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Grand Committee

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2007

Grand Committee

Tuesday, 27 February 2007.

The Committee met at half-past three.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo) in the Chair.]

Before the Minister moves that the first order be considered, could I remind noble Lords that in the case of each order, the Motion before the Committee will be that it considers the order in question. I should perhaps make it clear that the Motion to approve the order will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way.

Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of the order is to reduce road traffic casualties by improving road safety. It allows for stronger penalties and more effective enforcement, bringing the law in Northern Ireland largely into line with that in Great Britain. Many of the provisions in the Road Safety Act 2006 are replicated in the order. Almost all road casualties are preventable. Most are caused by the behaviour of road users themselves. The order will enable dangerous behaviour to be tackled through stiffer penalties and more effective enforcement regimes. It will make the non-wearing of seatbelts an endorsable fixed penalty offence, and will double the fine for careless and inconsiderate driving. It is already an offence to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving, but the fact that PSNI issued 15,500 fixed penalty notices in 2005 suggests that we need a stronger deterrent. We envisage three penalty points and a fixed penalty doubled to £60. Temporary speed limits are needed to protect road workers and road users at roadworks. Many drivers think that they are there to be ignored, which is why we propose that breaching a temporary speed limit should be an endorsable offence that attracts between three and six penalty points.

There are also provisions to clamp down on owners and keepers of uninsured vehicles, including police powers to seize and dispose of vehicles and to enforce continuous insurance from the record. Graduated fixed penalties will help to make the punishment fit the crime. In the case of speeding, this will mean that the faster someone drives, the more points they will get and the quicker they will lose their licence. Foreign-registered drivers who offend should not get off scot free simply by driving off. We propose regulations requiring errant drivers to pay a deposit in lieu of a fixed penalty or pending a court appearance. There is scope, too, for EU drivers to be brought into the fixed penalty system.

Important as punishment is, what we really want is that offending drivers mend their ways. There are already successful retraining courses for drink drivers. The order allows for regulated courses for other serious offences such as speeding, to which courts will be able to refer the worst offenders. It is vital that drivers, and those who teach them, have the best possible training. Presently, only car driving instructors need to register with the Driver Vehicle Testing Agency. The order enables there to be regulation of the registration, training and examination of all driving instructors, including for lorries and motorcycles. This includes provision for disabled people to join the profession. Implementation of these measures will increase professionalism and raise standards in the industry.

Part 3 of the order provides scope to change fundamentally the driver licensing system. It envisages future regulations to provide for full driver licences to be issued automatically to people who have passed their driving tests and for the replacement of paper counterparts with electronic driver records. The anomaly whereby some foreign licences can be exchanged in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland is addressed by provisions in the order for the relaxation of Northern Ireland regulations on exchangeable driving licences. MoT enforcement will be bolstered through the mandatory display of MoT discs on vehicle windscreens.

Some of the provisions, including increased penalties for offences relating to seatbelts, mobile phones, driving without proper attention and careless driving can be commenced fairly soon after this order is made. Other provisions anticipate and underpin an important programme of change over several years. I know that noble Lords will recognise that I cannot be more specific on timetables. We all hope that the implementation of the order will be taken forward by a restored Assembly. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.—(Baroness Amos.)

I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for introducing the order, and I welcome her again as a Northern Ireland spokesman. We broadly support the order. There was a debate with lengthy speeches in the other place, so I will not go over that ground again. Perhaps I could ask the noble Baroness to firm up on one or two of the questions asked at the other end to which I did not get an answer by reading Hansard.

One area where we would be anxious to see more enforcement is in relation to people driving vehicles completely illegally—uninsured, unlicensed, unregistered and un-MOT-ed. There is too much of that in the Province and I would like to know what the Government are doing to toughen up on it. The MoT point was made by Lady Hermon in the other place, but I am not sure that the Government have yet committed themselves to reviewing the whole MoT process, a process which I understand is still well behind. It is 100 per cent government-controlled. I am not saying that that is bad, because in other parts of Europe—Spain, for example—I have seen government-controlled MoT places. I have had my own car MOT-ed in Spain for many years. When it is done well, which it is there, it is extremely efficient. I am not saying that we have to go private, but I am saying that it is up to the Government, if they are going to keep it government-controlled, to make sure that there are adequate provisions and adequate facilities and that people can get their vehicles MOT-ed in due course on time.

On Article 38, Lady Hermon asked in the other place:

“Before the Minister moves on to respond to the point made by my erstwhile colleague, the hon. Member for Lagan Valley, I ask him to answer my question: why is it that under article 18 it is only the offence of manslaughter by the driver of a motor vehicle that will be on a so-called newly introduced driving record? Why is causing death by dangerous driving not listed in the same way?”.—[Official Report, Commons Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee, 30/1/07; col. 18.]

Mr Cairns agreed to answer that in writing, but I am afraid that I have not seen a copy of the answer, if there is one on the record. Otherwise, in general, I support the order.

We greatly supported the aims of the Road Safety Act 2006 when it was going through Parliament, so we welcome the order.

The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has done a lot of good work in trying to tackle road safety issues in Northern Ireland. Indeed, road deaths in Northern Ireland have gone down from 171 in 2000 to 125 in 2006. That must be good progress. That is a great success, but clearly there is still a needless and tragic waste of life. It is particularly distressing that, of the 125 people who perished on Northern Ireland’s roads last year, 34 were young people under 21.

We welcome the provisions in the order on hand-held mobile phones. I am sure that all Members of the Committee will have witnessed improper use of mobiles while people are driving. The message that using a hand-held mobile phone is dangerous has not got through sufficiently. I hope that the measures before us will ensure that the message hits home. We also very much welcome the provisions on seatbelts and on breaching temporary speed limits. Of course we support the measures on road traffic offenders being able to attend a driver retraining course. We want to see a decrease in deaths and serious injuries, and we therefore support the order.

I had not intended to say anything on this order, as I am broadly supportive of it, but a couple of the comments of Members of the Committee have provoked me to rise to my feet. Consequently, I wish to address two issues. I address the first with a little trepidation because what I am about to say could be wrong. If I am wrong, I hope that the noble Baroness will point that out as soon as the appropriate missive has come from those behind her.

The noble Baroness referred to enforcement regarding foreign drivers, foreign offences and so on. In 2001 or 2002 we had a meeting on transport—I think it was a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council—and this issue arose. There was an agreement in principle between us and the appropriate Ministers for the Republic of Ireland that there should be mutual enforceability of road traffic offences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If people travelling from Northern Ireland to the Republic commit an offence, it should be taken into account under our procedures. Otherwise people would get a “free pass” on the matter. There was a discernibly high incidence of accidents close to the border in both Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, suggesting that drivers who may feel almost immune from penalty become careless.

The same principle applies throughout the legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. I have taken advantage of this myself: I have a speeding conviction in England, but it does not have any effect on my Northern Ireland licence. That is crazy and something ought to be done about. On the position of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, it was known at the time that the Republic would have to significantly change its legislation so that the legislation would operate in parallel. Within the United Kingdom as a whole the legislation is parallel but there is not mutual enforcement. It is an obvious loophole that should have been filled well before now.

The second issue is MOTs. I am sorry to disagree with my noble friend Lord Glentoran, but I am not as ambitious as he is—he obviously has one car in the UK and one in Spain. I have a car registered in Northern Ireland and another registered in England. The difference in MoT procedures between Northern Ireland and England is the same as chalk and cheese. There is no problem with MoTs in England as you can easily arrange one and carry it out. It is done in a co-operative context with good-quality service. In Northern Ireland the service is appalling, simply because it is in the state sector, for which there is no good reason. When we were developing the reform and reinvestment initiative in the Northern Ireland Administration, we wanted to get a lot of things out of the state sector that should not have been there—such as the Department of the Environment running car parks in Belfast and other places. What is a government department doing running car parks and vehicle testing centres? Not only is that not necessary, but it is done inefficiently.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran is not sufficiently Thatcherite on this issue. He really should be more robust in his comments. A Government who are anxious to see public expenditure savings would see that. Even though the savings would be fairly modest, they would still be significant and these things add up. If those issues are looked at, they will help to reduce the very high level of public expenditure in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the United Kingdom. It is one of the reasons why public expenditure is higher there. Northern Ireland departments insist on doing things that elsewhere in the UK are no longer government matters.

Although it is not strictly dealt with in the order, I raise the issue of wearing seatbelts in Northern Ireland, as it comes under the order. Lives would be saved in all countries if seatbelts were worn. A survey of drivers in the Thames valley estimated that 30 per cent of drivers do not wear seatbelts. Of that 30 per cent, had they been involved in a crash, 65 per cent would have survived. Extrapolating that across the whole country, making the non-wearing of seatbelts an endorsable offence could save 300 lives. I do not expect my noble friend to reply on this, but it would be nice if she could write to me on it in due course.

I thank noble Lords for their general welcome for the order. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the need for more enforcement, particularly with regard to those who are driving vehicles illegally. Consultation on that issue has recently been completed and legislation is planned for later this year.

On the offence of manslaughter, I understand that death by dangerous driving is included within paragraph (1)(a) of that article and is an offence under the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. I understand that my honourable friend David Cairns has written to Lady Hermon and I will ensure that a copy of his letter gets to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.

I totally understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, on MOT centres still being within government control and the concerns that arise because of delays. I understand that there were a number of problems as a result of strike action occurring at the same time as a large increase in the volume of requests for MOTs. Those backlogs have now been eliminated and tests are being offered in line with the agency’s targets. There are now extra staff, and overtime has been increased to improve effectiveness. However, the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, raised a wider point about whether the service needs to be in government ownership. I will feed that point back to my colleagues who are looking at the issue. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I am not aware that we have plans to reconsider government control, but, in the light of the strong representations this afternoon, I will refer this issue back.

The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, also asked about mutual enforceability. We are looking at that. My understanding is that although UK and Irish legislation both allow the recognition of driver disqualification, that will not come into effect until early 2008. A feasibility study is also looking at the issue of penalty points, which are inconsistent between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. The noble Lord also raised the issue of what happens here compared with what happens in Northern Ireland. It is certainly possible for someone to have 11 penalty points in England and 11 in Northern Ireland, with two different paper counterparts. We therefore need to look at the issue urgently. We recognise that it is a major problem. A feasibility study for co-operation on motoring infringements falling short of disqualification is currently under way and will report by early 2008.

My noble friend Lord Simon raised the issue of seatbelts. As I understand it, we are introducing penalty points in Northern Ireland that we do not have in England and Wales. My noble friend was saying that there should be greater consistency between the two areas. I am happy to write to him on that.

The point on hand-held mobiles raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, was more a comment than question. The strengthening of the legislation is happening today. If this order is passed, we can move quickly towards having exactly the same position in Northern Ireland. I think that I have addressed all the points raised. I commend the order to the Committee.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this order is to amend existing Northern Ireland policing legislation and to introduce new subject areas in line with England and Wales.

The following policy areas are included in the draft order: provision for further opportunities for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to civilianise posts by way of extending, in line with England and Wales, the range of powers and duties otherwise available to police officers by way of designation to investigating officers, detention officers and escort officers, and introducing two categories of designated civilian, namely staff custody officer and police community support officer (PCSO); provision for streamlining the police trainee recruitment process to allow the PSNI to make provisional police trainee appointments, subject to the satisfactory completion of medical tests and security vetting; provision for changing the recruitment procedures for police support staff in line with those proposed for police trainees, including a power to allow government to bring forward regulations to satisfy concerns that designated civilians should be vetted to the same standard as police trainees; provision for the reintroduction of legislative provisions to enable the PSNI to address an acute shortage of detective constables, by way of the recruitment of experienced constables with the required skills from other forces; provision for the police ombudsman to make application to the Public Prosecution Service to allow for the reinvestigation of police officers previously acquitted of a qualifying offence where new evidence has been obtained; provision for the police to close roads or divert traffic, or prohibit or restrict the use of a road or waterway, if considered necessary for the preservation of the peace or the maintenance of public order; and provision for the police to examine documents and electronic records in order to establish whether they contain evidence that someone has committed or is preparing to commit a serious crime.

I should like to provide a little more information on some of the key provisions in the draft order. The introduction of police community support officers to policing in Northern Ireland will help to build on the existing commitment of the PSNI to making communities safer through the delivery of real community policing and effective neighbourhood policing plans. PCSOs are not a cheap alternative. They will be full-time members of staff and will have a clearly defined role that will reflect their unique contribution to enhancing community safety. There will be a clear delineation of responsibilities between PCSOs and their regular police colleagues. It is, however, important to remember that PCSOs are not police officers. The majority of their time and the key focus of their role will be around engaging with local communities.

The PSNI is in a strong position to learn from the experience of the introduction of PCSOs in England and Wales. I know that the PSNI intends to apply those principles to its implementation programme and to adapt good practice in PCSO recruitment, training and supervision.

On staff custody officers, we are also introducing a provision that will enable the PSNI to civilianise the role of custody officer in line with proposals in Great Britain. The Home Office is currently working with nine police forces to introduce custody officers at a number of pilot sites as a direct result of concerns expressed during the passage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

The pilots are about making quantitative and qualitative assessments of the impact of the post of staff custody officer before deciding on the suitability of a national rollout. Although we are legislating for these provisions at this time, we envisage that the PSNI will wish to consider the outcome of the pilot exercise before introducing staff custody officers in Northern Ireland.

On the issue of investigation by the Police Ombudsman, noble Lords will be aware that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides for application to be made to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland by the Chief Constable to allow him to reinvestigate persons acquitted of a qualifying offence where new evidence has been obtained, which is commonly known as the double jeopardy rule. However, where that person is a police officer, the proper investigative authority is the Police Ombudsman. Equivalent provision for the Police Ombudsman was unfortunately overlooked when the Criminal Justice Act was being drafted, and these provisions will correct that omission by introducing a new Section 86A into the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Document seizure powers are necessary to allow the police to operate effectively in dealing with a threat from serious and organised crime. I believe that noble Lords will find it helpful if I explain at the outset the distinction between what we are proposing today and how it relates to the existing powers of police to seize evidence under PACE. PACE seizure powers are applicable only where the officer has reasonable belief that the article is evidence in an offence, that it was obtained as a consequence of the commission of an offence, or that it is necessary to seize it to stop it being concealed, lost, altered, damaged or destroyed. In some instances it may not be possible to meet the necessary level of reasonable belief. We are therefore providing police officers with a limited power that will allow them to establish reasonable belief by, for instance, having documents translated or cross-checking map references.

