cover small circulation foreign publications, tobacco trade journals and possibly the interior of specialist tobacco retailers are acceptable. But advertising of tobacco at point of sale in general retailers, which sell a range of other goods such as confectionery and are visited by children and young people, should not be allowed.
My second concern is that the Government must not allow themselves to be outwitted by the tobacco manufacturers and their lobbyists and allow tobacco generally and cigarettes in particular to be promoted by so-called "brand stretching". That is a technique of building brand awareness through non-tobacco goods such as Camel boots and Marlboro classic clothing. Advertisements for those goods look identical to those for the cigarettes and their purpose again is to appeal to the young and make them aware of cigarette brands. The EU proposals which are being replaced by the Bill were seriously defective in that regard and it is important that the Bill stops-up that loophole.
The Government's Bill is neither authoritarian nor anti-libertarian, and it certainly does not persecute smokers. It is dealing with a unique and special product because it is the only one which kills a large proportion of its consumers when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer. So this is a debate about public health and saving lives and I hope that the Bill will come into law as rapidly as possible.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Goschen
My Lords, the Queen's Speech is the one moment in the parliamentary calendar when Back-Benchers have a genuine feeling of anticipation about the measures that will be laid before Parliament during that Session. However, the Home Office section of the Government's programme was laid out in full detail in The Times on 27th November. Perhaps I can begin therefore by asking the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, when he winds up the debate, whether he feels that Ministers are obeying the convention that they should not disclose the contents of the Queen's Speech in advance. I should emphasise that that convention was restated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in answer to a recent parliamentary Question. I can say that that is the only point on which I ask for a response this evening.
Again we see that this Session is dominated by Bills from the Home Office. We must hope—I trust not forlornly—that they will be of a better quality than those which originated during the last Session. The drafting of the Bills which came from the Home Office during the last Session left a great deal to be desired. They were sent back for considerable amendment, much of which was at the Government's suggestion—I think of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill 451 as being a good example. It was considerably rewritten and we even saw the Minister putting his name to amendments tabled by my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Cope of Berkeley. That was a truly bizarre scenario which I hope will not be repeated during this Session.
Indeed, we almost saw Ministers distancing themselves from the quality of the legislation that carne from their own departments and commenting on it as though they were independent observers rather than the owners of the specific provisions. That is not helpful either. Part of the difficulty must be the volume of legislation emanating from that one department of state.
That volume is further swelled by Bills brought forward in response to specific events. During the previous Session, we passed the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act. During this Session we shall debate the hunting Bill. I shall not comment on it at length, but say merely that it will undoubtedly consume considerable quantities of parliamentary time and create a great deal of heat. Let the Government never again say that they are short of legislative time because, if that is how they want to use it, it will be their own fault if they find their programme under pressure.
Furthermore, Ministers appear to rely ever more heavily on the assumption that crime can be regulated out of existence. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, say that the aim was not to reduce crime by diktat from Whitehall and then detail the diktats which are coming from Whitehall in order to reduce crime. There is a great deal of legislation on the statute book covering almost every conceivable offence and situation. I suggest that the emphasis should be put on enforcing that rather than dreaming up more and more eye-catching gimmicks to join it.
I do not say that we should set our legislation in stone; circumstances change and we must create a legislative framework which takes that into account. However, I echo the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in calling for a period of greater stability. There must come a point when all the agencies involved in law enforcement and the courts have difficulty in digesting the many changes to the law. That must reduce the effectiveness of the law.
The police force is at the forefront of enforcement. I want to pay tribute to the work which it does, which is often dangerous and unpopular with those on whom it is imposed. That is why we must give the police force the political support it requires, particularly in times of difficulty for it. For example the Metropolitan Police Force was under the spotlight as a result of the Macpherson report. Unless the police force receives the political support it deserves the task it faces will be made doubly difficult.
Turning to a separate issue, we are told that we are in the run-up to a general election. During the Government's time in office we have seen their tendency to use public funds to buy editorial, or "advertorial", space in various publications. Indeed, we have seen various government departments sponsoring publications which I contend are designed 452 to show the Government's policy in a favourable light and not to be independent. The Government's ludicrously one-sided annual report springs to mind. During the Government's tenure, we have seen articles about their good housekeeping in a variety of publications. Some of them are supposed to be vaguely independent, but a quick perusal soon shows the opposite to be true. I hope that we are not to have Government departments producing thinly disguised mini-manifestos in the run-up to a general election. That would be a grave mistake and a considerable abuse.
I want to conclude with the constitution. We heard a number of powerful and learned speeches, notably from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. We saw the reform of this House on a partial basis. We were vigorously told that the changes which were then made were urgent; they had to be done immediately and on a nonconsensual basis. They were forced through the House. However, since then we have seen nothing but sloth; the Government have not properly spelt out their policies on reforming this House. We need clarity on that before the general election.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the Government's attitude towards Parliament came as we headed towards Prorogation. Your Lordships' House took strong views on certain measures in the Transport Bill and the Disqualifications Bill, to name but two. When strong opinions were expressed by this House and Bills were sent back to another place we heard Ministers rushing to speak on the radio to brand that as being constitutionally outrageous. We heard a lot of talk of unelected Peers behaving totally reprehensibly.
This House has been fashioned and modelled as the Government wished; it is their own creation. Therefore any deficiencies in the perceived legitimacy of this House must be laid firmly at the Government's door. The degree of haste with which the Government have shown they want to proceed with constitutional reform beyond that of your Lordships' House is heavy-handed and regrettable. I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that when reforming the constitution there must be a genuine attempt to create consensus. We do not want to get to a stage when every five or 10 years there is a change of government and the constitution is rewritten to suit the party in power. I understand that having spent so long out of office, when the Labour Party came into office there was a great tendency to rush to get all the toys out of the box and play with them all at once. That is a short-sighted approach towards constitutional reform. They must seek the agreement and support of other parties to produce a long-lasting and robust constitution which will serve this country well.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, being the 26th speaker in such a debate is slightly less daunting than being the 27th but it gives one the opportunity to look 453 at large at the subjects. I believe that nothing would be damaged, and something might be served, by separating the debates into health and home affairs.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
As many people seem to agree I shall say no more. I hope that what I say will be of some interest, coming from a vantage point of 30 years of preoccupation with public awareness and knowledge of the law and the extent to which the general public relate to the law. I want to examine two issues. The first is the volume and complexity of lawmaking, which was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, and the second is the issue of community in relation to the law and law enforcement. I would have loved to have heard the Queen's Speech open with the words, "My Government, having enacted over 15 major anti-crime Bills since they came to power—more than in any similar period in parliamentary history—propose to devote all their resources to effective implementation of those Acts and to refrain from any further such legislation during this Session". Obviously, that is a Utopian hope but it is a real one. We all become so fully engaged with our particular concerns, and governments become so keen to deliver their manifestos, that the totality of what is done is lost to view.
My remarks are informed by the fact that the Citizenship Foundation, of which I am president, works with over half the state primary and secondary schools on an intensive basis. I am convinced that we are legislating in such volume and complexity that to a dangerous degree it is self-defeating. It is demoralising for those who have to deal with it, particularly the police whose chief officers often make positive noises about legislation because, I suspect, they believe that that is how they should react when a government say that they intend to do something.
The police on the ground and the courts have a very difficult life when dealing with major slices of legislation. Many justices of the peace, well referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, are at their wits' end trying to contend with new law. If anybody believes that we should, therefore, install stipendiary magistrates, he should contemplate the civic and cultural consequences of ripping out of the heart of the present system lay justices who have been the backbone of justice in this country. This process is also disorienting for local authorities which are often drawn into legislation, for example the Harassment Act and so on, and other groups that are affected by it.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, referred to teachers and headmasters. I refer to the difficulties of my profession in seeking to deal with the regulatory overburden of the Community Legal Service Scheme. It is demoralising, expensive and counter-productive, distances the public from the law, Parliament and democracy and damages its acceptance by the public who have no familiarity with the background to the legislation. They have not been asked whether they believe it to be good or bad and they have no ownership of it.
454 There are also great costs involved in the legislation which divert scarce revenue from enforcement. For example, in relation to the Human Rights Act we were told that there could not be a human rights commission because of expense. It is essential to the effectiveness of that crucially important piece of legislation that there is a commission to enable the public to get alongside it so that rights can be delivered to people rather than here or to lawyers. The costs of legal services have rocketed. It is easy to forget the immense extra cost, both private and public, of having to deal more and more through lawyers. To be fair to lawyers, they must grapple with legislation that is impenetrable, difficult and often ambiguous. Finally, the legislation is often futile. It does not achieve its stated purpose because it is so complicated that nobody gets round to enforcing it. Earlier reference was made to curfew orders. There is a very low take-up of anti-social behaviour orders. Banning orders under the dreaded and notorious Football (Offences and Disorder) Act have been few and far between. Although I am glad about that, that was not the Government's object.
