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Lords Chamber

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 22 March 2007

House of Lords

Thursday, 22 March 2007.

The House met at eleven o’clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Gulf War Illnesses

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What further help they are considering for veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf conflict with Gulf War illnesses.

My Lords, the needs of Gulf veterans remain a high priority for the Government. We are open to undertaking new research where, in the opinion of the independent Medical Research Council, it is considered justified. The MRC has been asked to review research into rehabilitative therapies designed to improve the long-term health of veterans with persistent symptoms.

My Lords, while I am grateful to my noble friend, is it not disquieting that the Pensions Appeal Tribunal itself, the constitutional legal authority for settling veterans’ pension appeals, charges the MoD with,

“reinterpreting, manipulating and tampering with”

tribunal decisions and of actions that,

“appear designed to undermine any closure”

of the dispute? Is he aware that closure will not come from attempts at tactical cleverness, only from a genuine change of heart and direction at the MoD?

Finally, how many British troops could have been exposed to sarin from the fallout at Khamisiyah in 1991, and what amount of sarin was involved?

My Lords, the Ministry of Defence accepts that we could have better communicated the matters relating to the tribunal to which my noble friend refers. We accept that, but we do not accept that there has been any attempt to reinterpret the tribunal decision. The Ministry of Defence does, however, need to communicate these issues better. My honourable friend the Minister for Veterans is committed to doing that.

Approximately 9,000 UK service personnel may have been within the area of possible exposure at Khamisiyah. However, the level of nerve agent to which they would have been exposed in that area was too low to have any biologically detected effect on them.

My Lords, the Minister talks about research into Gulf War illnesses. Can he tell us how much money has been spent in this country on such research, and how that amount compares with expenditure by the Americans on research into Gulf War illnesses?

My Lords, I do not know the amount that the United States has spent on research into Gulf War illnesses. It is recognised in the medical community, however, that all this research is peer-reviewed. It is shared within the community, so any research by the United States is available to us and is taken into account in our consideration of this very important and complex matter. However, I will write to the noble Lord with the data on expenditure by both the United States and the United Kingdom.

My Lords, is the fact that the Ministry of Defence is represented on the interdepartmental Official Group on Organophosphates, the so-called Carden committee, an acknowledgement that some British troops in the Gulf were damaged by exposure to OPs? If so, is it relevant that the Secretary of State recently acknowledged that medical services for troops were in some cases inadequate, and does this apply to the troops who came back from the first Gulf War as well as those who came back from the Iraq invasion? Finally, why is the Department of Health not represented on the Carden committee? It is obviously extremely important to have joined-up government in this matter.

My Lords, I do not know why the Department of Health is not represented on the Carden committee. I will look into it and write to the noble Lord. Frankly, I do not accept the association he makes between concerns over veterans’ illnesses, issues relating to organophosphates and the Gulf War. We look into all these issues, not because we believe that there is necessarily a causal link, but because we have a duty to research these issues properly in order to understand whether there might be one and therefore whether it relates to the nerve agents used at Khamisiyah, raised by my noble friend, to organophosphates or indeed to anything that might cause the symptoms of Gulf War syndrome. However, that does not necessarily mean that we accept that there is a causal link.

My Lords, further to the Minister’s Answer to my noble friend Lord Morris, would he be kind enough to outline the nature of the research commissioned by the MRC and who has been asked to do it?

My Lords, a wide range of studies have been undertaken, including animal and epidemiological studies in terms of the follow-up of veterans. These have looked at a wide range of the possible causes of the syndrome. We accept the existence of Gulf War syndrome as an umbrella term; we do not have evidence to explain its cause. I am happy to write to my noble friend to detail the extent of the research undertaken in the United Kingdom and in the United States. All the research undertaken is under the direction of the Medical Research Council, which advises us on which research would most help us to understand whether there are causal links to anything the troops were exposed to.

My Lords, would the Minister be very kind and look this way? If in being polite to the noble Lord who has asked a question he turns around, we cannot hear him.

My Lords, the Minister said that the troops were not exposed to sufficient doses of sarin to have any effect. Does he realise that American research has shown that combinations of different organophosphates, of which sarin is one, can have different effects? The clothing and tents of troops were sprayed with Top Clip Gold Shield, which is an organophosphate. They were also given pyridostigmine bromide, which is a carbamate closely related to organophosphates and has the same effect on the cholinesterase. Does he not consider, given that the American research shows serious effects on human health, that exposure to these chemicals in combination, particularly when combined with DEET, which is a pyrethroid, has long-term health effects? This has been found by Hailey and Abou-Donia in America. Why do the British Government not accept it?

My Lords, the noble Countess is correct to list these issues; they are areas that have been researched both in terms of individual effects and effects in combination. That research, undertaken over many years here and in the United States, has been assessed by independent peer review. It has not concluded that there is a causal link; that has not been established.

Drivers: EU Regulations

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What effect European Union regulations on driving hours will have on volunteers in the Territorial Army, the fire service and special constables.

My Lords, the new European regulation on drivers’ hours will have a similar effect on volunteers to that of the existing European regulation. Compliance with the prescribed rest requirements will determine how much time professional drivers can spend as volunteers. With the exception of emergency work, any time spent as a reservist, retained fire fighter or special constable will count as other work, not rest.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Can he therefore confirm that these regulations will mean that people who wish to serve in the Territorial Army, the fire fighting services or as special constables will not be able to do so if they have already met the hours specified in the regulations; that is, they will not be able, for example, to drive for the Territorial Army because the time will count as working time and they will already have used all their driving hours?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord’s interpretation. I am sure that matters will proceed pretty much as they have done since the current regulations were put in place in 1985. There are some variations to the way in which the regulation will take effect and it is true that there will be a slight problem in terms of organising operations that reservists have to drive on in order to take account of their fully paid work. The important point here is that we need to ensure that proper health and safety regulations are in place so that they and those who work with them are protected from tiredness. We do not want operations to be undermined by tiredness.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will advise the Minister that we depend greatly on our military reservists in military operations. There is now a high degree of confusion within the reserve community and among employers about the exact situation regarding the requirement for rest periods. Can the information be put on the Ministry of Defence website via the Department for Transport so that everyone knows what the rules are? If this has implications for the number of our reserves, can we have a statement on how it is to be handled by the Ministry of Defence?

My Lords, I am sure it can be put on the website. I know that the Ministry of Defence fully supports the spirit of this legislation and for many years has had measures in place to ensure that people are not unduly exposed to the risks I referred to earlier. I agree with the noble Lord that there is a dependence on reservists. They play a very important part in our operations.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that limitations in character may not become apparent until a soldier is tired—very tired? If we adhere to the drivers’ hours regulations and the working time directive, which also impacts on the TA, we run the risk of promoting soldiers in the TA who have some limitations in capability.

My Lords, it is important that those who serve and do a highly valued job in the Territorial Army are fully fit for work. That is what the regulations aim to ensure.

My Lords, I understand that the Government spent around four years negotiating these new regulations, yet the consultation paper states that with regard to the derogation,

“the existing position remains virtually unchanged”.

Will the Minister tell us what they negotiated?

My Lords, I am not going to attempt to get into the micro-detail of negotiations from the Dispatch Box today; it could take some hours, I am sure. We were arguing about some of the impacts and some of the detail. That is quite right as some of the detail can have an effect on our ability to provide for the Territorial Army and the other reserve services.

My Lords, the retained firefighters cannot arrange when they go out with their machines; they have to go out when the fires occur. Will the Minister give us an absolute assurance that these regulations will not in any way affect the operation of retained fire services, where they exist?

My Lords, there are two points here. First, it is clear that the EU regulation has not been identified as having a significant impact on the ability to recruit or retain retained firefighters. Secondly, drivers volunteering as retained firefighters are exempt from the new EU regulation when dealing with an emergency.

My Lords, will the Minister define “significant”? Have we lost people who would have been able to serve?

My Lords, I am not aware that we have lost people who would otherwise be available to serve. I am clear that this has not had an impact on the retained fire service.

My Lords, if I may come in on that, the Commission apparently said that it was possible to seek a derogation from the regulations for the Armed Forces. Have the Government sought such a derogation for the Armed Forces?

My Lords, I am not aware that we are approaching the matter in that way. If there are problems with the way in which the regulations work, I am sure that we will have further discussions to ensure that the necessary flexibility exists. That would be very important.

My Lords, under the drivers’ hours regulations, a vocational driver must have his tachograph discs from the previous week or two to show to the authorities what his driving activity has been. Military vehicles are not equipped with tachographs. How does a driver who has done some service driving over the weekend meet that requirement?

My Lords, that sounds like an incredibly good question. I am so confounded by the noble Earl’s knowledge and wit that I will have to retreat and find a Written Answer for him.

Prisoners: Foreign Nationals

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many of the 1,013 foreign citizens released from prison without consideration for deportation have since been deported.

My Lords, deportation is occurring at higher volumes than ever before, with 2,240 individuals removed or deported since April 2006. Within the group of 1,013, we are pursuing deportation action against 675 individuals, and 163 have so far been deported.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her reply, but the latest report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee reveal not just that only 163 of the prisoners referred to in my Question have been deported, but also that, in the effort to get back behind bars the 1,013 who were wrongly released, British citizens have been mistaken for foreign prisoners and carted off to jail, foreign nationals have not been deported even when they have been desperate to return home, with one prisoner becoming suicidal after being wrongly kept in prison for seven months, and 1,300 foreign prisoners are still being detained after the expiry of their sentences, thus contributing to the prison overcrowding crisis. Does not this reveal the worst kind of administrative shambles, as the chief executive of NACRO said, and suggest that the Home Secretary has no better grip on his department than his predecessor?

My Lords, I cannot accept that that is the true reflection of where we are now. Noble Lords will know that no foreign national prisoners have been released without full deportation consideration being given to their case. We are speeding up the process of consideration. Deportation is now being considered four months before release in the majority of deportation cases, and deportations of foreign national prisoners are occurring at a higher volume than ever before. As at 12 February, 2,240 foreign national prisoners had been deported, as I indicated. So I cannot accept the noble Lord’s description. Furthermore, I think that it is right to say that Anne Owers accepted in her report that the system has improved. There is much to do, but much has certainly been done.

My Lords, if the Minister does not recognise my noble friend’s description, is she denying that British citizens have been wrongly targeted for deportation? Is she denying that the Government have on occasions during the past year had to pay out £55,000 in compensation for people wrongly detained? Wherein has my noble friend misdirected the House’s attention?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that Lin Homer, the director-general of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, has now made four very full reports, the last of which was in February, detailing the precise number of those who have been removed and identified. The noble Baroness will see in those figures a small number of prisoners who were initially identified as foreign nationals. When proper investigation was then undertaken, it was demonstrated that they should not have been retained. Those issues have been clearly outlined. To suggest, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, did, that my right honourable friend in charge of the Home Department does not have a grip is very far from the truth, as the House knows.

My Lords, the Minister said that the number was small, but will she say how many British nationals as opposed to foreign nationals were detained after they had completed their sentence? Also, is it not possible to identify the national status of an individual at the beginning of the sentence rather than waiting until the sentence has been completed?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. He will know that we are now adopting a process of early identification. We are looking at a number of systemic changes in order to accurately identify at the beginning of the process the nationality of the individual who is brought through the system. The noble Lord will also know that the difficulty that we have had historically, in each Administration, is that we have had self-identification, so that the individual will not necessarily be able to be challenged about their nationality. The details of the numbers are clearly set out in Lin Homer’s four reports and I invite the House to refresh their memory from those. There are copies in the Library.

My Lords, does the Minister challenge the accuracy of the detailed information given by my noble friend Lord Waddington?

My Lords, some of those figures have to be looked at within the context of the broader figures. My point was that this context is clearly set out in Lin Homer’s four full reports and that it would be far better for us to look at those. The figures were an issue of concern and as a result, as noble Lords will know, it was agreed that the director-general should set out these figures on a regular basis. It is very difficult to correlate figures pulled out from other reports away from the figures that she gives, because different dates give us different figures. That is why, although I am not specifically challenging, I am saying that one has to correlate those figures with the figures given by Lin Homer and the dates on which they were collected.

My Lords, how many prison places are still taken up by asylum seekers, or so-called failed asylum seekers, who have been detained without any charge being brought, purely pending removal? How long do we have to use prison for this purpose?

My Lords, we have no failed asylum seekers who are not foreign national prisoners in our prison estate. The noble Earl will know that there are in the removal centres those who are failed asylum seekers and who have not agreed to go voluntarily.

Olympic Games 2012: Costs

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their latest estimate of the cost of the 2012 Olympic Games in London; and how this differs from the original budget.

My Lords, the estimated cost at bid was just over £4 billion, including around £1.7 billion for infrastructure and regeneration. On 15 March the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport announced a construction budget for the Olympic Delivery Authority of £5.3 billion, comprising £3.1 billion for the building of the Olympic Park and venues—the core Olympic costs—£1.7 billion for Olympic infrastructure and regeneration, linking the park to the rest of the Lower Lea Valley, and £500 million for programme contingency. Tax on this of around £840 million is to be met by government. There is also an unallocated programme contingency of £2.2 billion including tax, £390 million for non-ODA provision including sport, and £600 million for wider security costs.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that all of us want to see the London Olympics succeed but that there is now serious public concern, as those figures—they amount to over £9 billion—show, about the financial management and planning of these Games? One particular concern is of the bill being passed on to the National Lottery, which has now increased by £675 million to £2.2 billion. Surely that is going to have an impact on future grants to arts bodies, heritage organisations, charities and sporting organisations all around the country.

My Lords, the lottery was established to fund unique projects and aid regeneration, and there cannot be a more unique project—or, indeed, a more expensive one—than the Olympic Games.

Well, my Lords, clearly it is a unique opportunity for this country, not to be realised again in our lifetimes. The noble Lord is right that it will impact upon certain aspects of the heritage and arts budgets, although not the sports budget, which we are guaranteed will play its part with regard to the Olympics. We have entered into an agreement with the Mayor of London that part of the land development profits on the Olympic Park site will be redirected to the lottery so that we make up lost ground in terms of the resources available in future years.

My Lords, while it is right and proper to examine closely the cost of the London Olympics, it is also important to look at the value. Does my noble friend support the idea of making these the greenest of Games? We must ensure a green legacy, especially in the east side of London, so that once the Games have gone we still have something left. I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission, which leads one of these consortiums.

My Lords, my noble friend is right that it is important that we attach due regard to the green legacy. One aspect is guaranteed—the Lea Valley will be transformed. It may be to the east, but it is only two miles from the centre of London. The Lea Valley will be the largest green urban park created for more than a century. It will be a spectacular legacy to our people, and I am grateful to my noble friend for emphasising this important part of the Olympic project.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that during the period between the initial funding of the Games and the return following the capital development and sale of the property later on, a number of very important charities that deal with the most vulnerable people in our society will be put seriously at risk?

My Lords, no existing projects will be affected adversely. However, certain parts of the lottery budget will be affected for the intervening years until we are able to realise the resources from the Games as part of the legacy. The lottery has always been envisaged as making a contribution to the Games, which is bound to mean some restrictions in other parts of the budget.

My Lords, does the Minister think that everyone involved in the project would benefit from looking at the experience of the Great Exhibition in the 19th century? It made a profit that was sufficient to pay for the building of the Albert Hall, and for the establishment of Imperial College and the forerunner of the V&A. The surplus that was invested has provided a fund of £50 million providing for scholarships for students in design and engineering. What was it about the 19th century that enabled people to do projects on a grand scale without having to look to the taxpayer to bail out the inefficiencies and losses which have not been anticipated?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing attention to one of the more spectacular achievements of the 19th century. It is important to view the Olympic Games in 2012 as a similar opportunity for the 21st century. That is why the Government, while having due regard to the costs, were very concerned that the project should be translated into a regeneration project in which the emphasis upon the legacy from the Games should be all pervasive. The noble Lord is absolutely right—the Games need to be, and will be, an outstanding success. Of at least equal importance is the legacy for the British people that this opportunity provides.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a great deal of scaremongering by a lot of people based on a lack of information? Will the Government undertake to ensure that everybody involved lets us know exactly what the situation is on the financing and the control of the budget so that we do not go over this every six months until the Games start?

My Lords, I am sufficiently optimistic that we shall not be looking at the budget in the immediate run-in to the Games. However, for the next 18 months or so, until we are past the Beijing Olympic Games and the focus shifts to the enormous opportunity which is then afforded to London, we can all foresee that people will examine costs because they cannot see benefits. But in due course everyone will be on side for the benefits.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it took 28 years to pay off the debts from the Montreal Olympics, and that Montreal was left with a lot of equipment which has become absolutely useless? Given that we seem to have serious problems with arithmetic, does he not think that the matter ought to be reconsidered?

My Lords, the Montreal Olympics is a dire example of things that have gone wrong in the past, but there are more recent illustrations. I do not think that the legacy of the Athens Olympics is looked upon with a great deal of pride either. In this Olympic concept and programme, the Games are the focal point of the development, but we have emphasised all along that attention to their legacy should be as positive as we can make it. That is why every aspect of the investment also relates to that dimension.

Business of the House: Debates Today

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend the Leader of the House on the Order Paper.

Moved, that the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Walmsley set down for today shall be limited to two hours and that in the name of Lord Lester of Herne Hill to three hours.—(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Public Services

rose to call attention to the monitoring by Parliament and Government of the quality, value for money and transparency of public services commissioned from the private sector; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, all of us in your Lordships’ House pay our taxes and, like our fellow citizens, we are very keen to ensure that the money is spent by national and local government wisely and carefully. We want to see value for money, services delivered by people who are expert in their field and fairness in any competition to gain contracts for the work.

There is one overarching principle underpinning what I want to say today: transparency in the way public money is spent forms the democratic link between those being taxed and those spending the taxes on their behalf. In a free and democratic society, monitoring and transparency in the funding of public services are essential.

None of us on these Benches wants to tax the British public overall any more than they are already taxed. We may want to tax things differently, such as the environmental taxes that we have long proposed, but we certainly do not want to tax more. That is why I feel it is vital to scrutinise very carefully how public money—our money—is spent. Historically, public services were mostly delivered by the ranks of employees of government departments and their agents. That was a long time ago. Nowadays, there are actually fewer real public services than there used to be, following the series of privatisations of the past three decades. The supply of water, telephone services, electricity and gas are now private services. The consumer can choose their provider of these domestic services. The provision of train and bus journeys is now a private service, and there are many more examples. There are even plans to privatise social services, about which I am extremely cautious, since people’s lives are at stake.

Some public services are still controlled by local and national government, although nowadays they are hardly delivered by them at all. The ranks of civil servants and local authority employees have been drastically reduced. Instead, many workers delivering public services are employees of private companies and charitable organisations which compete with others to deliver public services. That is a very good thing. We have seen major improvements in the delivery of some services because of that competition. People earn a good living from it, and companies make fair profits. That is absolutely fine. We see some excellent examples where two organisations can pool their expertise to deliver a public service. I cite for example the partnership between an arm of Serco, a private company, and the voluntary organisation I CAN. They combine their expertise to promote speaking and listening skills in schools. The children’s services provided by the NSPCC and other charities are excellent and delivered by experts on the basis of evidence of what works.

Yet I was most concerned to read recently in the Charity Commission report Stand and Deliver that only 12 per cent of voluntary organisations undertaking public service contracts are paid in full, which undermines the whole concept of contestability. How can the Minister, on behalf of the Government, justify such a thing?

The role of government departments, non-departmental government bodies and local authorities has changed. They are now strategic service commissioners rather than having the provider role of the past. In these circumstances, the quality of the commissioning guarantees the taxpayer value for money. The quality of the monitoring ensures that the taxpayer continues to get value over the years of the contract.

There are now two giants in the delivery of public services: Serco and Capita. Serco was described by the Guardian as,

“the biggest company you have never heard of”.

This is where I come to the transparency part of my question. These two companies run enormous quantities of our public services. Last year, Serco’s net income was £79.5 million and Capita’s profit before tax is quoted on its website as £193.2 million. Yet Capita is known only for the London congestion charge and Serco is hardly known at all to the man in the street.

Serco manages transport systems, facilities for the Atomic Energy Authority, air-traffic control systems, both civilian and for the RAF, provides electronic tagging for offenders and runs prisons, young offender institutions and an immigration removal centre. It provides health services and is approved to bid for the operation and turnaround of failing NHS trusts. It runs education support and information services for schools and it operates leisure centres. It is a British-based, international company, but most of its turnover comes from the UK.

Capita is another British company; it has been part of the FTSE 100 since 2004. It has grown from a £100 million company in 1997, when Labour came to power, to a £4 billion FTSE company by 2006. No wonder its former executive chairman felt able to loan the Labour Party £1 million. The company’s public service contracts range through education—it runs all teachers’ pensions and is the leading provider of IT support and software to schools and local authorities—to health services, the London congestion charge, the criminal records disclosure system, National Rail, BBC information and TV licensing, the operation of benefits such as the education maintenance allowance and an enormous number of business management and IT services to central and local government. There is much more, too.

So widespread are the services provided by these companies that we have no idea whether there are any conflicts of interests within the spectrum of what they do. How can any one person outside the company know that? So enormous are they that the whole of life as we know it in this country would collapse if they withdrew their services, fell by the wayside commercially in some way or were taken over by a foreign company.

In any other sector the competition commissioner would have something to say about this. If they controlled such a large proportion of the media, some regulator would have something to say. If they controlled such a large percentage of any other industry, there would be concern. Yet nobody seems concerned. Do the Government have any plans to limit the proportion of public services that can be delivered by any one company?

It behoves us all to ensure that profitable public service contracts are awarded fairly, after fair competition. Much is at stake. Those who rely most on public services are the most vulnerable members of society. For their sake, we must achieve value for money and ensure that the relevant information is in the public domain. Sadly, there is evidence that that is not always the case.

I quote one example given to me this week by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the deputy chairman of the London Assembly, whose role is to scrutinise the office of the Mayor of London on behalf of the citizens of the capital. She is unable to be in her place today, but she told me that when the London congestion charge scheme was introduced, the contract between Transport for London, chaired by the mayor, and Capita, which runs the congestion charge scheme, was not put into the public domain. She and a Labour Member of the Assembly requested it on a number of occasions. They were told that it contained a confidentiality clause that precluded both parties from publishing it, so the mayor and Transport for London could not provide it for her. Capita came up with the converse reason. Eventually, the mayor agreed to ask Capita to agree to its release. It consisted of 600 pages, and it crashed the GLA computer.

On a general point, it is inevitable that private companies will want to keep the detail of their relationship with their customers to themselves. Theirs is a very different culture from that of the public services. It is therefore all the more necessary for the public sector to be alert to that and to so arrange things from the start that there is maximum openness about contracts for public services.

That becomes all the more important because of the scale of the matter. Recent estimates by Kable, an organisation that provides technology research and analysis on UK government and public services, suggest that almost one fifth of public sector services— £60 billion—could be delivered through outsourcing to private and voluntary bodies. The principal sectors targeted are health and education, much of it IT services and management tools, but a lot of it is local government services too. It estimates that the market for public sector outsourcing for 2005-06 reached £49.4 billion and will grow by 30 per cent over the next three years, to reach an annual spend of £64.3 billion, a growth rate of over 9 per cent.