These provisions will also create appropriate safeguards to protect the rights of the public. As well as the time limit on the retention of documents, items believed to be subject to legal privilege are exempt from examination, any document or record cannot be photographed or copied and a record must be made of any examination.

I believe that the provisions in this draft order will greatly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the police across a range of areas and I commend it to the Committee.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007.—(Baroness Amos.)

I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for outlining so clearly the provisions in this important order. We support the order in principle. I am concerned about just one aspect of it: sub-paragraph (5)(e), relating to the Police Ombudsman. It goes against the grain to create a situation where members of the PSNI can be open to double jeopardy. Although I heard the reasons that the noble Baroness gave, ever since the Bill was introduced some years ago I have argued against overburdening the Police Ombudsman with powers, as has now been clearly demonstrated by her office. I ask the Minister, and may ask again in future, what plans the Government have to review the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

There are reports about the huge costs and the retrospectiveness of current investigations. We are trying to go forward in Northern Ireland. We hope that the Assembly will sit and that it will quickly take us further forward. We do not want to go on with retrospective investigations involving double jeopardy situations, looking into issues that are sensitive from the viewpoint of national security. I would like to feel that Her Majesty’s Government will soon have plans to review the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

We, too, broadly welcome the order. However, I should like to raise with the Minister some specific points on staff custody officers and police community support officers. Our primary concern is about the training of such individuals. Can the Minister tell us whether detailed training schemes for each of these new types of officer have been developed yet in Northern Ireland? It is particularly important for PCSOs, who will daily come into contact with the public. Can the Minister reassure us that such individuals will be required to undergo a rigorous programme and that such programmes will include specific training on relationships with young people? Can the Minister also tell us whether she expects PCSOs immediately to exercise all the powers given to them under the order? I am particularly concerned about the power of a PCSO to detain someone.

On Regulation 6 and the introduction of civilian staff custody officers, the Minister will know that we Liberal Democrats expressed great concern about the designation of this role during passage of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. The custody officer acts as the guarantor of the suspect’s rights and is a major guardian of the standards of the whole system. It is therefore vital that the person exercising the important powers of a custody officer be properly independent and accountable. The police custody officer is accountable as an officer of the Crown. He is subject to police disciplinary procedures. He is expected to resist an illegal order. Civilian staff will be more likely to worry about the consequences for their employment if they act independently. One wants an assurance that this concern will not weigh unduly with them.

A police custody officer must hold at least the rank of sergeant. A sergeant is an experienced police officer who has years of familiarity with police procedures. By contrast, there is no requirement that the civilian custody officer should have any particular experience or training. A police custody officer—the sergeant—can also use his rank to ensure that the police constables treat suspects correctly and follow the PACE codes of practice. Will a civilian member of staff be able to assert the proper authority of a constable and therefore safeguard suspects’ rights? Can the Minister inform the Committee of the experience of police services in England and Wales that have designated custody officers in this way? Have we learnt anything from the experience over here in England and Wales?

We welcome the provisions in Regulation 8. It is entirely sensible for the medical and vetting procedures to apply only to those who have reached the stage of being in the pool of qualified candidates. This will undoubtedly ensure that the appointment process is conducted more speedily than it is at present.

We also welcome the provisions of Regulation 11. Although we raised serious concerns about the double jeopardy provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 when it was proceeding through the House, we recognise that it is necessary to close this potential loophole in regard to police officers by ensuring that the ombudsman is involved.

I do not welcome this draft order, and I need further clarification from the Minister. I have two particular problems: the first is in Regulation 10 on the recruitment of experienced constables with the required skills from other forces; and the second is in Regulation 11, to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred, on the role of the Police Ombudsman.

Regarding the provision in Regulation 10 on experienced constables from other forces, is that restricted to other forces within the United Kingdom, or does it refer to forces outside the United Kingdom—within the European Union, for example—or does it refer, indeed, to the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland? If it involves the latter, has the Minister read the oath that recruits take when they join the Garda Siochana? Does she think that people who have taken that oath will be welcomed by most people in Northern Ireland? I think that there is a grave problem there that needs to be addressed. I want an answer from the Minister about whether she has read the oath and whether she thinks it is consistent with the views of most people in Northern Ireland.

Regulation 11 on the Police Ombudsman contains many problems. As the Minister may know, the role of the Police Ombudsman is tainted and has little or no credibility in Northern Ireland. That is the reality on the ground. The Police Ombudsman is tainted because she is married to an SDLP councillor who only yesterday declared that he wants the break-up of the United Kingdom and a united Ireland. He is a candidate in the SDLP, and it stated that yesterday at its press conference. It may be said that the wife of a pro-Irish politician is not responsible for his politics. That is theoretically correct, but the perception of people on the ground is that the Police Ombudsman is tainted and biased, and she therefore has little credibility.

The order refers to the reinvestigation of police officers. What period will that cover? Will it be the period since the Belfast agreement, or the period before the Belfast agreement? If it refers to the period before the Belfast agreement, will it apply to civilians who have previously been accused of terrorism? Now that new evidence has become available, will they also be subject to further reinvestigation? That needs to be clarified because there should not be double standards with one standard for the police and an easier standard for civilians in Northern Ireland.

Then there is the question of the extension of the ombudsman’s powers. Has she the power to apply herself to matters relating to national security within the United Kingdom? If so, is that widely understood within the United Kingdom, especially by the Minister answering today? There are serious implications here as we have international terrorism. If the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland will slowly but surely get involved in the national security of the United Kingdom she could reveal things that apply to attacks against the United Kingdom by international terrorists.

The order extends the ombudsman’s powers, yet the explanatory document states that that will not cost any more money. Can that be explained? How can the ombudsman have an extension of powers without costing any more money? Is it not correct that the ombudsman herself has said that she wants her budget increased? Please tell us the truth.

A huge number of things about this order cause an immense amount of disquiet. One of the difficulties we face is that this order is coming forward in the wake of the Police Ombudsman’s report on Operation Ballast. Impartial and experienced people see that report as widely flawed. It is perhaps one of the most flawed documents we have seen in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years.

It struck me as peculiar when I heard the Lord President say that a matter in respect of the Police Ombudsman had been overlooked in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Many of us believe that that was a fairly convenient oversight. When something is introduced by Order in Council, it is much easier to get a flawed amendment passed than if it is proposed when a Bill is being considered and amendments can be tabled.

The reality is—I am almost concluding before I bring forward the argument—if we move the Police Ombudsman and the whole process of examination, re-examination and examination after acquittal, and we see it implemented the way in which it is implemented by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, we will find the methodology. It will not merely be facts that are misinterpreted. I will talk about the way in which so-called facts were handled in the past. It will lead to a revelation of methodology. We all know that—none better than those of us who have served and lived in Northern Ireland—the methodology in dealing with committed terrorists is not something that you would want your best friend to be involved in. The reality is that it is a dangerous and difficult business.

I come from soldiering in 1970, when there was no such thing as “good intelligence” in terms of Northern Ireland. In 1972, we had 470 victims of terrorism. Building up an intelligence network is not a pleasant business. The people who have intelligence are not the noble Baroness the Lord President, or Ken Maginnis, or the gentlemen sitting behind the Lord President. They are terrorists, whose information can be tapped. They are dangerous people to work with, and they bring huge danger to their handlers. If we give someone like the Police Ombudsman the power to probe that methodology and, if we take the latter-day threat, the national intelligence agencies—which are becoming more responsible—they will not impart their intelligence to our ordinary police constabularies if they believe that they are bound to reveal it to the ombudsman, who can then reveal it to the public. No one has leaked information more consistently than the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Journalists knew more about Operation Ballast than the Chief Constable or the Secretary of State, long before Operation Ballast was produced.

It is not just an internal matter if we damage the integrity of the intelligence sources in our nation. We are not an island in that respect: the intelligence agencies of other nations share information with us. Do we honestly believe that they will share information that ultimately will be revealed to the ombudsman? I hope that I have made the point sufficiently that there is a huge danger. I know that the noble Baroness has colleagues who well and fully understand the implications. I hope that there will be more consultation and discussion within government.

It is important that I briefly underpin what I am saying. With other professionals, I have looked at the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland’s report on Operation Ballast. I noticed that it contains seven serious factual inaccuracies, which I will provide for the Lord President if required. There are six serious potential security risks to individuals or to intelligence methodology. There are five seriously flawed judgments, which are frequently repeated assertions without any supporting argument. For example, where the ombudsman has found that some documents are shredded, she does not suggest that it has to do with data protection legislation, but that it is a deliberate attempt, with malice aforethought, to destroy something incriminating. She makes that assertion, and it is totally wrong.

There are three obvious self-contradictions in the report and four non-sequiturs. There are six insidious innuendoes which endanger the lives of decent people who have put themselves between the terrorists and the community, some for over 30 years, and who have now retired, believing that they can enjoy their remaining years with their families without having to be behind six-foot fences and bullet-proof glass; without having to look under their vehicles; without having to run the gauntlet that they have had to run for many years. Now they have been thrust back into the forefront. Terrorists are released; we can trust them back out in the community, but the very people who brought the 470 deaths in 1972 down to 13 deaths in 2001 are being examined.

I could say other things about Operation Ballast. There are 15 demonstrations of lack of professionalism and a profound failure to understand the issue. There are 20 blatant examples of a lack of impartiality in assessments and conclusions, to which I have already alluded; drawing the wrong conclusions and looking in the wrong place. For example, somebody is brought in for questioning for 48 hours. The police have some forensic information but have not defined quite what it is, and they go to the Secretary of State to ask for a 48-hour extension. That produces a piece of paper. Once the matter is dealt with, that piece of paper is probably shredded; it is of no importance. But I will tell you who should have a copy of it: the Secretary of State. Of course, the Police Ombudsman would not have thought of looking there. Or perhaps the Secretary of State and his staff did not know where it was.

All in all, this is a dreadful report, full of sloppy drafting. It is put in the context of six years’ work by the Police Ombudsman; that is six years of clawing increasing powers unto herself with a budget rising on a year-by-year basis—£5 million in the first year and £9 million now. That is a fair rise in six years, given the increasingly peaceful situation we have in Northern Ireland. But a total of £42 million! And it is being suggested that it is money well spent.

Let me put that £42 million in the context of 13,000 or 14,000 police a few years ago and almost 10,000 police now. What has the ombudsman delivered? She has delivered an average of one criminal conviction per year. That is 0.001 per cent. Going at that rate, there would be one conviction per 100 policeman every 100 years. That puts it in context. That is what the Police Ombudsman has achieved. It cost £7 million per conviction, and we want to give her the opportunity to rake over history in a way that is of no benefit to the erstwhile victims or to a society striving to overcome its distrust. That is the very antithesis of good law.

I am sorry for taking so long, but I want to be frank, and I do not want anyone to leave the Committee without understanding the implications of what has happened over the past six years. I do not want them to exacerbate the problem that we are likely to face if we increase the powers of an ombudsman who does not measure up to the criteria intended by Maurice Hayes, and has never done so. Maurice Hayes was one of the most senior civil servants in Northern Ireland. He took a huge interest in security and cross-community matters, and he was widely respected by us. When he suggested a police ombudsman, he asked for somebody with real judicial experience. We did not get anyone with judicial experience or investigative knowledge about the background of terrorism that has troubled us for many years.

There are other aspects of this order that I would like to talk about at equal length, but I shall not inflict myself on the Lord President. I hope that she will take seriously the possibility that by moving this order in this form, she may not only damage the emerging peace and political process in Northern Ireland, but undermine the whole basis for trust between and among intelligence agencies, both internal and external to the United Kingdom. We are facing, possibly for the next 40 years, a terrorist threat of international dimensions. However much we want to pander to certain prejudices to persuade people along, that is not the basis for making law or the basis on which we should risk the integrity of the United Kingdom.

I did not intend to speak in such a serious debate, but I want to make two points. I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, and I realise that he has a real knowledge of the ombudsman’s office and what goes on there. Listening to him, it seems that this concerns only terrorist offences. I could name a dozen ordinary issues on which the ombudsman has conducted investigations where people have been quite happy. Three years ago, I had that experience. Believe it or not, a policeman rather curtly put me in a good deal of danger so I took it up with the local station and the matter rolled out into the ombudsman’s office. I was quite satisfied with the outcome. I think we have the balance right. I am not trying to trivialise anything that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said. These are very serious matters.

My second point is that I take offence at what the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, said. The ombudsman's office is headed by a woman who got the job, I assume, on merit. She was appointed under the fair employment Act—I would assume that every job at that level would come under that. However she got the job, I think it is wrong to personalise it by quoting her husband. If the wives of noble Lords sitting round this table were to say something and it was quoted elsewhere, they would probably say that it was drivel, so I do not think that we can lay something her husband said at the ombudsman’s door. Everybody knows he is an all-Ireland man—that is what he wants. I understand that she was appointed on merit. It is wrong to personalise it in that way.

I shall not detain the Committee long, but perhaps I can emphasise one point. Weeks before Op Ballast was made public, I talked about a leaking process. It was a leaking process through the press. Literally within 24 hours, the channels were able to run their programmes. Chris Moore on UTV had a programme on within 24 hours that had taken days or weeks to film, so there had been a break in confidentiality. One might have suspected that when one saw the SDLP leader in another place, Mark Durkan, jumping on the bandwagon and doing what any of us could have done.

The identities of three senior police officers were fairly lightly disguised. I worked with them and know them. They were straightforward, decent people. As three individuals, they did more than any other three to bring peace to Northern Ireland. They were named in another place by the leader of the SDLP as though they were criminals. There is no piece of paper that can answer that. That is the reality and that is what we face. Quite bluntly, I do not want to appear to be controversial, but I have to put it in these terms. If we undermine the faith of the majority of people—by “the majority of people” I mean lots of people who have no political axe to grind, ordinary members of both traditions—or we undermine the integrity of the law and the processes of the law, we thrust Northern Ireland back into the arms of the unscrupulous.