This torrent of legislation is not just counterproductive but dangerous. In particular, criminal laws which have no public ownership can act rather like antibiotics which too often are pumped into the body politic so that they lose their self-healing efficacy and lay it open to general infection. I suggest to the Government—it may not be possible for the Attorney—General to deal with it tonight—that they give serious consideration to the introduction of an automatic impact assessment of legislation so that two or three years down the track a piece of legislation that affects the public can be investigated to see how far it has achieved its stated purpose. We are creating a land fit only for lawyers, and I speak as one.
I should like to address what I believe to be a primary source of criminality and anti-social behaviour: the breakdown of community life. There are many people in our society, a large proportion of whom are young people, who regard themselves as outsiders, almost outcasts. The body politic is only as strong as its weakest link. I have in mind individuals, families, groups and communities. If any one of those parts of a single body politic fails the whole system breaks down. I believe that we face a greater crisis in regard to criminal behaviour and democratic weakness, almost failure, than we are often prepared to acknowledge.
Earlier my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford—I am aware that he is unable to be here—referred to his father's pugilism on the streets of Wrexham. My noble friend said that it happened then, happens now and will always happen. But there is one big difference between Wrexham in, say, the 1920s and Wrexham in 2000. My father was born in the Welsh mining town of Abertillery where Saturday nights were riven by fights and drunkenness on a stupendous scale. My grandfather had the equivalent of a hearse in his baker's yard to which the police would strap comatose 455 and fighting bodies and wheel them to the police station. That is not new; it has always been like that and always will be.
But there are huge differences between then and now. First, on the whole in those days men, not kids, did that. Secondly, if they had been kids, by Jiminy cricket they would have been disciplined by their families and communities. Thirdly and most important of all, those communities were vigorous, vibrant, proud, autonomous and self-dealing. It is not an accident that the Baptist chapels which would have been attended by half those men each week had 1,500 children at Sunday school. They had their own community leaders and a sense of civic duty which was keenly felt by the best among them. They also had their own institutions and courts and were largely self-governing. So many of those things have gone.
More and more the Local Government Act 1970 will be seen as one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation in the history of this country. Today, towns like Abertillery and Sudbury, from which I come, have been stripped of their powers and have lost their pride, autonomy and local leaders. The quality of life in towns is no longer self-regulated and yet the Government continue to strip institutions and powers from them. It is a bit of a cheek that the Government should refer in the Queen's Speech to the continuing process of decentralisation. The process is not one of decentralisation, except in the great reforms in relation to Scotland, Wales and human rights, for which I take my hat off to the Government. After all, it was only at the end of the previous Session that we dealt with the centralisation of the probation service. That was a major change which removed semi-autonomous local probation committees and replaced them with local boards which are now the pawns of a central service. All of that is done in the name of national consistency. As I said then, consistency can be second or third rate.
I believe that if the Auld report suggests that justices of the peace have had their day we should genteelly take to the barricades, because the police will not be far behind. There are already indications that the Government want a consistent national service for the police. What a wonderful thing that will be, except that it will be another nail in the coffin of community life. Without vibrant, autonomous, organic, self-regulating communities we can forget about improvements to law and order, reductions in criminality and democratic vitality.
Communities must be allowed to learn from their mistakes. This is an unforgiving age, and both central and local government suffer from it. However, local communities are no different from individuals. Unless we are allowed to learn for ourselves we shall get nowhere. Broadly, I pay tribute to, and identify with, the observations on this theme by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham.
I acknowledge the excellent effort by the Government with their policy action teams. The 10th report contains the single most important finding of all 18 PAT groups; namely, that self-help is the key to everything. The essential phrase used is "doing and not 456 being done by". Unless we are allowed to engage in self-help on the ground in our localities everything else will not work. Helplessness and insignificance, already such a common feature of young people's sense of their own civic identity, will grow instead of, as is desperately needed, decline. In raising those two issues I hope that I have added to the debate.
Finally, I pay tribute to the Government for putting citizenship in the school curriculum. There are difficulties about timing and teachers not being sufficiently prepared and having insufficient resources. But, far from some sub-Orwellian danger to the education process, I know from the work of the Citizenship Foundation—indeed, we had a launch this morning of material with Jack Straw and David Blunkett—that there is some real strategic hope that citizenship education can be made a way of empowering young people so that they take themselves seriously and have a sense of their own moral autonomy. Therefore, far from slavish adherence to the government of the day, they will actually stand up and say, "I do not agree and the reason I do not agree is one, two and three". All of that is important too.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Lord Hunt of Chesterton
My Lords, first I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, on his excellent maiden speech.
We heard in the gracious Speech that in this Session your Lordships' House will be working on another programme of reforming and modernising legislation. I should like to follow other noble Lords in making some suggestions to this House and to the Government about making this programme as effective as possible and about the implementation of previous legislation, especially that on freedom of information. There have been calls in this Chamber for more clarity from government departments. Members of the Opposition and Cross-Benchers have called) for less legislation. That is a cry that will become more popular unless the preparation of Bills before reaching Parliament is considerably improved. I believe that is a feasible objective if we draw some lessons from the worlds of modern business and technology about quality assurance, methods and validation. I hope the House will be interested in the views of a non-lawyer.
I am honoured to have been appointed to this House, and, furthermore, in its recently reformed state. However, I am conscious that the House is not and will not be taken as seriously as it should be unless it continues with its further evolution to a more democratically acceptable form. I echo the wise remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Therefore, I welcome the statement by the Leader of the House about the further work in this direction, which I hope will have the full support of the House.
I have been impressed by the effective work of this House on the Bills it has revised. But this work could be considerably improved, and, dare I say it, speeded up. Legislation is complex, but so are developing large computer programs and business systems. Both tasks have clear sets of objectives and both are based on 457 constructing a connected set of logical and empirically based statements and instructions. Legislation influences individuals and societies through exhortatory stick and carrot techniques and organisations, while computer programs determine that computers and business systems perform certain functions. Before accepting a computer program, a manager or a client insists that it has been through a rigorous check that its internal logical structure ensures that the program functions so as to achieve the agreed objectives of the system. That is quality assurance. There is often also a procedure of validation to ensure that each of the logical steps and the conclusions have a well-established empirical basis, through experiments, surveys or practical experience.
Currently the only quality assurance step in the legislation presented to this House is that it satisfies the European human rights regulations. When the recent Transport Bill was presented to this House, although it was intended as a strategic Bill to ensure both co-ordination of transport, environment and safety, the word "environment" was not mentioned anywhere in it. One civil servant jovially remarked to me, "So you noticed". The revising of Bills should not be an elaborate parlour game to spot the obvious omissions. An elementary application of quality assurance would have saved hours of debate in this House, although in the end a very satisfactory Act was produced. I hope my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General will consider seriously how such principles might be applied by Ministers guiding the legislation and by the parliamentary draftsmen and civil servants drafting Bills. For the proposed Bills for this Session we should have a detailed quality assurance statement before we begin our legislative discussion. The explanatory documents issued with Bills could well move in that direction.
In addition, those teams should be applying the methods of validation—a suggestion that fits with the recommendation of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about the examination of Bills after Second Reading. For example, on the proposed Bill on court trials heard by juries I hope that there will be clearer empirical evidence than we have so far heard. Also I hope that in the Front Bench and Back-Bench arguments in the debates on the Bill, the professions of those providing evidence will not be so dismissively impugned as they were in the previous debate, which I was sorry to see descended much below the level this House should expect.
Part of the problem is secrecy. We had to rely in part on evidence provided by my noble friend Lord Borrie from New Zealand. There, as in other Commonwealth countries and the Irish Republic, openness has begun to reach into all parts of government in the way it has done for much longer in the United States of America. Although the American Government are certainly not perfect, especially regarding the dissemination of relevant information from foreign countries, that should be the next stage of freedom of information.
458 An urgent task for the Government and for this House in its legislation and in its questioning of government will be to ensure that the Freedom of Information Act ensures that government information becomes much readily available. A new culture of openness must be developed in the 50,000 organisations affected by the Act; for example, as pointed out by the Evening Standard last week in its account of the cover-up of a Concorde incident.