With public spending reaching £550 billion in 2005-06, the pressure to contain costs and improve service delivery is stronger than ever. It is a great challenge to the private companies and voluntary organisations in the field. It is also a great challenge to the commissioners of services to ensure that they are wise commissioners, that the contracts are right, that they deliver value, that monitoring will expose failure that can be rooted out wherever it is found and that the public are not bound to contracts for 30 years from which they cannot be extricated. I fear that many PFI contracts will turn out to be of that nature. They are short-term solutions to long-term problems, and they put the country in hock for decades.

In my field, education, schools now have control over the vast majority of their own budget. That is a good thing in the main, although there is enormous pressure on local authorities to find the money for the support services for which they are still responsible. They have to pick up the pieces when individual schools fail children, and that can be very hard. It makes schools vulnerable to the clever sales pitches of companies that sell them the latest whizz-bang techie idea or snake oil that will solve all their problems. I think that rather ironic description applies to the military equipment companies that have persuaded about 3,500 schools to buy equipment to fingerprint their pupils for purposes as trivial as borrowing library books or paying for their lunch.

I will not go into the detail of the practice here, since the Minister replying today will not be in a position to answer me. Suffice it to say that the DfES has really no idea what is going on out there. It does not know how many schools are doing this or how many children are affected. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in answer to a question from me earlier this week, revealed that his department is unaware that most of those schools are flouting good practice by not getting the parents’ permission for this infringement of their children’s rights. That is the sort of thing that can happen when services to the public sector are not properly monitored. The Government are walking blindfolded into a future identity fraud crisis, and the parents and children do not even know about it or realise the implications of the practice.

Proper monitoring of outsourced public services is essential. Having opened up the market and allowed schools to spend their own money, the Government must introduce statutory guidance to regulate schools that use those systems. It is simply bad practice for schools to keep a record of children's precious and unique biometric information, sometimes on insecure computers that can be hacked into, without parents’ informed consent. The Government should do something about it before it is too late.

The other most contentious involvement of private sector companies and voluntary organisations in education is in the takeover of city academies, in exchange for a fairly paltry sum of money, some of which is never even paid. We on these Benches have always welcomed the injection of money and ideas from successful business people into our schools but not at the cost of relinquishing public accountability and democratic control. When we talk about state provision of compulsory school-age education, we must have local democratic accountability, and that is missing from these schools.

Some academies have awarded valuable contracts for services to companies owned by their sponsors without the proper competitive tendering process that they are supposed to operate. According to an article in the Guardian last week, that has happened in the Grace Academy in Solihull, the King’s Academy in Middlesbrough and the West London Academy. In some cases, the DfES was persuaded to waive the usually strict rules about tendering to allow that to happen. The DfES has refused to answer questions about whether these are one-off situations or whether the practice is widespread.

In these matters, as in all the other situations I have mentioned, the confidence of the public will be gained only if transparency and fairness are the watchwords. Examples such as these undermine the confidence of the public in these public/private arrangements and make them suspicious that someone is lining his pocket at the expense of taxpayers. I accept that, in most cases, that is not so. Most companies and voluntary organisations give good value and a fair deal, but we need to be convinced that the monitoring of this brave new world of private delivery of services is rigorous and that the levers available to correct poor delivery are powerful. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for giving us this opportunity to discuss the important issue of how we monitor our public services. However, the issues that she raised in her speech and that are implicit in her Motion on the private provision of public services are, I suggest, equally important to all providers of public services, whether public, private or third sector.

There is something slightly quaint about singling out private sector providers for special attention. As the noble Baroness said, in many parts of public services, such as health, adult social care, children’s services and criminal justice, a mixed economy of providers has been the reality for some time. As someone who has, in a variety of roles, spent over two decades promoting such a mixed economy, I believe that if it is done properly, the public can only benefit.

I want to concentrate on this wider context and the arrangements necessary to ensure quality, value for money and transparency among all types of public service providers. I shall deal briefly with a great myth that continues to be aired noisily by those who regard private provision of public services as, to coin a phrase, the Great Satan. Good and bad public and private providers of services exist; they have always existed and, no doubt, they will continue to exist. The trick is to weed them out or not to appoint them in the first place.

My experience as a long-standing public servant is that there is not much to choose from between a public and a private monopoly for giving the public a raw deal. I have seen and contracted for private providers in health, adult social care and custodial services that match and exceed their public service counterparts. I have also seen the reverse. The evidence on private and hospital-cleaning contractors, for example, is that they are both as good and as bad as their public counterparts. Very often, it is more a matter of the quality of the contract and its management than anything else.

Let us never forget that group of small business men with profit-and-loss accounts—we call them GPs—who have been providing our primary care in the NHS for nearly 60 years. More recently, in the field of elective surgery we have seen the introduction of independent sector treatment centres, which has finally convinced some sceptics in the NHS that you can separate emergency and planned surgery lists and that that leads to fewer cancelled operations and increased adoption of day surgery. In all these examples and many others, fair and well drawn contracts, issued on a competitive basis and properly enforced, are critical to success. No one is arguing with that, but even-handedness is the key.

The ISTC example illustrates the benefits of competition in improving value for money in public services, but we have seen the same results in other areas. My experience as a Minister, as a director of social services and as the first chairman of the Youth Justice Board leaves me in no doubt that a degree of contestability is critical in most of our public services if we are to foster innovation and improve productivity.

As public expectations of our public services rightly grow, the biggest challenge is to respond more effectively and productively than has sometimes been the case. That is why a twin-track approach of investment and reform in areas as diverse as health and probation is important in improving these services. Both services have had a lot of extra money, but they still have some way to go in delivering the productivity improvements that need to accompany that investment. Probation is a good example of where more properly commissioned and contracted private and voluntary sector services, as envisaged in the Offender Management Bill, might also help to reduce the use of custody.

We have a long and honourable tradition of voluntary organisations providing public services, which the noble Baroness rightly alluded to. Among the best things that I did as a director of social services in Kent was to contract out to Age Concern many day centres for elderly people and to hand over family support work to voluntary organisations. The result was services that were more responsive to the users than the previous public service provider had been.

Of course, not every voluntary organisation is an excellent service provider. I have terminated contracts with voluntary organisations, just as I have terminated contracts with public providers. It comes down to the processes by which you monitor, contract and collect information. To make things more complex, we are now in an era of joint ventures between the different sectors, and we have an emerging social enterprise sector. There is no point in concentrating on the private sector alone. We are moving into a period when a far more complex range of people, in joint ventures in some cases, will provide our public services under contract. This means that we need approaches and arrangements for guaranteeing quality and value for money that operate even-handedly across all providers of public services, irrespective of their governance systems. That is particularly crucial now that the public are largely indifferent about who provides those public services—and they are still public services, commissioned by public bodies that are accountable for spending the money that they use to award those contracts.

In the NHS, for example, people across the social classes want more say on where and when they are treated. We are moving towards a situation where people want more choice. That is why the Government are right to promote choice across the public services. This is a means of improving user experience. There is nothing that so interests people as getting a good deal. Leaving them to make some of those choices and to report on their experience is a good way of driving up the quality of our public services. Choice for users is a mechanism by which we can often make improvements. This approach is also generating more and better information for service users. I cite, for example, a pioneering website called “Patient Opinion”, set up by a Sheffield GP, which allows patients to post their own hospital experiences and encourages hospital improvements. We need more of those improvements. We can trust the service users to drive the quality and VFM agendas.

Choice and contestability are two key drivers for improved public services, but they cannot do the job on their own. We also need better commissioning and contracting, good and open performance measurement, and more effective and even-handed regulation. The Government have been working hard to improve those arrangements and I am glad to have had the opportunity to play my part in bringing about those improvements.

Local government has done much good work in improving public sector commissioning and contracting, and we all have a lot to learn from its experience in that area under successive Governments—I am not making a party-political point. Other public services could well learn from that experience, too. However, we have to recognise that outsourcing is not a dirty word; it is a way of getting a job done more effectively than often a particular public corporation can do. Done properly, outsourcing is a sensible way of using public money. Saving up our pennies to buy a massively expensive piece of capital equipment that can quickly become out of date is poor value for money; that approach is often better replaced by leasing arrangements, where the lease requires the provider of that expensive kit to train the staff, maintain it and keep it up to date.

These approaches that involve the private sector can bring huge benefits to the public sector and achieve better value for money. However, none of these changes in any way diminishes the public accountability of the public body that accounts for the expenditure of that money. Nothing in any way removes Parliament’s ability to scrutinise that way of providing public services.

I want to spend a few moments talking about targets, which has become a dirty word in public services. It is naive and disingenuous to suggest that targets have no place in this area. As an aside, I was mildly amused to hear that the Leader of the Opposition is very keen to abolish all targets in the health service but wants to introduce them for climate change. There is an interesting approach on these issues when you are in opposition, compared with when you are in government. The much dreaded targets in the NHS have actually reduced waiting times and cancer deaths and improved the quality of our A&E services. We must be selective in the way that targets are used, but they are a way of driving up improvements in our services.

We need good performance, assessment and measurement in our public services and we need to make sure that that work is often done on an independent basis by independent bodies, such as Ofsted and the Healthcare Commission. They have a responsibility to put their findings into the public arena and to make that information available to the public, which also feeds into helping the public themselves to improve the choices that they make in the use of public services.

Let me finally say a few words about regulation. In this country, too much public inspection and regulation has been allowed to become over-bureaucratic and, in some bodies, has delivered a degree of mission creep. The Government are right to have tried to tackle this problem. They should be commended for the Better Regulation Task Force and its work and for trying to integrate and focus many of our public inspectorates. In health and social care, there will be a new combined regulator, which will have to behave even-handedly with service providers, whether they come from the public, private or voluntary sectors.

This is an issue for debate and I am sure that we will debate it further, because the Government will need to legislate in this area. My critical point is that, in regulation, we need to adopt an even-handed approach to providers. There need to be the same rules for entry to the market for providers, whoever they are and wherever they come from. There need to be the same rules for removal from the market for failing bodies. This needs to be even-handed and we should not perpetuate the myth that somehow one particular type of provider is supremely better than another type of provider because they come from either the public sector or the voluntary sector. That is simply not true; there is no historical evidenceto support it. This is all about good contractingand commissioning of services, good performance measurement and assessment, and good regulation on an even-handed basis.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Walmsley raised a number of important issues in an excellent opening speech to a very important debate. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, called the issues that she raised quaint smacks of enormous complacency in a number of areas, two of which I will explore in my speech. I want to concentrate on the lack of transparency in two areas.

First, the line between the public and the private has become so blurred that it is very hard for the public to follow lines of accountability; that is not acceptable. It is clear to the public that they pay for such services, especially at this time of year when council tax bills land on their doormats and their tax returns have just been filed. A blurring of that line undermines the very reason behind a democratic structure at national and local level. The problem for the public is that the line between the public and private sectors in the provision of what are traditionally known as public services used to be defined by who delivered the service. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, is right that the model where the public sector both commissioned and delivered the service is very old-fashioned. I am not commending a return to the days when DLOs delivered everything without question. However, the public are not aware of who is delivering the service beyond the fact that they are on the receiving end. They see the lorries of the waste collector or the vans of the sub-contractor and that is the nearest that they come to knowing who is delivering the service. The niceties of who has commissioned the service and of the contract are not something that they are privy to.

Does that matter if the service is excellent? Do the public want to know who is delivering the service? The noble Lord, Lord Warner, said that the public are indifferent. In the short term it is true; they only want to know if something goes wrong. In the long term the blurring of the line, if it is not replaced with anything else, has enormous implications for the important connection between the public and their services, and for democracy itself. Of course, we have moved on from the days when DLOs delivered everything, and the days under the Conservative Government when compulsory competitive tendering ruled the day and the work went to the lowest-price bidder, no matter that the lowest price often represented the worst value. Authorities were unable to question that.

There are advantages in the public and private sectors working together; for example, in the management skills and financial acumen of the business community and by bringing better value for taxpayers. In the long term, however, we have a long way to go to get the model right. I do not believe that times have moved on significantly. In 2002, the Institute for Public Policy Research looked into some of the 378 PFI projects completed by central and local government and found that only 23 had been completed on time and had had an independent value-for-money examination by independent audit bodies. In 2003, the Audit Commission looked at the operation of the early PFI school contracts. It reached some important conclusions, such as:

“The synergies expected to come from the PFI process had failed to materialise. That type of auditing exercise must now be urgently repeated across other policy areas, particularly in the NHS and the prison sector”.

Both those examples are from some years ago and I expect that the Minister will be able to say that matters have improved substantially in those bodies. However, in 2006, in its strategic plan, the Audit Commission recognised that there was a real problem with transparency. It said:

“If local public bodies are to improve services in ways that people recognise and value, they need to engage better with local people. The governance frameworks that underpin accountability for public money and improving services are evolving”.

“Evolving” is a rather nice euphemism for saying that they are virtually non-existent and there is a very long way to go.

At the moment, one reason why the public often choose litigation, encouraged by certain solicitors, is that it is the clear and obvious route. I do not think that any of us believes that litigation offers the most desirable way forward in public services. The accountability model would mean that the public were involved and understood how to break into the difficult cycle of drawing up contracts. When does anyone go to their local authority and say, “We would be interested in the contract being delivered differently”? It is hard enough for local authority members let alone normal people to know when to break into the cycle of a PCT and say, “What we are receiving is unsatisfactory. We would like it to be delivered differently”. Matters such as the contract cycle, who draws them up and how to make a difference are extremely opaque. That other line of accountability, the ballot box, also becomes undermined if the system is opaque as people will become apathetic, depressed and unable to address the issues. There is an enormous need for these matters to be much more clearly outlined.

I turn to another issue that my noble friend highlighted in her Motion: parliamentary accountability. I was struck by comments of Sir Peter Gershon, in November 2006, when he was talking about the public sector of environmental services. He said:

“In some areas I believe there has to be greater collaboration. I look at environmental services, I could not find a single person in the public sector, who could tell me what the structure of the supply market looked like for environmental services. How many companies there were, were they increasing or reducing, or was business equally spread?

So I went to one of the suppliers in the market and asked them, and they said would you like me to email it to you or send it through the post and you can have it tomorrow morning. It actually told me that over a five-year period the number of suppliers was reducing. How can the public sector procure efficiently without that information? It is just about smart procurement”.

That is a worrying situation, but I am sure the Minister will have an answer for it. It is on the public procurement side of a fairly centralised system, but I deal with Defra, which has an extensive list of quangos—over 60—many of which are very large; for example, the Environment Agency, which is busy outsourcing. To have any idea of what is being purchased, by whom and to what effect becomes very complicated.

In not giving quangos complete independence, the Government remain able to keep a handle on them. However, they often choose that as an excuse to slope shoulders and claim that the Government are not responsible for what that particular body does. I give the Minister a couple of examples. One is the Food Standards Agency, which does a valuable job. The Government claim that it is independent—it is at arm’s length—yet it clearly is responsible to the Department of Health. How do the public concentrate on getting the Food Standards Agency, for example, to address the issues in which they are interested? The FSA has a better record than most in holding public meetings and making the records of them publicly available. Even within Defra there are several bodies which do not meet in public and do not have publicly available records. The picture is very complicated.

I refer the Minister to a debate in which I was involved last year about accountability to Parliament of a public body. The Minister will recall there was a considerable debate around the cuts in funding to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Its parent body—NERC—was created by royal charter, and NERC's website says it is accountable to Parliament. Yet it seemed that it was not that accountable. I accept that it needs to be responsible for commissioning scientific research without political interference, but we were talking about decisions of cutting public funding that had united both the scientific and the political establishments, and still the Science Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, was able to say:

“As for parliamentary accountability, it has always been clear that the council is accountable for its performance”,—[Official Report, 20/3/06; col. 10.]

but not for anything else. That means that even though a body may have a charter making it responsible to Parliament, Ministers can decide that where it is inconvenient it is not accountable to Parliament. In reply to a similar question from me, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said:

“I understand the legal position … NERC is an independent body and the decisions that it reaches are solely for its own council”.—[Official Report, 15/3/06; col. 1278.]

That draws up the fact that, if a body is stated to be accountable to Parliament, certainly it should be.

I close by re-emphasising my support for the stand of my noble friend Lady Walmsley on very large private organisations such as Capita being subject to proper scrutiny. She was completely right when she said that that is the sort of issue that the Competition Commission should be considering and that if it was in any other sector, it would be called into question. The fact that the public are not aware of who is delivering the service, except when something goes wrong, means that there is not much demand from them for such scrutiny. It is not like the supermarkets, for example, where that is very plain, which is why the Competition Commission recognised that there was public concern. If the public heard and understood the points made by my noble friend today, they too would have deep concern and would fully back her call.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for initiating this debate and for her excellent opening remarks. Too rarely is there an opportunity to talk about a development that is profoundly affecting many areas of our lives. I will concentrate on one area only: criminal justice.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, is undertaking an inquiry into the treatment of old people in healthcare and social care settings. We have been hearing very interesting evidence and already we have heard enough to make it clear that our report will have to consider the accountability of private care homes. However, as we are at the evidence-collecting stage, I can do no more than whet your Lordships' appetites about that. We shall also shortly publish a report on the treatment of asylum seekers and there, too, we shall probably consider the accountability of the private companies that carry out forcible removals and are involved in other ways.

I turn to the situation in criminal justice and particularly the contracting out of prisons to private companies. I do not want to talk about the principle of those prisons, although I know that it is very controversial. I want to talk about quality, value for money and transparency—transparency in particular. How can we in Parliament know whether there is quality and value for money and whether we are being well served by those providers if it is difficult to find out about their performance?

Let me start in the obvious place. The annual report and accounts of Her Majesty's Prison Service, which is a report made to the House of Commons, is where one goes to find out about the performance of the Prison Service. It is packed with information on performance against key performance indicators on a range of measures: escape, serious assault, self-inflicted death, resettlement, staff sickness, health and safety, public health, drug treatment programmes and the cost of everything. However, there is something very odd about that report. As it says on the cover, it reports only on public sector prisons, which contain about 90 per cent of prison places. So 10 per cent of the operation of prisons in England and Wales is not reported on annually in a report presented to Parliament. That is not the case in Scotland, where the report covers all prisons and the information is aggregated. So I ask the Minister my first question. Am I mistaken in thinking that the annual report to Parliament of the Prison Service covers only 90 per cent of the prisons in England and Wales and there is no similar reporting mechanism to Parliament for private sector prisons?

In reply, the Minister may be hastily advised to say that there is a report, the Office for Contracted Prisons statement of performance and financial information, on the website of the National Offender Management Service. However, before he replies, I will tell him that that report will not answer my question, as it includes data on three public prisons as well which operate under service-level agreements. I should tell the House that the Government do have a performance rating system for prisons. Level 4 is the highest rating, and indicates an exceptionally high performance. Level 3 is applied to those prisons that meet most of their targets. Level 2 is for prisons with a limited regime or with significant or major problems. Level 1 is applied to prisons that are failing seriously.

The figures can be found only on the Prison Service website. Figures for the end of September 2006 showed the following: 20 per cent of public sector prisons and 9 per cent of private sector prisons were performing at level 4—the best level; 68 per cent of public sector prisons and 64 per cent of private sector prisons were performing at level 3—in other words, were quite good; and 12 per cent of public sector prisons and 27 per cent of private sector prisons were performing at level 2—in other words, were quite bad. I am afraid that I cannot give the House the latest figures for private sector prisons, as those figures have disappeared. Only figures for the public sector prisons now appear on the Prison Service website.

My second set of questions is therefore this: can the Minister say where the figures have gone, on whose authority they were removed, and what will replace them in the public domain? I accept entirely that he will not know the answers to those questions, and I do not expect him to. I do, however, assume that he will be able to write to someone who does and let me know the mystery of the disappearing figures.

We must conclude that there is no annual report to Parliament on the performance of private prisons; so where can we look for information on them? We can, for example, find out about a prison called Rye Hill, which is run by a company called GSL, if we look at the prison’s website, which is very nice. It sets out the prison’s aspirations:

“Here at HMP Rye Hill we pride ourselves on making the difference to all we come into contact with … Our prison staff are highly trained in the necessary skills required to operate a modern prison. Management are clear on leadership and direction”.

Its mission statement is,

“To be the leading provider of privately managed custodial services in the world … We have a total commitment to training our employees to know their job”.

The latest report of 2005 by Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, on Rye Hill, is not on that website. She concludes:

“Our 2003 report described residential staff who were relatively inexperienced and lacking in confidence”.

“In 2005”, she said,

“this situation had worsened. We had very serious concerns about safety at Rye Hill. Staff lacked experience and confidence in managing an experienced prisoner population; this was exacerbated by the absence of visible management support, very low staffing levels and high staff turnover … We found evidence of mobile phones, and we were told by prisoners of the ready availability of drugs and weapons … and there had been a number of recent serious incidents”.

There are other matters in the report which I cannot quote because of the sub judice rule.

Dovegate is another private prison, which is part of the Serco group, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has already mentioned. Serco’s website says of its prison activities:

“In all our prisons we strive to hold our inmates safely, securely and with dignity and respect”.

The chief inspector published her report on Dovegate last week. She says:

“When we last inspected in 2003, we were concerned by the low numbers of staff and their inexperience in dealing with serious and experienced offenders … Worryingly, this unannounced full follow up inspection found that, while a few areas had improved, Dovegate was no safer or more controlled than in 2003. Senior Serco managers assured us—as they had in 2003—that they appreciated the seriousness of the situation and had appointed a new director specifically to turn matters around, but it is of concern that so little progress had been made since our last visit”.

Serco also runs Doncaster prison. At the end of 2005, the chief inspector found a prison that had slipped back since the last inspection. She said that,

“respect was seriously undermined by the physical conditions in which many prisoners lived, which in some cases were squalid. Many prisoners lacked pillows, adequate mattresses, toilet seats … notice-boards and places to store belongings”.

Only just over one in three prisoners were actually in work at any one time. She concluded her report by saying:

“Our main concern was not only that managers had failed to tackle the problems we pointed out at the last inspection, but that the prison had deteriorated in some important respects”.

My question to the Minister is this: in the absence of an annual report on these prisons, and until the chief inspector visits—not annually, but basically about every five years—all we know about these prisons comes from their websites, so would it not aid transparency if they were at least required to put a link on their websites to the chief inspector’s latest report about their prison?

I shall move on to say a word about the contracting process, and whether that could be more transparent too. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that this is very important. There is a secure training centre, a sort of children’s prison, called Oakhill, which holds 75 very vulnerable children. The latest inspection report noted that there was only one qualified social worker on the staff. Information provided by the Minister to the Joint Committee on Human Rights has shown that over a six-month period there were occasions when the minimum staffing levels of the Youth Justice Board were not met. In a later written response to a debate in which this was raised, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, told those who had spoken:

“The part of the country in which Oakhill is situated has very high employment levels and this may have hampered the contractors’ earlier efforts to maintain high and stable staffing levels”.

I find that baffling. When the contract was first drawn up, did not those writing it know that Oakhill was located in a high employment area? So far as I know, the contracts are not in the public domain. Indeed, I would draw to the attention of the Minister the fact that the Scottish Prison Service has all its contracts on its website without the financial information.

Finally, I want to indicate why the lack of transparency and dearth of readily available information is so damaging to our being able to monitor these prisons. During the Report stage of the Offender Management Bill in the other place, the Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, said that,

“we would contend that the successful track record of private companies in delivering custodial services in the 14 years since the first private prison was opened already offers assurance that they can be relied on to recruit competent staff”.

He went on to say that private contractors,

“have certainly been a key driver of the improved treatment of prisoners—and under what is sometimes termed the decency agenda—of ensuring more decent prison regimes”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/07; col. 1000.]