I shall be very brief. I do not disagree with much of what has been said. However, it is perhaps not generally known that before I arrived in this building, I had served as a justice of the peace for a good many years. There is a limit to matters that were discussed at that time, but I am increasingly horrified by the proof of present-day tampering with various aspects of the law to which, in those days, I was dedicated, as I still am. I leave it at that.

I recognise the strength of feeling around policing issues in Northern Ireland. They remain a highly sensitive area, and are compounded by the fact that, because of the size of the population, everyone in Northern Ireland who operates in the public service tends to know everyone else and has a particular view about the ways in which that service is conducted. However, it is important to accept that the ombudsman met fully the competencies of the post and was appointed on merit. That does not mean that there should be no discussion of any issues or concerns requiring debate, but it is important that such discussions are conducted openly, transparently and in a way that is not personal. We all have a role to play in supporting transparency and accountability in Northern Ireland.

A number of noble Lords have talked about the Police Ombudsman this afternoon. It is important to make a couple of things very clear. First, the police in Great Britain are also subject to the double jeopardy provisions, so this is not specific to Northern Ireland: these provisions are for everyone, including the police in Great Britain.

On the question of who investigates, the Chief Constable investigates in Northern Ireland in the case of civilians. I also confirm that there is no time limit in respect of these issues, but the person to be retried must be capable of getting a fair trial. That is decided by the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland, as it is in England and Wales. So the order puts no new or specific provisions in place for Northern Ireland. Instead, it is bringing provision in Northern Ireland in line with that in England and Wales. The Police Ombudsman is the only legitimate authority for investigating police suspected of serious crimes, so the provisions to address double jeopardy will provide only the powers that are currently available to the Chief Constable. On the importance of reviewing those powers, the Government consistently monitor the powers of the Police Ombudsman, and will continue to do so.

As I said, the Article provides the Police Ombudsman with the same powers as the Chief Constable to make an application to the Director of Public Prosecutions to reinvestigate in certain circumstances persons acquitted of a qualifying offence. In the Police Ombudsman’s case, that power would be used where police officers were previously acquitted. Some cases already require reinvestigation by the ombudsman, and have either been forwarded by the Chief Constable or are reinvestigated where a complaint has already been received.

The straight answer to the question whether this gives the Police Ombudsman additional powers is no. The Police Ombudsman is the only legitimate authority for investigating alleged criminal conduct by police officers. The Police Ombudsman therefore requires this statutory provision to ensure that she can fulfil her role of investigating police officers acquitted of a serious crime when new and compelling evidence has emerged. In essence, the provisions ensure that a common and equitable approach is adopted to the closure of all cases that require reinvestigation, regardless of whether they are conducted by the Chief Constable or the Police Ombudsman.

Some wider questions were asked about the role of the Police Ombudsman and about whether there would be additional resources for her as a result of this work. Evaluation of the budgetary needs of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is an ongoing process through assessment of annual budgetary estimates and programmes submitted by the office and in-year monitoring of expenditure in keeping with public expenditure accountability processes and requirements. Any additional costs would be subject to a detailed business case being made.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, asked a number of questions about the detail of the McCord Report. Given the Police Ombudsman’s independent status, I do not think it appropriate for the Government to comment on how the ombudsman conducted her report or on specific details and points of the investigation. The Government are, however, concerned about the issues of collusion identified in the report. We support the Police Ombudsman and the Chief Constable in their proposals to address those concerns, and we are confident that appropriate and fair action will be taken to reinvestigate cases when new and compelling evidence comes to light. We of course recognise that final consent to reinvestigation will be made by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I appreciate that the retired police officers’ association has many concerns about how the ombudsman conducted the investigation and understand that a detailed report on those concerns may be forthcoming.

I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. Can she define the word “collusion” for me? There is no such word in law. If it is something other than collusion, why are we not using those words? If it is conspiracy or something of that nature, why are there no charges? The Police Ombudsman can hide behind the word “collusion”, but Government cannot because the word does not exist in law.

If the report’s publication and the allegations being made require further investigation which leads to any kind of criminal process, that will happen. This is not about moving immediately from a report and investigation to a criminal process. If there needs to be further investigation and cases need to be drawn to the attention of the appropriate authorities, that will happen. I am not sure that I entirely understand the noble Lord’s point about defining collusion. “Collusion” is a word in the English dictionary and I have been aware of it for many years. I think that we all understand what it means. Does the noble Lord want to come back?

Indeed I do. As someone who has been a soldier in Northern Ireland, I may have allowed someone whom I know to be a terrorist to move freely with a loaded van from point A to point B so that I could intercept him at that point, while at the same protecting a terrorist who is compromised so that he may be of further use to me as an informant. That is collusion but not a crime. In legal terms—I do not have to tell the noble Baroness about legal issues—it could not result in me being charged with collusion. I am doing by job. I may collude—and I understand the dictionary meaning of the word—with the most dreadful terrorist who is supplying me with information. I assure the Minister that that is exactly what one did. One did not, however, conspire with the terrorist to kill someone else. Therein lies the difference. I do hope that she fully understands my point. I appeal to her again to speak to her colleagues—who have huge experience, as I know after serving in Northern Ireland—before she proceeds down this road.

The noble Lord is asking me to comment on a level of detail which it is not appropriate for me to do at this point. I know that he recognises that. Of course these issues need to be considered against the background of contextual issues; I think we all recognise that. But it is not for me or anyone around the table to make those judgments. We should leave them to the relevant authorities.

The noble Lord made other points about the cost of the ombudsman’s office and its effectiveness. The noble Lord is smiling at me: I know that he knows that I will not agree with him. He took one figure for the overall cost of the ombudsman’s office over six years, and then took one yardstick as a measurement of effectiveness and success. That is entirely inappropriate. The ombudsman’s function is to deal with all complaints of misconduct against the police. We would all be extraordinarily concerned if, as a result of the investigations, a huge number of prosecutions was brought annually against individual members of the police service, because that would indicate an enormous failing in the police service.

We should note that, in the period mentioned by the noble Lord, the ombudsman’s office has dealt with more than 21,000 complaints. That is a huge number of complaints. My noble friend Lady Blood alluded to the fact that part of the function of the Police Ombudsman is to work to ensure that complaints are properly investigated so that those who have made them feel secure in the knowledge that they have been listened to and investigated.

The most recent independent survey of the performance of the ombudsman’s office indicates that 83 per cent of Protestants and 84 per cent of Catholics in Northern Ireland who responded thought that the ombudsman would ensure that the police do a good job. Of the police officers subjected to investigation by the ombudsman who responded to the survey, 85 per cent thought that they were treated fairly, and 73 per cent were satisfied or very satisfied with the way in which they were treated.

I shall be brief. We can produce fallacious figures such as those—I am sorry that the Minister’s advisers have given her such figures to articulate—but when the Police Federation for Northern Ireland expresses a lack of confidence in the Police Ombudsman, as it did at its annual conference, I am more impressed by that than I am by various extractions that one or two civil servants may manage to accomplish.

It is important when looking at the effectiveness of an office that we use independent survey material as well as anecdotal material that others may use. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has one view; I have another. It is entirely appropriate that we are having this debate. It will not end here. As I said at the beginning of this discussion, policing in Northern Ireland remains, and will remain for a very long time, a highly sensitive and emotive issue. We all recognise the history, but part of the responsibility that we all have is to try to move this issue forward in a way that is helpful to the people of Northern Ireland. In doing that, I recognise that there will be real differences in the way that we interpret factual information. I do not in any way dispute that. This kind of discussion is part of the nature of our democracy.

I do not know whether the Lord President is about to answer the questions I asked. Has she read the oath of allegiance taken by members of the Garda Siochana and does she think it will be well received and appropriate within Northern Ireland? In the context of the increasing threat of international terrorism in which the United States and other countries wish to co-operate with intelligence services in the United Kingdom, will the powers of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland extend to matters of national security and, if so, would that not deter the United States and other countries from co-operating with the intelligence services of the United Kingdom? Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, totally misunderstood and misrepresented what I said. I made clear that a wife is not responsible for the political views of her husband, but he is a political activist working for the break-up of the United Kingdom to bring about a united Ireland and, as such, the Police Ombudsman’s position is tainted in the eyes of the people of Northern Ireland.

I shall come to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, in order because I shall deal with the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, about CSOs.

I shall not go into details—though I may find some other way of communicating them to her—but I can think of one incident where something in the ombudsman’s report will compromise or make more difficult the activities of the intelligence services here in dealing with today’s and tomorrow’s terrorist threat. Their capability has been seriously affected by the revelation in that report of a particular aspect of the methodology being used here. I shall find some other way of communicating. It is not wise to go further on this matter.

I look forward to having that discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, outside the Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, asked me about community support officers and raised particular questions about their training. CSOs will undertake training in a range of issues relevant to their role, including training in their powers, human rights, personal safety, interacting with people—a particular concern of the noble Lord—problem solving, diversity, managing evidence and first aid. It is anticipated that the initial training period for CSOs will last five to six weeks.

Only six powers will be conferred on CSOs on introduction and the power to detain will not be one of them at that stage. The powers are: to acquire name and address for relevant offences; to confiscate alcohol from young persons and dispose of it; to seize tobacco from young persons and dispose of it; to enter and search premises for the purpose of saving life or limb or preventing serious damage to property; to direct traffic and place traffic signs; and to enforce cordoned areas for the purposes of a terrorist investigation. These are the six areas that the Police Service of Northern Ireland considers will produce the most immediate impact on the ground. There is a strong view that if we conferred the full range of powers at the outset, it would delay the introduction of CSOs.

On staff custody officers, hundreds of experienced police sergeants are currently acting as custody officers in Great Britain. Three hundred and fifty are in the PSNI at a time when front-line supervisory experience is at a premium. Allowing appropriately trained and capable police staff to perform the role will allow experienced officers to be redeployed to front-line supervisory duties and to extend the options for DCU commanders and chief officers to have a wider pool of police and staff available to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, talked about the appointment of constables with special policing skills. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has experienced a loss of specialist skills, particularly at the rank of detective constable. There are currently 97 vacancies, and the Policing Board and the Chief Constable are pressing for these provisions to be brought forward as a matter of urgency. Article 10 reintroduces Section 23 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003, allowing for the appointment of constables who have a specified policing skill. We anticipate that the officers are likely to come from other UK police services and the Republic of Ireland.

The noble Lord asked me specifically if I had read the oath of allegiance. I have not.

I was not talking about the oath of allegiance. I rather suspected that the Minister had not read it; it needs to be considered in further detail. On the employment of constables from forces in the United Kingdom and specifically the Republic of Ireland, there is a rule in the PSNI, as the Minister knows, that 50 per cent of the new members must not be Roman Catholics. Will the employment of police officers from the Republic of Ireland comply with that rule?

I am not aware that that rule will apply in this case, but if I am wrong and if I can expand on that answer in any way, I will write to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord also asked me about the powers of the Police Ombudsman with respect to matters of national security. My understanding is that the ombudsman can gain access to the information that she needs from the security services to enable her to carry out her role as a Police Ombudsman. I am not aware of the Police Ombudsman having a wider role in issues of national security. She therefore has discretion to establish relationships with the oversight bodies of the security services and to draw to their attention to any concerns that arise through her investigations. However, I am not aware of the Police Ombudsman having that wider role with respect to national security considerations.

I have just been passed a note that says that the 50:50 rule will not apply to this provision.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2007. 7th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.

The noble Baroness said: I confirm that these provisions are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The regulations are being made under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) Act 1979, and their purpose is to increase by 3.6 per cent the amounts of compensation to those who first satisfy all the conditions of entitlement on or after 1 April 2007.

It may help if I very briefly explain the history and purpose of the Act. An employer can of course be sued by people suffering from an industrial disease contracted from their work with that employer. However, the diseases covered by the Act take a long time to develop and may not be diagnosed until 20, 40 or even 60 years after exposure. By then, the employer may no longer exist. It is therefore unsurprising that there can be difficulty in obtaining compensation. Parliament brought the legislation into force to help those people. The Act provides for lump-sum payments to be made to sufferers from certain dust-related diseases, or their dependants. The three main conditions of entitlement are: that the person is entitled to industrial injuries disablement benefit; that there is no relevant employer who can be sued; and that no court action has been brought, or any compensation received, in respect of any of the diseases for which a person is claiming under the Act. The scheme covers a number of respiratory diseases, but around 70 per cent of claims paid under the scheme are for those suffering from mesothelioma. This is an extremely severe form of cancer and is invariably terminal within a short time. The average payment to sufferers is around £14,000. The scheme has been very successful. Payments of £21 million were made in the last year alone.

On 29 January this year, the Government issued a consultation paper seeking views on the current state support for industrial injuries. Although I cannot pre-empt any conclusions of the review, I can say that all suggestions will be carefully considered and that nothing is being excluded. The Committee may also be aware that there was a separate consultation last year on the level of state support for people suffering from mesothelioma. A mesothelioma summit is planned for 13 March this year, when the options for moving forward will be discussed.

More specifically, we are also looking at improving claims handling for mesothelioma to ensure that, wherever possible, people with mesothelioma can receive compensation in life so that they can benefit from it while knowing that their families will be more secure in the future. The scheme forms only a small part of government measures on asbestosis. Significant improvements have also been made to health and safety procedures to prevent future exposure.

Finally, all of us understand that no amount of money can ever compensate those unfortunate people for their suffering and loss, but the regulations do ensure that the compensation provided maintains its value. I commend the uprating of the payment scales to the Committee.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2007. 7th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Morgan of Drefelin.)