The circular to be issued by the Home Office will be very important, and, as with other Bills, so will follow-up actions based on the statements by Ministers during the passage of the Bill. I particularly welcomed the statements by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on the release of scientific data. Already there is much more openness in government departments and agencies; for example, the Environment Agency data on flood areas and the Food Standards Agency data are now widely disseminated on the Internet. Those examples show that more freedom of information will save lives and property as well as helping people arrange their lives and the economy generally.
It is essential that Ministers and the Information Commissioner campaign and explain the new approach to open information. A transformation of the traditional British secretiveness is an integral part of Britain becoming a more harmonious and effective modern society, which I believe is the overarching goal of the legislation before us.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, will forgive me if I take us back into the health agenda.
I should like to take this opportunity once again to commend the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his involvement in dentistry and the dental strategy that has now been in place for four months. It is his face that is in all the dental press and it is his reputation that is at stake. If it is successful there will be significant changes to the way dentists work. Regrettably, I was unable to be present to hear the opening speeches, so I made a nuisance of myself earlier in the offices of the Official Report and read the Minister's speech. It was wide-ranging and informative but made no reference to the dental profession or dental strategy.
The strategy offers opportunities for both dentists and their patients. Implementation of the proposed measures will certainly lead to improvements in terms of access to NHS dentistry for patients in many areas. However, the Prime Minister's pledge that by April 200I—that could be about six weeks before an election—anyone who wants an NHS dentist will be able to find one will be achievable only if health authorities use their powers effectively. Unless the Government can address the funding crisis, dentists will continue to leave the NHS for the private sector.
Under-funding, which has been a problem for many years, has resulted in a shortage of NHS dentists. They are finding it increasingly hard to provide acceptable 459 quality of care under the present fee structure and still maintain a viable practice. I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but of the £100 million announced for dentistry over the next two years, —40 million had already been promised and the remaining £60 million comes from savings to the general dental services. In order to solve the access problem, at least £100 million needs to be invested in NHS dentistry every year for the next five years, not just for the next two. I shall be interested to hear how much of that funding will be spent in this financial year and what will happen to any money that is unused. Will it revert to the Treasury or roll over for the following year?
Of course I welcome the allocation of £4 million for the Dental Care Development Fund, which will help about 250,000 patients to find a dentist. As the money is allocated directly to health authorities, they will have a greater input in the way money is spent and will be in a better position to use it to enable local dentists to treat more NHS patients. A recent poll from the Doctor/Patient partnership in the summer showed that 67 per cent of people said that they would be more likely to go to a dentist if they knew that they could definitely receive NHS treatment and 89 per cent said they had not experienced problems accessing NHS dental service appointments. Clearly, public confusion about the availability and accessibility of NHS dental services is commonplace. I hope that the Minister can confirm that this promised access campaign will not put pressure on the services provided for those patients who traditionally seek care from the community dental services within NHS trusts, including those patients with special needs.
The Government have also announced commitment payments to try to encourage dentists to return to the NHS. I fear that this is unlikely to encourage much change. To benefit from the loyalty payments, dentists will have to satisfy strict criteria—being aged over 35 and having worked for at least five out of the previous 10 years in the NHS. The 1,000 or so dentists who will qualify are likely to be already established in full-time NHS practice and would probably not be seeking to move into the private sector anyway. Dentists under the age of 35, who spend much of their time working in the NHS, will, with few exceptions, receive nothing.
Perhaps I may touch briefly on fluoridation. I am well aware that the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, will have given an opposite view to mine. The recent York Review has confirmed that fluoridation is safe and effective in reducing levels of tooth decay and is essential in the fight to reduce inequalities in dental health. The Government have announced that they will be,encouraging health authorities with particular dental health problems to consider fluoridating their water as part of their overall health strategy".In recent years more than 50 health authorities with particular dental health problems have persistently attempted to implement water fluoridation. They have conducted extensive publicity and consultation exercises and have demonstrated substantial public and local authority support. Despite that, each health authority has had its request for fluoridation refused 460 by its water supplier. Can the Minister confirm the Government's White Paper commitment to introduce a legal obligation on water companies to fluoridate where there is strong local support for doing so and give the dental profession an absolute assurance that this policy will be implemented?
The General Dental Council has made some serious decisions on modernisation of healthcare to encompass the ever increasing expectations of the public, profession and government. Reform of its constitution has been on the menu for several years, but it has not been realistic until the Health Act 1999 which makes changes possible by an Order in Council made under Section 60. The council has decided to cut its numbers to create a smaller unit which is more strategic in outlook but supported by a number of committee panels and working parties. There is an urgent need to make changes to the council's fitness to practise arrangements. There is a concern that existing procedures regarding complaints about private treatment do not meet patient needs sufficiently and there is need for a change in the law to allow direct regulation of the dental bodies corporate, as happens with the opticians and pharmacies. I know that the Minister will support these changes, but can he confirm that the Government will find time for this essential legislation very early in the new year?
There is general concern about the dental bodies corporate. Some dentists see them as a threat to their practices and others look at them as just an alternative way for patients to access services. With major players such as Boots involved arid other practices being set up all over the South East, could the Minister not consider freeing up the restrictive practice, which prevents other practitioners working together to set up similar environments? At a time when the Government are encouraging small businesses arid are trying to persuade dentists to improve facilities and equipment and see more NHS patients, it is utterly ridiculous that, unless it is possible to obtain one of the bodies corporate, which were set up before 1956 and are limited to 27, dentists themselves, or other groups who wish to set up a company to practise dentistry, are restricted from working together to do this. These bodies corporate change hands for hundreds of thousands of pounds and are snapped up as soon as they become available. Perhaps the noble arid learned Lord, Lord Williams, could indicate whether this is not contrary to European restrictive practice law and also let me know whether he is aware of any current test cases against this legislation.
To return to health in general, I do regret the continual reference to funding. I am guilty in that I have done just that. But it is the fundamental issues that must be addressed. The assumption that greater availability of medical services, more doctors and health-related personnel, the construction of more hospitals and clinics and the development of a wider range of drugs and surgical techniques will lead to improvements in health, to increased longevity or to the eradication of disease is ill founded. Perhaps I may 461 repeat a quotation from a speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, when she represented the Department of Health in this House. She said:But good health is about more than the NHS. It is about how we live. It is about the kind of country we are. It is about what priorities we give to things like proper childcare, to worthwhile employment for school leavers—and, indeed, for everyone of working age—to decent housing, to the environment and to building cohesive communities".—[Official Report, 12/2/97; col. 246.]With our present attitudes to health, it is inconceivable to think that illness should be viewed as a helpful, though often severe, reminder that perhaps there is something at fault with one's lifestyle or attitude. It is precisely because this possibility has been ignored that so little attention is being paid to the whole concept of health promotion. Health promotion is about the maintenance of good physical and mental health. It has very little to do with medicine and disease management and everything to do with the ways people live and the social and psychological environments in which they do it. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said earlier that prevention is better than cure for disease. I agree with him.
That brings me to the recent report on complementary medicine by the Science and Technology Sub-Committee, on which I had the great honour to serve during the past 14 months. I also declare my interest as president of the all-party group on alternative and complementary medicine. I have just mentioned lifestyle. It is lifestyle and the maintenance of an effective immune system that are the essence of most complementary medicine. I remember discussing the relationship between nutrition and health and the harmful effect of free radicals in this House 20 years ago, when my noble friend Lady Trumpington was a junior health Minister. I was listened to with the usual tolerance of this House and then labelled an eccentric. The report, which I hope will be debated soon in the new year, makes a plea for funding for research into complementary therapies—not only the widely accepted therapies such as osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine andhomeopathy but the fringe therapies which even some members of the committee described as "bunkum" but which do have sound anecdotal evidence as to their efficacy and are widely used.
I hope that the Minister will prepare himself and his department for the plea for adequate funding for complementary therapies and for research, for there is no doubt that a system of medicine which integrates the complementary therapies is the essential model for healthcare in the future.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe
My Lords, in rising to welcome the Government's commitment in the gracious Speech to the implementation of the NHS Plan, I should like to deal briefly, as I am very conscious of the time, with one of the chief obstacles to progress; namely, the shortage of trained staff and ways in which that might be addressed. In doing so, I 462 must declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK, which until recently was known as the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, since I want to talk about the way in which higher education is crucial to the delivery of the modernisation process in the health service.
Universities provide virtually all pre-registration education, and significant post-registration education, for doctors, dentists, nurses, midwives and the other professions allied to medicine. The NHS Plan sets out ambitious targets for additional student numbers. Their recruitment is certainly a challenge. Joint planning and joint working between the Department of Health and the Department for Education will be essential if the Government are to respond to the challenge. I know that my noble friend the Minister is acutely aware of that and I have every hope that the challenge can be met.