On the basis of the information available to us and in the public domain, that is an astounding statement, but since I know the Minister is a genuine and very honourable person, he must have access to information that is not in the public domain. Surely we need much more openness and objectivity in the information available so that we can do our job of holding the Government to account and ensuring that our money is well spent.

My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lady Walmsley for tabling this Motion because it gives the House an unusual opportunity to look at an issue that is cross-cutting and not driven along departmental boundaries, but is of increasing importance to Parliament, to the Government and to the public. My experience is in local government. I was a councillor for 14 years, a senior member of the Local Government Association, served on the board of the Audit Commission, and since 2000 have spoken on local government affairs in this House. In recent years I have also worked with two private companies, Anite and Atkins, to develop their thinking on the relationship between the public and the private sectors.

It is of course a matter of interest to Parliament and to the Government how local authorities determine their relationship with the private sector, partly because of the lessons which central government can learn from local government and because, from compulsory competitive tendering through to the more recent Gershon requirements on local government to make efficiency savings, the Government have made local government’s relationship with the private sector their business.

It used to be very simple. The public sector employed people who provided services. The compulsory competitive tendering drive of the 1980s led to a quiet revolution. What we now have is a patchwork of arrangements between the public and the private sectors, and I can say at the outset that I have absolutely no problem with that. I can see many ways in which great synergies can be created when the public and private sectors work together properly. The voluntary sector has also changed enormously during this time. Large organisations such as Help the Aged and WRVS are providing services which are commissioned by local authorities and managed by contracts.

However, I want to use my time today to reflect on a few lessons that have been learnt by local government over the years. First, I shall say a few words about markets. We talk blithely about market forces, but they are complex and change constantly. I am not confident that either local or central government fully understand how certain markets operate when it comes to the detail, or how markets will change as a response to certain interventions by the Government. I shall give an example. Compulsory competitive tendering certainly caused a massive shake-up of provision and often enabled huge cost savings to be made. It was heralded as a triumph for the private sector, but subsequent academic studies have never really established whether it was because the private sector was inherently cheaper or whether it was the tendering and contracting processes which actually made the difference. However, what was really never thought through was this: once an in-house bid had been lost by a local council, the in-house body had nowhere else to go. It could not bid for work anywhere else and therefore it would close down. That meant that the second time around, there was no in-house bid and competition was reduced. So the cost savings tended to be made only on the first round of bids. But local authorities are always under pressure to make more savings. What happened then was that councils would often work together. It sounds as though it makes sense to have bigger contracts and create economies of scale, but in many sectors the smaller companies simply could not provide on that sort of scale and so they did not tender. Twenty years on, the result of this process is that in certain sectors—I cite particularly the waste and the bus industries—there are on the whole relatively few very large operators. Once the market is concentrated in the hands of a few providers, the benefits of competition are much reduced. Councils are now struggling to continue to reduce the costs of contracts.

The process is continuing today. Evidence from the residential care sector shows that contracts are now being constructed in such a way as to deter smaller providers. Earlier this year the CBI produced a report on the commissioning of local public services which emphasised the need for a diverse range of providers in order to increase value for money and improve service quality. Many councils stimulate local markets through the provision of information about future work flows and by advertising contracts more widely, but it would be useful if central government could commission more research in this area. Perhaps they need to understand a little more the implications when they insist on blunt efficiency saving targets from local authorities.

It has become clear that intelligent commissioning requires a number of components. The nature and variety of the services to be commissioned, and the range of service users, have to be well understood in order to enable the council to determine the correct range of organisations which can deliver them at an affordable price. Huge skill is needed in constructing a tendering process which ensures that a variety of organisations are indeed able to bid. Recent academic research suggests that for markets to work in a more positive way, there needs to be a clear and non-doctrinaire attitude to commissioning, a genuine understanding of the market, good procurement practice and that the commissioning organisation must have the right capacities and skills. Here again there may be a role for central government, particularly in assisting smaller councils in this area where they may not have the relevant skills.

I want to turn next to monitoring. The original Nicholas Ridley view was that councils would meet just once a year and set the contracts. Indeed, in the 1980s and 1990s, some Conservative councils outsourced pretty much all of their services and reduced staff to a minimum, which resulted in much heralded savings to the taxpayer. Unfortunately it became clear over time that they simply had not left themselves enough capacity to monitor the contracts thoroughly, ensure that there was proper compliance and deal with problems when they arose. We then saw a recreation of a corporate centre in many councils. There are limits to the paring down of central staff that can be done. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, it does not really matter what sector the providers come from; they need to be properly monitored, and that requires skilled staff.

There is also a point about responsiveness. It is quite difficult sometimes for councils to ensure that private sector partners really understand the wider requirements of organisations that are ultimately accountable to citizens. For example, if road maintenance is outsourced on a conventional contract, the company repairs the roads on a term agreed with the council, usually on a technical basis. But what happens when the public start to complain about potholes? Should the company respond to the citizen, or should it just stick to the agreed work plan? The challenge is how we create contracts which enable private companies to be responsive to the citizen.

Another example of that is the vexed question of parking enforcement. If you compare two services that are routinely outsourced, waste collection and parking enforcement, you see two very different things. With waste collection you simply want the bins emptied—the council wants them emptied, as do the public, and you establish contracts that penalise companies that do not do so efficiently. It is all rather more difficult with parking enforcement. How do you build judgment into contracts so that the contractors do not go out and create some of the more ludicrous examples of parking tickets while ensuring that real parking enforcement takes place? That is not really a question for public satisfaction surveys, but the public need to be sure, whatever and whoever is doing the parking enforcement, that they are treated fairly and that the system is transparent. It is not impossible to create relationships with private contractors that do that, but it is difficult.

Another conundrum emerges here. In the social care sector, for example, the Commission for Social Care Inspectorate has shown that, although private and voluntary providers have demonstrated that they are better at reaching national minimum standards than the public sector, users are expressing more satisfaction with the public sector. The same holds true of satisfaction levels recorded by tenants of social housing. They seem to be happier with the local authority, even when other providers are performing better. I am not sure the noble Lord, Lord Warner, is correct when he says people do not care about who provides it—I think they do.

The dilemma for local government—indeed, this is in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill that will be coming to this House in the summer—is that increasingly local authorities will be required to be more responsive to their local communities. Quite what they will do when the communities say, “We want residential care or housing provided by the council but the Government are making that almost impossible”, I do not know. It is an interesting dilemma for the local council.

One of the conclusions from all this is that contracts and contractual frameworks have to be drawn up in a way that reflects the desired outcomes, not just performance management of outputs—in other words, a move away from bean counting. In order to do that, it is necessary to work with providers in a transparent and mature way in developing final specifications and contracts. The relationships between the private, voluntary and public sectors are evolving and maturing. Councils are learning that the private sector has a valuable role in providing expertise, technology and finance, often on a scale which is difficult for councils to achieve themselves. The private sector has been slower to learn to recognise that local authorities are subject to processes such as statutory frameworks, transparency and even democracy, which have to be respected.

There is a lot to learn, and it is essential that local authorities learn from each other. It is even more essential that Parliament and Government monitor, in a strategic way, what is happening. This is not a field where we can afford to allow prejudice and dogma to determine public policy. It must be evidence-based.

My Lords, I only regret that there are not more people taking part in this useful and important debate. This is a large area and we all need to discuss across the parties the experience that we have now gained about the contracting-out of public services and the relationship between private public-service providers and the local and central state. We have, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, remarked, discovered that the private sector is not uniformly better than the public sector, as Nicholas Ridley and others always believed. We are also clear that it is not uniformly worse than the public sector, as many in the old Labour Party used to believe. So we now move on to a different set of issues about what is best under what circumstances, how we set the rules for contracting carefully enough and what we think the public really want. We are, after all, talking about a very large sector. I note from one of the briefing papers that the total value of PFI contracts to date is some £46 billion.

As an academic, I naturally start by trying to find the underlying principles on which this whole area has developed and the studies in which they are applied. I have to say that I was rather shaken to discover, working not only with the Lords Library but with academics at my own institution and elsewhere and with planners at some of the big private public-service providers, that the detailed studies are thin and that the underlying principles are not entirely agreed. There is a lot to learn from the experience of other countries—the Nordic states, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and North America—as well as from the experience that we have accumulated in the past 10 to 20 years. This is, however, a highly technical field with limited transparency, deluged with opaque language and management-speak. I looked at the declared objectives of the Office of Government Commerce, and at the end of it I was not at all sure what most of them meant.

The whole question of how we get Members of Parliament and the wider public to understand this field is therefore important. Do we now have broad agreed principles across this field and, if so, where are they? Where are the Government now setting them out? Do we now accept that the same principles work across differing sectors, or that the principles that operate in the health sector, for example, do not really apply in the prison and probation sector? We have learnt from bitter experience that management and contracting principles that operated in the offshore energy sector, when applied to the railway sector, led to very unfortunate relationships between principals and agents and to a breakdown in the necessary mechanisms of trust that were required to maintain rail systems on a proper basis.

Are we clear about how far risk should be shared? There has been a whole range of problems about how far risk is offloaded from the public on to the private sector, and what happens when the private service provider fails to continue to provide those services. I note that the Government are accumulating experience about how to monitor the selling on of PFI contracts. I understand from what I have been reading that the Government’s attitude to that is still developing. We do not yet have clear agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, talked about the different categories of private public-service providers: the for-profit companies, the public-interest companies and what he described as the emerging social enterprise sector. That in turn raises a number of questions about which is more appropriate under what circumstances and how government should appropriately deal with the social enterprise sector. That sector is not primarily driven by economic gain but has a range of other motivations and objectives in mind that occasionally cut across the objectives of public policy, as indeed we argued about at considerable length yesterday with regard to the social enterprise sector’s provision of services to the Government on adoption.

Reading the new public management literature, I have had some concerns. As a social scientist, I followed the development of public choice economics, recognising that it was a right-wing, libertarian theory masquerading as mathematical economics; it is based on a deep mistrust of government and a desire to shrink the state and public services and to pursue a libertarian agenda. I was even more concerned when I came across the conclusion of one of the most useful volumes surveying experience of new public management in five different countries. It says:

“The supermarket state model is a central feature of NPM … The supermarket model presumes that the government and the state in general have a service-providing role, with an emphasis on efficiency and good quality, and conceives the people as consumers, users or clients”—

not citizens. It goes on to state that,

“instead of the state controlling society on the basis of a democratic mandate from the people, society more directly controls the state through market mechanisms. The public are viewed as sovereign consumers or clients”.

That cuts exactly across the Government’s citizenship agenda, and I suspect that it is one of the reasons why that agenda is in so much trouble.

We need to question a number of the underlying principles in which we are engaged. Public choice theory is based essentially on mistrust; it is based on the idea that you can never trust a government servant or bureaucrat, that contractual relations are the only basis on which to operate, and that those with whom you deal are motivated primarily by economic gain. However, trust is essential in long-term partnerships of the kind that involve the provision of public services. Most people are motivated by a mixture of economic gain, job satisfaction, a sense of personal and social responsibility, and altruism. We need to recognise that.

For example, prison management that is motivated purely by economic gain is the last thing that we want. In talking to a number of people within Serco, I was relieved and happy to discover that they are much concerned with other quality issues in the management of private prisons, as they should be. But how does one then write the contracts in such a way as to ensure that one does not simply go for the cheapest model and so as not to set a whole range of standards because one does not entirely trust one’s private contractor? As we have seen with GP contracts and the rising salaries of top civil servants, if one assumes that only economic gain motivates people, one slips very easily into a model in which one gives higher salaries to those at the top and squeezes the wages of those at the bottom.

The evidence of opinion polls is not that citizens want maximum choice; it is that they want available pubic services in their local communities. That is very much the case in the public’s attitude to schools. A range of other values is involved.

The quality of contracting, and of monitoring the contracts, has so far been highly variable. As a social scientist, I am familiar with the development of principal/agent theory, in which the Government are the principal and the private contractors are the agents, but I doubt whether principals always understand how to control the agent, and I suspect that the vast expansion of consultants’ advice to government during the past 10 years has partly been a matter of government trying to catch up with private public-service providers in terms of monitoring what has to be done.

Contestability, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, remarked, was an important part of the model that, I think most of us will agree, was well worth introducing into a Prison Service that was stuck in a range of old-fashioned attitudes, but the problems that public and private prisons now recognise are not to do with the quality of the Prison Officers’ Association or of public or private provision; they are a matter of overcrowding, which comes from other aspects of public policy.

How long term do contracts need to be? If we have short-term contracts, the building of the trust relationships that we require breaks down. I do not want to rehearse the arguments that we will have after the Easter Recess on the Offender Management Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred, but an effective offender management system, in which relationships between those in the courts, within local government and inside and outside the prisons require to be maintained over a long period, is not easily compatible with short-term contracting and contestability of public services.

The target mentality is worth introducing, but we have also been made aware by our economist friends and acquaintances that the imposition of targets and the measurement of particular statistics and indicators affect behaviour in ways that may not be entirely intended. I heard at a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts last night that one of the reasons why the number of students who are continuing the study of history through to GCSE and A-level is going down is that schools discourage children from going on with history when it becomes optional, because they are afraid that some of the students might not get the A to C grades that the schools need for their league tables. They therefore push them off into subjects that they regard as being easier for them.

Some real issues are at stake, one of which is accountability. When we discuss the Offender Management Bill, we shall come to the question of how far private prisons are allowed to exert state authority over the prisoners for whom they are responsible and, similarly, over community punishment. The British Medical Association notes in its briefing, which we have received today:

“Evidence is not currently available to compare clinical standards, such as complication rates, in NHS Treatment Centres and ISTCs”.

It goes on to state that there is,

“a lack of robust audit data on outcomes and productivity”.

Another issue is equity. A study on introducing the theory of new public management in public housing notes that one of the problems is that it does not necessarily include social inclusion and social justice, which are important in the provision of social housing. A further issue is whether provision will be local or central. When we discuss the Offender Management Bill, one of the issues with which we on these Benches will be concerned is the extent to which contracting will remove authority from local government and take it up to a regional and central level.

An underlying question is whose satisfaction we are talking about. Is it that of the consumer, the Treasury—in terms of efficiency—or the citizen? Are these interchangeable or distinctive? The economist’s model is of the well informed customer seeking the widest possible choice of services, but, for the many who are not well informed, this may not be the ideal model. What is our shared responsibility for them?

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has selected an intriguing subject for today’s debate. It is a multi-layered topic which has provoked some diverse perspectives in our debate. I do not normally have much sympathy for the Minister, but I do so today because in his winding-up speech he must produce some form of synthesis of the varying points that have been made.

In preparing for the debate, I asked the Library to find out how much the Government spend on the private sector each year to deliver public services, but, having carried out its research—extremely diligently, I am sure—it came back with no answer at all. We have therefore to debate the noble Baroness’s interesting Motion in an information void, which, as an accountant, I find disturbing.

According to the Budget Book released yesterday, the public sector will spend around £340 billion on goods and services, including capital, next year. Can the Minister say how much of that will be spent via the private sector, and if not why not?

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked whether the public sector gets quality and value for money in its dealings with the private sector. When we talk about transactions with the private sector, we are often drawn to think about the private finance initiative. The PFI was invented by my party and by 1997 we had overseen a relatively small number of contracts, testing out the parameters of risk transfer which was the heart of our approach. Since 1997 the Chancellor has enthusiastically driven the use of PFI as a source of public sector investment and overseen contracts for well over £50 billion. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to £46 billion but every day more contracts are signed and the figure rises ever higher. The annual cost is currently around £7 billion, due to go over £9 billion in 10 years’ time. So we are talking large sums of money involved in PFI.

One worrying feature of PFI is the way that some completed projects have been refinanced to produce significant gains for PFI consortia. The later generations of PFI contracts have ensured that the public sector captures some of those gains, but the uncomfortable truth is that the PFI industry is built not so much around service provision but around significant financial engineering and highly leveraged structures, with high rates of return often matching high risks that are often best managed in the public sector. Can the Minister explain how this delivers value to the public sector?

Another uncomfortable feature of the PFI is the fact that the public sector is tied into contracts for 25 or 30 years, burdening future generations of taxpayers with paying for, say, hospital configurations which have been designed for today’s era. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to this problem. Of course, the contracts allow for changes over time but only at a price which will in turn increase the burdens on future taxpayers. The problem here is that we will not know whether these contracts represent long-term value for money for some years to come but long-term value will become of increasing prominence as the contracts mature. Do the Government have any systematic way of monitoring long-term value from these contracts so that any problems that may start to emerge from PFI contracts can be anticipated and dealt with before they end up destroying value for taxpayers?

The Government have continued to make progress on the professionalism of contracting and commissioning, as has been referred to today, but some dreadful mistakes continue to be made, especially in the area of IT. The Child Support Agency has wasted many millions of pounds on two failed systems. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which outsources its IT, has had its share of problems, recently with the tax credit system where IT problems were compounded by design faults which resulted in overpayments of more than £2 billion each year and misery for hundreds of thousands of taxpayers.

The Minister will be aware that transferring risk to the private sector does not automatically ensure value for money. The National Physical Laboratory PFI contract, on which the Public Accounts Committee in another place reported last week, is testimony to that. The department concerned used hope rather than rigorous analysis to guide it. The private sector contractors assumed significant risk and they duly took a financial hit but the public sector still incurred a cost over-run and lost five years in the process. Does the Minister think there are any lessons to be learnt here?

I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that transparency is extremely important. There is a disturbing trend in public sector procurement for the details of contracts with the private sector to be concealed under the guise of commercial confidentiality. The Government liberally use the commercial confidentiality let-out clause in Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act to refuse to answer requests for information on government contracts. And the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, referred to the particular issue of non-availability of contracts for prisons run by private sector contractors.

We have seen in the NHS IT programme that stringent confidentiality requirements have been imposed on its contractors. We will have to await the obituary on the project to find out whether that has added any value to this vast programme but we do not believe that obsessive secrecy adds value or that secrecy operates in the public interest. During the passage of the Identity Cards Bill last year, the Government refused to disclose the full costs of the programme. Even today, the Department for Work and Pensions is defying the Information Commissioner on its ID card programme. It is not surprising that so many distrust the Government on ID cards and the national identity register. Openness may be difficult, but it serves the public interest.

In general, we believe, to quote US Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. That is why I introduced the Government Spending (Website) Bill in your Lordships' House late last year which requires the Government to open up government spending by way of a publicly searchable website. I am grateful to the House for allowing my Bill to pass last week. I hope that the Minister today will commit the Government to granting it a speedy passage in another place.

The Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, focuses on public services commissioned from the private sector, but issues in public services are not confined to the ones delivered by the private sector, as the noble Lord, Lord Warner, reminded us. I agreed with much of what he said today, including what he said about the indifference of the public as to who provides the services. Many services are still provided by the public sector and quality, value for money and transparency are of equal or greater importance for those. Quality and value-for-money measurement in the public sector remains primitive. The Office for National Statistics, when pressed by the Government to measure quality in order to make up for the underlying loss of efficiency shown in many public services, has come up with some answers but I do not believe that these are regarded as wholly convincing by many people who have looked at them.

On efficiency, we might think that the Government had good mechanisms for measuring it, given the way that they have trumpeted the prospective £21 billion of efficiency savings identified by Sir Peter Gershon. The Chancellor has claimed that much of this has been delivered. For example, in the Pre-Budget Report last December, he said that £13.3 billion of these savings had been achieved. The National Audit Office's report on the Government's efficiency programme released a few weeks ago revealed the truth that of the £13 billion only about a quarter,

“fairly represent the efficiencies made”;

over half of the total,

“carry some measurement issues and uncertainties”;

and for the remaining £3.1 billion, in the NAO's understatement,

“there may be efficiencies taking place but the measures used either do not yet demonstrate efficiencies or the reported gains may be substantially incorrect”.

Yesterday, the word “Gershon” did not pass the Chancellor's lips. Will the Minister say whether the Government plan to restore credibility to the Gershon efficiency programme or will the programme be quietly buried in the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review?

We are concerned that the Government do not have good processes to get value for money from their expenditure, whether with the private sector or within the public sector, and we have seen too many signs that the Government prefer secrecy to transparency. Will the Minister today commit the Government to turning over a new leaf?

My Lords, I have two immediate expressions of gratitude. The first is to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for introducing what has been a most interesting and stimulating debate. There was a contrast between real statistics, immediate problems, theoretical interest in the nature of the mix between public and private, how we measure those boundaries and how we create the correct balance between their contributions to the public good.

My second debt of gratitude is to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who said that I had an impossible job and that she had some sympathy for me. Wherever I can get sympathy, I accept it with the greatest enthusiasm. I certainly need it now as I have only 20 minutes in which to cover this extremely extensive debate.

In terms of describing the principles on which the Government act and giving illustrations from decisions and policies at national and local level, my noble friend Lord Warner did the House a great service. He gave clear illustrations of the way in which these arrangements can be established effectively and to good purpose nationally and locally, and outlined the main principles on which we ought to work. I was grateful for that speech, in which he illustrated the Government’s achievements in crucial areas. That is also my task but I emphasise that I recognise the nature of the theoretical debate. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is right that many Bills that come before us on aspects of public expenditure will raise issues about the nature of the mix of ensuring value for money and guaranteeing effective accountability.

A theme which ran through all speeches was the extent to which relying upon certain areas of private delivery spread a danger of limited accountability. The fact that private organisations could establish that certain aspects of their operations were commercially confidential puts limitations on accountability to which local authorities and national government could present a challenge.

As my noble friend Lord Warner pointed out, these issues are determined by the nature of the contract. Of course the contract can be drawn up in terms of counting the beans. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, suggested, it could be a question of the relationship between costs and returns in the contract. But the plea was strongly made by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, when she was referring to local government, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in her opening remarks, that the contract ought to have demands of accountability and that there should be a structure in which the organisation delivering the service was open to such accountability. That depends on the nature of the contract. As this process develops, we learn and improve.

There are very many actors involved in the contracts. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, expressed sympathy for the job I had to do and then asked me the nuclear question which she knew I could not answer—namely, what is the global cost of all these contracts? She knows very well that I am not in a position to quantify that. It is an impossible question to answer. However, because there are so many actors upon the scene, we need to develop a clear philosophy of how we balance costs and returns effectively and make sure that contracts insist upon accountability.

Above all, what is the purpose—the philosophy—behind public service? Surely it is not to balance the interests between producers but to guarantee that the consumer gets the best possible public service. That is what is at stake. Of course due regard must be given to costs, but over the past decade or so there has been a clear realisation of what the public are demanding. The noble Baronesses on the Liberal Democrat Benches emphasised that there may be greater interest than might be contended in who delivers the service, but I do not think that anyone can contradict the view that the most important thing is the quality of the service that is delivered. That is inevitably the view of the public.

We should recognise how much progress has been made against this background, in which the Government have been able to use a great deal of the public/private mix. There was a huge backlog in public investment when we came to power 10 years ago. The usual areas of obvious neglect, which I shall not bore the House with, included huge school repair backlogs and enormous problems in the National Health Service, while investment in transport was clearly very necessary. Expenditure on schools had been more limited than was good for the education programme.

The Government pride themselves on having made immense progress in delivering public service. In getting the necessary resources for investment, there have been huge advantages in levering in private investment. As my noble friend Lord Warner indicated, that can be done at local level and in much bigger national programmes.