Before I was quite correctly interrupted by the Lord Chairman, I was going to thank the Minister for explaining the regulations so clearly. Perhaps I should also thank the Lord Chairman for shutting me up at the appropriate moment. In retrospect, I should also like to thank the officials for preparing a very comprehensive reply to many of my questions on last year’s pneumoconiosis operating order, which was signed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on 7 March last. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for his letter of 22 February, announcing the imminent debate of the regulations. The noble Baroness can be reassured that I shall be brief. These dust-borne diseases from which some people suffer by reason of their employment are horrible in the extreme. Many years ago, a cousin of mine married a man who, before the Second World War, returned from Japan with the equivalent of a quarter of a lung, having been a prisoner there, so I know, admittedly at second hand, how people cope with breathing and talking difficulties. However, we are talking here about industrial diseases rather than the afflictions of war pensioners. Nevertheless, the results are identical and, as the noble Baroness has said, progressive. In many cases, they result in cancer of the lung and, ultimately, death.

Parliament, in the dying days of the previous Labour Government in 1979, enacted the legislation underlying the regulations to provide a measure of compensation to those who could not claim either from their employers, past or present, or, if the latter had ceased trading, from their insurance company. As I understand it, insurance companies have to keep records for 60 years, but I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could confirm that. My point is that employers are the first port of call for sufferers, followed by their insurance companies, and only if recourse to them fails does the state come in, as the noble Baroness said. Obviously that reduces the number who need to come to the state for aid in this matter.

Last year, therefore, it was a surprise when I was told that the number of claimants had actually risen. Some 1,989 claims were dealt with by Jobcentre Plus between April 2005 and January 2006, of which 1,774 were successful. One would expect, with modern medical knowledge and the various environment laws that we now have, that the number of claims would reduce over time. What are the current claims and success rates? It would be useful to have a breakdown of the age of claimants and whether they were primary or secondary dependants. We would then have some guidance on what the future holds.

I know that the Government have been conducting a review of the current industrial injuries benefit scheme, and I would be grateful for information on their conclusions, which they should have reached by now. I am tempted to revisit this subject, or the possible relationship between sufferers from the various diseases in the regulations, and the new ESA, but I shall resist that temptation for now, although you might hear it tomorrow. One can never quite tell.

Last but not least, I congratulate the Government on producing the regulations. The Act, as the Government know well, says that these do not have to be uprated every year. If memory serves me right, they did so in 2004 and last year, with a gap in between. Now they have done so for 2007-08. They have done well for a small group of people who suffer from the most horrible of ailments. The whole welfare regime is currently in the melting pot. It is absolutely right that the Government should look at it again, as well as at sufferers of these dust-borne diseases.

I am aware of the problems on the ground. In my constituency, when I was in another place, quite a number of miners suffered from pneumoconiosis. They worked in the anthracite fields of south-west Wales. If one meets any of those gentlemen in their own homes, one understands that they can hardly breathe. It is a very serious and distressing matter indeed.

There are three points that I would like to make. There is a useful table in the schedule, which gives the age breakdown and the amounts of money paid. Where it is lacking as far as I can see—perhaps the Minister will correct me—is that there are no statistics for the number of people involved, just their ages and the payments made. I raise that issue because I would like to know the number of miners and their widows who have applied for the payments but have not yet received them. In the constituency of Roger Williams MP, my successor in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, one former miner has been waiting six and a half years for payments. Indeed, there are many other cases that I know of where justice is not being done. It is a very vexed question.

I know that the regulations are not specifically about people who have not received payments to which they may be entitled. None the less, I welcome the regulations, because the uprating, as the Conservative spokesman has said, is right and just progress, with payments being made to those who are entitled to them. The Leader of the House, in answer to a question in the other place, indicated that there are over half a million people involved in this in Wales and that £3 billion been paid out to the miners. That is highly creditable, but there are people who are still waiting, and it would be nice to know what is happening to them.

There are several other categories that do not appear to qualify. On 22 November 2006, Don Touhig, the Member for Islwyn in the other place, asked about surface workers and whether they were entitled to assistance. The Minister may not be able to answer. He was offered a meeting with the Prime Minister about that. I do not know what the outcome was, and I do not necessarily expect the Minister to be able to reply to that question here today, but perhaps she could do so in writing.

I have asked about surface workers who do not appear to qualify, but those who worked in privately owned mines do not appear to qualify either, even those who worked part time in those mines and perhaps worked for the NCB for the rest of the time. Is there one compensation rule for former NCB employees and another for those who worked in private mines who do not appear to qualify? Those may be misconceptions on my part, but they are certainly matters that cause great concern in the communities concerned. After all, if employees with dust-related diseases who work for private companies and are affected by asbestosis qualify, why is it apparent that miners who worked in the private sector do not appear to qualify? I may be wrong about that, but if these are misconceptions, I would like them to be cleared up. If they cannot be cleared up here today, perhaps they can be cleared up in a letter.

I am glad to follow my noble friend Lord Livsey, who speaks with insight on these matters. In another place, I heard over a number of years how he took an interest in the very serious problem that beset Wales. We all work together for the greater good to help to alleviate distress in families throughout Wales. I also thank the Minister for her introduction of the regulations. I support them, and the increased payments are to be welcomed. The regulations are clearly beneficial and well-intentioned. It is good that the scheme is under review. Perhaps there will be a positive outcome that encompasses those families that are currently excluded.

I would like to put on record my appreciation, with context in mind, of the decisions of the Wilson and Callaghan Administrations that moved to investigate the associated illnesses in the stated industries and then legislated to bring about compensation and just solutions. I declare an interest as a serving Minister in those 1970s Administrations. It is very good that the current Administration have decided to uprate annually. I have a particular interest today in the fortunes of the slate quarrymen, most of whom are in north-west Wales. How much money has been allocated to the slate quarrymen suffering from dust? How much has been paid since inception? How many individuals have been in the scheme, and how many remain after all these years? When will the consultation, which is about to start, report? What is the average compensation payment to the slate quarrymen? How many lump sums and how many weekly payments are being or have been paid in recent years?

The Hansard of the 22 February sitting of the Third Delegated Legislation Committee in another place repays examination. I have a context in mind. Mr Jeff Ennis, the MP for Barnsley, described how his grandfather in Grimethorpe, who was a miner, had to retire at 42 because of his dust-related disease. He lived until he was in his mid-70s, but there was always a cylinder of oxygen and an oxygen mask by his bed and his armchair. It is not for nothing that the mining community refer to it as a “lingering death”. Using that dramatic phrase emphasises the humanity of the situation. I am so glad that the Government have advanced to a point where they have done something about it. I hope that my remarks are regarded as positive.

In the debate, Jeff Ennis was followed by Mr Dennis Skinner, a well known man, who weighed in to give the history of the legislation as only he could. He entered the other place, as I did, in 1970. He subjected the regulations to his fierce scrutiny. He inveighed against lawyers; if I may say that without making a particularly pointed reference. He was very strong on it. Mr Paddy Tipping MP described how for 50 years in his constituency asbestos dust had blown from the factory into the streets and in all probability into the houses.

I am glad that we have advanced and that we have this very positive measure here today. I am glad that the slate quarrymen of north-west Wales have obtained justice and that they and their dependants have been admitted into the scheme. It took some doing to get the slate quarrymen admitted into the scheme. The context of that relates to 1978 when, as a Wales Office Minister, I went from Westminster via Bangor to Anglesey, to the home of Elwyn Jones, a retired solicitor, who over a generation ago advised slate quarrymen of the north-west on how to obtain compensation payments. He was retired and elderly in his flat on the banks of the Menai Strait. After I saw him that day, I went to the Transport and General Workers’ Union office in Caernarfon by the harbour, where I met Tom Jones, another Welshman, who had brought many cases on behalf of the slate quarrymen to Mr Elwyn Jones to raise in the courts. Elwyn Jones had been a Member of Parliament until he lost his seat in 1951. He was a distinguished citizen in north Wales, and he always gave his expertise to advance the cause of the slate quarrymen.

It may help if I give further context for debates in the years ahead. There is a quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog called Llechwedd where thousands of quarrymen were employed and the world’s largest slate quarry was at Llanberis. Those two quarries produced most of the cases that were brought to Elwyn Jones and Mr Tom Jones at the Transport and General Workers’ office. National Museum Wales now has a museum of slate quarrying in Llanberis. If any Member of the Committee is interested and wishes to see slate tiles being made, they can because there is a daily demonstration by a retired slate quarryman. One can see how the dust would enter the lungs of those engaged in the process. Llechwedd is underground and the quarrymen had to bring their own candles to work in the dark and unpleasant conditions. I thought I should emphasise these matters so that the Committee can take some of the history into account. The late Lord Cledwyn—Cledwyn Hughes—had a significant part in advancing the legislation that assisted slate quarrymen in 1979. Additionally, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons at that time, an AUEW man, came to this House and played a distinguished part in advancing the cause of those who suffered from the dust. I welcome the regulations. I think they are very good. I am glad that the money has been increased, and I urge the Minister to advance the inquiry as fast as she can and come forward with proposals to enable more families to have the relief they deserve.

I thank the Committee for its interest in and consideration of this important regulation. I also thank noble Lords for adding a little humanity to our discussions. Regulations can sometimes seem a dry, dull collection of words and numbers, and it is easy to forget that we are talking about the traumatic experiences of real people who have a life-shortening disease and real challenges to face. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his kind words.

Insurance companies are required to keep their records for 60 years, which is important in the situation that we are talking about today. My noble friend Lord Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked about the Government’s review of industrial injuries disablement benefit. Ministers have asked for a review of the current IIDB scheme to ensure that it meets the needs of our modern society and is compatible with the Government’s broader welfare reform agenda. A consultation document was published on 29 January, and the consultation period will end on 22 April, so it is still open. The Government will be considering all the issues that come out of it.

I was asked why the number of cases of mesothelioma is still rising. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, and it can be 40 years or more before the disease becomes apparent. According to the epidemiological analysis of the disease, it has not yet reached its peak, so we will see a continuance of that trend for some years. It will continue to be a very important issue. Therefore, the numbers will rise.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, asked about the numbers of sufferers and dependants with outstanding claims. I do not have the information on the split between sufferers’ and dependants’ claims, but I will write to the noble Lord with the information as soon as I can after this debate. In terms of the numbers of miners being paid under the scheme, we are not aware of any claims outstanding, certainly not for more than six years, but my team of officials behind me will investigate that.

The question of surface workers is very important. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council is considering surface workers, and the report should be published shortly. Miners in privately owned mines should be covered by the 1979 Act scheme unless the existence of a private employer means that they would not benefit from the scheme. If the employer is still in existence, they would not fulfil the criteria of the scheme. My noble friend Lord Jones asked questions about quarrymen, such as how many of them have been paid in total and what the sum in total paid to them has been. Unfortunately, we do not collect data on the occupations of people who we pay, and we therefore cannot supply that information. I was very grateful to my noble friend for reminding us why the Act came into being in the first place. The original intention was to respond to the extremely pressing concern to provide compensation for workers suffering from dust-induced diseases. The average payment from the scheme is currently set at around £14,000. The scales are set out in the regulations to identify the levels of payment according to the age of the claimant. They are not about the numbers of people claiming; they are about the levels that people might receive, depending on their age and disability.

I remind noble Lords that there are two very interesting consultations going on; the IIDB review and the mesothelioma summit on 13 March, as I have mentioned. That will be very important, given the rising numbers of people with mesothelioma, as it will look at how the state support system can best meet the needs of those very important people. I am sure that we all agree on the importance of the 1979 Act and the need to uprate the amounts paid, as we have discussed today. The Act provides some assistance for those affected by these devastating diseases who cannot get compensation through the courts.

Has the noble Baroness any idea, or does anyone have any idea, why mesothelioma cases are rising? I would be happy with a written answer.

I will write, but it is because, over time, people have become much more aware of the dangerous effects of asbestos, and that awareness and knowledge came into play only after large numbers of people had been exposed. There is a long latent period; it takes 40 years or longer, and 40 years ago we did not have the knowledge that we have now. Obviously, if that answer is not comprehensive enough, I will be happy to write to the noble Lord.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2007. 7th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.

The noble Lord said: I will speak also to the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2007. I am satisfied that the orders are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order will, as usual, increase most national insurance benefits by the retail prices index, which is 3.6 per cent, and will increase most income-related benefits by Rossi, an index that excludes rent, mortgage interest, council tax and depreciation, which is 3 per cent.

The Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order sets out the amount by which contracted-out occupational pension schemes must increase members’ guaranteed minimum pensions which accrued between 1988 and 1997. Where the annual increase in the retail prices index exceeds 3 per cent, the guaranteed minimum pensions indexation requirement is capped at that level under the primary legislation. This year’s order therefore provides for an increase of 3 per cent.

This year’s uprating adds over £3.5 billion to government spending and reinforces our commitment to tackle poverty by helping those most in need and to build an active welfare state. The order provides for an extra £2.48 billion for pensioners, of which £300 million is above inflation, and an extra £560 million for disabled people and carers. We now spend over £10 billion a year more on pensioners than if we had simply continued the policies that we inherited in 1997, and pensioner incomes have risen across the board, with the poorest benefiting the most. We have lifted more than 2 million pensioners out of absolute poverty, and 1 million out of relative poverty. Indeed, we have now reached a position in which pensioners are less likely to be poor than the population as a whole, breaking the historic correlation between poverty and old age. We now need to maintain that achievement, and in the Pensions Bill, which has now completed its Committee stage in another place, we will legislate to ensure that the progress we have made for today’s pensioners is locked in for tomorrow’s pensioners.

We will only truly eliminate inequality in retirement when we eliminate inequality in working life. That is why our welfare reforms and our aspiration for an 80 per cent employment rate are so important and why we are so committed to tackling entrenched poverty and disadvantage. Ten years ago, nearly 6 million adults in this country were dependent on benefits, and with that benefit dependency came poverty. The number of children living in poverty doubled. Today, child poverty is falling faster than anywhere in the EU. Since 1997, 800,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty, and 2 million out of absolute poverty.

Tax credits are now benefiting around 6 million families and 10 million children. From April this year, families with children will be, on average, £1,550 a year better off in real terms than in 1997, while those in the poorest fifth will be on average £3,450 a year better off. That support goes hand in hand with the other measures that are designed to give working families the support that they need. In 1997, paid maternity leave lasted for 16 weeks. From April, it will rise from six to nine months, and by the end of this Parliament we intend to extend statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance to a full year.