I say that because successful recruitment campaigns for nurses, often in partnership with local trusts, have led to an 18.5 per cent increase in recruitment to degree nursing programmes across the UK this year. Plans for further increases in student numbers in coming years are already in place. They rely on continuing the close working arrangements between education and the health service, in particular the adequate supply of high quality clinical placements. This will be one of the key points of focus for co-operation between higher education institutions and the NHS.
Another is moving forward the establishment of the two new medical centres announced earlier this year. They will start to teach their students in 2002. Additional student places in existing medical schools have resulted in 839 more medical students this year. A further round of bidding is now under way for another 1,000 medical student places. The results of that process will be announced in May 2001.
All of this is good news, but there is a significant gap which must be filled. An important aim for both the NHS and the universities is to reflect the broadest sections of the community in their recruitment to all the health professions. So the widening participation agenda must be linked to the health agenda.
Perhaps I may give one example aimed at opening up such opportunities. I refer to a local initiative called the Access to Medicine programme, centred on King's College in south London. It is designed to attract up to 50 students from a broader range of social and ethnic backgrounds to better reflect the local population. I have used this example because widening participation means actively seeking to draw on the talent of all groups in society. It means targeting and working with local networks of schools and community groups to reach new audiences who may not have even begun to consider either higher education or a professional qualification in a health related subject.
That is why innovative approaches and flexible delivery are crucial aspects of this work, if we are to attract new groups to these education programmes. So I congratulate the Government on expanding much more widely projects such as "Positively Diverse" which originated at Bradford Community Health 463 Trust. The trust led an innovative partnership with Bradford University, local schools, career services and the TEC. One of the benefits has been the recruitment of Asian students into both nurse education and the work force, more accurately to reflect the ethnic diversity of the communities served. Through the development of such innovative programmes, the Government have certainly shown their determination to improve recruitment.
Finally, I hesitate to ask my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General to respond to a specific question. He has the formidable task of responding to four intensive days of debate in 20 minutes. However, I should be glad if he could say something in his reply about any obstacles the Government see in attracting these new students. know, for example, that the Department of Health has set up a review of student funding arrangements. I hope that he will confirm that this will help to inform strategies for attracting more of these students in the future.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I am grateful to the Government Whips for agreeing to let me speak late in this debate. This morning I had to drive up through the floods of Wales which have brought misery to so many unfortunate people and I was not sure when I would be able to arrive. However, we did manage to get through, so I fear that I shall be able to add one more speech to those to which the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General has listened with such notable patience.
At the heart of home affairs, which we are debating today, must be the state of our democracy. I think that we need to take a new look at the way we are governed. Do we, or do we not, have government by consent and genuine consultation with the electors? Last month I was in the United States. My visit coincided with the beginning of this extraordinary presidential election, which the Americans I met took calmly, perhaps because none of them seemed to have any great enthusiasm for either of the candidates. Commentators have described the five week long proceedings in the American courts as a kind of Barnum and Bailey show, but I wonder whether noble Lords have been struck by the contrast between the agonising in America about what the majority of Florida voters really said and what went on in Nice, where the structure of the European Union was discussed by leaders who had not consulted their voters. They merely told them afterwards what had been decided. Which seems to noble Lords to be the more democratic arrangement?
In America I was also impressed by two other things. First, in a number of states, voters were asked for their views about certain local issues, with the arguments set out briefly but fairly. The questions were put by voters, not by the authorities. Voters were thus able to propose part of the political agenda. Here, by contrast, it is the Government who determine the agenda, as in the Queen's Speech. In Massachusetts, where we were staying, the voters were asked nine questions, such as whether state income tax should be 464 reduced, with consequences for public expenditure, and whether greyhound racing should be abolished. I do not remember voters in our country being asked for their views on such matters.
Secondly, it was pointed out to me that the parties in Congress were so evenly balanced that whoever eventually reached the White House 'would not be able to do much. I felt envious of a situation where political parties were more or less gridlocked and consequently hamstrung. How lucky are the Americans; how much less fortunate are we.
Reflecting on this, I wondered just how effective is our own system in consulting the wishes of the voters and seeking to meet those of their views that are sensible and reasonable. Apart from this House and the unelected European Commissioners, who run so many of our affairs nowadays, our ruling bodies—the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament., the National Assembly for Wales, county councils, parish and community councils—are all elected. But, once they are elected, they nearly all seem to feel free to do as they like and to be under no obligation to maintain touch with their electorates and ask them what they think.
Of course, many initiatives, both national and local, go through a consultation process, but too often this is no more than window dressing. Genuine consultation means more than just asking questions; it implies that something might be done differently as a result of the answers received—that the consultation will be taken seriously. Some time ago we were in Switzerland, where there was a proposal to build a new road. People in the area were being asked, "Do you want a new road? If you do, how do you think it should be paid for?". Nothing like that happens here.
We hear a great deal in this House about manifesto commitments enshrined in the Salisbury convention and repeatedly quoted by the Government as evidence of the will of the people. I wonder how valid those claims are. Most people that I know vote either against the party they dislike the most or for the general drift of one of the parties. Few of them read party manifestos. If, for example, they vote for a party because of its line on the NHS, they may not realise that they are then held to have expressed their will on everything else in the manifesto.
With us, what has been rightly described as an elective dictatorship means that the ruling party, especially if it has a substantial majority. can do anything it wants without any form of genuine consultation with the people. Sadly, our governments seem only too happy to proceed on this basis. The present government have just used the Parliament Act to ram through an Act legalising the buggery of girls of 16 against the wishes of this House, of the leaders of every faith and of distinguished medical opinion, and almost certainly against the general view of the public. Happily, no less an authority than my noble and learned friend Lord Donaldson of Lymington has suggested that the new Act is flawed and may be set aside by judicial review.
465 Europe is one area in which the Government do not normally consult either Parliament or the people. The Charter of Fundamental Rights was proclaimed at Nice and agreed earlier by leaders at Biarritz without this Parliament being given an opportunity to consider or approve it. We watched the usual hell's kitchen at Nice. I was puzzled to see a summit that was supposed to be about enlargement ignoring altogether the main problem—the common agricultural policy—which, in an expanded Union, must be impossibly costly unless it is drastically reformed.
We have learnt, too, that, without any consultation with Parliament or the voters, the Government have surrendered our veto in 34 areas, some of which may have serious implications for the future. This Government, in what they say publicly about Europe, are as disingenuous as the previous government, pretending in what they say publicly that there is no move towards a European state, when they know perfectly well that that is the ambition of the Commission and of most continental governments; and that after Nice the march to fuller integration will continue as before.
Even if they themselves are not averse to the emergence of a federal Europe, they know that they must move cautiously as the public clearly do not wish to see the end of an independent Britain. They are, moreover, stuck with the offer of a referendum on abolishing the pound, the one solitary instance of a decision to consult the people. They are clearly reluctant to hold one for the time being as they fear, with good reason, that they would lose it. Mr Mandelson blithely asserts that progress towards "ever closer union", enshrined as it is in the treaties, has now ended—just as Mr Hurd, as he then was, told us seven years ago that Maastricht offered us the chance to arrest the centralising, harmonising tendency.
This steady refusal to tell the people of this country what is happening and what we are doing—still less to consult them—has been going on ever since Mr Heath took us into the Community. The Government should be honest and candid with our people and ask them whether they would not prefer a better relationship with Europe, which I believe can be achieved only if we replace our full membership of the European Union—in which, manifestly, we do not really feel at home and many aspects of which, such as the common agricultural and fishery policies, do us serious damage—by a looser, more sensible relationship allowing for full trading links such as those achieved by Norway and, surprisingly, Mexico.
The Government's decision to commit a third of our Armed Forces to a European force without any consultation with Parliament or the public is only the latest and most alarming of their efforts to show us as good Europeans. It is a major step. Can your Lordships imagine the United States committing, say, the Sixth Fleet to NAFTA control? But our Government, without asking us, have done something 466 very similar to this. They have embraced a French initiative which is bound to weaken American support for NATO, our sure shield for nearly 60 years.
Mr Caspar Weinberger and Mr Cohen have warned us. Despite this, the new arrangements appear to make no provision for unified planning between the new force and NATO, for which the Americans very reasonably asked. I find Mr Cook's reassurances unconvincing. A new administration in Washington—if it does not conclude that the new force is so poorly thought out that it cannot be taken seriously—may eventually decide that NATO is indeed a relic of the past and go its own way. That would be a very serious matter for us.