We are concerned not to engage in the debate between public ownership or the market in theoretical terms; we are concerned with what delivers best for the public interest. That is why inevitably there are different solutions to different services. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, identified things that were wrong with aspects of the academies. The DfES vets sponsors of academies with regard to their responsibilities. There is a safeguard against conflict of interest. She said that those who provided the service to the school might sometimes have close relationships with the sponsors. That is a conflict of interest which we would regard as reprehensible; it needs to be identified. Given the position of the relationship between the department and Ofsted to the operation of the academies, they have to be as open about their activities as other schools and educational institutions. Should a conflict of interest such as the one the noble Baroness identified come to light, the department has the opportunity and responsibility of ensuring that something is done about it. The first responsibility belongs to the governing body, which has a public duty to act in the interests of the school, not of the sponsor. Sponsors who back and help establish academies are well aware of that basic constraint on their expectations of what happens in the academy’s transactions.

The noble Baroness asked a rather more general question about whether certain parts of the private sector could dominate public services and whether we would come to depend on them too much. I disagree. I recognise that in certain areas, as she listed in her speech, private companies have a very significant role to play. But the total managed expenditure will be well over £600 billion by the end of the next spending review period. Capita is responsible for £4 billion of that. Capita is a most successful company, whose name crops up in a public connection more often than many other companies, as she indicated. It has enjoyed conspicuous success in some areas but has shown weaknesses in one or two others. However, £4 billion out of £600 billion scarcely suggests market dominance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, emphasised IT failure in government. The vast majority of government IT projects perform excellently. They deliver key public services day in, day out, and on budget. As a Government we are managing some of the largest and most complex IT-enabled projects in the world. I am well aware of the areas that she identified where there have been weaknesses, but the vast majority work to budget and work successfully. No sharper criticism could be advanced of the Government than if they had attempted to deliver huge public service programmes without coming to terms with the opportunities vouchsafed by the development of IT while recognising the risks involved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said that she did not expect me to be able to answer one or two of her questions. Indeed, I am not able to answer them at this stage. However, I reassure her that although we are not sure that we can go much beyond January in this regard, the information on the website of the Chief Inspector of Prisons relates to both public and private services. Although there may be an issue of immediate updating, the matters which she raised on private prisons are available on that website for public analysis and scrutiny. She identified problems with certain prisons. I do not think that she would expect me to respond to those points now. However, many aspects of the prison private finance initiatives have performed well and have delivered cost savings. Prisons have been built on time and on budget. The first PFI prison comprised a 17 per cent saving as against a traditionally procured prison. That is not a negligible saving. Further, valuable external resources are levered into such projects.

The noble Baroness asked whether the relevant reports were available. I am not sure about the date of the latest report but, as she will know only too well, one could not expect fuller reports than those provided by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. We hold her and that office in high regard in providing that information.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made the main theme of his speech that, whenever public provision is in issue, there is bound to be an ongoing debate about the relationship between public and private resources. We all recognise that such a debate must be based on clear principles. The Government believe that the principles are very clear. We know that we need to identify the public interest in the choice of delivery system. That is open to debate. When we bring legislation that initiates change before Parliament, we reflect the nature of that debate. A reforming Administration will bring forward a whole series of proposals about how our public services need to change to meet a reforming agenda. In this rapidly changing world a Government would not meet their obligations if they did not respond to the rapidly changing circumstances in which public provision has to be established. However, there is bound to be a debate within that framework. It is clear that there is a legitimate role for the private and third sectors in delivering and reforming public services based on a clear assessment of value for money, not dogma. It is certainly based on the fact that there must be proper accountability. That was a constant theme in speeches from all sides of the House, certainly from the Liberal Democrat Benches.

We are open to hearing all suggestions that public services are not as open as they ought to be. There is no agenda here for imposing on the previous open accountability of local government a new secretive provision because private resources and private agents are used. The concept of openness must pervade local democracy. It is up to local authorities to recognise that the contracts which they strike with these providers will, and ought to, guarantee that openness.

Where we do not think that value for money can be guaranteed through the market and private providers, we shall continue to be entirely pragmatic about public service delivery. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, my noble friend Lord Warner and other speakers were emphatic about that. We should value the ethos of public service. Not everyone is motivated purely by economic grounds. Nor is the public good delivered by the sole consideration of cost-benefit analysis. It is clear that we do and will depend on the ethos of public service which pervades the Civil Service and the legions who work in local authorities. As we all recognise, one of the great strengths of British life is the extensive work that is done through the voluntary sector, which has very high ethical standards. It plays an increasingly important part in the delivery of certain aspects of public services.

The Government will remain pragmatic about these issues. We recognise that in whole areas the public interest can be served only through the delivery of public services that are democratically and straightforwardly answerable to public authorities or Parliament. However, during the decade in which we have been in power, we have proved that, increasingly, enormous advantages can be derived from carefully drawn-up contracts which ensure that private investment is levered in to increase the resources available to develop the public goods which we need, and that considerable efficiencies and gains can be achieved in those areas through the operation of the market.

I thank everybody who participated in this informative and, from the Government’s perspective, enormously challenging debate.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords and especially the Minister for a thoughtful and cross-cutting debate. I hope I made it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that I do not regard private companies, either individually or as a whole, as the great Satan. I contest one point in his speech; he said we can always trust the service users to drive forward quality. We cannot, because often in the case of public services they are vulnerable people not in a position to do so, such as children, frail elderly people or prisoners.

I thank my noble friend Lady Miller, who talked about the lines of accountability being blurred, and my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, who talked from her great experience in both the public and the private sectors, and of her experience of the lessons we can learn from local government. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has certainly whetted my appetite to read the JCHR’s upcoming reports on private care homes and asylum seekers. Her powerful speech exposed the 10 per cent information gap about prisoners. It also emphasised the importance of the achievement of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, although he is unable to be in his place today, in keeping the inspector of prisons free-standing and not part of a larger inspectorate.

My noble friend Lord Wallace, in true academic style, gave us a thoughtful analysis and exposed the lack of principles and research about these matters. One thing struck home to me; people want good local schools and hospitals. If they get them, they are not terribly bothered about choice.

I share the sympathy of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for the Minister having to respond to a debate such as this. She certainly put him on the spot about the figures and highlighted a number of failures, particularly in big IT contracts. Yet I do not agree with her that members of the public are indifferent as to who delivers their public services. The Minister kept talking about consumers. Consumers are not the same thing as citizens, and when we consume public services we are citizens first and foremost.

I am most grateful to all noble Lords. It has been an enormously thoughtful and thought-provoking debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Human Rights

rose to call attention to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, last week we celebrated International Women’s Day and the promotion of equality for women. Yesterday we approved a law to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation. We are about to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the infamous trade in slaves, but there are many other forms of modern slavery. As was pointed out in Monday’s International Herald Tribune, in an article by the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa,

“we have the moral duty and legal obligation to prevent and suppress its modern equivalents”.

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill seeks to tackle a serious abuse of human rights, often amounting to sexual slavery. Happily the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, has been given lead responsibility for the Bill in this House, and I am delighted that she will reply to this debate, the subject matter of which is wide-ranging and topical.

A democratic society governed by the rule of law needs constantly to nurture a culture of respect for human rights. It must secure in law the effective protection of human rights against arbitrary and unnecessary restriction or abuses of power by public authorities, or by private bodies exercising public powers. It needs to recognise that civil and political rights and economic and social rights are interdependent, and that all three branches of government must be actively engaged in their advancement. These are statements of the obvious, but there are few countries where they are a practical reality. Nor is there room for complacency in this country. It is all too easy when the public are threatened by the scourge of terrorism or serious crime and disorder to treat respect for human rights as a disposable luxury, to pander to populist pressure from reactionary media in the pursuit of political power, and to surrender the rights of vulnerable and unpopular minorities.

The Human Rights Act has strong Liberal Democrat support. Its purpose is to nurture a culture of respect for human rights, and to enable our own courts to give effective remedies for breaches of the convention rights by British public authorities. Alone in Europe, we have no written constitutional Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act is the next best method of constitutional protection. It reconciles effective British judicial remedies for human rights violations with the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. The courts are empowered to declare legislation to be incompatible with the convention rights, but not to strike it down, leaving it to government and Parliament to pass remedial legislation, or, if they will not, to defend proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights. The Act is based on the assumption that the executive and legislative branches as well as the judiciary share a common commitment to representative democracy, respect for human rights and government under the rule of law. It could not work without that shared commitment. It requires government, public authorities and public officials to justify policies, practices and decisions which have an adverse impact on human rights on the basis of evidence and not mere assertion. In other words, it promotes a culture of justification.

The Act was not welcome to Euro-sceptic Conservatives whose political memory does not extend to the aftermath of the last world war, when Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Maxwell Fyfe and other leading Conservatives led the European movement and championed the need for the European convention. We hope that in this debate Her Majesty’s Opposition—represented on this occasion by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, who cannot be regarded in any way as a Euro-sceptic—will recognise the great benefits that the Human Rights Act has brought.

One benefit is the relief given to the hugely overburdened European Court of Human Rights. The Strasbourg court is choking on 80,000 or more pending cases, with some 250,000 cases by 2010. The case load is increasing exponentially. Without the Human Rights Act, British citizens would have had to rely upon recourse to the European Court, with ever increasing delays in obtaining a final judgment. Another benefit is increased British legal influence on the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. Judgments of our courts closely examine the convention case law, and British judgments are now given great weight by the European judges because they engage in a dialogue based on common principles and a common human rights discourse.

The Human Rights Act is no ordinary law. It is a constitutional measure of greater practical significance than the measures we rightly cherish as part of our constitutional heritage—the Bill of Rights and Claim of Right, the habeas corpus Acts, and Magna Carta itself. Its values are expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its progeny, including the UN international covenants and the European convention. The values are universal and are deep-rooted in British political and legal tradition. They are our birthright and part of our common humanity and human dignity.

That leads me to correct a mistake in Hansard, in order to reassure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who is to take part in this debate. In the report of last night’s debate, there is a Freudian mistake, not I think by me, but by the unfortunate Hansard reporter who no doubt listened to my poor enunciation. It is quite an important mistake. I have been reported as saying that,

“the principles of human rights are universal, that they derive not only from the secular Enlightenment but from all the great religious divisions”—

that last word should be “traditions”—

“including the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and that they all recognise the need for a fair balance between competing rights and freedoms”. —[Official Report, 21/3/07; col. 1323.]

Maybe the Hansard writer has a sense of humour.

The Act exerts a magnetic force over the whole of our legal system. Our courts respect its force and do not permit human rights protection to be weakened by arguments based on political expediency or administrative convenience. The courts strike a fair balance between the rights of one individual and another, as well as the interests of the community. They avoid the trap of legalism or of a narrowly literal interpretation. They are to be commended for that and for protecting legislative and executive powers against judicial usurpation. There is no risk in this country of a Government of unelected judges. They have approached the Strasbourg jurisprudence through, rather than round, British law, weaving the convention rights into the fabric of the British system. That is vital if the process is to command public confidence. We must not alienate British public opinion by the way in which we deal with these matters.

The Act has also increased the parliamentary accountability of the Executive with the aid of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I have been privileged to serve since it was first established. Ministers and civil servants are much more aware of their human rights responsibilities, and Parliament is much better informed when debating proposed measures, as we saw in two debates only yesterday. If noble Lords read the debate on the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill, they will see the dialogue that took place with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. There was also the debate on the sexual orientation regulations. There is no doubt that the JCHR and its input are now an established part of our procedures and have altered the terms of the relationship between the Government and Parliament.

The approach of the Human Rights Act is holistic, by which I mean that all three branches of government are involved, rather than only the judiciary. The JCHR takes account of all the international human rights instruments by which the UK is bound. The courts treat its reports as relevant—but no more than that—when deciding issues of convention compatibility. It gives them an important context.

The Government’s review of the implementation of the Human Rights Act has dispelled myths and misconceptions about the Act. The Act has had a beneficial impact on UK law and government policy. It has not damaged the Government’s ability to fight crime. It has been misapplied on occasions, because of deficiencies in training and guidance, particularly to public authorities and services, for which the Act itself is not to blame. The Government are to be commended for having made sure that almost £6 million was spent in training all our judiciary before the Act came into force. The Government have published welcome new guidance to enhance understanding of the Act. From October, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights will be in a position to carry on that work. We hope that the commission will give sufficient priority to human rights, in addition to its demanding equality brief.

The legitimacy of the Human Rights Act is under frequent and unfair attack by the tabloid press. The Sun ran a campaign last summer to,

“rip up the Human Rights Act”.

The right honourable David Cameron has suggested that the Act is,

“practically an invitation for terrorists and would-be terrorists to come to Britain”,

and that it should be repealed and replaced with a Bill of Rights based on British traditions and balancing rights and security. While the stronger constitutional protection of human rights through a Bill of Rights would be welcome, repealing the Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights is, in the words of the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, chair of the Conservatives’ Democracy Task Force, “xenophobic and legal nonsense”. The Conservative Party has now set up a Bill of Rights commission. It consists of seven distinguished lawyers, two of them Members of this House, all barristers, six of them men, with the only woman as secretary to the committee. I wish them well, but I suggest that they might broaden their membership to include a substantial lay and minority element. Much as I respect my fellow barristers, the subject is too important to be left even to barristers, however distinguished.

There is a powerful case for developing a British Bill of Rights to strengthen the protection given by the Human Rights Act. It would need to reflect British political and legal values, drawing on not only the convention but the other international human rights instruments and the constitutional rights recently developed by the courts from the common law. It would contribute to our public philosophy and public education on the meaning of British citizenship, providing a code of values for each new generation. The process of obtaining genuine popular consent through public consultation across the country would be as important as the outcome of the process.

Next week, the British section of the International Commission of Jurists will launch a discussion paper, to which I and others from this House have contributed, which seeks answers to key questions about whether and how to achieve a Bill of Rights for Britain.

Finally, two years ago, when the Government accepted the right of individual petition to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, they undertook to review whether to accept the right of individual petition for British cases under the other UN human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Human Rights Committee. The review was due to begin last week, and I believe it did so. At present, we are out of step with every other member state of the EU, the great majority of members of the Council of Europe, and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.

I very much hope that the Minister will respond positively to what promises to be a fascinating debate, even though I realise that the most she can do today is to tell us, with her characteristic charm, that the Government are looking into the matter and do not necessarily have closed minds. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on this debate and on all he has done in the field of human rights in this country and in Europe.

Equality is perhaps the most important of human rights, apart from the right to life itself, because without it the other rights cannot universally apply. The Labour Government’s great building blocks of the sex and race laws in the 1970s, of which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, was one of the chief architects, eventually became so accepted that when I used to negotiate the UK position in Brussels and the United Nations, successive British Governments upheld them with as much pride as did the originators. They are becoming part of our way of life and part of our idea of fair play, and the same will happen with Labour’s reforms on sexual orientation and ageism, if we hold fast.

The latest achievement in this progress is the Human Rights Act, and I support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said about it. But the Act has not become part of the national culture fully enough yet. It is very surprising to me that it has not been everywhere understood as the transfer into legislative principle of respect for human dignity, which we all value, as the means of protecting the vulnerable, like saving old people from being sacrificed in hospitals and abused in residential care, or obtaining entitlements for our army of unpaid carers, as the tool for balancing conflicts of rights, which are inevitable in a complex society, and as the basis for uniting diverse cultures into communities. The splendid Act could perhaps have one or two add-ons, but emphatically it would not be right to review it.

So the tabloid press has it completely wrong when it caricatures the Human Rights Act as privileging prisoners or merely occupying lawyers; and that minority of politicians who attack the Human Rights Act is ignorant of the range of practical work it has inspired. I speak here as an advisory board member of what the British Institute of Human Rights does in supporting and educating staff in the public services like NHS trusts in how respect for the citizens they serve is really achieved, and in providing an ethical framework to help our hard-pressed social services with difficult problems. This training has been widely welcomed by service providers. Indeed, it is complementary to some of the concerns voiced in the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, earlier today.

The creation of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights is the second great human rights achievement of this Government. I was one of those on the Joint Committee on Human Rights who was convinced by the evidence that this was what would make the Human Rights Act a reality. Every time an official pushes someone around for administrative convenience, every time British implementation of the many human rights treaties we have so creditably helped to draft and have signed up to is found wanting, there will be work for the commission to do in helping to create a better culture. And of course, at the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery, we do not forget the race prejudice which still disfigures our democracy. With so many commissioners of proven worth, Trevor Phillips as its chair, my noble friend Lady Prosser as his deputy, I think we shall see welcome changes.

I mention four of the areas where I hope for a change in culture. First, although the reforms following from Every Child Matters are significant, we still do not respect children enough. I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK. Although the rights of the child are paramount in law, we except child asylum seekers and children in custody from that protection. That affects a minority of children, although among the most vulnerable. But all children are disadvantaged by their lack of equal protection with adults against assault, which is where I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Lester.

Secondly, I became aware, as a member of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, of the stigma and discrimination that mental health patients still suffer. We need to work on that.

Thirdly, I think we have got it wrong about boys. When I was responsible for gender discrimination in the then Employment Department, statistics showed an alarming picture. In health, from birth, in educational achievements, in crime and violence and in alcohol abuse, boys seemed to have drawn the short straw. It has not really changed since, and for some groups it is worse than for others. It is paradoxical that once they grow up they manage on average to earn quite a lot more than women, but then if we want to erode prejudice against women, for that reason also we need to care differently for boys. I sometimes think that if these statistical tables had shown the same story about girls, there would have been a national outcry. But, as it was, with discrimination against girls having such a long historical past, I could never get a budget to work up programmes for boys.

Finally—I hope the commission has members who will appreciate this point—non-religious belief does not have the same status as faith in our society. I do not think I have ever heard an agnostic or an atheist contribute their ethical perspective on “Thought for the Day”, and I do not often see the British Humanist Association, for instance—I declare an interest as a vice-president—called in to advise the Government when the faith groups do so. I have nothing against faith and I especially warm to some of its practitioners. But I would like ethical views like mine—about 14 per cent of the population—to be taken into account rather than marginalised and discriminated against. I hope the Government will resist any move in any new European constitution to do otherwise.

All this, and more, is unfinished business in the exhilarating and essentially constructive field of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This Government have opened up the prospect of a truly rights-based society and I trust, with our new institutions, we can complete the job.

My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I do not have her longstanding experience in these matters any more than I have the legal expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, whom I warmly congratulate on initiating the debate. I am very glad to take part in it and I hope he is not too alarmed to know that I agree with quite a lot of what he said.

I enter the debate with some temerity, being neither a lawyer nor an expert. I suppose I am just a representative of the average Back-Bench Peer in the street. I take heart from what I have heard a noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill—the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, who is not in his place—say in a debate earlier this month. On quite a technical issue, up popped the figure of my noble friend Lady Knight of Collingtree—she too is not in the Chamber—and, although the debate was technical, she got right to the heart of the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, said it was a very good thing—I quote from memory but more or less exactly—that these issues were not left to barristers or to experts and that it was sometimes right to have an outside view. One of the most memorable things, among many, that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said is that some issues are too important to be left to barristers. With respect, the issue of human rights is one of them. This afternoon, I model myself on my noble friend Lady Knight, which may surprise some noble Lords.

In doing so, I warn those Members of the House who are of a delicate disposition that there may be some criticism of the nature of current liberal thought in what I say. I mean not Liberal Democrat political thought but liberal thought in its general, metropolitan sense. There is even a risk of criticism of that conveniently self-canonising set of latter-day secular saints; the self-styled human rights lawyers. Of course, I do not refer, under any circumstance, to anyone in your Lordships' Chamber this afternoon.

It may well occur to some, who are legally trained or who have greater experience than I have, that something I say—I shall concentrate entirely on religious freedoms—may be covered by this article of the European Convention on Human Rights, or that clause of an Act of Parliament. If any Member pops up to ask, “Don’t you know that?”, I am quite likely to say, “No, I do not know that”. You will not get a very smart answer, if tempted.

Following something that the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, said about atheists, agnostics and people who are not of faith but who have deeply held ethical views, I am the first to admit that for hundreds, if not thousands of years, until very recently, the Christians in the UK were more or less top dogs, disapproving of atheists, agnostics and those who were not of faith—the secular. That is totally wrong. It is absolutely right that in this place we should consider the ethical stance and views of those who belong to the British Humanist Association or whatever. I would be very interested to hear people speak on “Thought for the Day”, even if the lurking Conservative in me says, “Bring back ‘Lift up Your Hearts’”. None the less, I would wish to hear that voice and I would respect it.

Things are the other way around now. These days, the seculars rule the roost and it seems to me, by some sort of reverse act of God, that sometimes the religiously inclined find or perceive themselves to be the new oppressed, rightly or wrongly—a minority needing the help of true liberals. Alas, in the sometimes suffocating atmosphere of contemporary liberalism, we see the beginnings of what I perceive as a form of soft secular totalitarianism. It is an approach that is absolutely tone deaf to nuance. It wishes, rather, to categorise, is often against any diversity that offends the contemporary fashionable secular creed of the day, and participates in rhetoric rather than reality.

The problem is that an increasing number of those of religious orientation, whether Christian or from any other faith group, feel that they are simply being denied the right to be themselves. That perception may be wrong, but it is there and should not be dismissed. This was neatly summed up in a letter that arrived on my desk out of the blue on 10 March from a correspondent in Glasgow whom I do not know. I have not sought her permission to use her name, but I will quote from her letter. For the avoidance of doubt and to help, as always, our hardworking Hansard writers, who have never made a mistake in my speeches—so the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, must have been joking in his speech—I begin:

“I believe that the right to religious freedom is a fundamental human right, which recognises the right of the human person to act in accordance with his/ her conscience. Moreover, I believe that religious bodies have a right to manifest their religious beliefs by establishing and maintaining institutions and services in accordance with those religious beliefs and values”.

I—a non-expert, non-human-rights lawyer—could not have written better.

Sometimes, the new and also sometimes militant secularism that seeks, little by little, to force a new morality on our churches, does not act in the most balanced way and needs the help of the liberal human rights lawyer. The role of the state is truly over-reached when it tramples on legitimate moral freedoms. There is an urgent need to revisit the protection of religious minorities in the United Kingdom. It may be that some noble Lords may say that the list of five areas I am about to give is covered by this or that bit of whatever Act or European Convention. However, we need to revisit them to ensure that those assertions are true.

First, we need to revisit the fact that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, grounded in the dignity of the individual, which recognises the right of woman or man to act in accordance with their conscience. Secondly, individuals should not be restrained in any way from acting in accordance with their religious beliefs. Thirdly, all religious bodies should have the right to demonstrate and teach their religious beliefs. I am talking here about all religious bodies. Further to my earlier remarks in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, that should include those who have strong ethical feelings, but come from non-religious bodies. Fourthly, religious bodies should have the unfettered right to establish and maintain institutions and services that reflect their beliefs and values. That is, I know, a contentious point that has been much in noble Lords’ minds in recent days, but it is important to revisit it to make sure that the balance between secular and religious society is right. Fifthly, the Government do not have the right to inhibit acts of religion or to force people to act contrary to their conscience in a proper exercise of religious freedoms.

The time has come for those interested in human rights—even those of the most secular bent of mind—to revisit these issues in the interests of what are now an increasingly small minority in this country. Overweening and overbearing secularism should not be allowed to trump religious freedom on any occasion. I borrow from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who said that we may be reaching a position in our present law-making where there is no space for the Christian conscience. True liberals, of all political beliefs and none, would surely wish to see that space provided and protected.