Of course, there is more to do if we are to eradicate child poverty, and we will continue to look at what more the Government can do to help those most in need, but ultimately it is the opportunity to work that provides the only long-term, sustainable anti-poverty strategy. That is why this Government’s approach to tackling poverty has been about maximising opportunities to work. It is why we created the national minimum wage and tax credits to make work pay, why we have invested in Jobcentre Plus and the New Deal to help people find work, and have maintained a strong economy that sees everyone sharing in the benefits of record economic growth. Today more people are in work than ever before. Employment is up by more than 2.5 million since 1997 and is up in every region of the UK.

Our Pathways to Work initiative now covers 40 per cent of the country.

I regret to have to tell Members of the Committee that there is a Division. I must therefore adjourn the Committee for 10 minutes while the Division takes place.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 5.30 to 5.40 pm.]

In conclusion, our Pathways to Work initiative now covers 40 per cent of the country and we will roll it out nationwide by April 2008, in time for the new employment and support allowance. Our Welfare Reform Bill will build upon that success. It will deliver on our commitment to reform incapacity benefits while ensuring security for those who cannot work. Together with our city strategy, it will offer a new approach to delivering employment services to some of our most disadvantaged communities.

Our disability rights legislation, which is the most comprehensive of any European country to date, and our age discrimination legislation are breaking down the cultural and discriminatory barriers facing disabled people and older workers. Our future success in tackling poverty and worklessness will depend on our ability now to build on a decade of progress, towards our aspiration of a fair and inclusive society that offers opportunity and independence for all. This year’s uprating measures move us further towards that aspiration. They reinforce our commitments to tackle poverty and exclusion, and to ensure security in retirement. I commend the orders to the Committee.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2007. 7th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.— (Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

I am again grateful to the Government for introducing these orders and I note the change of voice and tone in that introduction. I should apologise to the Committee. If we go on—I suspect that we will—beyond 6.05 pm, I am afraid that I have an unavoidable commitment which I cannot break. Therefore, I will not be here at the end of the debate. My noble friend will of course remain.

The uprating order is, as usual, predictable and follows precisely the autumn uprating statement. So we have known since September by how much the various national insurance benefits would rise—that is, 3.6 per cent—and most income-related benefits will rise by 3 per cent, which, as the Minister has said, is inflation stripped of rent, mortgage interest, council tax and depreciation—the so-called Rossi index. The guaranteed minimum pensions order rates the contracted-out final salary schemes by the same amount.

On reading the Minister’s colleague’s speech in another place, it surprised me just what was going on. Where the annual increase in the retail price index exceeds 3 per cent, uprating of the guaranteed pensions indexation is limited to 3 per cent, even though last year’s RPI was 3.6 per cent. The latter figure is made up by comparing prices of a standard shopping basket with mortgage interest added in.

I suspect that few people will recognise the figure of 3.6 per cent. Certainly, my son's employers do not. He works in London as a back-room boy for a bank and is paid a basic salary, with no extra payment based on his own efforts. He cannot be compared with, say, some of your Lordships in the financial world. His pay rise was 6 per cent, which, interestingly, is what pensioners believe is on average their extra cost of living over the past year. This is hardly surprising when the cost of heating fuel, council tax and petrol is considered.

Given the Office for National Statistics’s new website, where people can work out their own inflation rate using a questionnaire of 23 items, I wonder whether the official basket of prices could be altered. Can I issue a plea that all the information given by those who use the website should be added together and averaged out, so that we can see the true position? I of course accept that this would be rough and ready, but it would be no more rough and ready than the RPI. However, it would be much more representative of what is actually happening, even though it would depend on who actually uses the website. It would be skewed for example if it was mostly used by pensioners or young working people.

However, the official basket takes no account of whether people actually buy the products and services in that basket. Even using this basket, RPI stands at a nine-year high of 3.6 per cent. I suppose that it is the Rossi index of 3 per cent that is nearest to the cost-price index used by the Bank of England to set interest rates. Given that the Chancellor has instructed the bank to keep the CPI at 2 per cent, it is hardly surprising that interest rates are on the rise. Will the RPI continue to rise? The Minister will probably duck that question by saying, as I used to in his position, that he never answers hypothetical questions. What he can and should answer, however, is what the monthly RPI figures were from October 2006 to January 2007, which will give us a guide on what to expect in the autumn uprating statement.

I would like to make three points about the uprating order and I am rather surprised that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments did not raise my first point. Regulation 6 gives the dates of when the various upratings will start. My question refers to paragraph (5), which states:

“Any increases in the sums specified for … (iii) carer’s allowance (except in a case where the Secretary of State has made arrangements for it to be paid on a Wednesday) … shall … take effect on 9th April 2007”.

There are two Wednesdays—one immediately before and one immediately after—close to 9 April; namely, 4 and 11 April. Which one is being referred to? My guess is 11 April, but it is by no means clear and I find it rather strange drafting.

The Minister’s colleague told another place:

“The order provides an extra £2.48 billion to pensioners … and an extra £560 million to disabled people and carers”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/2/07; col. 42.]

I am no mathematician, but I took advice from one of my noble friends who concluded that that added up to £3.04 billion. However, this order provides for more than an extra £3.5 billion in departmental expenditure on benefits, which leaves a gap of some £500 million. On what will this be spent?

Actually spending all this money depends on take-up. We have known for a long time that pensioners are particularly bad at taking up the benefits to which they are entitled. This also applies to other sectors, not least those who would be eligible for council tax and housing benefits. How much of last year’s budget was underspent, and what have Ministers done to correct that? One of the normal reasons for low take-up of benefits is the huge complication of the forms that need to be completed by the applicant. I know that there have been sporadic attempts to shorten them and that some in the past have won plain English awards. What progress has been made in the past year on this most desirable objective?

Towards the end of his speech, the Minister rather boasted of some things of which the Government are proud which were outside the remit of this order. So I shall do exactly the same thing. Last but not least, I read, as I expect did the Minister, last year's debate and noted in particular my noble friend Lord Howard of Rising's point about what is not in the order; namely, the over-80 age allowance. This has been set at 25p a week since decimalisation. It is true to say that it has never been uprated by any Government since it was introduced, nor has there been any suggestion that it should be abandoned. Since Ministers tell us that no single pensioner needs to live on less that £119.05 a week—if the pension credit is taken up, which it is not, of course, by more than 1.5 million pensioners—25p represents only a smidgeon over 0.05 per cent over that sum. Is it not time that the Government who, as we established during our discussion on the previous order, are reviewing the whole of the welfare scene, gave this some thought? That said, I, and the millions of people who are affected by these orders, welcome them.

I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord. I concur with much of what he has said. The orders, particularly the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2007, are standing features of the annual parliamentary calendar. The good news for the Grand Committee is that we can ask the same questions every year. The bad news for the Minister is that he has to try to answer them.

I shall concentrate for a moment on process. It is a shame—and my experience over time, although it is not the Government’s fault—that the uprating process has become an annual ritual. That means simply that people assume that the customers or claimants, or whatever you like to call them, are being looked after merely by the implementation of the annual uprating for the cost of living. Although that is obviously true so far as it goes, the difference between the average earnings index and the retail price index has some quite dramatic effects over time. It is easy to forget those because the uprating order is annual. Annually, the slippage by itself is minimal. Over years, however, it can be substantial.

The really important process question, which I have posed before and which has perplexed me for a long time, is just exactly what corporate knowledge the department applies each year to this process. I suspect that it is an Excel spreadsheet on someone’s desktop computer. A Rossi index, an RPI index or an average earnings index is put in and an answer comes out, which is the uprating statement. I hope that that is not true. I understand that a piece of business-like work needs to be done, and that one cannot think about it all or calculate it all afresh from first principles every year. However, Section 150 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to review the level of benefits annually to determine whether they have retained their value relative to the general level of prices. If one considers that question in the context of today—as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has rightly pointed out—customers or claimants this year face council tax rises, fuel costs and other such matters.

It would cause me some concern if the process applied by the department to reach the figures in the orders is nothing more than the uprating formula being applied and that that is all that is involved. That would be a shame. It would also be a dereliction of duty—not according to the letter of the law, because one could argue that Section 150 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 was being fulfilled, but in spirit. As I say, if that approach is taken by virtue of neglect, inequality will become entrenched over the years and financial disadvantage will grow. Over 25 or 30 years, unintended consequences are bound to emerge for whatever Government are in power. I would like to think that some of the pointy heads in the department who think about these things carefully—I know they are high quality people; “pointy heads” is a term of endearment, not abuse—are looking carefully at some of the underlying factors so that we can deal with the longer-term consequences of some of these things.

The figure that overhangs this debate is the 4.4 per cent increase in the July average earnings index. That is what is happening to sons who are bankers, although perhaps bankers are paid better than other people. We all hope that there has been a general increase in the country’s wealth. Indeed, the Government arguably have an economic story to tell, and I acknowledge the progress that has been made. Many of the benefits of that have been put in the direction of alleviating child and pensioner poverty, which is all very good so far as it goes. However, it is self-evident that if the wealth of the nation is increasing and floats everyone up, the tax take increases as a result. The default position should therefore almost be the average earnings index and not the RPI.

The other thing that perplexes me, which is built into the formula in Section 150 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and has been built up piecemeal over the years, is the differential between the list of benefits with a statutory requirement to be uprated and those without such a requirement. Benefits with the statutory requirement, as I am sure the Committee will know, embrace such things as the attendance allowance and the disability living allowance. Benefits without a statutory requirement include child benefit, housing benefit and jobseeker’s allowance. There is no longer any rationale for that difference. There were good reasons at the time why these benefits all came into these categories individually, but we should seriously consider the whole situation and say that every benefit should be statutorily uprated. There is a prima facie case for saying that the default uprating level should be the average earnings index. I do not say that as a spokesman for my party, because I am not; I am simply interested in the subject.

The rationale is that the Government’s own ambitious targets will never be reached unless we embrace some elements of both these things over the distance. The child poverty target for 2010 is certainly on course to be missed. It will certainly not be met for 2020 unless serious attention is given in Budgets, uprating statements and Pre-Budget Statements in forthcoming years. These are the kinds of things that policy makers in the department will have to wrestle with if the Government’s own targets are to be met. Government spokesmen may throw this back in the faces of opposition spokesmen—that happens more in the other place, which is the best place for it; it is handled much more elegantly here in my experience, which is not yet that great—but the argument that you are just spending money and cannot account for it is not the way to look at it. The way to look at it is to ask what ambitious targets the Government are setting and whether the current plans meet, or are likely to meet, those targets. I do not think that they are. That is a matter of concern in our uprating debate this afternoon.

I want to know what the department is planning. The Social Security Advisory Committee has a body of expertise that could help us to understand some of these things, and it could be invited to review these matters. Sir David Freud is helping the department with some implementation issues. I am not sure whether one of the tasks that he has been given is to look at the built-in inequality in the current uprating statement and process, but it is certainly a question that could be considered. Another question that really needs to be considered is what is not in the order. Ministers can easily make a good case, as the Minister has done, for the progress that has been made, but someone—it was not me; I am not that much of an anorak—counted 464 benefits, tapers, premiums and allowances in the order. I just want to make it clear that I did not count them myself; I simply pass it on for what it is worth. A hundred and thirty of those have not been uprated at all: 130 thresholds, disregards and other levels that are set have been frozen. They have been frozen over the years, as I have said earlier. If benefits, premiums and thresholds are frozen, particularly the capital thresholds and allowances, there is a loss over time, which people really begin to feel, particularly in our more disadvantaged families. We need to look at that very carefully.

The Minister did not mention—I am not surprised—the healthy nature of the National Insurance Fund. Noble Lords might like to look at the back of page 28 of the Government Actuary’s most recent report, which shows that we have a surplus of £4.2 billion in the current annual year, going up to £10 billion in 2011-12. There is no pressure, particularly on contributory benefits and the flexibility available to the Government. Although the Minister parades his generosity, there is a lot more flexibility behind the Government’s position, should he choose to use it.

Some of the frozen thresholds and premiums I was talking about could easily have been accommodated, even if it was on a rolling programme looking at a series of benefits. We have just finished looking at an important order on pneumoconiosis, a welcome initiative that the Government took of their own volition. They used their discretion and uprated the awards to that cohort of deserving claimants. Over a rolling programme, they should exercise that discretion over a slightly wider area.

I mainly concur with the important speech of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about means testing on two points. I do not count up 464 benefits, but I read these orders and have been doing so for a long time. They are getting worse. They are getting more and more difficult to understand, even for anoraks like me. The noble Lord gets high points for noticing the date mistake. Unless you are a parliamentary draftsman with access to a law library, you have no way of making any sense of the explanatory section of these orders. The tables are comprehensive and welcome, because they can be compared year to year, but the text explaining the law is now incomprehensible. Something has to be done. I do not know what the benefits simplification unit is doing, but the Opposition are asking for results and some kind of outcome in every debate on this important subject. A degree of consolidation, if not simplification, would certainly make these orders more sensible. Finally, I have serious reservations about some of the effects that the means testing and—a personal bugbear of mine—the conditionality creeping into our system, piecemeal, by the back door, will have, particularly if that trend continues.

The order is welcome. The Government’s position is understandable and their progress acknowledged. However, I, for one, would like to try to understand with colleagues what process the department is applying to get to these published orders, so that we can all better understand what is behind the documents before the Grand Committee this afternoon. If I do not get an answer this year, I shall be back next year.

I cannot resist responding to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, about RPI and so on. There is clearly a fairly automated process, because Parliament thought it the most appropriate balance between incentives into work and the rest.

I am sure that the noble Lord is right that unless one intervenes, as with pensioners and disabled people, then the gap between RPI and earnings widens each year. On any relative, as opposed to absolute, measure of poverty, this means that you increase the number of poor by definition, even though their benefits are increasing. Unlike the noble Lord, I think the answer is not to raise benefits but encourage more people into work: the welfare to work agenda. You could increase benefits by £10 or £20 per head per week and people would still be poor, bumping along and unable to manage their finances.