The Conservatives now rightly denounce the effort to set up this fledgling European army, but it stems from the common security policies established by the Maastricht Treaty, which they signed. So they must share the responsibility for what has happened.
In the countryside, it is significant that one of the main cries from increasingly desperate people is, "Listen to us". This is just what the Government do not do. They simply do not understand the problems of farmers who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, told us last month, face a reduction in income of 27 per cent—a third—in one year from 1999 to 2000, and who are bombarded weekly with fresh instructions from Brussels.
The petrol price protests, supported by a sympathetic public, showed how exasperated many people were in the countryside, where a car is a necessity—more than ever now, given the lamentable state of the railways—and are fed up with paying the highest prices in the developed world, most of it taken by the Government. But there is no sign that the Government will really listen to or talk to country people and determine how to put things right for them.
In Northern Ireland, which is still—just—a part of the United Kingdom, drastic changes have been and are being made by the Government, like the endless unreciprocated concessions to Sinn Fein/IRA and the emasculation of the RUC, without the real consent of the majority. There was indeed a referendum on the Belfast agreement, but it was on the basis of promises which were not kept and expectations, especially on the disarming of terrorist organisations, which were not met. People in England have not been asked whether they are content that English and Welsh murderers should serve their sentences, while large numbers of Irish murderers are set free. Does that not do serious damage to the rule of law, under which I had supposed that we were all equal? I wonder whether it would have been possible to do it if the late Lord Denning had still been with us.
I have been critical of the Government, but I am a Cross-Bencher who has nothing to gain from attacking them. What I have said applies just as much to the Conservatives. It was they who pushed through the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, brushing aside those of us who opposed it so strongly in this House. On 14th July that year they bused in their troops to achieve a vote of 445 to defeat the proposal of the noble Lord, 467 Lord Blake, for a referendum, the issue being government by consent. That vote showed how little the Conservatives at that time valued the views of the British people. Happily, the Conservative Party now seems to realise the mistake it made seven years ago and to have accepted that the people must in future be properly consulted on our relationship with Europe.
Whatever government we have really do need to ask people what they want, and to govern with a much lighter hand. Our governments tend to treat us like illiterate peasants. But the peasants have learnt to read. The letters are now often the most interesting read in the newspapers. Our governments should wake up to that. They should try to get away from their bullying, domineering methods. What is the point of prosecuting a man for selling vegetables in pounds and ounces?
Charles I, with whom Mr Blair seems sometimes to have something in common, said on the scaffold that the people's liberty and freedom was,not for having a share in government: that is nothing pertaining to them".Believing that, as he did, he lost his head. There is a lesson there for all our political leaders, especially those who maintain that there is no need to seek the wholehearted consent of the British people for what they seek to do.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, it is my honour to close the debate on the gracious Speech from these Benches. As ever, it has been a reminder of the extraordinary breadth of experience available to us in this House in addressing all aspects of government policy. It has also offered an example of persistence: we have heard how the noble Lord, Lord Moran, struggled through the floods and how my noble friend Lady Linklater was turned off two planes which were cancelled before she finally found a third in order to be with us today. We have heard four excellent maiden speeches during the course of the four days: by the noble Lords, Lord Mitchell, Lord Morgan and Lord Ashcroft, and today by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham.
This year, the Queen's Speech has been a little on the short side. Nevertheless, it has been dominated, as it was last year, by Bills emanating from the Home Office and the Law Officers. On brevity, of course, the Government cannot win. A long Speech like last year's and they are accused of legislative overload; a short speech and the pundits harbour unworthy thoughts that the decks are being cleared for a general election.
One point that has been made, both in this House and by distinguished authorities outside, is that the cascade of Home Office and Law Officer Bills in recent years is not good for the criminal justice system. We need time for new laws and new practices to bed down, rather than believing that one more tweak will make matters right. The point was made today by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, by my noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Phillips of Sudbury and by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. Less Home Office legislation might also 468 mean less legislating on the hoof, with Bills being subject to hundreds of government amendrnents—not, as Minister's try to claim, because this is a listening government but because the Bills are poor or loosely drafted in the first place. I suggest that Ministers study the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt; it would be to the benefit of the legislative process.
Perhaps, too, if we had fewer headline-grabbing "quick fix" laws and examined some of the 'wider causes of crime and possible responses to them, we might have more success in cutting the overall crime rate. The point has been made today by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury and in the past by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Dartingt on, that the direct linkage between the concept of successful communities and civic responsibility and low crime levels merits greater attention, rather than relying on short, sharp shocks, boot camps, curfews, instant fines, rapid retribution and all the instant remedies beloved of the tabloid editors but which are almost invariably useless in practice.
There has been a whiff of the hustings about a number of speeches over the past five days. Even a sober chap like the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. was thumping the Dispatch Box and proclaiming his confidence in a Conservative victory at the poll. Hope springs eternal.
On the government side, many of the concerns on policy have centred on the stewardship of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr John Prescott. In opening the debate on the gracious Speech from these Benches, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, put forward the suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, should become a Cabinet Minister responsible for a separate transport department. I endorse that suggestion, although I must tell the noble Lord from bitter experience that, "Crisis, what is not a rallying cry for political success.
However, I would go further. Not only would I give transport to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, I would also give the environment, with a Cabinet seat and a separate department, to Mr Michael Meacher because he understands those issues. I would also give the regions, with a Cabinet seat, to Mr Peter Hain because he has the energy and the imagination to make a reality of the next stage of devolution and because we on these Benches believe in giving even an apostate Liberal a leg up.
But what is to be done with the Deputy Prime Minister? My solution is simple: he should be made Lord President of the Council, Lord Privy Seal and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. That would have a double benefit. In none of those offices would he have any real power but the appointment would entitle him to four ministerial cars.
Important as the issues of transport, the environment and the regions are, and as important as is the issue of health—with which my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones dealt with his usual thoroughness earlier today—at the heart of this gracious Speech are the Bills emanating from the Home Office and the law 469 departments, which are usually covered by the generic title "Law and Order". As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, noted with some pride, it is a success of sorts for the present Home Secretary that "law and order" is no longer seen as the safe home banker for the Conservative Party. But such security from attacks from the Right come at a price for New Labour. Perhaps I may quote from two newspapers usually considered to be in the Labour camp.
In the New Statesman of 1 1 th December, Jackie Ashley wrote the following:There are traditionally Liberal Labour supporters, and I include many Ministers here, who are deeply uneasy with some of the government's authoritarianism… Some of the 'bash the yob' measures in the Queen's Speech, which went down well with the right-wing press, have left a section of the Labour Party wondering if this is really what their Government should be doing".The Observer summed up the gracious Speech thus:Banal, headline-grabbing policies are no joke when hiding plans to curtail basic principles of justice".Certainly if the noble Earl, Lord Longford, were to put post-war Home Secretaries into two columns—the progressives and the reactionaries—I do not believe that he would have very much difficulty in deciding whether to put Jack Straw in the same column as Roy Jenkins and Robert Carr or in the one containing Michael Howard and Henry Brooke.
Let us look, for example, at the Criminal Justice and Police Bill—the so-called "flagship Bill" of the gracious Speech—with its proposal to extend child curfews. We shall look at these proposals, but if this is just an extension of existing powers introduced by Labour for local curfews for under 10 year-olds, which have never been used, we believe that this smacks of gimmickry.
We have civil liberties objections if these continue to be blanket curfews affecting all children and young people in specific areas. But we also have practical concerns, not least those relating to whether the police resources are available to enforce such curfews. The Police Federation has already warned about the implications for resources and stated that such measures could be counter- productive, take up too much time and deliver relatively small benefits.
Likewise with fixed penalty notices, although we understand the desire to tackle the "yob culture", we can foresee problems with the idea of fixed penalty notices for yobbish behaviour. Whereas fixed penalties for driving offences relate to clear-cut crimes, these notices may affect behaviour that is less clear cut and more open to challenge. We are pleased that the Prime Minister backtracked on his proposal to march yobs to cashpoints—something that the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, rightly described as "nonsense"—but we are still not persuaded that the current proposal is a much better idea.
As a number of my noble friends have made clear, the Liberal Democrats are simply not prepared to join the Home Secretary and Miss Ann Widdecombe in their ludicrous mud-wrestling as to who is tougher on 470 crime. Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, has made my party's position clear; namely, that,Liberal Democrats will only support well thought through ideas that have widespread support and a real chance of success. Crime and misbehaviour by young people has no simple causes and no easy solutions".I hope that no one will accuse Simon Hughes of lacking either experience or, indeed, courage in these matters.