Mention of the Roman Catholic cardinal leads me to my last point and to declare my adherence to that faith. On the statute book of this country, we still have an absolutely disgraceful discrimination specifically aimed at Roman Catholics, and over which there is generally a deafening silence from the secularists and human rightists. There is not much campaigning from them on this issue here or in the other place. There are four such statutes, which I shall enumerate: the Coronation Oath Act 1668; the Act of Settlement 1701; the Act of Union 1707; the Accession Declaration Act 1910. These all have provisions preventing Roman Catholics or those married to Roman Catholics acceding to the Throne—some protection for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Roman Catholics in those statues, which Parliament forces on the monarchy.

The Government should have acted on this long ago. I asked the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a Question a few weeks ago and in his Written Answer he told me:

“The Government currently have no plans to bring forward legislation on this issue”.—[Official Report, 5/3/07; col. WA 6.]

Will the Minister please tell the House this afternoon why not? Will she also reflect on the insulting discriminatory nature of this approach to the Roman Catholic community in the United Kingdom, perhaps pausing on the difficulties that this can cause Roman Catholics in public life?

I give one entirely theoretical, but entirely plausible, example of this. Suppose that the heir to the monarch of the day—I talk of any day—wishes to marry the Roman Catholic son or daughter of an equally Roman Catholic privy counsellor. The monarch of the day, under the force of the four statutes that I have enumerated, will be forced to say that, while continuing to welcome the advice and loyalty of the Roman Catholic privy counsellor parent, because of what we gratuitously left on the statute book, the new son-in-law or daughter-in-law is unwelcome as consort to the heir to the throne. So in our statute book, we enshrine Roman Catholics as second-class citizens. This is swept under the carpet, particularly by some in the liberal and legal human rights area. Parliament urgently needs to free the monarchy from this disgraceful discriminatory nonsense. Those most involved should recognise the burden that this places on Roman Catholic privy counsellors from time to time.

My second and last request to the Minister is that she undertakes to draw my remarks to the attention of the Lord President of the Council, who can expedite a meeting of privy counsellors to discuss these issues. I say only to all in this place who really care for human rights, that I hope that they will be as vigorous on this issue as they quite properly are on the issues of sex, age and racial discrimination.

My Lords, I welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord for introducing it. There is no one better qualified in this House to speak on these issues. With regard to the mistake in yesterday’s record, I assure him that we are quite good at division among ourselves, without his assistance in the record.

A bishop of the established church enters a debate on human rights and fundamental freedoms with due humility and caution. The modern liberal state arose from weariness with the European wars of religion. The attempt to protect fundamental freedoms and entrench human rights in law was not always met with sympathy from churches and religious leaders. It is not an edifying spectacle. As we have seen in this House this week, difficult issues arise in this field when liberty of conscience is set in tension with human rights.

It is worth at the outset reminding ourselves that, in Parliament, the law, the elected representatives of the people, the church and those who sit in this place representing a wide diversity of interest have one common duty under God—to defend the liberties of the people and to uphold the role of a just and equitable law.

One of the interesting things about our intellectual history is that here, in some contrast to the revolutionary experience on the Continent and even in the United States of America, the principles of the Enlightenment and the values and visions of Christian faith were not set in opposition to each other—a point made by the noble Lord. In her book The Roads to Modernity, Gertrude Himmelfarb even claims that John Wesley and the early Methodists were part of the Enlightenment in this country. The Wesleys evidenced that in a generosity of spirit that moved in the direction of universal values and moral sentiments. In the United States of America, at an earlier moment, Jonathan Edwards, that great person in the middle of 18th-century America who was both a preacher of the religious awakening and a contributor to the philosophy of the Enlightenment, seemed to hold the two faces of American culture together in his own person—strong religious experience and wide reasoning sympathies.

I was sorry to see in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the European Community that we were not able to celebrate the roots in our Christian tradition of our contemporary inheritance. I hope that we might be able to do so as that debate develops. Deep in the heart of serious Christian thought, over many centuries, has been a concern for the rights of the oppressed and the excluded, and deep in our liturgies and spiritual inheritance is the theme of liberty of conscience. Yes, as with every institution and powerful social agency, there have been nightmare scenarios of the church’s collusion with oppression and attacks on freedom. But a golden thread runs through our history that we need to contribute to establishing an unshakable foundation for human rights and liberty of conscience in our own time.

There is some astonishing Christian thinking in our history. Last year, I had the privilege of reviewing Roger Ruston’s latest book, Human Rights and the Image of God, on Francisco de Vitoria, Bartolomé de Las Casas and John Locke. Las Casas spent his whole intellectual life arguing against the conquest of Mexico and Peru. An interesting programme on television last night mentioned him. He opposed the enforced conversion of the people and the illegal appropriation of their lands by the conquerors. He made it clear that, from a moral and religious perspective, all the gold, jewellery and land that had been appropriated by the Spaniards should be restored to the people. In his view, it was a breach of the Gospel to seek conversion by force.

Las Casas even resisted the argument that the Spanish conquest could be justified on the ground of ending the Indian culture of human sacrifice and cannibalism, which is interesting, given some of the debates going on today. He declared that the Indians had not only a right of dominion over their lands and goods, but a natural right, even a duty, to worship according to their own light until such time as they were freely persuaded otherwise. He said that people are free to change by persuasion and the excellence of what is presented—not by force or the abuse of power, but through a fundamental respect for their own integrity and liberty of conscience.

The example is extreme and takes little account of the liberties of those being sacrificed and consumed, one might say, but its point is important on the protection of people from the abuse of power—political, religious and cultural. As a more contemporary thinker, Emmanuel Levinas, whose structure of thought was born in the fire of the Holocaust, said in our own time, we have a binding obligation to give ourselves to the other, always responding to their otherness and difference from us.

Religious belief gives to us an under-girding of our culture and the law on human rights and procedure, with an understanding of the moral and spiritual worth of the person and of human society. Picking up the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, I suggest that our society, given its history, needs a fresh engagement between the traditions of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on reason, freedom, equity, community and moral virtue, and the experience and reasoning of religious faith. If, in these days of so much abuse of human beings and their rights, we do not consciously seek to enliven that conversation and relationship, we may well be in danger of allowing our culture to lapse into one with a growing abuse of power, growing acceptance of violence against the person and an ever widening gap between peoples of different cultures in our society.

It is vital to maintain civil liberties in the face of various challenges in our time, not least the challenge of security. The most dramatic and urgent of these challenges is terrorism, but fear of crime and disorder also generates demands for actions that would erode or abrogate fundamental freedoms. We have already seen this in the provision for control orders against terrorist suspects and we are constantly being told that the criminal justice system must be rebalanced in favour of victims by restricting the rights of the accused. There is a major non sequitur in that argument, for doing justice to victims depends on convicting the guilty, and any moves that substantially increase the possibility of convicting the innocent would not only be unjust but would fail in their intended purpose.

Central to the life of a liberal, democratic society is the administration of justice. We should, therefore, cherish the provisions of the European convention relating to due process: Article 5, which stipulates the conditions for deprivation of liberty; Article 6, which guarantees the right to a fair trial; and Article 7, which prohibits punishment without law. Frequently, good reasons may well be advanced for eroding those provisions, but it is at such moments that proposals to curtail rights and to restrict liberties must be scrutinised in order to ensure that the social order that we are endeavouring to defend by those means will remain worth defending.

We must not set liberty of conscience and the rights of the individual in opposition to each other—a hierarchy of rights, which has been mentioned, in which we argue as to which is more important than the other. Guarding the liberty of the person’s conscience and a right for them to live their life according to it is, in the light of some important themes in Christian theology, a fulfilment of our duty; it is not in conflict with it. I am not required to agree with my neighbour; I am required to defend their liberty of conscience and they are required to defend mine.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, for this important debate. Like many noble Lords, I believe that the Human Rights Act is and remains the right vehicle for acting for the rights of British citizens. Before I came to this debate I spoke to a number of people, many from black and ethnic-minority communities, who increasingly felt that their liberties were being curtailed and that they were isolated and watched. We are the most watched population in Europe; the Government have found many ways of gathering more and more information on us. Many of us have little idea what other bodies have access to that information and how it is secured.

The Government have not inspired confidence in the British public with their IT projects, and their insistence on pushing for ID cards seems to many a very dangerous course, especially given the shambles that has followed the projects so far. To date, we have not received satisfactory answers on the holding of DNA or fingerprint details, whether or not a person has committed a crime, just on the basisof arrest.

The Minister needs to allay the fears of the public, particularly groups who already felt that they were targets for having their liberty removed on the basis of intelligence that cannot be readily challenged. Organisations such as Liberty have warned the Government of the negative impacts ID cards will have, in particular on race relations in this country, especially among ethnic-minority communities. Can the Minister provide evidence from other countries where ID cards are in use? Do citizens in those countries feel safer, and have ID cards lessened the threats felt among people? Youths in some communities feel that they are already looked at with greater suspicion by the police and other government organisations and that they are made scapegoats when intelligence turns out to be misguided. What were the outcomes of the many meetings held around the country by Ministers to talk to communities, particularly the Muslim community, and to address alienation and ways to re-engage Muslim youth?

Another area that concerns me greatly is the human rights of children and young people. Sadly the headlines only highlight the small minority who cause distress and mayhem to our neighbourhoods. However, many more suffer silently each day, until they are badly injured or, in some cases, killed. I was taken aback a few days ago when a news item showed that some people felt that the NSPCC’s television campaigns, encouraging people to offer financial support, were too graphic and too extreme. If those adverts distress us, can you imagine the pain and misery of children who have to endure that environment day in, day out? How do we keep failing these children when so much information is already held on us? Why is it that the police and other agencies cannot stop such atrocities, such as the example I will now give your Lordships? It was reported in the Observer on Sunday 4 February that:

“Britain's child protection services will face severe criticism … when a couple are sentenced for torturing their four-year-old daughter in a case that has alarming echoes of that of Victoria Climbie”.

The couple had,

“poured boiling liquid over the child’s hands, ripped out her hair, kicked her repeatedly … locked her in the toilet over seven terrifying weeks”

fed her her own faeces and given her cold baths. The parents had previously had the child taken away because there was already domestic violence between the spouses.

I have in the past supported women who have suffered terrible physical and mental abuse at the hands of their husbands and partners to get their lives back together, to help them find support and sometimes to support them in court. Where are the rights of those women and their children protected?

The Government’s mission has been to ensure that, increasingly, people can access our personal details, give greater rights for people to enter our homes on behalf of the Government and confine us to control orders without producing any evidence or giving us a right to appeal, yet when it comes to protecting rights it seems that the powers that be and the systems let down often the most vulnerable people. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be no plans to introduce ID cards and instead that the Government will fully support greater policing and better community cohesion? Can she also assure us that much better ways of handling information can be developed so that those who are most vulnerable from bullying in schools and abuse in the home can be dealt with much earlier in the process rather than being badly damaged before intervention takes place?

I come back to my beginning. The Government cannot say that they are the guardian of the human rights of the people in the UK when they are so determined to ignore those rights when it suits them. They cannot expect to move the goalposts when they so choose. It is the inconsistencies of their interpretation of the Human Rights Act that need to be sorted out so that people can have confidence in what the Government are doing.

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Lester has introduced a debate on human rights. It is particularly appropriate 200 years after Parliament voted to end the slave trade, one of the most dreadful crimes against humanity ever committed.

I must declare an interest as chairman of the council of JUSTICE, the United Kingdom branch of the International Commission of Jurists. I also have to confess to being not only a barrister but a secular liberal. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, raised some important issues worthy of a separate debate. I note that a debate on secularism has been scheduled for the Thursday following the Recess in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and I could cross swords on that occasion. All I would like to say today is that I entirely agree with him about the repeal of provisions discriminating against Roman Catholics in the Act of Settlement and the other legislation that he mentioned. You will find that my party agrees, too.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for her remarkable speech. It is the first time I have heard her speak and I look forward to hearing her on many future occasions.

JUSTICE is working on a project to create a British Bill of Rights. That Bill of Rights must, we believe, undoubtedly incorporate the rights conferred by the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. We hope to go beyond that by adding rights that are not adequately recognised by the European convention; for example, discrimination issues. Article 14 forbids discrimination on matters such as race, nationality or gender, but that prohibition is not freestanding. It is only a breach of the convention where there is discrimination in relation to the exercise of other rights under the convention. There is no express mention in the convention of discrimination on grounds such as sexual orientation or age. The European convention and the Human Rights Act do not include a right to trial by jury for serious crime. The USA and other countries whose legal systems are derived from ours recognise that in many cases as a constitutional right, although it is not recognised as such in many other countries.

The American Constitution is one of the great masterpieces in the history of political drafting. It has survived for more than 220 years, with remarkably few changes. The American Bill of Rights was not originally part of the constitution. Almost the first action of the federal Congress was to adopt the first 10 amendments, known in the USA as the Bill of Rights, to which were later added the 13th amendment, on prohibition of slavery, and the 14th, on due process and equal protection of laws. Some provisions of the Bill of Rights are outdated and inconvenient; for example, the second amendment, on the right to bear arms, and the seventh amendment, on the right to trial by jury in civil cases. By and large, however, the American Bill of Rights does and has done an immense service for the USA, and Americans are rightly very proud of it.

Our Human Rights Act is the closest thing that we have to the American Bill of Rights. I believe that it will be seen as the greatest achievement of the Blair Government, something which that Government have tried to undermine ever since; it is the modern Magna Carta. Why are we not as proud of the Human Rights Act as the Americans are of their Bill of Rights? There are a number of reasons. It is partly because of its sheer novelty; we have had it as legislation for less than 10 years and perhaps it has not fully bedded in yet. It is partly because the aim of the Human Rights Act was to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights, which contains the dreadful word “European”. That leads some otherwise rational people to foam at the mouth, even though the European Convention on Human Rights is not a creation of the European Union and was largely drafted by British lawyers led by David Maxwell Fyfe, later, as Lord Kilmuir, a Conservative Lord Chancellor. It is partly also because of a vicious campaign by some parts of the British media, which have based their attacks on the Human Rights Act on stories that involve misinterpretation of the Act by officials or that are simply untrue.

It is partly also—this is particularly important—because many people have not yet understood the real purpose and nature of the Bill. All of us welcome the right for ourselves to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of private life and so on, but any Bill of Rights must confer rights not just on ourselves but on, for example, terrorists, paedophiles and illegal immigrants. It is true that they have no right to incite terrorism or to circulate child pornography—nothing in the Human Rights Act requires that; far from it—but there are rights, such as the right to a fair trial and the right not to suffer inhumane punishment or torture, to which they are entitled.

Bills of Rights are directed at abuses from two very different sources, the first being against oppression by a Government. All of us understand that. We understand the damage that an oppressive Government, such as the Government of Zimbabwe today, can impose on their citizens. However, the other problem with which a Bill of Rights is meant to deal is oppression by us of other people; that is known as the tyranny of the majority. It is much more difficult for people to understand that; but we cannot claim the right to a fair trial for ourselves and refuse a fair trial for those accused of terrorism or paedophilia. We cannot detain people without trial unless they present a threat to the life of the nation. We have to be prepared to give rights to others, such as freedom to express their religious belief and freedom to change those religious beliefs, which they themselves in some cases would not be prepared to give us. Those are things that we must accept if we want to live in a humane and tolerant society. That is why, for example, I believe that the Prime Minister was wrong in saying after the London bombings of July 2005 that,

“the rules of the game have changed”.

This is not a game, and the rules have not changed.

The European Convention on Human Rights is a pragmatic document and gives government all the necessary powers for the defence of national security and prevention of crime. Without a Bill of Rights there is a real and increasing danger that we would become a brutal and vindictive society. Surely that is not a society in which we would wish to live.

I wish to add a coda to what I have said. I understand from newspaper reports that the budget for the DCA is to be cut by over 3 per cent in real terms. I understand that law and the lawyers are not necessarily popular and that, politically, there is more to gain in the short term by putting more money into hospitals and less into the legal system, but if we carry that problem too far we will end up with very slightly improved hospitals and a legal system in meltdown. The budget for the DCA is about £3 billion a year or about a third of what we are paying for the 2012 Olympics. Most of the budget goes on legal aid, but legal aid has been squeezed for years. Because criminal legal aid gets priority, civil legal aid—which is essential in, for example, cases concerning the right to housing and to benefits and cases of family breakdown—is on its way to being squeezed out entirely. I attach no blame to the Minister in this, and no doubt she is as anxious as I am to see that we have a strong legal aid system, but I believe that the destruction, which has been going on for some time and looks as if it might be accelerating, of what was once one of the world's best systems of legal aid will do immense damage to the rule of law and to human rights in this country.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Patten, I feel like a minnow in treacherous legal waters, but I dare to plunge in. Human rights have come from international treaties and were not invented by this Government, as is sometimes implied, but the Government do deserve credit for incorporating them into legislation, and about time. My own generation—students of the 1960s—long expected this pursuit of human rights to come from a progressive Government, not a conservative one. Perhaps that was because my father was a Tory MP with rather different interests and I did not immediately identify the search for justice for victims of poverty, persecution, crime and avarice with conservatism. However, now that I have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and had a chance to read David Cameron’s article in the current issue of Christian Aid News, and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said pertinently about the attitude to terrorism in the Conservative Party, or parts of it, I realise that I was wrong. It is, and it always has been, a Conservative objective. It is just that they never boasted about it. Perhaps they felt it was unobtainable.

I welcome the fact that all political parties are laying claim to this great inheritance, and I do not except the Cross Benches either; but we are still far from honouring the commitments that we have made. Today I should like to get over one simple point—that human rights are not contained within frontiers; they are indivisible, and international development has to go hand-in-hand with human rights protection in this country.

Perhaps I may quote the case of an asylum seeker who has been in touch with me recently, whom I shall call Maria. She comes from northern Mozambique. She is the child of a Christian Portuguese father and an Indian Muslim mother, so she can be called a world citizen with no claim to anywhere. During Mozambique's violent civil war, of which I had some experience myself, she lost contact with both her parents and any relevant documents were lost. She became a street child, homeless, sheltering with others along railway lines and even wandering across frontiers until a Portuguese family helped her to obtain a forged Portuguese passport.

Maria entered the UK in 1992 and for five years she managed to start a new life. She found work cleaning and cooking. She took English classes and was soon able to pay tax and national insurance. It seemed like a success story until her passport—her fake passport—was stolen. Although she reported it, she had thereby lost her only form of identification. At this point her work came to an end. There were no taxes paid. Her claim for asylum was turned down in 2005 and her allowance from NASS was stopped. She became destitute and reliant on the charity of churches. It seems that she still does not belong anywhere.

Two years later, Maria remains stateless, rejected by the Home Office and the Mozambique embassy. She says:

“I’m left begging for everything every day ... I am extremely exhausted, depressed and fearful ... I have no money for daily living … I wander aimlessly in the streets … (Yet) I sustained myself by working hard … educating myself and paying my taxes in this country and lived peacefully. That’s not what criminals normally do”.

She is being punished, she says, although she is a war victim. She is no “sponger” or danger to society.

How many men and women like Maria are there out there roaming the streets because the IND cannot look at individual cases and make initial decisions outside the tick boxes? How much more evidence is needed that in the search for neat solutions under the new asylum model and the host of regulations, we are letting down people of real quality? Here is someone who is the antithesis of the asylum seeker of popular imagination who is taking bread from our own mouths—I warm to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said about legal aid, of which I am sure the Minister will take note—someone who has not only suffered human rights abuses of many kinds but whom our society also needs and should cherish. Instead, we are condemning this person to the life of the street children that she thought she had left behind.

It is difficult to solve human rights problems far from home. This morning, by invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I listened to appalling stories about the treatment of Chechen women at the hands of the Russian state. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford referred to such tyranny. When will we in Europe stand up to Russia, to hold up a mirror of what it is doing to persecute women who try only to stand up for themselves and explain the brutality they have suffered?

On Monday, with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and others, I heard some distressing tales of women who have suffered human rights abuse in Herat in western Afghanistan. These were mainly cases of domestic violence against women who had been forced into marriage or servitude of various forms, and they had often been attacked, tortured and even set on fire. Some had opted for self-immolation. The remarkable woman who was trying to help them through a very small charity fully accepted that her efforts, although commendable in the context of her educated background, were feeble beside the trend of custom and tradition in Afghanistan. These stories can be told in our own communities, as we have heard, but when human rights workers come from afar to share their predicament we have obligations towards them. Their biggest task at home is to change the attitudes of politicians and people in authority who condone these practices in their own country. We have an obligation to help them, and, as countries contributing to their reconstruction, we may be able to help.

While human rights are indivisible and should be upheld anywhere, it is plainly impossible for all these problems to be solved by international development. It takes time for education and understanding to work themselves through in those countries to resolve the problems which the law by itself cannot solve.

On the other hand, if women such as Maria, along with thousands of families from Africa and Asia who now live in this country, have been able to escape from lives of poverty, civil war and human rights abuse, and are on our doorstep, can we not see them as equally deserving of international development in this country? Is not the filter of immigration control also a means of sustaining life and of celebrating survival?

This week we are celebrating 50 years of the European Union. As part of that we can rejoice at the standards we have set for ourselves in Europe, as expressed through the various conventions. I am not sure that I want to see much more written down or any more Bills of Rights. I would prefer to see a Europe which stops navel-gazing and constitution-seeking and looks outwards to the rest of the world. We have a great deal more to offer today than we had in 1957; and we could be more generous still.

In many ways we have become a magnet. That too brings obligations. Many of our citizens are alarmed by the prospects of migration. Yet we in Europe, with our ageing population and job shortages in certain sectors, need to attract more people to work here. Europe's population is falling rapidly. As a proportion of the world’s total, it was 12 per cent in 1945; it is down to 8 per cent today; and it is projected to fall to 4.5 per cent in 2050. Meanwhile, the pressure of refugees and migrants is greater than ever. This is surely not a threat but an opportunity, as I know the Government sometimes tell us, yet instead through some of our inward-looking policies we are in danger of condemning the persecuted to more misery, the poor to more penury and the homeless to a life on the streets.

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked, “Are there any more Marias?” I am afraid the answer is “lots”. We heard about them in the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We even heard of one poor woman who had AIDS and was refused treatment on the National Health Service. She had no money and could not afford to have it done privately. That is something of which this country should be deeply ashamed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, had a lovely sort of love fest for the Human Rights Act. She said that the Prime Minister’s record was frightfully good on it. I suggest that his record on it is absolutely appalling. He has introduced 3,000 new crimes and has said that ancient liberties are an old-fashioned virtue. Let us remember that the Human Rights Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, was written by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and Lord Kilmuir. I cannot mention Lord Kilmuir without remembering that little ditty:

“There’s nothing worse than death in life

Than David Patrick Maxwell Fyfe

And now at last he’s found the cure

And blossomed forth as Lord Kilmuir”.

The Lord Chancellor lectures us on the glories of Magna Carta, ancient liberties and the rule of law. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, sometimes reminds me of the French Army. France was the aggressor in Europe for about 300 years, but it managed to get away with it because it had an enormous amount of charm and panache—and it produced very good food. When the poor old Germans start behaving like that, they have neither of those so they get very strongly disapproved of.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has presided, almost with the panache of a French general, over an assault on our human rights and ancient liberties. I will list them because it is a list of which we should be deeply ashamed. I quickly note to my noble friend Lord Patten, who is not in his place, that the reason for keeping the Crown in the hands of the Church of England is that the Crown is supreme governor of the Church of England, and there is no hurry to repeal this legislation, if it needs to be repealed. In the Great Papal Bull of Regnans in Excelsis, Pope Pius V said that Queen Elizabeth could reasonably be assassinated by her Roman Catholic subjects because they could not show twin loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church and their lawful sovereign. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, told me—and we all know that he is an essentially genius-like authority on these matters—that that Papal Bull was eventually repealed, but in the reign of our present Sovereign in 1958.