My noble friend made much of the welfare to work agenda in his introduction, and I throw in a comment or two about the thing he left out, as others have said, which is the earnings disregard. We all know that people who work are better off than people who do not work. We know that the best predictor of people coming into the labour market and getting a substantial job is that they have done a mini-job, possibly under 16 hours, the year before. Let us think about the social security system we have constructed. It is man-made—it was made not by God but by men. If you are a lone parent, for whom there is a £20 earnings disregard, you keep every penny for the first three hours you work. From three to 16 hours you have 100 per cent deductions, and after 16 hours—Nirvana!—you switch to tax credits and your income is suddenly doubled. That is crazy. We should be saying that you are better off for each and every hour you work; not dichotomies—out of work, in work, with a little tinkering of earnings disregard—but a dial. So, if you work six hours you get more income than if you work two; if you work 10 hours, you get more than if you work six. At 16 hours, instead of benefit being the core onto which you have income banded, you would have income being the core from which benefit then gets taken away. That is the right way to go, so that every hour of work encourages you to work another because you have an incentive to do so.

That is the bigger point. In that context, earnings disregards play their part. Lone parents get at least a £20 earnings disregard, but we should not be talking about disregards. We should be allowing people to keep a portion of each hour they work until, at 16 hours, they keep the lot and are topped up by tax credits. If Sir David does anything, I hope that he gets away from this very Beveridge concept of being out of work or in work, whereas most partners in a couple relationship with kids and caring responsibilities are both in work and not in work and are also on benefit. Our social security system simply cannot reflect the untidiness of most people’s lives, because we have this artificial, manmade construction of hours of work.

Lone parents and disabled people at least have a 20-hour disregard. Let us take a couple; they may not be married, but cohabiting. He is on IS and JSA with a health restriction. He may be sixty and drawing pension credit. If she goes into work, as soon as she has worked for more than one hour at minimum wage, every penny she earns comes off his benefit. What do your Lordships think they are going to do? Do noble Lords think she is going to work? Of course she is not. Particularly if they are not married and not necessarily used to collective joint accounts, he will say, “You’re taking away money from my pension credit; don’t work”. What message are we sending with new deals for partners? What message are we sending to women in their late 50s or early 60s? We want them to stay in the labour market building their pension and an income so that they do not go into their retirement poor.

If we mean it when we say that the answer to poverty is getting into work, which I wholeheartedly believe, and I know my noble friend believes, then we must build ladders into full-time work. They do not currently exist because of our crazy rules about 100 per cent deductions between either an earnings disregard of £5 a week, at most £20, and what you get when you work 16 hours a week. If we want to make it possible for lone parents to re-enter the labour market, if we want disabled people to come back into the labour market—although they at least have the access to work rules—and if, above all, we want cohabiting couples—where there may not be the same bonds of financial trust as long-established married couples—particularly the woman, to re-enter the labour market without penalty or pressure from the man not to do so, we must reconstruct our rules. We currently talk the language of welfare to work, but construct a social security system that, I am afraid, too often undermines it.

I thank each noble Lord who has contributed to what has been a short but passionate debate about an order that could be seen as quite turgid. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for having given me advance notice of the fact that he would not be able to stay throughout the debate and that his colleague would deal with the questions.

I shall start with the question that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, raised about where the £3.56 billion is going—about it not adding up. Some £2.48 billion goes to pensioners, which is £300 million above inflation; £560 million goes to disabled people and carers; £520 million goes to working-age people; and £16 million goes to children. Somewhat tongue in cheek, he teased us about replacing RPI with an aggregate of what comes from the website. I am sure that he accepts that that would not be a fair way to proceed. The RPI and the other indices are constructed on the basis of a significant process by statisticians and have served Governments of all persuasions well.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was going to stray into the issue of rates of inflation related to pensioners but he did not do so specifically, so I shall not answer on that but I would be happy to if it were a point that his colleague—the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—particularly wants to pursue. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, raised an interesting point on Article 6 about whether the date was 4 April or 11 April. I shall have to write to him on that, which underlines the point that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made.

There was a small question about why we do not uprate the 25p age addition for the over-80s. Perhaps that emphasises a bit some of the complexity in the system. I am advised that no Government have increased it since it was introduced in 1971, but this Government have obviously done much to help older pensioners in particular: free television licences for those aged over 75, winter fuel payments worth £200 per household and £300 per household with someone over 80, and so on.

Pension credit take-up was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. It is an important point; we need to make sure that people claim and receive the benefits to which they are entitled. We are writing to everyone whom we believe may have an entitlement to pension credit, encouraging them to apply and advising how the Pension Service can help them to do so. Over 2 million mailings are planned through 2006-07. We offer face-to-face visits and a full benefit entitlement check to the most highly eligible and vulnerable pensioners, with plans to undertake up to 1 million successful home visits during 2006-07. That underlines the Government’s commitment to addressing the issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, talked about the process and the thinking behind the upratings, and asked whether someone just pressed a button and the figures spewed out. If you look at the data, you realise that that is not true. I think that he touched on the point about the number of potential rates, tapers and so on in the system. Some are uprated, some are not. Some are uprated by RPI, some by Rossi, some by the earnings index. In particular, the standard minimum guarantee for pension credit was uprated by 4.4 per cent, fulfilling a commitment that the Government made to protect the poorest pensioners. Some benefits since 1996-97 have been uprated significantly above RPI. Let us look at income support. The child allowance for those aged up to 11 has increased in real terms by something like 120 per cent over that period. The carer’s premium has increased in real terms by 59 per cent over that period. There is a range of other such benefits, such as the disabled child premium, which has increased in real terms by 75 per cent since 1996-97.

Through pension credit, we dealt in part with protecting people and making sure that the working population and retired people share in the wealth that the country is creating, but the pension reform that is going through another place at the moment will relink the basic state pension to earnings. That will be welcomed by all. The commitment is to do it when it is affordable and by the end of the next Parliament, which is a very clear commitment. If you look at outcomes for child poverty, which was moving inexorably upwards when this Government came into being, there have been some genuine improvements. On the position of pensioners, which I outlined when I moved the order, you are now less likely to be poor as a pensioner than as a member of the population as a whole. That is quite a significant change.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, raised the old chestnut of the National Insurance Fund and its surplus. I understand that, since that surplus is routinely loaned back to the Government, if it were to be used in the way he suggests it would simply lead to equal and opposite tax increases. It is not a surplus in the sense that it is free for use without looking at the general consequences for taxation.

I have dealt with each of the points of the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Skelmersdale. My noble friend Lady Hollis was passionate and knowledgeable on these issues as always. She asked how we effectively make work pay, encouraging people into work and removing disincentives and the steps in the tapers and the system we have. In many ways, that debate is beyond the uprating order before us today. My noble friend is quite right that a number of the earnings disregards have not been uprated for a long time. The income support disregards have not changed since—

That is indeed quite a long time. There would obviously be an issue of balance in the impact on work incentives if they were uprated, if they are not in-work benefits. That must be addressed. On why the benefits system is so complex and what has happened with simplification, the benefits system has evolved over a long period and complexity has developed for a wide range of reasons, not all of which are bad or unintentional. The department has a wide range of clients, who live multi-faceted lives; my noble friend Lady Hollis mentioned just how convoluted some of those lives can be. Jobcentre Plus alone receives 234 million contacts a year, which is an extraordinary number. There is obviously a need to balance people’s needs, limit costs and target scarce resources.

The benefit simplification unit was created to act as a catalyst in driving simplification forward across the benefits system, challenging existing complexity and ensuring that the benefits system operates in ways that customers and staff can understand. On progress to date, as a first step it produced Simplification: Guide to Best Practice in May 2006. In addition, all DWP projects must show in their strategic outline business cases how they have maximised the opportunities for simplification. The BSU has set up a dedicated intranet site with additional guidance and help for staff and an email address for staff to forward ideas for change. Road shows for all staff across the department were completed this year to raise awareness of the simplification agenda. It worked closely with the Social Security Advisory Committee, which agreed that, from July 2006, its scrutiny proposals for regulations would include consideration of the complexity impact of the new measures. That is just some of the stuff going on; there is movement. The noble Lord raised an important point, however, as did my noble friend Lady Hollis.

What are the Minister’s views on council tax increases and their impact on the cost of living for pensioners? One is already reading of people threatening not to pay. That council taxes are rising faster than pensions is undoubtedly a sore point. I am in the company of people who know far more about the subject than I. However, does the Minister not agree that we would not start from this point if we were starting again? We must live within the building that we have. To change is dangerous for two reasons; first, the impact on customers who quite properly rely on the benefits system; secondly, the need for fiscal responsibility, in government and in opposition, means that one has finite sums available for the benefits system. That traps the whole process in the sort of routine that we have been going through today. I have been impressed by the contributions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and by the way in which they have indicated that a more comprehensive review by the Government might lead to a better use of the resources available. I would like to know what the Minister thinks of that.

The issue of where we start from is hypothetical because we have to start from where we are, but it is probably right that if we sat down with a blank sheet of paper and designed a system it would not end up as the system is at the moment. The noble Lord is right that we have to have due regard to resources, which is why the strategic approach that the Government have adopted is right because it has helped people into work as a means of helping them out of poverty and on a targeted basis it supports those people who are unable to work. That has to be a proper and effective use of resources.

So far as council tax is concerned, I have a piece of paper somewhere that shows the increases in recent years, but I cannot put my hands on it. It has been in excess of the RPI, but council tax levels are an issue for local government. Since 1997, this Government have made a 39 per cent increase in real terms in funding from central government to local government, so dealing with these issues is a big responsibility for local government. We believe that there is no excuse for excessive council tax increases. Indeed, the approach that the Government have taken in bearing down on councils has borne fruit because people on the lowest incomes are able to access council tax benefit and as part of promoting that we need to make sure that people who are eligible access that benefit.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2007

I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order paper.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2007. 7th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Smoke-free (Penalties and Discounted Amounts) Regulations 2007

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Smoke-free (Penalties and Discounted Amounts) Regulations 2007. 8th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.

The noble Baroness said: In moving that this Committee consider the draft Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order, I shall speak also to the draft Smoke-free (Penalties and Discounted Amounts) Regulations and the draft Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations. These are draft instruments proposed under powers contained in Part 1 of the Health Act 2006.

I am delighted to bring these draft instruments before the Committee and, as both the subjects covered by these draft instruments were discussed extensively during the passage of the Health Act, I hope that the Committee sees the logic in considering these instruments together. I will take each of the instruments in turn to provide an overview of their effect as well as of their background.

The Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order changes the age of sale of tobacco products from 16 to 18 years by amending the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. It also has the effect of changing the signage requirements for retail premises to reflect this change in age by amending the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991. It is our intention that these effects will take place from 1 October 2007 in both England and Wales. I am pleased to say that there was almost universal support for the increase in the age of sale of tobacco to 18 in response to the consultation that was held over the summer of 2006. It was agreed that the measure will help to reduce the availability of tobacco to young people, reinforce the dangers of smoking and make it easier for retailers to comply with the law.

I will now consider the two sets of draft regulations to be made under powers in the smoke free parts of the Health Act. The detailed provisions in the draft sets of regulations were subject to full public consultation in the second part of 2006. The drafts being considered today have been improved and strengthened based on the feedback that the Government have received from stakeholders and members of the public through the public consultation process. The Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations will apply only to England. I shall first go through the very limited exemptions to smoke free legislation, and then move on to vehicles that will have to be smoke free.

As my noble friend Lord Warner set out during the passage of the Health Bill through this place last year, I want to be clear that the Government propose very few exemptions from the protection that this legislation will give the public and employees. It is important to reiterate that smoke-free legislation will not apply to private dwellings, apart from any part of a dwelling that is used solely for work for more than one person or where the public has access. Self-contained residential accommodation for temporary or holiday use will also not be required to be smoke free under this legislation, although the manager of the accommodation might choose to make it non-smoking. The regulations deal only with premises that would otherwise be required to be smoke free under the provisions of the Health Act.

Exemptions are provided to allow managers to designate specific rooms for smoking in the following types of premises—hotels, guest houses, inns, hostels and members’ clubs, which may designate smoking bedrooms for the accommodation of guests or members. All other parts of the premises must be smoke free at all times. Dormitories and other shared accommodation that is made available under separate arrangements with the individuals who share that accommodation, such as in youth hostels, must be smoke free at all times.

Care homes, hospices and prisons may designate either bedrooms or rooms to be used only for smoking for use by persons over the age of 18. Notwithstanding the exemption for prisons within these regulations, I can confirm that the Prison Service is to introduce stricter controls on smoking in prisons, which will apply to both publicly and privately-provided prisons.

Residential mental health units may designate either bedrooms or rooms to be used only for smoking for use by persons over the age of 18 only until 1 July 2008, under provisions that were amended from the initial proposals published last year by the Government. The proposals in the regulations are made after consideration of the responses from stakeholders received from the department’s public consultation last year. Offshore installations may designate rooms to be used only for smoking. Research and testing facilities may designate rooms as not smoke free only while the rooms are being used for specified research or tests. Specialist tobacconist shops may allow people to sample cigars or pipe tobacco within the shop premises, but smoking of any other product, including cigarettes, is to be prohibited.

Under the draft regulations, any premises that have designated rooms for smoking must meet a number of conditions for smoking to be permitted. If not all the conditions are met, the room would need to be required to be smoke free at all times. The conditions are designed to best protect people from second-hand smoke and are universally applicable, while not being unduly onerous or burdensome. The regulations also include an exemption for performers. Where the artistic integrity of a performance makes it appropriate for a person who is taking part in that performance to smoke, the part of the premises in which that person performs will not be required to be smoke free. The exemption to allow smoking applies to the performer only and only during the performance.

Even though a limited number of exemptions will be made available by the regulations, there remains no obligation at all on people in charge of premises to implement exemptions to allow smoking within their premises. The regulations will also require vehicles to be smoke free at all times if they are used either to transport members of the public, whether or not for reward or hire, or in the course of paid or voluntary work by more than one person, as either a driver or as a passenger, even if people use the vehicle for work at different times of the day, or only intermittently. Importantly, that reproduces the same level of protection for people in enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces and public places that are vehicles as people will have in places that are not vehicles.