A number of organisations have come up with ideas for non-penal, anti-crime initiatives. My noble friend Lord Dholakia spelled out a number of those earlier. As my noble friend Lord Phillips said, we need policies in education which help rebuild and sustain communities and civic values.
We need to look at our police services in a thorough and constructive way. The Government are averse to a Royal Commission on the police, called for by the Police Federation. Our alternative would be a standing commission available to examine and listen to both grievances and suggestions for improvement.
Other areas need sober examination such as the poor morale and low priority given to remedial work in the Prison Service and the deplorable state of our young offender institutions. Was there ever a more damning indictment of a system than that the killers of James Bulger could not be transferred to the next facility in their age range because it would do them more harm than good? If that is true in their case, what is it doing to children and young people who are actually sent to those institutions?
What, too, does our system of childcare indicate when so many children who have been in children's homes and other state care end up within a very short time as young offenders? The bleak statistics quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, in an outstanding maiden speech on what the future holds for the children in our care are shaming to us all. I recommend that Home Office Ministers read his speech in conjunction with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. Between them they offer a genuine third way to that offered by Jack Straw or Ann Widdecombe.
No one is saying that we do not need police or prisons. So let us stop pretending that one group of politicians are tough on crime and have all the answers and those who doubt the validity of those answers are soft on crime or criminals.
I am glad that the Government no longer accept the idea that we can combat crime with fewer policemen on the beat. Whatever technologies may be employed—the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to a number of them—the citizen wants to see the bobby on the beat. That may not tie in with all modern police theory or, indeed, police budgets, but it is wanted by Mr and Mrs Joe Public. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, recognised, the party that does not respond to that wish will get short shrift on the doorstep.
We need to consider whether other bodies can take some of the more mundane police tasks away from the main forces to free up manpower to fight crime. My 471 party has put forward ideas for a neighbourhood warden scheme and community safety constabularies, both using people and organisations at present outside the ambit of normal police work.
There are aspects of the criminal justice and police Bill which we shall support, as well as of the Vehicle (Crime) Bill and the proceeds of crime Bill. We support notification of release dates to victims of crime. We also support the regulation of the private security industry.
I turn to a Bill where the Government can assume our total opposition. The Government have reintroduced the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. I do not know whether it was that Bill that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House had in mind when she told us in her best Cruella de Ville voice of the unimagined horrors she would inflict on this House if we showed defiance to her will. Apparently, "Jay's law" states that if we use the powers that the democratically elected House of Commons gave us just over a year ago, that is both an insult to the democratically elected House and a constitutional outrage.
Let me expound McNally's law; namely, that this House should use the powers given it with prudence and responsibility. But those powers are there to be used also with courage and principle. The Government have no mandate for the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. We on these Benches will use all our powers to delay and defeat it. If that means that a general election intervenes before the Bill becomes law, then let the Labour Party spell out its plans to restrict trial by jury in its election manifesto and we shall put our determination to resist it in ours.
On asylum, my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Greaves set out clearly our position. I shall not dwell too long on the Freedom of Information Act. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, dealt well with the issue in his intervention. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, did not take the opportunity of his intervention to throw his considerable weight behind the call to make the Freedom of Information Act work.
I do not wish to detain the House longer. Ahead of us are two real treats. First, we shall have the noble Lord, Lord Cope, trying to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear which was sent him by Miss Widdecombe from along the corridor. Perhaps I can help him by drawing his attention to the advice given to his party by Mr Michael Gove in The Times yesterday. He wrote:The Blair Government is everywhere replacing due process and inherited freedoms with administrative caprice and authoritarian bluster. But the growth of arbitrary government cannot be fought by an arbitrary Opposition. The Tories cannot pick and choose which of our historic liberties to defend".Quite so.
We then come to what the noble Earl, Lord Longford. identified as the crème de la crème—the Attorney-General himself. I remember once going to see the late Lord Elwyn-Jones with a particularly difficult problem. After studying it he said, "I don't 472 think a Carmarthen jury could save you now". But of course the Government have their one man Carmarthen jury. How often in the past Session have we seen bewildered Labour Members staggering confused into the government Lobby saying, "I didn't understand a word Gareth said, but he said it so beautifully".
So let us all prepare for the feast to come, knowing full well that everyone in the House will enjoy his speech—everyone except the Lord Chancellor arid the Leader of the House, neither of whom is sure which of their jobs he wants next.
I still have hopes for this Government. Their weaknesses are evident in the gracious Speech. Too often the Government seem to be waiting to hear what the focus groups tell them rather than acting in the national interest. The Home Office in particular seems all too ready to bend the knee to the supposed prejudices of Middle England. Too often, on too many issues, in the memorable phrase of the noble, Lord, Lord Lamont, Ministers appear to be in office but not in power.
The Liberal Democrats will approach this gracious Speech as we have done all its predecessors in this Parliament. Where the Government are being radical and reforming they will have our support. Where they promote greater fairness and wider opportunity in our society they will have our backing. But when, as they all too often do, they retreat on issues of individual freedom and civil liberties we will oppose them. And if this is indeed a deck-clearing gracious Speech then these are the messages and the issues which we shall take to the country.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, it is nice to know from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, what the Labour Members say when they are in the Lobbies with the Liberal Democrats, as they so often are.
It has been a long and wide-ranging debate since the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. first moved the Motion a week ago, seconded so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. Today the debate has been improved by the moving maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Kirkham about children in care. He has been a friend of mine for some years and I was delighted that he showed your Lordships today that he has much to offer us. He is a true entrepreneur and businessman, but also a hands-on philanthropist. By his business success, he has made a real difference to many people's lives, first by creating stable jobs in his native Yorkshire and much further afield, and later through his charitable activities. He has already made a bigger real difference than most politicians can ever hope to do. His wisdom and experience will enrich the House. I look forward to hearing from him again.
Over the earlier days of the debate, we have also enjoyed the maiden speeches of the noble Lord. Lord Mitchell, the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and my noble friend Lord Ashcroft, each of whom has shown that they have valuable contributions to make in the future.
473 At this time of night I shall not risk such good will as I have with your Lordships by attempting to comment on the whole of our debates over the four days, or even to deal comprehensively with today's varied contributions. I shall confine myself mainly to commenting on the Home Office aspects of the gracious Speech. I was interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, who asked the Attorney-General about a possible Civil Service Bill. I look forward to the answer to that. Like my noble friend Lord Waddington and others, he also spoke about House of Lords reform.
There are five Home Office Bills in the programme and one draft Bill. That is not as many as last year, so, like my noble friend Lord Goschen, I hope that they might be better drafted. We ended up with 13 Home Office Bills last year. They were notable for their poor drafting. That was not the fault of the draftsman so much as the fault of the Home Office in giving its instructions and in trying to do too much. That was a great problem. The Home Office did not start with 13 Bills in the Queen's Speech last year; a few more were added during the year. Five may not be the final total for this year either.
Law and order is one of the stated themes of the gracious Speech. Everybody realises that it remains a major problem in our society and the theme will feature in the next few months. At least two Bills will set up new regulations and authorities. Before coming to power, the Prime Minister described new Labour's priorities as, "education, education, education". In practice, they often seem to be regulation, regulation, regulation. The proposed Bill to reduce regulations is supposed to work against that tendency, but with the increases in regulation caused by the other Bills, I fear that we shall again go backwards this year.
Generally, each regulation is attractive in itself, but the totality of the burdens on industry, society or the law creates the difficulty. I agree with the more general point that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and others have made about legislation and the criminal justice system.
The Private Security Industry Bill has considerable attractions. We understand the desire to regulate in that area. It is due for Second Reading on Monday, so I shall make only a few general comments tonight. The first is that the new regulatory body for doormen at clubs and similar establishments is not to be called Ofbounce. I was rather hoping that it would be. More seriously, we hope that the Bill will be effective. We shall look carefully at the detail to ensure that it does not over-regulate. We do not want everyday organisations caught in the net because they sometimes need to exclude people from their functions. The Bill is clearly aimed at night clubs and we do not want to catch too many other people.
We shall need to examine the role and powers of the new authority and also those of local authorities, which appear to be covered by the measure and which are already concerned about the possible extra cost to them. We shall also want to consider the extent to 474 which an employer will be able to rely on a licence when he takes on an employee. If a security officer is hired by a firm but he later turns out to be "bent", can the employer who took him on sue the authority if it had not done its job properly in granting the licence? In looking at the Bill, that does not appear to be the case but it is something we shall pursue.