I should like to list some of the things that the Government have done which I regard as assaults on British liberties. Earlier this week we debated the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill. The Government had earlier been persuaded by pressure from this House that such a provision could be brought in only by affirmative order. Knowing full well that they could not get it through by the affirmative procedure, they decided to produce a Bill on which they thought they might be able to invoke the Parliament Act. That is cheating, frankly. It is going back on what they said and, as was pointed out in the debate, those liberties are essential and should be guarded.

In no particular order, we have had the retaining of fingerprints from innocent people and the taking of DNA samples from children. It has been reported that up to a quarter of Afro-Caribbean males have had their DNA samples kept. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, adduced that; and rightly so. It is a disgrace.

You can now be sent to prison—admittedly, indirectly—on the basis of hearsay evidence. ASBOs can be given on hearsay evidence. We know how unreliable that can be. If you breach an ASBO, that is contempt of court and inside you go. Consequently, you can go inside on the basis of hearsay evidence. That is against all natural justice.

Under control orders, of which we have been hearing in the JCHR, you do not hear the evidence against you. If your advocate hears what is called closed evidence, he is not allowed to pass it on to you, so you have no idea what are the charges against you. We still refuse to use intercept evidence.

Terrorism is criminal. Do not give it the flattery of calling it a war. We are dealing with criminals—of, I quite accept, a very nasty character. We must deal with them in the criminal way according to law and according to criminal evidence. The Government want to lock up people for 90 days without trial. Thanks to parliamentary action, the limit has been held at 28 days. Some of us would say that that is too long. During the whole of the IRA troubles, people could be held for only 96 hours without charge. We managed, more or less, to contain that. Through hints, we know that the Government are trying to increase that to 90 days.

We have the Regulatory Reform Act, which includes powers for Ministers, admittedly under restrained circumstances, to change Acts of Parliament. We have the Civil Contingencies Act, which again can repeal Acts of Parliament. Parts of the Animal Health Act allow Ministers much greater power than they should have.

There are the provisions for the prevention of serious crime and disorder. If someone thinks that someone is a crook, and a big enough crook at that, he can be put under house arrest, have his bank accounts frozen and be banned from using the internet or the telephone. As the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, these people have their rights. I am not saying that they should be allowed to be drug dealers, major fraudsters or bank robbers. Of course I am not. I am saying that it is a very old established thing that you are innocent until proven guilty and you cannot just be locked up on suspicion.

I believe that there were 439,000 applications to monitor telephone calls last year. About 500,000 people have been stopped and searched under terrorism laws, including yours truly, who was driving down the Embankment and was stopped by two policemen and three special constables. When I said that I had had my car searched in the House of Lords car park and showed them my identity card, they redoubled their endeavours to search my car. I did not object to that, but, on principle, it is wrong. I accept that in my personal circumstance it may be perfectly justified.

Under terrorism laws, people have been arrested for having something rude about the Prime Minister on a T-shirt at an agricultural show. People have been arrested and charged under the Crime and Disorder Act for reading out the names of war dead in front of the Cenotaph. An elderly German was arrested for heckling Jack Straw at a political meeting. What the heavens are political meetings for if you cannot heckle people?

Finally, irony of ironies, someone was arrested for quoting George Orwell outside No. 10 Downing Street. Civil bailiffs have for the first time since 1604 been given the power to force their way into private houses.

That is not the record of a Government interested in civil liberties; it is the record of a Government who have taken them away and abused them. The sooner that they are out of office and those liberties can be restored to the British people, the better.

My Lords, my thanks go to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for initiating this debate. As other noble Lords have said, it is particularly apposite today as we look forward to the coming weekend and Sunday, 25 March, which marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade—or the passing of the Act.

My Lords, may I correct the noble Baroness? It was the abolition by us of our slave trade. Others went on for another 60 years, unfortunately. Do give us credit for it, because it is very well worth having.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his intervention. I am very well aware of that fact, as I would have gone on to say, but I thank him for making that point.

The passing of the Act will be commemorated throughout this country and internationally this year. A wide range of organisations is working on the political and social legacy of the slave trade while highlighting the work of prominent abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, Hannah More and William Wilberforce, and the wealth generated through the slave trade in places such as Bristol, Liverpool, Birmingham, Lancaster and London. There will be a significant exhibition here in Westminster Hall indicating the role of Parliament in both sustaining and abolishing that abominable traffic.

This afternoon, I want to raise the issue of public consciousness regarding human rights culture but, first, I want to say just a little about the role of the arts in human rights debates. I should here declare an interest as chair of the advisory group on the parliamentary exhibition and as co-curator, along with Dr Nima Poovaya Smith, of an Arts Council-funded programme of artistic commissions and events to commemorate the bicentenary, “Freedom and Culture”. The project aims to demonstrate the continuing role that the arts play in the emancipation of the human spirit—a theme that occurs throughout history, but particularly in relation to African diaspora encounters with Europeans.

Historically, artists, writers and scholars have played a key role in shaping, influencing and informing events relating to physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual freedoms. It is therefore crucial that the arts sector makes a considered and high-profile contribution to the commemorations across the UK this year and that public funding continues to support art that helps to heal the human spirit, especially of the most vulnerable groups in society, to deepen understanding, to articulate complex ideas in creative ways and to expose tensions between competing rights and sensitivities. Full participation by artists and arts organisations will be important as a means of demonstrating the continuity of the engagement of artistic practice with struggles for liberation and human rights across time and place.

It is worth reflecting on the wider meanings of the bicentenary in the context of today’s debate on human rights and fundamental freedoms in the UK today. We in this House and in the other place are all too aware of the modern versions of slavery that still exist, despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practised and despite the fact that there are several declarations, conventions and directives against such practices. The bare facts of the extent of the misery caused by trafficking in human exploitation—women, children and men being forced to work, in debt for life, subject to threats and torture—have been laid before your Lordships’ House on various occasions by many noble Lords with a deep commitment to ending those forms of exploitation.

Within the parliamentary exhibition on the slave trade, Anti-Slavery International has curated a section revealing insight into the relevance of the history of enslavement to our current situation. More than 180 years after its establishment, the organisation’s campaign against enforced labour and the denial of human freedom and rights is still necessary and vital in a contemporary globalised world.

Internationally, Anti-Slavery International continues to press relevant agencies of the United Nations, such as the Commission on Human Rights and the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, to make the issue of trafficking a priority and to ensure that the rights of the person trafficked are central to any anti-trafficking measure. Anti-Slavery International’s anti-trafficking programme comprises three elements: campaigning to end human trafficking; lobbying for victim protection; and research on measures that Governments take to protect the victims of trafficking, especially those who act as witnesses. This last point is vital. Assurances of protection against revenge are absolutely essential if the anti-trafficking measures are to be effective. The establishment and protection of the human rights of those who are victims of contemporary forms of the abominable traffic should surely be a priority in any anti-trafficking strategy.

Those in Britain who denigrate the notion of human rights often do so from the vantage point of having benefited from centuries of struggle to achieve them. The mischievous misrepresentation of a few high-profile cases misleads the public and contributes to antipathy towards these issues. Frivolous uses of the term to refer, for example, to people who wish to smoke in restaurants or drive fuel-hungry vehicles distort the intentions and do a disservice to those powerless victims of human rights abuses who have no public voice. The freedoms and rights to which we refer are fundamental and should be unarguable.

Although we should recognise that Britain has travelled some distance in respect of human rights since 1807, we need to be aware of the extent to which these gains have often had to be wrung from reluctant Governments, have frequently been contested and resisted by politicians from all parties, and have sometimes entailed defamation of people’s characters. Sadly, they have also sometimes resulted in the loss of life. We should also recognise that many members of the general public are still unaware—or, worse, uncaring—about the fact that, for example, switching on the lights has an impact on the freedoms and rights of the people of the Niger delta, or that the cheap shoes or rugs that we buy come at the expense of the physical and intellectual development of young children. And what about those men who think nothing of using a brutalised woman trafficked here for their gratification from Europe and Africa? Our own human rights achievements count for nothing if we perpetuate pain and misery for other, more vulnerable human beings elsewhere. One of the reasons why the trans atlantic slave trade could thrive for centuries was that the people of this country refused to regard enslaved Africans as fellow human beings. Surely we do not want to continue with that view today.

Government action should be informed by the values that we claim to hold dear, in the tradition of those who have struggled and have sacrificed their lives for the principles of universal enfranchisement, children’s rights, women’s suffrage, anti-racism and anti-discrimination. It should not be shaped by the political agendas of the tabloid press.

We are on the threshold of launching a new body that recognises the importance of the need for embedding in Britain a human rights culture that takes these issues seriously. In October this year, the newly formed Commission for Equality and Human Rights will come into being. In a briefing sent out on this debate, the Disability Rights Commission, one of the organisations that will be subsumed into the new body, states that the,

“CEHR will have a strong set of tools to strengthen individual rights, shift institutional behaviour and transform public attitudes”.

I sincerely hope that that statement is correct. I also hope that the Minister will be able to say something about the contribution that the new commission will make to public education and understanding of these issues, particularly the real meaning of a human rights culture. With the right powers and resources, the establishment of the CEHR could mark a new era in the development of a progressive rights and equalities agenda for all citizens of this country. It could also develop a deeper sense of connection to struggles for freedom and rights across the globe.

My Lords, historically, the people of Britain were protected not by a written human rights Bill but by ancient statutes such as the Magna Carta, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the principle of habeas corpus. However, as we approached the 21st century, it became necessary to offer a more structured definition of the rights of the individual and how these should be protected in our modern society. This resulted in the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force in October 2000, tying Britain to rights detailed in the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The Human Rights Act solidified the relationship that Britain already had with the European Convention on Human Rights, of which it had been a signatory since 1966. The intention was to make it easier for individuals to protect their rights in the British judicial system. Since 2000, however, the interpretation of the Act and the failure to find the right balance between individual and community rights have led to the emergence of a culture of rights, which is being exploited to the extreme. Several high-profile cases have attracted media attention by highlighting the difficulties that the British courts have had in translating the Act into practice—for example, the Court of Appeal’s refusal in 2004 to deport nine Afghan hijackers, despite the fact that the Taliban regime that had threatened them had been toppled. This was seen as evidence of the Act’s ability to put the needs of an individual above the safety of the community or even the nation.

Not only has the Human Rights Act not been fully effective, but this Government have taken an increasingly anti-libertarian stance in the wake of September 11. Legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 has attempted to restrict some of the very rights that the Labour Government intended to protect with the introduction of the Human Rights Act. Furthermore, the introduction of ID cards is totally wrong. It interferes with the privacy of citizens but does not offer them protection against harm. It is an unwanted imposition.

There are alternatives. A debate is emerging on the feasibility of the repeal of the Human Rights Act, to be replaced by a British Bill of Rights that would reflect more accurately the relationship between the citizen, the state and security. A Bill of Rights would have to balance rights with responsibilities. It would have to outline clearly the core values that give us our identity as a nation, and would likely mirror many of the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it would also provide the opportunity for national discourse on what fundamental civil liberties should be protected, and greater clarification of the exact details in a British context would enable the courts better to apply the Bill of Rights. This change would not remove all controversy. We could not deport some people because of the fate that awaited them in their own country. To deport them would constitute a violation of Article 3, on protection from inhuman and degrading treatment. The Bill would help to prevent decisions, such as the one concerning the Afghan hijackers in 2004, which appear to be irrational and wrong.

A Bill of Rights would also silence critics who believe that the UK has lost too much parliamentary supremacy due to compliance with European laws. By entrenching a new Bill of Rights in Parliament, the UK would be asserting her own decision-making power and restating our legislative independence from Europe. That would clarify fundamental duties, safeguard liberties and provide equality in law and civil rights.

Undoubtedly the system as it stands is creating far more questions than it is answering. The introduction of a new Bill of Rights would strengthen our hand in the fight against crime and terrorism. Ultimately, a British Bill of Rights would have the power to promote awareness and be a reminder to British citizens that each person has as much of a responsibility to uphold another’s human rights as they have a right to have their own rights protected. If the Bill is suitably drafted, it will incorporate common values so that British citizens of all backgrounds will feel that it applies to them and there will be common ownership of the Act. I am sure, therefore, that there will be acceptance from everyone in the country.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on securing the debate and thank him for the opportunity to take part. He described the human rights legislation as having a magnetic force over the whole legal system, and I am sure that he more than anyone else understands the impact of that. But I am challenged by the push indicated in his own speech and that of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, for a UK Bill of Rights. I want to reflect on that a little and question whether we need yet further legislation. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has rightly pointed us to the excess of law we have been engulfed in. We must ask whether we need more legislation or whether we need a different approach of mind. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that without a Bill of Rights we would become a brutal and vindictive society. He may well be right. However, I wonder whether with a Bill of Rights we might not instead become a more punitive, aggressive and frightened society. We should take some time to consider that as an optional outcome of further legislation.

Later this year there will be the formal launch of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I welcome that, not only because it is led by my good friend Trevor Phillips and many others known to noble Lords, but also because it will attempt to take forward the work of the existing commissions and become more dynamic and progressive. I do not suggest that some of the former bodies were not, but it will seek to be. For nine years until 2001 I served on the Commission for Racial Equality, mostly under the chairmanship of my colleague and noble friend Lord Ouseley, who is not in his place today. Under his chairmanship we fought hard for the progress of race relations legislation and I was proud to be one of those who contended for the reform Act of 2001 which brought in provisions on institutional racism, the promotion of good race relations and public duty provisions. Those were significant achievements, ones I feel were worthy of the time and effort given to them.

However, recalling those achievements caused me to reflect deeply on the amount of time consumed by the monthly meetings of the commissioners, and the paperwork and documentation that ate up our living hours as we struggled with just one of the five areas which the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights will attempt to address and get right. It has a huge remit in front of it: it must promote a human rights culture and good relations between individuals and communities; according to briefings sent to noble Lords it will try to shift institutional behaviour and transform public attitudes. It will seek to make human rights acknowledged as intrinsic to Britain’s prosperity, security and well-being. These are huge, noble tasks and if I recall anything of the pressures of the Commission for Racial Equality, it will take a wise group of men and women, perhaps meeting daily, to achieve them.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has left the Chamber for a moment, but I want to reflect briefly on last night’s discussion in this Chamber on the sexual orientation regulations. In his speech he commented on the pressure behind the regulations, saying that,

“it is unfortunate that the law has to be reformed by secondary legislation, since, as has been said, this reduces the scope for scrutiny of the detail of the regulations, and that the reason for this is that the Home Office unwisely included religious discrimination in the Equality Act without providing also for sexual orientation discrimination”.—[Official Report, 21/3/07; cols. 1321-22.]

My vote last night was cast in reflection of the fact that no matter how just, necessary and essential those regulations may well be, contentious and horrid regulations or legislation are never good law. I wonder whether there may not have been some reflection by the soon-to-emerge Commission for Equality and Human Rights on a better way to achieve all this, rather than to rush through processes which will cause many to continue to wonder whether we have given sufficient time or understanding to these critical issues, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, might make us a more brutal and vindictive society.

My noble friend Lady Young also referred to the celebrations being held this week and throughout the year to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade within the shores of the United Kingdom. It is something we should all rightly feel proud of. Last night with William Hague and Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in another place, I was privileged to host in Portcullis House the screening of “Amazing Grace”, the film of the life of William Wilberforce. There will be considerable discussion and debate in this House of the impact of all these issues over the rest of this year. That is something we should all welcome and want to participate in.

But we are being encouraged to remember that the achievements of slavery reduction and removal 200 years ago are almost as nothing to what is the contemporary slavery of today, and the pain it inflicts on multitudes of our fellow human beings, involving as it does the loss of their human rights. The Deputy Prime Minister said, in a speech delivered in another place during a debate to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery:

“The ILO estimates that a minimum of 12.3 million people are enslaved in the world today. Of those trafficked into forced labour, 43 per cent. are subjected to sexual exploitation, 32 per cent. to labour exploitation, and 25 per cent. to a mixture of both. The estimated value of that criminal activity is $32 billion”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 692.]

It is easy for us to shake our heads and feel irritated and complacent, and in some sense anguished about what others do abroad in human trafficking. Let me quote from the shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr William Hague, who said later in the debate that:

“It is important that we in Britain wake up to the gravity of the situation on our own doorstep. A fortnight ago, an official at the Lithuanian Ministry of Information declared that Britain is the No. 1 destination for gangs smuggling sex slaves from countries such as his own. Last year, when our police conducted a four-month operation to tackle sex trafficking, they rescued 84 women—a small number in the scheme of things, but the list of their countries of origin tells its own sorry tale of the trail of misery. Those 84 women came from Albania, Brazil, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, India, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Namibia, Poland, Rwanda, Russia, Slovakia and Thailand”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/07; col. 701.]

We have a lot to get right in this regard, and I question whether further legislation is really the way to achieve it. It may well be. With regard to the current slave trade and its ugly, damaging appearance in the life of this country among those people who choose to pay for services—for which they should not wish—from others trafficked from around the world, I only ask whether it is legislation or culture change that will achieve this. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that one of the key ambitions of a new UK Bill of human rights would be improved citizenship. We would all want to affirm that as appropriate; we desire it, and we would seek it.

I shall refer to another legal expert. A Lenten talk was given on Radio 4 on 14 March by no less a figure than Cherie Booth, in her role as president of Barnardo’s. She said:

“Fifteen year-old Andy from Newry in Northern Ireland was brought before the court for attempting to attack the police. As part of a community responsibility order, he met with police, fire service and ambulance crews who told him what it’s like to be under attack from hooligans when they are trying to save lives. Andy began, for the first time, to appreciate the risks they took and the impact of his behaviour. He wrote a letter of apology to the police and joined the Fire Brigade cadets for a six week programme on public safety. The programme also helped Andy look at the things in his life which made him angry and develop ways of coping with these—within his family, where both his parents had problems with substance misuse, and at school, where he was frequently in trouble. Andy is accepting responsibility for his actions—but there’s another way to look at this. The community is accepting its responsibility for Andy as well. All too often society wants to draw a “them and us” line between offenders and victims without recognising that offenders are often victims themselves. We can’t ignore the fact that over a half of all 15 to 17 year-olds in custody and a third of all prisoners have been in care at some point in their lives, nor that the majority of women in prison say they’ve been victims of domestic or sexual abuse. The Archbishop of Canterbury recently called on society to recognise the part it has to play in the journey of reform and rehabilitation that the offender needs to embrace, because that has to be the fundamental goal of the criminal justice system. Those who have been through our courts and prisons need to be helped to return to society as full and contributing members”.

I quote that story because I want more than ever to see us achieve, with the continued downward and upward pressure on human rights—we should all be keen in that endeavour—less of the weight of law and more of an opportunity for responsibility to balance rights. My concern is that a UK Bill of Rights and the continuing regulatory rights culture that we have seen around us, and all the pressure it brings to stand up for, defend and even litigate for rights, has not necessarily moved us to understand the place of duty, responsibility and fair citizenship.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Lester on securing this extremely interesting and important debate. I shall focus on the requirements of Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act, which provides that the Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must make a statement to the effect that, in his or her view, the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the convention rights. That is the statement of compatibility, with which we are all too familiar. The provision was brought into force in November 1998, and we constantly see on the cover of any government Bill the short statement:

“In my view, the provisions of the … Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”.

And that is all we see.

In all parliamentary systems which have adopted a Bill of Rights or its constitutional equivalent, there has been a debate about whether the judiciary should have the sole authority when claims of rights clash with political decisions; in other words, whether judicial interpretation must prevail over political judgment. In some systems in the United States, to which my noble friend Lord Goodhart referred, and in Canada in particular, the judiciary is authorised to invalidate legislation that is inconsistent with guaranteed rights. My own first contact in this field was with the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, as Governor of Hong Kong, gave his assent in June 1991. It incorporated the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and provided, in terms, that all pre-existing legislation which does not admit of a construction consistent with this ordinance is, to the extent of this inconsistency, repealed. So if it was inconsistent, it went.

In its early days, the Hong Kong judiciary, with this new power to strike out legislation, exercised it with a will. I appeared for the appellant in the first test of its judicial activism in the Privy Council in the case of the Attorney-General v Lee Kwong-kut in 1993. It dealt with the reverse of burden of proof in a criminal charge, an issue, incidentally, that we were debating yesterday in the Serious Crime Bill; it is important. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, expressed his disquiet at too much judicial activism and cautioned that questions of policy remained primarily the responsibility of the legislature. He held that a strict attitude towards statutory defences would merely encourage the legislature to adopt a different drafting style which would not assist individuals who were charged with offences. He said:

“While the Hong Kong judiciary should be zealous in upholding an individual’s rights under the Hong Kong Bill, it is also necessary to ensure that disputes as to the effect of the Bill are not allowed to get out of hand. The issues involving the Hong Kong Bill should be approached with realism and good sense, and kept in proportion. If this is not done the Bill will become a source of injustice rather than justice and it will be debased in the eyes of the public”.

That was colonial legislation introduced in 1991 by the British Governor, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson.

The Human Rights Act, which we introduced here in 1998, followed a different model that was closer to that adopted by New Zealand in 1990. In that, the judiciary is not authorised to invalidate legislation that is inconsistent with guaranteed rights. As noble Lords will know, the Human Rights Act obliges courts to interpret legislation so as to be as compatible as possible with convention rights, but the court may make a declaration of incompatibility which can engage a fast-track mechanism to enable Parliament to amend that legislation.

However, there is no obligation on the Government to use that mechanism. There is no requirement even for them to comment or to give reasons for disagreeing with the court’s ruling. The problem in the United Kingdom, deriving, I have to say, from a first-past-the-post electoral system, is that strong party discipline results in very few checks on decisions of the Executive. The concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister of the day, barely modified even by collective Cabinet decision-making, means that guaranteed rights can be ignored or written over. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, provided a list: the removal of jury trials in serious fraud cases and the introduction of ASBOs, control orders and, now, serious crime prevention orders by using a civil standard of proof and civil methods of proving the issues involved.

I recognise, however, that there are some limitations. No Minister wants to be criticised for having the legislation for which he or she is responsible declared by the courts to be incompatible, hence the provisions of Section 19, by requiring a statement of compatibility, demand of every Minister some form of pre-legislative scrutiny of every government Bill. There is a natural scepticism, not least on these Benches, about the statements that appear on the front of Bills. Frequently, particularly as regards Home Office Bills, there is a sharp debate as to whether the provisions of the convention have been violated. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford pointed out, there is a clash between the maintenance of civil liberties and the attack on crime. Many of the Bills that are introduced by the Home Office contain that clash, thereby inviting a dispute about whether they comply with the convention.

The debates that we have are informed by the reports of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred. That committee has the important function of advising both Houses whether rights have been fully respected in the Bill in question. In addition to its consideration of representations from a wide body of opinion, the committee has the power to question Ministers to seek explanations and clarifications of legislative proposals. If a statement of incompatibility is made by a Minister under Section 19(1)(b) of the Act, there is inevitably controversy.