Public or work vehicles that have a roof that can be stowed or removed will not be required to be smoke free when conveying people if the roof is completely removed or stowed, but the vehicle would be required to be smoke free if the roof is in place. Under the new law, a roof would include both a removable hard top as well as a canvas or fabric cover.

Like private dwellings, private vehicles will not be covered by smoke-free legislation. Under the regulations, a vehicle will not be required to be smoke-free if it is used primarily for the private purposes of a person who either owns the vehicle, or has a right to use the vehicle that is not restricted to a particular journey. That means, for example, that either a leased car provided to an employee under their employment contract or a rented car would not have to be smoke free if it is used primarily for private purposes.

The drafting of the regulations has been improved by listening to stakeholders who responded to the public consultation that the department ran last year, by clarifying that private vehicles used only occasionally for work purposes would not be required to be smoke free.

Finally, I turn to the Smoke-free (Penalties and Discounted Amounts) Regulations 2007. These regulations specify the fine levels for the three smoke-free offences set out in the Health Act, and will apply to both England and Wales. The proposals in these regulations have not changed from the draft regulations that were consulted on last summer, or indeed from what my noble friend Lord Warner, of Brockley, set out during the passage of the Health Bill through this place last year.

To recap, I shall detail the fines for offences and penalties. First, the offence relating to the display of no-smoking signs is level 3 on the standard scale—currently £1,000—or a fixed penalty of £200 discounted to £150 if the penalty is paid within 15 days from when the notice is issued. Secondly, the offence of smoking in a smoke-free place is level 1 on the standard scale—currently £200—or a fixed penalty of £50 discounted to £30. Thirdly, the offence of failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place is level 4 on the standard scale—currently £2,500—and there is no fixed penalty for this offence.

The levels set are fair and proportionate and reflect advice that was received from the Home Office and responses to earlier consultations that were held on smoke-free legislation. It is clear that fines for the offences of failing to display appropriate no smoking signs and failing to prevent smoking in smoke-free places have to be sufficient to act as a deterrent.

Enforcement authorities will be working hard with businesses to support them to understand and to implement properly smoke-free legislation in their premises in the lead-up to 1 July, and the approach to enforcement will be non-confrontational. The Government are encouraging people to comply with the new laws from the outset, and if they do, no enforcement action, penalties or fines will be necessary. Of course, for most businesses, compliance will be straightforward, consisting of displaying no-smoking signs, and making sure they take the necessary action to ensure that people do not smoke in any enclosed or substantially enclosed part of their premises. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Smoke-free (Penalties and Discounted Amounts) Regulations 2007. 8th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations with her customary clarity. We all remember the extensive debates on these matters during the passage of last year's Health Bill. I do not intend to use this occasion to stage a rerun of any of the issues of principle contained in it. However, one or two matters of detail arise from her speech on which I would appreciate clarification.

I welcome one particular set of regulations, the Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order. Most of the impetus for the smoking restrictions contained in the Health Act originated from a wish to curb the incidence of second-hand tobacco smoke and the health effects of passive smoking, but Section 13 of the Act was inserted with a view to bearing down directly on smoking prevalence. I am very pleased that the results of the consultation on this issue have enabled the Government to make the order, as it is important and potentially beneficial for the nation's health in the long term.

On enforcement, research in the United States has shown that the more stringently and vigorously such regulation is enforced—I am talking now about the sale of tobacco to young people—the more likely it is that smoking rates among the young will fall. Of course, retail outlets are not the only places where children buy cigarettes. My worry is that illicit sources of tobacco will substitute for the sources that this order will close off. Are the Government’s predictions about reduced cigarette consumption a little on the optimistic side, given that the black market in smuggled cigarettes is difficult to police and given that the enforcement effort that is planned to back up these regulations does not look as though it will be all that energetic? It seems to me that effective enforcement in this area is likely to produce a greater health dividend than enforcement directed towards smoke-free premises, which to a large extent should be self-policing.

For the sake of the retail trade, can the Government do anything to encourage the uptake by young people of cards which demonstrate proof of age? Perhaps they could also encourage a consolidation of the various different card schemes so that retailers are in a much better position to know for certain that the prospective purchaser of a packet of cigarettes is not under age.

I now move to the regulations covering exemptions and vehicles. There is one feature of these in particular that I was surprised to see. Regulation 10 contains an exemption for designated rooms in adult mental health units. However, the exemption is for 12 months only. Can the Minister say why the Government have adopted a different approach towards mental health units from the one that they have taken, for example, towards prisons? Presumably they have consulted the relevant professional bodies on this issue. Is she satisfied that the special circumstances of mental health patients, many of whom find smoking to be therapeutic and a source of relaxation, have been taken fully into account? I am concerned that a complete ban in mental health establishments may prove difficult for patients and staff alike.

Regulation 3 covers private accommodation. The exclusions in paragraph (2) do not seem to me to be comprehensive. There are exclusions for carers and domestic workers, builders and maintenance men who work in private dwellings. What about people who work in other capacities, such as carpet fitters and furniture delivery men? It does not seem to me that they fit into the definitions set out in sub-paragraphs (a) to (d).

I should like to ask about performances. During our debates on the Bill, I was extremely grateful to the Government for agreeing to introduce an amendment exempting theatrical and other performances from the smoke-free regulations. There is a specific provision in Section 3(8) of the Act to cover not only performances but also rehearsals. However, the regulations before us appear to cover only performances. There is no mention of rehearsals, unless “performance” is taken to include rehearsal. Can the Minister say why that is? I should perhaps say that Equity and the Society of London Theatre, among others, have expressed their concern about this. I am sure I do not need to tell her that it is almost impossible to expect an actor to smoke during a performance on stage, especially if he or she is a non-smoker, unless they have previously been able to rehearse doing so.

Regulation 9 covers research. Could the Minister tell me whether research that is specifically market-related is covered? I am thinking here of research conducted by a tobacco company designed to test consumer reaction to different brands. If that is not allowed for, why not?

I was concerned to read recently that substantial sums of public money—£29.5 million—are to be made available to local authorities to fund the training and deployment of under-cover anti-smoking enforcement officers in pubs and clubs. We all recognise that these regulations have to be enforced, but this does look like a particularly heavy-handed and, frankly, over-zealous way of setting about it. Can the Minister comment on this?

Can she also comment on the enforcement of the regulations in so far as they apply to vehicles? I find it difficult to imagine how it will be possible to tell whether a vehicle is being used for business or private purposes in any given situation; or indeed how effective policing will be possible at all. As regards the application of the regulations, what about hire cars, which have an inherently ambiguous status? Presumably there is nothing to prevent someone smoking in a hire car if he or she is using it for private purposes: but if he does smoke, will that render the car unusable by anyone else? Presumably not. To get round this problem, can she say whether car hire firms will be able to designate some vehicles in their fleets as smoke-free vehicles and some non-smoke-free? What about company pool cars which can be allocated to employees without restriction and may be used for private purposes as well as for business? If a user of a pool car smokes while driving it for private purposes, what are the implications of his doing so for other potential users of the car, or are there none? The Minister will gather from this that I do not find the wording of Regulation 11 to be wholly clear. Did I understand correctly that the exemption for private vehicles applies at all times irrespective of the use of the vehicle, even though the primary purpose of the use is private?

I have a concern about the proposed fines. Naturally, I realise that the penalty levels quoted in the regulation are maxima and do not necessarily represent the likely average level of fine. However, why is the maximum fine for a licensee or pub owner for failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place as much as £2,500, when in Scotland the figure is only £250? What can be the justification for that? And why is there such a large difference between the maximum fine of £2,500 for a licensee in England for failing to prevent smoking and the maximum fine for a smoker, which is only £50, with a reduction to £30 if they pay soon?

Finally, I should like to ask the Minister about litter. More and more smokers will be forced to smoke outside once these regulations come into force. What steps will the Government take to bring to the attention of employers their duty of care to ensure that littering does not occur outside places of work? Is the Minister aware that to place a small bin outside any listed building for cigarette ends—they are known as butt bins—requires planning permission? The result in many areas is that there are no bins at all, and the problem of littering is very considerable. Can anything be done to make it easier for the owners of listed buildings to put butt bins outside them?

I hope the Minister will be able to shed light on these questions either today or, failing that, perhaps by letter.

I warmly support the implementation of the instruments. I have the advantage over some of my noble colleagues in that I come from a part of the United Kingdom that is already smoke free; I shall try very hard not to sound superior during the rest of my brief remarks. The department would be well advised to pay attention to the experience of Scotland, which demonstrates beyond peradventure that if the preparation, the change in culture and the education both of the public and of those who are in the various trades and professions most directly affected by the regulations are approached early, fears are dealt with directly and openly. The Scottish experience shows that one can win the argument before the law starts to bite. If preparation and forethought is given to the introduction of the regulations, many of the problems that are anticipated will fall away.

Scotland capitalised on the rather evident public support that obtained there, and the opinion poll evidence that I have seen to date suggests that that is also evident south of the border and in other parts of the United Kingdom, so that is something that can and should be done. Promoting effective co-ordination between local authorities and local government agencies is very important. The lead must be taken by local authorities and by government agencies as, I think, happened in Scotland. Benefits flowed directly from that. Informing employers, restaurants and others about the provisions of the smoke free law in advance of the legislation biting, in my experience, pays handsome dividends.

I have two questions that relate to cost. The cost has been raised already in the Grand Committee. First, £29 million is certainly a large figure; although I am conscious of the fact that local government colleagues are always complaining that burdens are being placed by Parliament on local authority apparatus without the commensurate means to discharge the responsibilities at law. Therefore, I assume that £29 million is an outside figure. Certainly, in the Scottish experience, it was much less than had been bargained for because of the culture change that had been planned in advance of the implementation of the regulations. The Committee needs a little more explanation of the £29 million figure.

The Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007 is welcome. However, at paragraph 30 of the Explanatory Memorandum, the Department of Health has suggested a cost for the communications campaign of around £1 million. That does not seem like a lot of money for an advertising campaign. To be effective in reaching young people, it would have to be television image-directed. I am no expert in modern advertising budgets, but £1 million does not seem to be a lot.

If we are talking about money, the Committee would benefit from a little more information about the £29 million that is to be put in the hands of local authorities. At the same time, the Minister would make me sleep more easily in my bed if she could say something a little more extensive about the budget for advertising. Reaching young people as part of implementing the orders will be very important if we are to get the outcome that the Government seek.

I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for explaining the orders, although she will not expect me, a libertarian and a sceptic about scientific claims that are unsupported by empirical evidence, to be enthusiastic about them.

I shall start off on a slightly carping note: the phrase “smoke free” is used frequently throughout the regulations, but they really mean “tobacco smoke free” and “herbal cigarette smoke free”, herbal cigarettes containing no tobacco. There is no freedom from the smoke from bonfires, which can be extremely noxious, with people burning plastics and all sorts of dangerous things. Nor is there any freedom from traffic pollution or industrial pollution. The Minister will remember that no less a person than the Deputy Prime Minister told the House of Commons not long ago that 40,000 people a year died from traffic pollution and industrial pollution, a figure vastly in excess of the most extreme number of people who were said to have died from passive smoking.

I shall go through the orders in turn. First, I will deal with the penalties. I find the fine of £1,000, albeit with the option of a fixed penalty, in relation to the display of “No Smoking” signs rather alarming. How widespread do the “No Smoking” signs have to be? I read in the paper—yesterday, I think, or perhaps today—that clergymen in Wales were being told that they had to put up “No Smoking” signs in churches. That is extraordinary, although it does not apply to England. I have never—

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, is probably thinking of the splendid memorial meeting for the late Lord Harris of High Cross, which took place a week ago in St John’s, Smith Square. People were allowed to smoke in the crypt, but a crypt, I believe, is not a consecrated part of a church.

Can I put the noble Lord right? St John’s, Smith Square, does not happen to be a consecrated church. On the same point, however, I have had to ask people going into a wedding in our local cathedral to snuff out their cigarettes—I promise you.

I did not realise that St John’s, Smith Square, had been deconsecrated; that explains a lot. I am horrified to hear about what happened in her cathedral. Twenty-five years ago in Venice, my wife and I were horrified to see a party of German peasants—“peasants” is the only word that one can use—wearing those short-peaked caps that one finds in Nordic countries and smoking small cigars as they went into St Mark’s. They got a long way in before they were stopped. I have never come across that in England; I am horrified that we are not as well behaved in this country as I had thought we were. It must be pretty unusual all the same. However, it would be nice to hear from the noble Baroness whether it would be necessary to pollute our parish churches and cathedrals with “No Smoking” signs all over the place. They are not venues where you would expect people to smoke.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I am alarmed at the very high maximum penalty for failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place; that is, £2,500. As he says, that is much higher than applies in Scotland. What will happen if the landlord of a pub or the manager of a restaurant tries to evict someone who is smoking? Will he not be arrested by the police for assault? We constantly read of people trying to make citizen’s arrests in a very public-spirited fashion being arrested by the police and kept in a stinking cell for several hours because they have allegedly taken the law into their own hands. Is there not a danger that that will happen here? Why is there no lower fixed penalty for this offence as there is for the others?

On the exemptions and vehicles regulations, I am delighted that provision is made for offshore installations to have designated rooms which are well insulated so that smoke cannot drift into other parts. But why are not workers on the mainland given rooms which are well sealed so that smoke does not pollute other parts of the factory, office block or whatever? Why are only offshore installations being given this privilege? Obviously, it cannot be dangerous, because the Government would not allow that. It seems to me to be mean spirited.

I see that vehicles partly enclosed by a roof are caught by the regulations, which will presumably knock out a Citroën “Deux Chevaux”, if such an example still exists. But a vehicle where the hood folds down totally into the body is exempt. There are not many cars used for business in that category now, but I suspect that there may be once these regulations come into play. Again, on a point of detail, under Regulation 11(5)(b) of Part 3, a vehicle is exempt where someone,

“has a right to use it which is not restricted to a particular journey”.

I have been trying to puzzle that out: I am probably very dense, but I am not quite sure of the subtlety there.