We shall also want to know when all the measures are to come into effect. We shall want to be reassured that the authority which is to be set up will have the capability properly to examine the necessary number of people and to give them licences. I am told that 140,000 people work in the main security industry, guarding cash-in-transit and so on. There are probably 100,000 more if we include the other people who will require licences following the introduction of this legislation. Approximately a quarter of a million people will have to be vetted and issued with licences before the legislation can start to operate unless people have to close down their operations on account of it. There is an extremely high turnover of personnel in this industry. Therefore, the authorities will have to continue to vet a large number of people.
The Vehicles (Crime) Bill will follow. Once again, it will place duties on local authorities to supervise car breakers. Attempts are also being made to avoid the appointment of a government body called "Ofbreak" to supervise car breakers! The Government have resisted that temptation. Generally speaking, over the years technology has made it more difficult to steal cars. In the course of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, provided a good example of that at what one might call the "top end" of the market—his son, as a matter of fact! The difficulty is that, again, this Bill imposes further burdens on legitimate businesses and makes them register once more with local authorities. It will also impose further workloads on the police.
However, the biggest—so-called "flagship"—Bill is the criminal justice and police Bill, which will follow later. As is usual with this type of legislation, it is a portmanteau Bill. It has a rather miscellaneous collection of measures within it. Among other things, it will take further the series of initiatives in the field of youth crime, many of which were conveniently listed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Central to this work is the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and the Youth Justice Board and youth offender teams. I believe that much of the work carried out by the board and the teams and by the noble Lord is valuable, as is much of the thought that goes into it.
Frankly, I would find it easier to be more supportive if the noble Lord, Lord Warner, did not always make such political speeches. He spoke today as though the rise in crime began in the 1980s when obviously it began much earlier than that. Indeed, the level of crime began to decrease several years before we left office. He was also less than polite about noble Lords from all parts of the House who spoke about the mode of trial Bill. That is a matter of principle on which we take the same view as was stated just now.
475 The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark urged patience on us all rather than quick results and ever more legislation. As he and other noble Lords have said, youth curfews, which apparently are to be extended in this Bill, have yet to be tried. They seem to me to be a crude measure of doubtful effect.
I am not so opposed to the idea of fixed penalty notices although there are practical as well as other problems to solve if they are to be made to work in an acceptable way. The point behind them is to reduce the time spent on paperwork following an arrest by a policeman, which has been referred to several times, while still imposing a penalty. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, referred to that too. That is the point of them. If they achieve that, then they will obviously be valuable.
Coming back to us is what is possibly now the favourite Bill of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General—the criminal justice (mode of trial) Bill. He originally described it as madness but now he supports it with all the enthusiasm of a convert. I remind your Lordships at this point that one of the principal effects, and certainly the principal financial effect, flows from the fact that 5,000 criminals, or something of that order, are expected to receive shorter sentences because they will be dealt with by the magistrates' court rather than the Crown Court.
To put it politely, it is difficult to understand how the Bill stands in relation to the report of Lord Justice Auld which is due this month. He was asked to write that report with some urgency. I believe that he was given some 12 months or so in which to write it and he will report by the end of this year. But, of course, by bringing back this Bill, which covers some of the ground covered in that report, the Government are now either prejudging what he is going to say and what they think about it or they are indicating that they are going to kick the report straight into the long grass and leave it there for years and meanwhile carry on. They would have been much better advised to wait for the Auld report. study it and then see whether it was possible to move forward on it. One cannot help thinking that the Bill is brought back out of spite because the Government simply cannot accept the idea of being defeated in this House on any of their proposals.
Then there is the Hunting Bill, also from the Home Office. For us, as for the Government, there will be free votes throughout the passage of the Bill. Neither my noble friend the Chief Whip nor I from this Dispatch Box shall guide our colleagues on the matter. But I have a question for the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General about procedure. Will this House be presented by the Government with the same three options as presented to another place and, if so, how? What will be the effect if the two Houses reach different conclusions on the matter?
Speaking personally, I shall again vote for hunting to continue, as I have throughout my time in Parliament. A ban would knock the stuffing out of the lives of many people I know and like. Those people are not so much the rich and well-dressed, who attract so 476 much hatred. They will continue to hunt in Ireland, France and the United States. I am more concerned about those like the local people in Berkeley, in my old constituency where we lived for many years. There, for centuries, hunting has been built into and has grown into the countryside with its fox coverts and its rides.
For some, hunting is their employment. For more, it is a major part of their way of life. Some follow on horseback, some on foot, some in cars. They walk puppies; they go to open days; they cheer the hounds at the agricultural show. That would all be destroyed by a ban; and all to no real purpose. A ban is not in the interests of foxes. There is no more humane method of controlling the fox population. As I said, there will be a free vote but I am clear about what I think and shall do.
Last on the Home Office list is the proceeds of crime Bill. It is only a draft for which we, as legislators, can be thankful. Perhaps it will be a better Bill when it eventually comes.
Other promised Bills have not materialised. There is no proposal to amend the Asylum and Immigration Act, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the new system is a shambles. It is not deterring would-be applicants and it is not looking after asylum seekers properly.
The provisions in each new Bill proposed will, frankly, be no good unless the police are able to enforce them. So far, under this Government, two things have happened each year. First, police numbers have dropped and, secondly, the Home Secretary has promised that they will go up next year but, of course, they do not. In the mean time, violent crime increases and the Home Secretary releases more offenders from gaol early under the curfew scheme who then offend again.
However, the programme outlined in total in the gracious Speech amounts to a thin and feeble offering for a government with a large majority. I believe that they are running out of ideas. The programme sends a clear signal that has been much read in the media, that we are to have six months of politicking and spin and then the arrogant Government will try their luck at the polls.
I return at last to the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, which thanks Her Majesty in the usual form. However, its familiar words should not weaken our thanks to Her Majesty which are genuine, particularly at this time. We are grateful to her for coming to Parliament, among much ceremony, to remind us of what it is to be British, of the ideals and lessons learned from our forefathers and of our responsibility for the future. I support the Motion.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, when Miss Widdecombe said at the Conservative Party conference that everyone who was caught in possession of cannabis would have to be severely dealt with, with condign punishment, a large number of her colleagues said that they had consumed 477 cannabis. I am told by those who have tried it that it induces an air of unreality. I shall not say anything more to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about cannabis this evening, but if he is seriously suggesting that the Government are afraid of an election or have run out of ideas, he is not living in a world that most of us can readily recognise.
We have had a long debate. Over the past four days I looked forward to this moment with a calm equanimity until I was distressed to hear that savage attack by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the Carmarthen jury, that repository of civilised jurisprudence since time immemorial. When majority verdicts were introduced the jury was firmly directed by an English speaking judge that he could accept from them only a verdict on which they were all agreed. When the jury returned to court, he asked the foreman whether they had agreed on a verdict, to which the answer—perfect I thought—was, "Yes, seven:five".
It is not long since most of our hereditary colleagues left us. Listening to the debates and reading and rereading them I believe that the House has changed in a way that is quite difficult to describe, but the change is there. Certainly the quality and diversity of speeches is as high as ever. Those factors are by no means diminished.
The House has been partly reformed but not entirely. Quite soon we shall complete the work which we set ourselves: reform and reinvigoration of your Lordships' House. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, asked about the convention on the Queen's Speech. As far as I am aware it is presently alive and well and I have certainly never done anything that could be taken as a breach of that convention.
The four maiden speeches were a genuine pleasure. They produced quite a spectrum, from different parties and different backgrounds. Perhaps I can pay tribute to all of them on behalf of your Lordships.
Would your Lordships allow me a brief self-indulgence? If you do not, I know that no one else is likely to do so. Since I have been here, this is the first year that we have not had a contribution on such an occasion from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. He was a doughty opponent; sometimes acerbic, always vigorous and always good humoured. He served this House very well on the Front Bench in government and in opposition. He will continue to serve the House well from the Woolsack. There is much to be done to reform our antique ways and I believe him to be the man to lead us in that task. On a personal basis, perhaps I can also say how much I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, as his worthy successor.
One thing we might consider for the future is the format of these debates. Is it possible to improve it? Can one sensibly sum up—I think not—four days of debate, concentrated intellectual effort, in around 25 minutes? Have we become in danger sometimes of having a series of Second Reading speeches on Bills shortly to be introduced and therefore lengthily to be repeated? I am not sure that we serve our ways best in 478 sticking to a formula simply because it is what we have always done in the past. I offer that as a personal thought only without any authority from behind me.