As a result of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, the Home Secretary entered a derogation from Article 5.1(f) of the ECHR and the Joint Committee on Human Rights was not convinced that the three requirements set out in Article 15 were fulfilled. In particular, the committee drew to the attention of both Houses the question whether a public emergency existed which threatened the life of the nation. It drew to our attention the overly broad definition of a terrorist and the lack of due process in relation to detention orders. There was a robust debate which led to some amendments, in particular a requirement of reasonableness relating to the decision to certify a person as a suspected international terrorist, and your Lordships will recall the introduction of a sunset clause.

However, in the case of A v Home Secretary in December 2004, the Judicial Committee of this House, sitting as a Bench of nine Lords of Appeal, held that indefinite detention under the Act was contrary to the convention and it made a declaration of incompatibility. Three years have gone by with this legislation in place and it is unsatisfactory that so many years may go by before the courts have the opportunity of pronouncing on guaranteed rights issues because during that time individuals caught in the system may suffer severely. Greater parliamentary scrutiny, therefore, is absolutely essential to ensure that rights are respected in the making of new statute law and here is where the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, come in. It is not the exclusive territory of liberal totalitarian secular lawyers to determine years later whether an Act of Parliament is incompatible with the convention. It is a matter that should be at the forefront of our discussions when we actually make that legislation.

While the Joint Committee on Human Rights performs a vital and important role, Parliament should be better informed at the beginning of the legislative process about the Government’s evaluation of rights issues and the reasoning that lies behind these formal statements of compatibility. There should be transparency. These statements in the Bill are purely formal and they contain no guide or explanation of the assumptions or the values which lie behind the Government’s purposes. It simply says that the Minister certifies that this Bill is compatible with the convention. These formal statements should be accompanied or supported by relevant information which would allow Parliament to debate fully their merits and justifications. We should know what the aim of the Bill is; what harm or concern the Government are addressing; whether there is a possibility of a rights restriction; what the justification for it is; and why less restrictive measures are not being considered by the Government. We need information which we can debate at the beginning of the legislation. It should not be left to the courts years later and to the totalitarian secular lawyers to be arguing about it in succeeding years.

I draw to the attention of the Minister an important article interpreting a Bill of Rights by Janet Hiebert of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario in the British Journal of Political Science published in 2005 by the Cambridge University Press. That compares the systems of New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom and I am sure she and her department would gain a great deal from it.

As we have in this country consciously adopted a system which denies to the judiciary the final say when determining constitutional validity, political scrutiny of impending legislation is vital. If a Government give their reasons, they can be properly examined by the Human Rights Committee, considered by the public at large and, most importantly, tested in debate. Along with my noble friend Lord Goodhart, I have often said that the Human Rights Act is the Government’s most important legacy—indeed, it is probably the only positive one. It has helped to nurture the culture of respect for rights to which my noble friend Lord Lester referred.

Criticisms of legislation by parliamentarians based on human rights considerations are not to be considered as the usual cut and thrust between opposition and government. There are few electoral votes in arguing for the rights of minorities. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, referred to the Afghan hijackers. I appeared in that case; they were lawyers and teachers who were escaping from the Taliban. It would have been a little unusual for us to send them back to Afghanistan when we were invading it to get rid of the Taliban. They were protected by human rights legislation. The Act should not be seen as a veto on legislative or executive action.

The considerations of human rights are essentially assertions of the norms—the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, referred to the fair play concept—and values of our humane society. Parliament agreed the Human Rights Act in 1998, in the year 2007, it should be fully respected.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already delivered by many other of your Lordships to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, on initiating this debate, which I think everyone will agree has been first class.

Many things of real constitutional value have flowed from the arrival of the Human Rights Act on our statute book. I can think of two particular principles that have been greatly advanced and enriched by the jurisprudence of the past 10 years. First, the principle of equality, rather undervalued by the common law, has shown a remarkable development by virtue of our courts applying the European Convention on Human Rights. Another principle that has prospered has been that of non-discrimination. In his own appearances in the courts, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has made a vital contribution to that.

However, the Human Rights Act has not, in my judgment, commanded the public respect that it ought to have done and that it deserves. There are a number of reasons for this. First, there have undoubtedly been some foolish or misplaced decisions—I do not know how one would properly describe them—by public servants in the name of human rights that have benefited people who either did not deserve those benefits or at least were not perceived as deserving them. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has spent a great deal of time in the past two or three months agreeing that some of these decisions were foolish—I am thinking particularly of the one where a certain police force seemed reluctant to issue the photograph of an escaped criminal. The noble and learned Lord has promised that new directions will be delivered to civil servants and others serving in public authorities to ensure that incorrect interpretations of the human rights legislation will be, if not entirely eliminated, at least minimised.

The second reason is that, despite the fact that the Human Rights Act is a product of the present Government, it continues to receive at best only lukewarm endorsement from Ministers. This is a particularly unattractive factor, especially when direct attacks are made on judges who base their decisions on human rights legislation, which is what the Act requires them to do. When political leaders make such attacks, it is no wonder that from time to time the public call its value into question.

Thirdly, my noble friend Lord Onslow was at pains to point out that, far from protecting the traditional rights provided to us over the centuries by the common law, the Act has often proved useful camouflage for promoting legislation that undermines them. In developing his argument under Section 19, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made glancing references to these. One thinks of jury trial, habeas corpus and the conversion of what ought to be criminal offences into civil offences in order to lighten the standard of proof on the prosecution. One thinks of what I find a particularly offensive development in our criminal law—the changes made to the propensity rules in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Before the Human Rights Act was on the statute book, nobody would have dreamt of questioning these very hard earned, long established common-law rules. Yet we are now told that these changes are human rights convention compatible. The reason for this is that jury trial and a great deal of the evidential protections that flow from it are an unfamiliar feature on the continental jurisprudential terrain. Therefore, the European Court of Human Rights has been reluctant to grapple with these issues when they have been taken to Strasbourg. That is one of the reasons why talk of a British home-grown Bill of Rights is in the air.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is chairman of Justice. I have the honour to serve as a vice-chairman of Justice under his benign leadership. We are both engaged in a project in Justice that seeks to assess whether the next stage in the development of human rights in the United Kingdom ought to be through our own home-grown legislation. My right honourable friend Mr David Cameron has established a committee in the Conservative Party chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, to address precisely the same issue. When Justice and the Conservative Party simultaneously think that there is a problem, it must be a problem well worth looking at.

If a Bill of Rights proves to be a desirable future initiative, one of the most important contributions that it will make will be the protection of the defendant in criminal trials. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford rightly drew our attention to the frequent statements from government Ministers about rebalancing criminal law and criminal evidence in favour of victims, with the effect of reducing the rights of the accused. In other words, the defendant is more likely to be convicted. Nothing offends human rights more than a system that is prone to punishing the innocent. One of the objectives of a British Bill of Rights would be to make sure that we do not have a system that is prone to that.

There are other objectives of such a Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester of Herne Hill, might not agree with what I am about to say; they will have their own views about what ought to appear. One area that I am particularly concerned about—I know that the noble Baroness is intimately involved in it at the moment—is the question of due process in administrative tribunals. We are establishing a common tribunal system with a common administration, but each one of the 70-odd tribunals has its own system of due process. In some cases, the system is absolutely right for the tribunal’s objective; in other cases, the process is wholly inappropriate. I would like to see some basic standards of due process set out for tribunals.

My noble friend Lady Verma talked about us being the most photographed nation in Europe. How right she is—and it is not only a question of being the most photographed. We must be one of the nations that suffer most from invasions in our privacy. Information that government departments can obtain from us can now be shared with most if not all other government departments, for purposes that we do not know. This is another area that a Bill of Rights would address.

My noble friend Lord Patten reminded us that important aspects of religious freedom ought to be enshrined in such a Bill. I do not want to enter today into whether the list that he provided is the right one, but he has an important principle, which ought to be considered by any drafting committee.

The draftsmen will also have to confront some awkward questions, particularly in the area of terrorism. We are obliged, not only by Article 3 of the convention but also under the international Convention against Torture, not to deport a suspected terrorist where there is a real risk that he will suffer torture in his country of destination. Anyone who is complicit in a series of events that leads to somebody being tortured is effectively now committing an international crime. This is a real problem for us when we cannot prosecute people for the offence that we allege they have committed. I am not pretending for a moment that a Bill of Rights will make all the issues that we face easier. However, there are certainly gaps in the convention that we need to fill.

A number of your Lordships, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, reminded us that the issue of human rights is an international problem and that, compared with many other countries, we are extremely fortunate. The noble Earl, in particular, rightly said that we perhaps ought to spend rather less time engaged in navel-gazing and more time exporting the remarkable experiences that we have had in developing our human rights legislation and doing our very best to ensure that human rights breaches are minimised in international society. I know that that is a concern. The peroration of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, addressed precisely that issue and the extent to which we ought now to be more directly engaged as a people in the United Nations conventions on various matters that have been raised by your Lordships today. That goes beyond the defined scope of today’s debate; but we should remind ourselves that those matters are nevertheless of great importance.

I see that I have strayed a minute beyond my permitted time. In those circumstances, I shall hasten to sit down.

My Lords, I do not mind if the noble Lord or the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, strays, as noble Lords have much to say. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lester, on this debate. There are few in your Lordships’ House who can claim to have as long and expert an association with the human rights traditions of this country and issues of equality and discrimination. It is a pleasure to be able to work with him on occasions, of which today is one. I am privileged to have that opportunity.

Contributions have ranged across a variety of different issues such as religious freedom, the Act of Settlement, the Spanish conquest, legal aid, trial by jury, ID cards, the alienation of some of our communities, a Bill of Rights, cannibalism, the horrors of domestic violence and child abuse, Maria’s story, the plight of Chechen women, the misery of slavery, statements of incompatibility, trafficking and the DCA budget, to name not all, by any means. Anyone listening to this debate who has any doubt of the relevance of the discussions on human rights to our daily lives has only to look at that range of subjects. As I only have 20 minutes in which to try to wind up this debate, noble Lords will forgive me if I do not cover all the issues that have been raised today.

The noble Lord, Lord Patten, unfortunately left us just when the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, was kind enough to address the points that were raised; I refer him to that contribution, which, in part at least, answered some of the questions. He has chosen well in his choice of the noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, as a good model. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and I were reminiscing, and I am reminded about her role in taking up issues—in the case of the Mental Capacity Act, the issue of basic care—and never allowing us to forget the importance of addressing fundamental questions of how we support, particularly, the elderly. I pay tribute to her.

The noble Lord, Lord Patten, raised some interesting questions, picked up in a number of contributions, about religious freedom and about the importance of how we tackle those issues of conscience and their relevance to this debate. The right reverend Prelate raised that too in his extremely helpful contribution.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I was not in the Chamber, and I will pay attention to what my noble friend Lord Onslow said in his reference to my speech. The Minister does not need to shelter behind his albeit formidable presence in answering my two specific questions, of which I gave her due notice. It would be right for her to be kind enough to answer them.

My Lords, I will certainly do so. The Government still have no plans to deal with the issues that the noble Lord has raised. I will say to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that the noble Lord has once again raised the issue. I will see whether he has a longer answer that the noble Lord would be happy with. The second question was whether I would refer the issues to my noble friend the Lord President; I will certainly do so.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, both mentioned the importance and relevance of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I was privileged to take through the Equality Act in your Lordships’ House, and I too pay tribute to the work of Trevor Phillips, who has already begun his leadership of the commission. I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, that this is a formidable challenge, to which I have no doubt that Mr Phillips will rise. With the help and support of the commissioners, who, in the main, have already been appointed, he will be able to do that.

Yesterday, the ministerial group on which I serve met to address this matter to ensure that we are ready on 1 October to bring the new commission into being. It has a wide remit. It is fortunate in being born of some amazing work done under previous commissions. I agree with the noble Baroness about the contribution that the Disability Rights Commission has played. We will have to help and support the commission so that it can bring into being the new strands of work that we have given it, set against the backdrop of human rights.

I say to my noble friend Lady Whitaker that the issues she raised about children, the plight of patients with mental health problems, problems concerning boys, and matters of religious and non-religious beliefs will be taken forward by the commission. Perhaps I can give her some comfort by saying that the Chancellor has announced an additional £10 million for 2007-08, to help with improving the educational attainment of boys. Although the UK has a problem in that respect, it is not as great a problem as that of many in the OECD, but it needs to be tackled.

The right reverend Prelate talked of the liberty of conscience. I agree with him about conversion by force, which I think we all agree is not conversion. Dealing with the abuse of power is also important. The tradition of enlightenment, expertise and the backdrop of religious faith form the essence of why debates on human rights are so important.

The rebalancing point concerning victims was raised by several noble Lords. Quite often victims feel that their voices are not heard. The advocacy of families that have had horrendous crimes perpetrated on them is also important. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, says about ensuring fairness in trials.

The protection of people is fundamental to the Human Rights Act. The history and traditions that form the Human Rights Act in this country and the work of the European Convention on Human Rights concern the relationship between the individual and the state and how the state, public authorities and public bodies treat those individuals. In our deliberations on human rights we must keep that as our context. It challenges us and brings us up sharp against issues that noble Lords have raised; for example, Article 3—the right not to be tortured—and the deporting of people whom we believe are a real threat and danger to our country but whom, for a variety of reasons, we are unable to prosecute.

I have missed the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, although it has been very nice to debate with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I am very proud of the Act. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said about the Government needing to do more. We have rightly been criticised for not promoting the Act when it came into being as well as we might have done and, in a sense—I do not mean that negatively—leaving it to the lawyers to own it.

As I speak, I have 15 ministerial colleagues meeting with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to discuss how they are supporting and promoting the Human Rights Act. Each represents a different department. They are putting together plans to cover the training, guidance and legal advice needed for front-line staff, improving the guidance on the Act on their websites, ensuring that the guidance that we have produced is distributed fully around departments, and ensuring that particular groups of staff have the necessary advice.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and others referred to the press reporting the way in which the Act has been used. There was the case of a police force and there have been others. They are good examples of why people find it hard to understand the Act and that it has a positive benefit to them, which is why people should be given the correct information about the Act. That is why my noble and learned friend launched a campaign with the title “Human Rights: Common Values, Common Sense”, with a message to many involved in the public sector that if you think about a common-sense response to the issues, one will almost invariably be where the Human Rights Act will take you. That is true in the case of the elderly couple who, after many years of marriage, were told that they would have to go into care in separate homes. Anyone with any common sense looking at that would say that it was inappropriate. So, too, is not publishing the photographs of criminals you are trying to catch. Common sense should play its part, but we need to give people support and guidance. These are not people deliberately trying to use the Act wrongly, but simply lacking the necessary expertise.

I say to my noble friend Lady Whitaker how much I respect and admire the work of the British Institute of Human Rights, which has been a very expert source of help and guidance to me. Our campaign, if I can call it that, is also about opportunities for Ministers and others to talk about the Human Rights Act. My noble and learned friend will be speaking at a teachers’ conference at Easter, and to the Association of Chief Police Officers. I hope to speak at conferences on health and education and to meet different groups and organisations to support their work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, spoke very movingly about some of the critical issues, particularly domestic violence. One in four women is a victim of domestic violence; there is an incident every minute. It costs £23 billion each year in legal costs, social services, medical care, child care, and so on. There is a new plan: 64 special courts will be operational by April. The Home Office is working with 100 multi-agency risk assessment conferences. There are more successful outcomes in the form of guilty pleas; the trend is upward. Nationally, successful outcomes are up from 46 per cent to 65 per cent, and 71 per cent of cases in specialist courts are successful. The incidence of recorded domestic violence is going down. A huge amount of work is going on.

The noble Baroness also talked about data sharing and data protection. This was raised and echoed in other speeches. I am also the Data Protection Minister, so I can talk for a moment about that and would like to make three points. First, a lot of data sharing must be about citizens feeling in control of their own data and taking the opportunity to use data sharing to save time. In many of our systems we assume that citizens’ time is free. We often decide, when shopping on the internet, for example, that we want our data to be retained. That is our choice. Secondly, where the Government retain data, transparency is critical. Noble Lords have raised concerns over the question of transparency, which is incredibly important. That is a bigger and longer debate for another day. Thirdly, data sharing should protect the vulnerable. When, after the Victoria Climbié inquiry, I took through a Bill that had a data-sharing clause—Section 9 of the Children’s Act—one statistic stayed with me. When two professionals dealing with children at risk want to talk to each other, it takes them, on average, two days to find each other. If an address book with shared data showed which professionals were involved with a given family, we could save lives for sure. It is about getting the balance between data sharing and data protection right.

I do not have details of how Ministers have been talking to different communities that feel at risk of alienation, but I will get that information.

My Lords, on the issue of data sharing there is something I did not say, but should have. I believe that there are cases of children being given warning orders by the police. I am not exactly sure what they are, but they go down on record. They expire in time but can be shared with other Governments, especially that of the United States. This can involve visa problems. I may not have got that completely right, but I think I have. Could the Minister look into that as well, please?

My Lords, the only information that I am aware of being shared with the US is passenger records, which I am also responsible for. I have not heard of that, but will of course look into it and see what the reality is.

On ID cards and whether countries have found them useful, there was a very good Channel 4 programme, featuring my right honourable friend Charles Clarke when he went to Estonia. It is very interesting in showing how Estonians have used ID cards as the means of finding out who is looking at their data, and to get information. It is well worth looking at. If noble Lords want a copy of it, I can probably find one somewhere.

Noble Lords spent, quite reasonably, some time on the Bill of Rights. It is interesting that no one talked about repealing the Human Rights Act. I suspect that where the Conservative Party and Justice end up in terms of a Bill of Rights may be different. I know that Justice, in launching its consultation and discussion on the matter, said that it sees the purpose of a Bill of Rights as giving greater constitutional protection to fundamental rights, increasing the scope of rights under the Human Rights Act, emphasising the constitutional principle of the rule of law, building public awareness of constitutional rights protection and drawing attention to the rights and duties of citizenship. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned rights and responsibilities in relation to a Bill of Rights. I very much look forward to seeing what happens as Justice continues its work. From my perspective, I am looking at what I call “human rights plus”, not “human rights minus”, and it is important that all the issues that have been raised are dealt with in that context.

I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, on tribunals and standards of service. I am responsible also for tribunals, so I feel strongly about that issue. On the DCA budget, the legal aid budget will not be cut—it will be flat cash, bearing in mind the efficiency savings that we expect to see from the reforms of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. That should keep legal aid on a sustainable and affordable path. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, will know that my noble and learned friend is keen to ensure that civil justice is dealt with properly and appropriately within the legal aid budget. The reform and modernisation that we are seeing across the DCA will generate efficiencies that will make 3.5 per cent savings within the department.

My Lords, did the Minister say “flat cashed”? That of course means a reduction in real terms.

My Lords, I said “flat cash” and the noble Lord knows exactly what it means. That is the official line; I can obtain more information for him if he wants, but I wanted to put that firmly on the record. It has been agreed by the DCA finance department, so I shall say nothing more at this point. However, we are satisfied that we have good resources to take things forward.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke about being a minnow; he is not. He gave a passionate and moving account of Maria. We in your Lordships’ House are all proud of our long history and tradition in wanting to provide refuge to those in need. I also think that we want and need a robust and proper system, including trying to tackle properly and appropriately issues regarding those who do not have a right to be here. It does mean rules. One of the great difficulties—which I experienced during the passage of the asylum and immigration legislation last year—is that although we want that, we can all point to exceptional cases. I make no comment on Maria, because I do not know her case; but I can think of many instances where it is very difficult to make such decisions, and I know that one of the ways is to try and sort out such cases as quickly as possible to give people certainty about the outcome—particularly when children are involved, even if that means that people are going back to another country or the country of origin. That should be done properly and appropriately.

We have just considered the Bill relating to bailiff law; we are bringing together legislation that goes back, I think, to 1652 and the king’s highway. We want to stop an inconsistency of approach—bailiff law has grown up all over the place and people find aspects of it incomprehensible. Some bailiffs can go in at certain times of day, some at other times of day. All those rules are now being made consistent and all bailiffs will be regulated, which is even more important, and allowed into people’s homes only with judicial authority and under strict guidance.

Intercept evidence was raised by the noble Earl, who covered a lot of terrain. We are still looking closely at that issue. There is a clear government commitment to that work, but we must recognise and protect our intercept capabilities. We are reviewing the issues and trying to see whether there is a legal model that provides the necessary safeguards that might allow intercept material to be used as evidence. He will be aware of that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, talked about the terrible tragedy of slavery and trafficking, and I pay tribute to her work on what will be an important series of events taking place, right across government, to recognise the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. I will give a tiny plug for the National Archives, for which I am responsible also.

My Lords, noble Lords can go on the website to find some fantastic material which tells in documentary form the history of what happened, the rebellions that took place and what happened in the different countries. All the correspondence and documents have been brought together; I am also proud of the fact that we have produced a lot of material for children in schools, which will be of enormous value.

Across government, we are meeting with amazing contributions from different departments, not only to commemorate, but also to look forward and to recognise the contributions that different communities have made. I recommend a book produced by the Department of Health which celebrates the contribution of the Afro-Caribbean community to the National Health Service over many years—perhaps, particularly over the past 50 or 60 years.

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt but could the Minster confirm that finally the Government are to sign the European convention on human trafficking and tell us why it has taken so long?

My Lords, I cannot confirm that now but I will get that confirmation or otherwise to the noble Earl. Oh! I have just been told that we are signing it tomorrow. I am not responsible for that, clearly, otherwise I would know. That is good news. Maybe I am responsible.

I pay tribute to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, sit. It has done a tremendous amount of work. It is always a privilege to appear before it. I recognise that the issue of statements of compatibility that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised is important and indeed an issue that the joint committee has raised with us. As well as a statement, within the Explanatory Notes we provide the explanation of the main human rights issues that arise within the Bill. I will acknowledge, and the Joint Committee observed, that not all Bills have been accompanied by as good an explanation as there should have been, but I am pleased to say that we have made a particular effort this Session to make sure that we do that.

My Lords, during the debate in the other place, the chairman of the Joint Committee asked Vera Baird MP whether the Government would consider having a better standard procedure in the Explanatory Notes. She said that she was personally sympathetic and it looks as though that may happen. Could the Minister take care to follow that up after the debate, because it is very important to the committee?

Yes, my Lords, I will make sure that we look at that. I am extremely grateful, because I have been racking my brains for the past hour trying to remember what was happening around this issue. The noble Lord has just reminded me what it was, so I thank him. I know that it has been raised elsewhere and I am grateful to him for raising it now. I am going over my time because I have been interrupted, so I think that I am allowed to; anyway, both Front-Benchers went over their time. I have nearly finished.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, talked about the backlog at the European Court of Human Rights. There is a meeting today in San Marino at which my officials are discussing that issue. I particularly wanted to pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who has been very involved in trying to help the court to deal with the backlog. On 1 January the backlog stood at 89,000 cases. I understand that a number of cases have been removed from the list, if I can put it like that.

The noble Lord has come up with some pragmatic approaches which we are pushing hard to make happen—for example, an application form. Some 12,000 letters were destroyed last year because they did not fit the criteria, and it will be 15,000 this year. An application form might help, as might making sure that when a decision is made it is communicated, so that countries will know what the effects will be; there is clearly a precedent for that. These are pragmatic and practical ways in which the group of wise persons who produced the report last November, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, is a member, has been able to try and deal with some of the questions.