Finally, on the sale of tobacco to young persons, there is not really very much that I can say except to repeat that it is paradoxical that a Government, which six-and-a-quarter years ago used the Parliament Act to force through a law to allow boys and girls of 16 and 17 to be subjected to dangerous sexual practices—which the noble Lord, McColl of Dulwich, a great medical expert, told us was twice as dangerous as smoking in moderation—are restricting tobacco for people of the same age group, even if it is not being banned totally. I do not suppose that I will get very far on that, but I would be interested in answers to my earlier queries.

Like my noble friend Lord Howe, I congratulate the Government on the age for buying cigarettes being raised to 18. That is brilliant and very well done. I have a problem with the exposure of staff in care homes, hospices and prisons to smoking. Does that conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights where the staff will be exposed if the inmates are allowed to smoke? I am concerned about that because people who have a real problem about smoke probably would not be able to be employed in those areas, which is discriminatory, is it not?

I know that the noble Lord will not be terribly keen on my point about Ireland. The fixed penalty for smoking in a non-smoking premises, to which he objected so strongly, is up to €3,000 in Ireland, which is £2,000. So the penalties we have here are well within the range. Frankly, you need something fairly drastic to stop all this, because otherwise people will try to get around it.

I want to ask the noble Baroness about vehicles. Regulation 11(1)(b), under “Vehicles”, states that,

“in the course of paid or voluntary work by more than one person (even if those persons use the vehicle at different times, or only intermittently)”.

Lots of people use their own vehicles to give lifts to the elderly to day care centres or to help with meals on wheels. If they smoke in their private vehicles, and continue to do so, will they be stopped from doing that? There might be a problem there. Obviously, I would not want smoking to go on in vehicles when people are being moved in them, as there will be a residual smell of smoke, which causes problems for people as well. I would like to know what the Government’s view is on that.

Are bonfires and the particulates from cars not covered by the Clean Air Act and also by the vehicle regulations which have reduced emissions? I would have thought so. A lot of parish churches and cathedrals are used for musical events, plays and so on. Many so-called secular events take place in cathedrals because their upkeep is so expensive and they are always touting for business. That is another problem.

What about posters? We are talking about a very small amount for TV, which would buy you nothing after agent’s commission and so on. What about the manufacture of posters and smoke-free signs? Will the Government give those to people? Will they be free? Or will everyone have to pay for them?

The noble Baroness suggested that the staff in prisons, care homes, and so on, might have their human rights violated if they were ultra-sensitive—like the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who unfortunately has an extreme condition—and they were not able to take a job. Would that not apply equally to chambermaids in hotels who suffered from that condition, or to room-service staff generally?

Like the noble Earl, I intend to resist the temptation to go over the debates that we had during the passage of the Health Bill. I also congratulate my noble friend and the Government on producing what is now a coherent and what will be an immensely popular policy when the new regulations come into force on 1 July. It is one of those rare occasions when public mood and government policy are wholly in tune.

The experience that we will have in England is the experience that has already occurred in all those countries that have gone smoke free before us. The noble Baroness has referred to Ireland, and the noble Lord has referred to Scotland. Until lunchtime today, I was travelling back from New Zealand, which went entirely smoke free in 2004. The opposition to the Bill in New Zealand was probably stronger than it was in any part of the British Isles. There was a fear that businesses would suffer and that there would be considerable reluctance on the part of native New Zealanders to observe it. That has not been the case. The law is rigorously enforced in New Zealand, not by armies of inspectors, but by the pressure of the public just saying to people, “Excuse me, you cannot smoke here”. In none of the places where smoke-free legislation applied in New Zealand was there any hint that people were flouting it. In the hotel bedrooms, there are rather fierce notices saying that the room is non-smoking, and if you smoke they will clean the room and charge you a supplementary amount for doing so. A number of hotels that I was staying in had notices to that effect.

I think that these regulations are fine. I was a little unhappy about one or two of the exemptions that were included, but I understood why they were. My one question to my noble friend is whether there will be an opportunity in perhaps two or three years’ time to review these regulations to see whether it is necessary, for example, to allow West End theatre productions to continue with smoking on the stage. I do not think that we should have made that concession; it has not been made elsewhere. But, as I say, I do not want to carp or cavil.

I regret also that the legislation will not apply to areas where substantial numbers of people congregate but that are technically in the open air. I am thinking particularly of sports stadiums that are in the open and not covered. The inconvenience and unpleasantness caused by tobacco smoke from smokers around one in a stadium is very substantial. Happily, the Football League is going entirely smoke-free off its own bat from next season. I hope that the other leagues in England and Scotland will follow. The same applies to railway stations and bus stations where large numbers of people congregate. Those places are technically not enclosed but people can suffer great inconvenience and possibly have their health damaged as a result of breathing in second-hand smoke.

As I say, however, I believe that this is another chapter on what is going to be a very successful policy. I commend my noble friend on introducing it.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has been kind enough to acknowledge the fact that, as an asthmatic, I have problems with cigarette smoke. I am sure that these regulations will help many people who suffer from asthma and other smoke-related diseases going about their everyday business, and I thoroughly approve of them.

I am very grateful for the broad welcome that most noble Lords have given the regulations. I shall attempt to answer all the points raised today.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised some points on the Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007. We do not think that there will be a significant knock-on effect on illicit sales. We are not aware of evidence on that point from Ireland, which recently increased the age limit from 16 to 18. We know that children get their cigarettes from a variety of sources, not only shops but friends and families. Street sellers are one source, but our information indicates that only about 5 per cent of young smokers have bought cigarettes from street sellers and that a smaller number get them from their parents—how disgusting. We therefore do not believe that this is a matter of major concern, although it is concerning. It is wise for us to monitor future surveys to identify and act on any changes that might occur.

I turn to why the exemptions for mental health units are different from those for, for example, prisons and hotels. When we embarked on our consultation our proposals for mental health units were similar to those for the other places, that they should be exempt. However, the overwhelming response to the consultation was that all residents in mental health units had a right to have long-term exemptions. The respondents gave a range of reasons; for example: people with mental illness already faced health inequalities and stigma which can be exacerbated by perpetuating smoking in mental health units; given the health inequalities faced by mental health patients, there should be concern for the physical health as well as the mental health of these patients; as the Government have made a White Paper commitment to make the NHS smoke-free, why should mental health patients not benefit from that commitment; and that a culture of smoking exists in mental health settings among residents and staff, and some smokers who go into mental health units as non-smokers leave as smokers. Some people put the contrary view as expressed by the noble Lord, but they were in the minority at, I think, 25 per cent as opposed to 69 per cent of respondents.

Therefore, as the noble Earl will know, we have decided that there will be a sunset clause, and that there will be exemptions. There will be bedrooms or rooms used only for smoking, which must meet the conditions set out in the regulations. The mental health units must designate either bedrooms or rooms to be used only for smoking for persons over the age of 18 until 1 July 2008; thereafter, there will be a total exemption. It was also felt that this was a much simpler process for the people managing the mental health units to deal with.

In response to the point about carers and domestic workers—and what about carpet fitters?—we consider that delivery men and carpet fitters would be covered by the provisions in the regulations because such people maintain the structure and the fabric of the building. They will not be exempt; we are looking after their interests as well. I see that the noble Lord does not quite agree with that, but it is the view of the Government.

With regard to artistic performances, the Government have also received communications from various people involved in the business who have asked why rehearsals cannot be included as well as artistic performances. The Government’s view is that people can practise smoking, or whatever, outside, where they are perfectly free to smoke—or, if it is for artistic purposes, they can use pretend cigarettes. We believe it is necessary for people to be allowed to smoke only during the performance for artistic effect. We have considered that carefully, and that is the view.

In response to the point about research and testing facilities, in November last year, British American Tobacco wrote to officials in the Department of Health to confirm its understanding that its research and development activities would not be affected by the exemption—if that was the point the noble Earl was making.

Is the Minister saying that those activities would not be affected by the exemption, and so would not be exempt?

Yes. They would not be exempt. BAT is able to test its products, as it does now.

Rental vehicles would not be covered by these regulations if they were used primarily for the private purposes of the person who rented the vehicle. It would be the responsibility of the person renting the vehicle to ensure that it was smoke free if required under this legislation. Of course, many rental companies encourage people not to smoke in their vehicles to decrease cleaning costs and increase resale values. I noted in the short debate on this issue that took place yesterday in the other place that the Minister suggested that some large car hire companies might want to designate part of their fleet solely for those people who wish to smoke in vehicles that they hire, and other parts of the fleet solely for people who do not. She is discussing that issue with the car hire companies.

Regarding the “armies of enforcement officers”, some commentators have estimated that there will be 10,000 full-time officers across England. We believe that that is a ridiculous estimate, and it is not based on any fact that we know. We know from other jurisdictions that have introduced smoke-free laws that compliance builds very quickly and that enforcement action is generally not needed. All the stories about “smoking spies” are pure fantasy. Local authorities will want to help businesses to comply with the new laws in the first place so that penalties should not be necessary. There will be no spies—I give your Lordships my undertaking.

We understand the concerns expressed by the noble Earl on litter problems. On planning issues such as erecting outdoor smoking bins, or “butt bins”, on listed buildings for example, we do not anticipate wholesale restrictions on these bins everywhere or that it will be a problem. However, if there is a problem, I am sure that we will be willing to discuss it further. We clearly do not want it to be an impediment to putting bins outside. We certainly do not want cigarette butts everywhere in the streets.

The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked about the £2,500 fine. No fixed penalty is available for this offence. Examples of other offences carrying a level 4 fine, which this is, include selling tobacco products to children under 16 years of age and careless driving. This is therefore a proportionate measure that will help to encourage those who manage or control premises to take compliance with these new laws seriously. I note the helpful comments of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, on the situation in Ireland.

On vehicle enforcement, we should not be dissuaded from making vehicles that can be regarded as mobile workplaces or public places smoke free. The regulations set out a clear position on vehicles, and we will work with local authorities to ensure that a sensible approach to enforcement is taken. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised the issue of vehicles with soft tops or removable hoods. I note that that exemption came from a debate in this very Room, when the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, raised the issue, making my colleagues in the department and our officials aware of the problem. So I put it on the record that it is thanks to the noble Earl that we have that specific exemption.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, gave us his invaluable views about Scotland, and the fact that Scotland’s experience demonstrates that education is key and that we must start communicating now with people about the changes that will take place. The Department of Heath and various others will be marking 23 March, the beginning of the 100-day countdown to 1 July, as a start. Various things, such as badges, posters and pens, have already been produced.

I will certainly provide them for noble Lords who wish to have them. They will all be provided free, and are an important way of getting our messages across.

The noble Lord suggested that £1 million for communication is very little. However, the £1 million is only for the age change. Another £9 million to £10 million will be available for communicating the wider message. I realise that that will probably not go a long way for television advertisements, but it is a start. The £1 million is a significant budget for reaching a very specific group affected by the age change. We will look to target the age change messages in media used by the under-18 age group and retailers.

Do they intend to target schools? You can get quite a lot of 16 to 18 year-olds there. I know a lot of smokers probably leave school at the age of 16, but is this part of the joined-up government syndrome?

I understand that that is currently not part of our planning. However, it would be a very good way to demonstrate our desire to be a joined-up Government, and I will certainly discuss it with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that he thought that “smoke free” might not be the most appropriate way of describing what we are doing. We went for “smoke free” because we believe that this is about freedom for people to breathe and, for people such as my noble friend Lord Simon, not to have asthmatic problems. Rather than talking about a smoking ban, we wanted something much more positive, which is why we went for the words “smoke free”. However, I note what the noble Lord says about bonfires and traffic pollution.

The issue of churches may already have been adequately answered by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain. However, I should point out that churches are public places and workplaces, and are therefore covered by the Act. Clearly, they are often also used for secular purposes, as the noble Baroness suggested. Today, we are not debating signs, and I cannot say what signs will be needed and where they will be, but churches are workplaces.

On offshore installations, the Government’s view is that, when workers on terra firma wish to smoke, they can go outside to a safe designated area. However, it may be rather difficult for them if they are on an offshore installation: they could get quite wet.

Noble Lords asked about funding for enforcement by local councils, and I think that some mentioned the funding package of £29.5 million. This is to be paid over two years to fund the implementation of smoke-free legislation in local areas. Local authorities will be able to spend the funding that they receive as the need arises, including to support businesses, to understand and prepare for the new law, and to build compliance among the general public in the run-up to 1 July. The funding will also be used for enforcement activity and for other ancillary costs, such as street cleansing, once the legislation is implemented. We certainly do not want this to be an extra burden on the already stretched finances of local government.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, mentioned the role of the police. The police are not an enforcement authority under this legislation, so we trust that it will not be necessary to use their valuable time in this way.

On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, there is no human right to a smoke-free environment, but employers are obliged to provide a safe place of work for their employees. It is for employers to make safe arrangements for their staff or risk claims being made to the industrial tribunal.

Like my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester, I am delighted that these regulations are being introduced. It is very good to have first-hand knowledge of the experience in New Zealand, as well as that in Scotland and Ireland. I confirm that we will review the legislation and the exemptions in three years. On sports stadia, I note what my noble friend said, but the fact that the Football League is to be smoke free is certainly a good step forward.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Simon will have a much healthier and trouble-free life now that we have these excellent regulations. I trust that I have answered all the questions asked by noble Lords. If not—

The Minister has been tremendously helpful and I thank her for it, but perhaps she could enlighten me on a point that I made. With regard to a vehicle used for private purposes by a person who is not the owner, what is the difference between it being unrestricted to a particular journey and restricted to a particular journey? There must be a reason for that provision. I do not understand it, and I am not sure how it would be monitored.

As I understand it, it is for hire cars. I am not clear about that and recognise that I did not answer the earlier question from the noble Baroness about whether it is voluntary. I undertake to write to noble Lords with the answer to those two questions.

Before I close, I should like to emphasise the importance that the consultation process played in shaping the detail of these instruments, particularly in respect of mental health units. I thank all the organisations, both professional and third sector, that responded to the consultation and helped us to shape this policy, which we know is now evidence based. We think that that is tremendously important. I shall certainly check Hansard to ensure that I have no more than two letters to write. If I have, I will certainly do so. On the basis of our discussions today, I hope that the Committee will endorse these regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007

I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007. 8th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007

I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007. 8th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.