This may be the last Queen's Speech of this Parliament. One or two noble Lords seem to have hinted at that. I have the express authority of the Chief Whip to say this: there will definitely be a general election in May 2002—unless there has been one before then.
At this stage of the Parliament, this is a government which have not run out of ideas. The usual criticism from the Liberal Democrats is that we have too many ideas. As the Prime Minister said, we set ourselves a programme for the first Parliament. It is an extraordinary achievement. I say that as a purely disinterested and objective observer. The Prime Minister's first job in government has been that of being Prime Minister; the Chancellor's of being Chancellor of the Exchequer. That has been a phenomenal achievement over the past three and a half years.
I shall come to the details in a moment or two, but the hallmark of this Government has been one of authority and competence. It is difficult to remember who was Chancellor of the Exchequer before Gordon Brown took over. And we must remember that my old university friend Kenneth Clarke was not a shrinking violet. This is a man who has dominated the running of the economy of this country in a competent, prudent way which it was difficult to have thought possible at the time of the election in 1997. Obviously this is a time for looking back. No sessional programme is intended to stand alone; it is part of a coherent and continuing plan if we are trusted by the electorate the next time round, whenever that may be.
Some questions—not many—were put to me this evening. I shall not be able to deal with all of them. I shall write or procure my noble friends Lord Bassam or Lord Hunt to do so. I am not being discourteous. The House is entitled to look to me for a review of the four days, rather than for answers to specific questions, though my noble friend Lady Hayman promised I would reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I shall do so in a moment. That is in the limited context of the Hunting Bill.
The gracious Speech said that there would be stable levels of growth in employment; there would be continued economic stability which has enabled the Government to increase the resources available for education, health, transport and police services. All of that has been delivered. It does not contain one syllable of hyperbole. As I said, it has been an extraordinary achievement. It is worth bearing in mind, though this almost seems like pre-history to many of us now, that May 1997 was not that long ago. At that time—not long ago—we were spending more on interest payments than on the entire schools programme. Government borrowing has gone down since that time by £4.4 billion. Long-term interest rates are the lowest for 30 years. There are 1.1 million more men and women in work now than when we took over stewardship. Claimant unemployment is at its lowest 479 for 25 years and, critically—I shall return to this in a moment—250,000 young people have now obtained jobs through the New Deal who would never have had productive employment.
There is a moral imperative here to which I do not shrink from referring. What I believe the overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens want and need is ordered, decent, structured civil society when they can have and express in their own lives the belief that their children have the prospect of a happier and better life than they. I believe that that chimes entirely with what was said earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham. Incidentally, if I interrupt myself, if there comes a time when the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, decides to give up the day job, he would be well suited on the Front Bench. However, I believe that he might find himself more suited on our Front Bench than on his.
The moral imperative to which the noble Lord referred—and I could not agree more with what he said about nurture, the opportunity of advancement for work and for order in a child's life—is the motive and engine power which drives our agenda. I deeply and fundamentally believe that ours is a great country. I personally have cause enough to know that. We castigate ourselves too much. We are not a perfect society but I believe that we are a great hearted one. We have the confidence now more than ever to accept every challenge, to invite every question and to say, "Yes, your criticisms may be justified and we can do better. But, equally, some things we do rather well".
I want to say a word or two about the public service arid those who work in it. Day in and day out in the work I do now and in the work I did in the Home Office I see people who work in the public service. They do not do it for stratospheric salaries. They do not do it from an ego trip. All of them across the spectrum do the work significantly for quiet, decent satisfaction of work well done in the course of a wider community of which we are all part. My Lords, there is such a thing as society.
We have done much for working people, not necessarily only those in the public service. There is a national minimum wage; there is an entitlement to four weeks paid holiday; and there are new rights for part-time workers. I believe that that agenda, having been written by us and supported admirably by the Liberal Democrats, has changed the context of the debate, because hardly a rational argument is sought to be put against those reforms.
What have we done in the context of foreign affairs and defence? I speak from recent personal practical experience and I say that our voice is welcomed in Europe. Our colleagues in the law, in politics, in the judiciary and in all the relevant fields want to know from our experience. They will not be taught all our lessons but they want to know what they are.
In defence, for the first time in more than a decade, this year's settlement has produced a real-terms increase in the defence budget. When I speak of public service I include all those in the Armed Forces. We ask a lot of them; we ask them to do different work all over 480 the globe. I accept that such work would not have been asked of them 25 years ago, but their lives have changed and they have the internal fortitude and confidence to know that their challenges are different and to rise to them. I believe that in everything they do they are entitled to our full-hearted support.
I want to spend a moment or two on education. We wanted to get the basics right. David Blunkett is a very considerable Secretary of State—I would guess the best we have had for 25 years and more. What has that meant to those who are under-privileged because they come from poor homes? We have now brought about the percentage of children to Level 4 and beyond in English from 65 to 75 per cent and in maths from 59 to 72 per cent. Large classes for infants have fallen from half a million, which was our ruinous inheritance, to fewer than 30,000. Not bad! That is a much more fundamental and lasting redistribution than the headline redistribution of money. These matters go to the fundamentals of human life. I have no doubt that those early years are the most important in the educational context. Although there is much more to be done, we have made a tremendous start.
We have dealt with health and home affairs today. It is idle for me to attempt to repeat—even if I could fully remember—the words of my noble friend Lord Hunt. The programme of the Home Office has been set out and, somewhat surprisingly, slightly derided. The prayer of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, was, "Please, God, no more Home Office Bills". Which ones do the noble Lord and the Liberal Democrat Benches want to discard? The Bill to regulate the private security industry? I hope not. The Bill to cut vehicle crime and reduce the opportunity to dispose of stolen vehicles? I hope not. The Bill to deal with money-laundering? I hope not. The Bill to reduce benefit fraud? I hope not. There might be a tiddler in the list concerned with mode of trial but, as noble Lords have told me on so many occasions, I shall not be troubled long with it. This is a significant programme.
The Home Office always gets the stick because it is the parent department. If we get these Bills right—of course the detail matters—they will bring about a significant improvement to our armoury, which is presently defective, to deal with serious crime. We have not sufficiently concentrated our intelligence resources on crime which is now in a different league from that we experienced 20 years ago.
I turn to fox hunting. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about the situation in the other place. I did my best to discover the position. My understanding is that First Reading was on 7th December and the Bill was published on 8th December. The present business plan is to hold Second Reading on 18th December. I have just picked up a whisper from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, which is also in my brief, that it may well be changed to 20th December. Events have overtaken me because I have been in the Chamber all day. The subsequent stages will follow in the usual way.
I turn to the fight against crime. The Crown Prosecution Service has historically been underresourced and under-funded, but there is good news on 481 that front. The settlement was to be £315 million for 2001–2. However, there is to be a further £71 million, which is an increase of almost one quarter, in year one and a further £81 million and £93 million in years two and three. The Lord Chancellor has also set up a criminal justice system reserve of £525 million to be distributed by mutual agreement between my noble and learned friend, the Home Secretary and myself. These are very significant advances. If any unworthy accountant asks whether these sums have already been announced or they are cumulative, the answer is no. These sums should make a very significant difference.
I promised the noble Lord, Lord Cope, with whom I had a conspiratorial agreement, that I would not go over 20 minutes. The noble Lord stuck to his bargain and I shall do likewise.
Let us not forget what has been said about Northern Ireland in the gracious Speech. There will be a Bill to implement the recommendations of the review of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. In that context I pay tribute to the very close co-operation that I have had from both the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The Commonhold Bill will attract no headlines but it is desperately important to a very large number of our fellow citizens who are worried and fearful in their own homes. I have had to take a panoramic view.
482 I return to the theme, which I hope has been distilled, that has informed the whole of this four-day debate. The purpose of government is to serve, and all of us in this House have the privilege to help in that great work in however small a way. Why is that? I believe that we all have a deep regard for our country in spite of all its blemishes and eccentricities, and significantly because of them. It is an extraordinary place and we are living in times the extraordinary nature of which I think sometimes we barely recognise. This is a time of great national reform and fundamental renewal. The books will be written about this time in the same way as we look back into the mists of the Great Reform Act 1832.
The question comes to this: why is it that we wish to reform and renew? It is not because we have a distaste for old institutions. It really comes back to this simple question: is there any country in the world where one would rather live? The answer is always no. That is the deep and true reason why I commend the gracious Speech to your Lordships and why we are so intent on continuing on the journey that we set ourselves. We do it because we love this country and we want to make it better.
On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente; the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lord Chamberlain.
House adjourned at twelve minutes past ten o'clock.