We are also hoping that the Russians will ratify Protocol 14, which they signed in May last year. That will enable the filtering to be done by one judge as opposed to several, which enables the court’s work to speed up dramatically.

Finally, I will address the matter of the individual petitions to the UN; the noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised it. We are looking at that. As he has said, the optional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women enables individual claims to go to the UN. One has been rejected and there is a second one. I am not going to get information about what has happened to that until the autumn, so reviewing whether that works or not is going to take me longer. I can say to the noble Lord that it is my responsibility and I will make sure that we deal with it.

I am grateful to noble Lords for the fascinating debate; I could spend hours talking about all the issues raised, so perhaps we will have more debates that take some of those issues forward.

My Lords, yesterday evening, when I was on my feet at a quarter to 10 o’clock, a number of exhausted Peers began to moan and groan. I am very sorry that I taxed their patience. We have now had a three-hour debate and no one has had lunch; indeed, I have not had anything since a bowl of porridge at breakfast. That is a very good way of disciplining all of us, better than moaning and groaning.

I do not intend to tax anyone's patience but perhaps I may say one or two things very quickly. First, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. It was my bad luck to be out of the Chamber for two minutes when he referred to something that I had said. I am very sorry about that. Secondly, I should like to thank everyone for taking part in a very well informed, very wide-ranging, sometimes provocative and fascinating debate, which will not be reported in the newspapers at all. That is a great pity, because many of the things that have been said are of great public importance.

I should like to say to the self-appointed “Peer in the street”—although I say to myself, which street, and which street in which city?—the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford that I am as opposed to totalitarianism, whether it is secular or religious or in the guise of secularism or religion, as they are. I wonder whether the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford meant exactly what he said when he seemed to imply that there was no moral justification for interfering with cannibalism or human sacrifice. I would say that, these days, we certainly want to tackle abuses and not have, in the name of diversity or anything of that kind, a hands-off approach.

As a liberal I believe above all in the existence of human fallibility. I keep on my wall—carved on a Welsh slate, because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, brought it to my attention—my creed. My creed is:

“The spirit of liberty is the spirit that is not too sure that it is right”.

I am not sure that everyone in the human rights movement or in churches adopts that creed but that is my definition, and I think John Stuart Mill’s definition, of the spirit of liberty that animates, in my judgment, the Human Rights Act.

As for a British Bill of Rights, I end simply by saying that a philosopher whose work I do not normally respect, Wittgenstein, ended a vast tome with these words: of those things of which one cannot be certain, one must needs be silent. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Viscount Simon) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [General principles]:

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 36, at end insert—

“( ) Independent living support should be provided and arranged in such a way as to ensure that no disabled person has to rely on care and support provided by a child or young person such as may impair the health or wellbeing or educational and leisure opportunities of the child or young person.”

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall be speaking also to Amendments Nos. 2, 11 and 12. These amendments have been developed by the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in conjunction with the Disability Rights Commission. Their aim is to clarify the principles that should underpin the delivery under the Bill of support to families and children affected by disability. In strengthening and clarifying the rights of disabled people to independent living, the Bill will have a direct and hugely positive impact on the one in four families in the United Kingdom that include disabled members, and more particularly on the 175,000 children and young people who are relied on by disabled family members for care that would normally be expected of trained adults.

We know from the 2001 census that, in that year, 18,000 children aged between five and 15 provided 20 hours of care or more a week, which is nearly three hours a day, and that a further 9,000 children provided at least 50 hours a week—that is more than seven hours a day—of whom 800 were under seven years of age. I find that terrifying. The main reason why children and young people find themselves taking on these support responsibilities is that their disabled parents do not get the assessments and help from local authorities to which they are entitled.

Amendment No. 1 establishes the principle that, in exercising their duties under the Bill, the responsible bodies—local authorities, health services and their partners—should ensure that independent living support is delivered in such a way that no disabled person has to rely on care or support provided by a child or young person, such as may impair the child or young person’s educational opportunities, health or well-being.

Amendment No. 2 amends the definition of “accessible information” given in the Bill so that it is clear that it includes information that is suitable for children—whether disabled children or children with disabled siblings or parents. Young carers will, of course, have rights to information and advice under Clause 12 of the Bill.

Amendment No. 11 tackles the need for improved joint working and more effective co-ordination between children and adults services to support families affected by disability. It is inspired by the work of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, the Disabled Parents Network and the Children’s Society in developing an exemplar protocol for children and adults services. A few local authorities already have a protocol that sets out the roles of children and adults services in ensuring that families affected by disability receive appropriate support rather than having to rely on the inappropriate caring role of a child. The amendment specifies that measures towards this must be included in the local independent living strategies. This complements other measures in the Bill that support families.

Amendment No. 12 specifies that registers of disabled persons should include the details of any carers whom a person may have to enable better forward planning and to facilitate identification of carers who may have support needs.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, will be able to accept the amendments in the group and thus enhance the delivery of support to families and friends affected by disability. I beg to move.

I realise that it is not the Government’s position to respond formally to these amendments, but I thought that it might be useful to the noble Baroness to know what the Government’s view is. I have, as noble Lords know, been privileged to speak for the Government on two previous occasions in responding to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley—a wonderful and extraordinary campaigner, who has done so much to improve the lives of people with disabilities. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to two noble Lords who are not in their places today; I am sure that they would wish to be here but they cannot be because of ill health—the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and my noble friend Lady Wilkins. We wish them well.

I hope that I have made clear to your Lordships just how committed the Government are in supporting independent living for disabled people. I well understand and appreciate why the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, has suggested the changes in the amendments to protect children and young people from unnecessary levels of responsibility in caring for disabled parents and other family members. The Princess Royal Trust for Carers does a fantastic job. We thank it, especially for its work with children and young people.

As noble Lords may be aware, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the New Deal for Carers on 21 February. A key component of that new deal will be a review of the Government's strategy on carers. This is a pan-government strategy and I will ensure that the point at issue about the well-being of children who care for sick or disabled people is drawn to the attention of those charged with the review of the strategy.

We have just heard two excellent speeches, which began the debate with great understanding and which I commend very warmly. I am glad to say that I accept the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. One of the greatest scandals of our social care system is that children can be robbed of their childhood by the failure of statutory services to provide the necessary services. These amendments deal with that issue, so I am happy to accept them.

I thank the noble Lord for accepting the amendments and I thank the Minister very much for saying that she will draw the attention of the government strategy review to this debate. I think that the Office for Disability Issues has another independent living review. Perhaps she could update us on that. I thank her very much for the letter that I received today on the issue that I raised on Second Reading: how the age equality regulations will impact on specialist agencies employing carers for severely disabled people, which is a very demanding job for people above a certain age. I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that the Minister has today placed a copy of the letter in the Library and I thank her for the very sympathetic way in which she has handled the issue. I am delighted that the amendments will be accepted.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Interpretation]:

2: Clause 3, page 3, line 12, after “Welsh)” insert “and in versions suitable for children”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

3: Clause 3 , page 3, line 16, leave out “National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Welsh Ministers”

The noble Lord said: All the amendments grouped are intended to respond to and implement the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. They make some further small drafting changes. I do not want to bore the Committee; they are technical but necessary amendments. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for drawing these points to my attention on Second Reading. She is always making constructive contributions, and none more so than this. Without the amendments, we would be nowhere, the Bill would be technically inoperative, so I am grateful to the noble Baroness.

Amendments Nos. 3, 32 and 33 and 38 take account of the Government of Wales Act 2006, following which regulations and orders should be made by Welsh Ministers rather than the National Assembly. We wrote in the National Assembly for Wales early on, not realising the changes that had taken place. The amendments will fix that.

Amendments Nos. 13, 20, 21 and 25 address a concern of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that there are clauses in the Bill which do not specify who is to make the regulations. The committee recommended that it should not be left to implication that these powers, too, should be exercisable by the Secretary of State or the Welsh Ministers. Hence, the amendments make it clear that the appropriate authority is responsible.

Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, 17, 22, 24, 26 and 27 and 31 and 34—I did say that this would be technical and boring—leave out those subsections which enable the appropriate authorities to “make further provision” in connection with the relevant section. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that the regulations should not be included in the Bill, as it is not clear what such broad delegations might be used for, and I would be happy for them to be removed.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5, and 35 to 37 relate to parliamentary procedure on the use of delegated powers. All the powers conferred on the Secretary of State by the Bill, except the power in Clause 24(2), would be made subject to the affirmative procedure by Clause 36(2), including commencement orders and the orders applying the Bill, with modifications, to the Isles of Scilly. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee commented that the only power in the Bill that seems to warrant the affirmative procedure is that in Clause 3 to extend the definition of “disabled person”. The amendments therefore act on that recommendation. If the amendments were accepted, regulations and orders made under the Act would be subject to the negative procedure rather than the affirmative procedure of both Houses of Parliament, or of the National Assembly for Wales, as appropriate. The exception would be the definition of “disabled person”. The amendments specify that only the Secretary of State, not Welsh Ministers, could extend the definition of a disabled person.

Amendment No. 15 would make it clearer that the regulations referred to in Clause 14(2) are those to be made under subsection (5) of that clause. Amendments Nos. 18, 19, 28 and 29 would amend references in Clauses 14 and 19 to consultation with the organisations of carers and of older people to consultation with organisations representing those groups, bringing it into line with the wording used elsewhere in the Bill.

Amendment No. 30 would remove some superfluous wording in Clause 21(2) where, given the definition of “prescribed”, the words “in regulations” are unnecessary. I beg to move.

I congratulate the noble Lord on his patience and perseverance in having made all these technical changes. I am sorry to say that I was the person from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee who drew his attention to them, but he has clearly done a good job, and I support the amendments.

I promised not to speak too long on the Bill. I shall say simply that, in the context of the Bill, my noble friend’s amendments appear to be very sensible and reflect exactly what the noble Baroness and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said. As noble Lords are aware, the Government have set out a 20-year strategy to improve provision and services for disabled people. I explained at Second Reading the many initiatives that we already have in place and in the pipeline. I believe that the Government can be proud of what has been achieved to date. We recognise that much more is still to be achieved, but we believe that huge strides have already been made and that the right foundations are in place to ensure continued progress.

The Government do not believe that we have a monopoly of wisdom on what is needed for continued improvement. We will continue to listen to, and to learn from, all those with an interest and knowledge in this field. However, the Government remain unconvinced of the need for legislation of this nature and at this time. I assure the Committee that the Government share wholeheartedly the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to the principles underlying the Bill. However, there are undoubtedly some aspects of the Bill with which we would disagree or which we believe are already achieved through existing provisions. There would also be major cost implications in implementing all that is proposed here, especially at the pace implied.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, asked earlier about the independent living review, which I announced last year. It will report this summer. This 12-month project, led by Jenny Morris with the help of an expert panel chaired by Dame Jane Campbell, is considering whether any changes to legislation are needed to support independent living. Here I should like to congratulate Dame Jane Campbell on being nominated as a People’s Peer. We look forward very much to welcoming her and benefiting from her great expertise in this House. The panel is developing a five-year strategy to deliver independent living for disabled people. However, it is not possible at this stage to make any statements about the final recommendations of the project.

All of this demonstrates our shared commitment with my noble friend Lord Ashley, but we do not believe it is necessary to deliver our common goals by means of imposing legislation, at least until we have the results of the important review of independent living. I am grateful to my noble friend for again giving us the opportunity to discuss these extremely important issues.

I appreciate the comments made by my noble friend, but I disagree with her about the timing. I believe that we should get on with things now rather than wait. We have had many investigations, inquiries and reports and we could go on like that without ever reaching a determined end. I am confident that my noble friend has the welfare of disabled people very much at heart and that she will do all she can. None the less, my fear is that, with the Government adopting this position, things will just drag on while the need for strong legislation is urgent. However, I accept what she has said.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

4: Clause 3 , page 3, line 35, at end insert “by the Secretary of State”

5: Clause 3 , page 5, line 11, at end insert “or by the Secretary of State where so specified”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [National independent living strategy]:

6: Clause 4 , page 6, line 9, after “practical” insert “advice, advocacy,”

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 7. These amendments address Clause 4, which is probably the heart of the Bill. They have been tabled to draw attention to the need for advocacy and support for any form of independent living. Making sure that you actually get the right advice and that it is delivered in a way that can be understood is crucial to anyone who wants to conduct their life in their own way. Knowing what is out there and engaging in an interchange of ideas is vital. I suggest that Amendment No. 6 would strengthen the core aim of the Bill.

The same is true of Amendment No. 7, which would enable people to go to the organisations that are effectively the bulwark of those support groups which actually help people through advice and advocacy procedures. The organisations for and, better still, of disabled people that address these issues on a day-to-day basis will be the best source of practical information for those involved in giving the right advice.

I commend both of these amendments to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and I hope he will take them in the spirit in which they were put forward. The amendments will strengthen the Bill and I hope that he will feel able to support them. I beg to move.

While I was chairman of the Stroke Association, as I was for 10 years, I would have reacted like a scorpion to the second of these amendments. Unless the noble Lord, Lord Addington, intends the organisations referred to in Amendment No. 7 to be provided by the taxpayer, they would also have to cover the various charities which do such enormously good work for disabled people. I would be very surprised if many of those charities would agree to such an amendment to this Bill or any government legislation, should they come forward with yet another amending Bill to the Disability Discrimination Act.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on this amendment. It would be prudent to include specific reference in Clause 4 to advice and advocacy for disabled people and to funding for disability organisations. This business of advocacy is vital for disabled people, and it must be considered as part of the national independent living strategies. I applaud the work done by the National Centre for Independent Living in supporting disabled people with direct payments and building the capacity of local support groups in spite of inadequate funding, and indeed its work in campaigning for the Bill. It has been vociferous in its advocacy of the Bill. I readily accept the amendments.

Despite the warning shot from the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I believe that those organisations for disabled people have to be in the Bill because they are such a bank of knowledge. We may be able to correct the wording slightly, but their information must be in here. I suggest that the amendments will strengthen the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7: Clause 4 , page 6, line 10, after “living” insert “(including, in particular, that provided by organisations for disabled people)”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Further duties of local authorities]:

7A: Clause 6, Page 7, line 8, after “accommodation” insert “, a register thereof”

The noble Lord said: I regret to say that I put this amendment down very late. I warned the Minister that I had done so, but unfortunately I was unable to inform the noble Lord, Lord Ashley.

Members of the Committee—though not, I fear, the Minister, who I do not think was in her position at the time—will remember the debates we had during the passage of the Disability Discrimination Bill over the winter of 2005. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was pressed on all sides, both in Committee and on Report, to legislate for local authorities to set up accessible housing registers, listing all properties in their area that had been adapted to make life easier for disabled living. We were told that, however much the Government approved of what was proposed, that Bill was not the place to legislate. The then Minister went on to say that she did not feel the amendments proposed were necessary anyway because the subject was covered by a local authority circular, by which means the Government encourage local authorities to maintain lists of suitable accessible properties for disabled people.

I shall quote from the only paragraph in that circular, which is called Revision of the Code of Guidance on the allocation of accommodation, and was published in 2002:

“The Secretary of State recommends housing authorities to maintain lists of properties which are suitable for disabled people and other special needs groups. These lists could be made available to relevant applicants as part of the general information supplied to applicants under section 166”—

of the Housing Act—I think of 1992, but I would not swear to it. Anyway, the circular explains what ought to happen under that Act. It goes on:

“Such lists might include all accessible or significantly adapted local authority stock”—

registered social landlord properties—

“and private sector properties to which authorities nominate tenants”.

So far as I know, that circular has never been updated. It is pretty darned weak.

We on this side of the Committee agree with the Government that, to quote 1066 and All That, accessible housing registers are “A Good Thing”. The question that this Bill allows me to ask is: how successful has that paragraph in that circular been in persuading local authorities of the benefit of such registers? How many local authorities have set one up? Do the Government agree that these registers save money? The housing department in Bradford believes that its register saves £1 million a year. This does not mean that less money is invested; it spends far more on adaptations than previously. The two things do not necessarily go together, but the department’s savings come from void/rent losses, and officer and customer time savings.

The Bill is all about making life easier for disabled people, enabling them to live as normal a life as their disabilities will allow them. Yet again, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, on persevering with it. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with me that life for disabled people would be made a lot easier if they did not have to trudge around looking at properties which were unsuitable for their needs, before alighting on one that would fit in with the easier life that we all want them to lead. I beg to move.

The register of housing availability sounded like a good idea when I first heard about it when the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and I were working on the previous Bill. It is still a good idea; it still offers tremendous savings. If this is not the right way of bringing it into this Bill, I would be interested in seeing one that is.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, both for giving me advance notice of his amendment and for explaining why he has suggested this addition to the Bill. I well understand his interest, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in the availability of accessible accommodation to meet the needs of disabled people, which is very important. I made inquiries of the DCLG, which confirmed that it does not hold a central record of the number of local authorities that maintain an accessible housing register. Therefore, I regret that I cannot answer his question in terms how many local authorities have such a register.

It was commented that such registers can save money, as the example in Bradford which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, cited shows. They would therefore seem to be an excellent idea for that reason as well as for all the reasons that he suggested. The Government are still very much in favour of the voluntary approach, as outlined by my noble friend Lady Hollis in the debate to which the noble Lord referred. However, as the circular clearly has not been updated—perhaps it was not even properly circulated—the DCLG should perhaps give attention to it. I will certainly discuss with my noble friend Lady Andrews whether the circulars could at least be updated and some measure taken to ensure that all local authorities were aware of their duty to make them widely available.

It was good of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, to apologise for not letting me know about the amendment, but he need not have bothered because the grapevine here is so brilliant that I heard about it within two seconds of his deciding to put it down. I was therefore well aware of it. I cannot understand why the previous Administration resisted such a sensible suggestion. I strongly support the amendment.

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for those comments. I am also grateful to the Minister for doing her best at very short notice to answer my question. However, it is not satisfactory to have a paragraph in a circular such as this from the DCLG. There is no record of what, if anything, it has produced. The Government do not want to legislate in this area and are in favour of continuing the voluntary approach. If the voluntary approach is not working, it is the Government’s duty to fix it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

8: Clause 6 , page 7, line 41, leave out subsection (6)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 [Further duties of NHS bodies]:

9: Clause 7 , page 8, line 20, leave out subsection (5)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 7, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 8 [Co-operation to promote independent living]:

10: Clause 8 , page 9, line 32, leave out subsection (10)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 9 [Independent living strategy]:

11: Clause 9 , page 10, line 2, at end insert “and to improve joint working between children’s and adult services to support families affected by disability”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 [Duty to identify and maintain register of disabled persons]:

12: Clause 10 , page 10, line 44, after “including” insert “a record of any carers such persons may have and”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 11 and 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Right to self-directed assessment of requirements]:

13: Clause 13 , page 14, line 10, leave out “Regulations shall” and insert “The appropriate authority shall by regulations”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

14: Clause 13 , page 14, line 16, at end insert—

“( ) In this section a reference to an assessment of requirements includes any re-assessment or review of a disabled person’s requirements.”

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 14 and Amendment No. 23, which is grouped alongside it, are about the periodical review of assessments. If an assessment is taken under this Bill and found to give the right support, it should in most cases be reviewed periodically. This will depend on the nature of the person; the condition or disability they have; whether they are improving or deteriorating in terms of physical or mental health, et cetera. Unless we get the review in here, what was appropriate X amount of time ago may still be applied now when it is no longer appropriate and we may end up quite simply wasting money and effort. On Amendment No. 23, the period after a stay in hospital, for instance, might be thought to be the appropriate time to call for a review of any package. I would suggest that the amendments are a sensible way of making sure that if help is given, it is updated and made to be consistently appropriate. I beg to move.

I am happy to accept both amendments. Clearly the more information we can disseminate, the better. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and to the organisation Age Concern for taking such a close interest in the Bill.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 14 [Duty to make arrangements]:

15: Clause 14 , page 14, line 21, leave out “this section” and insert “subsection (5) below”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

16: Clause 14 , page 15, line 22, after “training,” insert “communication skills training,”

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 16, which is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and was suggested by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, is simply to ensure that explicit reference is included to communications skills training in relation to disabled people’s rights to associated support services. The Bill provides new rights to rehabilitation for groups such as blind and partially sighted people, and specific reference is made in Clause 14(3)(b) to some of the key elements of rehabilitation packages for blind and partially sighted people, namely mobility training, low-vision training and equipment.

Examples of communication skills include learning how to read and write embossed media such as Braille or Moon, making use of writing frames, learning handwriting techniques, continuing to be able to use the telephone and find telephone numbers, and so on. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, will see fit to accept this amendment as well. I beg to move.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is doing a very good job, especially on this issue. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, in supporting this amendment. I am happy to accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

17: Clause 14 , page 16, line 45, leave out subsection (14)

18: Clause 14 , page 17, line 6, leave out “of” and insert “representing”

19: Clause 14 , page 17, line 7, leave out “of” and insert “representing”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 15 [Individual and delegated budgets]:

20: Clause 15 , page 17, line 16, after “regulations” insert “made by the appropriate authority”

21: Clause 15 , page 17, leave out line 42 and insert “The appropriate authority may by regulations make provision—”

22: Clause 15 , page 18, line 11, leave out subsection (8)

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 [Discharge from hospital]:

23: Clause 16 , page 19, line 11, at end insert—

“( ) A disabled person to whom this section applies is entitled to a review of arrangements and a further assessment of his requirement within such reasonable period following his discharge from hospital as may be prescribed.”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

24: Clause 16 , page 19, line 12, leave out subsection (8)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 [Authorised representative]:

25: Clause 17 , page 19, line 32, after “Regulations” insert “made by the appropriate authority”

26: Clause 17 , page 19, line 38, leave out subsection (5)

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 18 [Disputes between carers and disabled persons]:

27: Clause 18 , page 20, line 12, leave out subsection (4)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 19 [Charging of disabled persons]:

28: Clause 19 , page 21, line 15, leave out “of” and insert “representing”

29: Clause 19 , page 21, line 16, leave out “of” and insert “representing”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 19, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Determination of living arrangements]:

30: Clause 21 , page 22, line 6, leave out “in regulations”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 22 and 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Amendment of the Mental Health Act 1983]:

31: Clause 24 , page 24, leave out line 1

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 25 [Inspection]:

32: Clause 25 , page 25, line 17, leave out “National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Welsh Ministers”

33: Clause 25 , page 25, line 26, leave out “National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Welsh Ministers”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Advocacy]:

34: Clause 27 , page 27, line 23, leave out subsection (3)

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 27, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 28 to 35 agreed to.

Clause 36 [Regulations and orders]:

35: Clause 36 , page 31, line 17, leave out “or orders”

36: Clause 36 , page 31, line 18, after “under” insert “the definition of “disabled person” contained in section 3 of”

37: Clause 36 , page 31, line 19, at end insert—

“(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations or orders made by the Secretary of State under any other provision of this Act is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) A statutory instrument containing regulations or orders made by the Welsh Ministers under any provision of this Act is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the National Assembly for Wales.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 37 agreed to.

Clause 38 [Commencement and extent]:

38: Clause 38 , page 31, line 29, leave out “National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Welsh Ministers”

The noble Lord said: I hope that I am in order in thanking the Deputy Chairman for conducting these proceedings in such a tactful and helpful way, for which I am most grateful. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 38, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 39 agreed to.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Energy Efficiency and Microgeneration Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Gould of Potternewton) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Energy rating of property to be included in home information packs]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

In speaking to this Motion, I wish to speak also to the Motions that Clauses 2, 3, and 5 stand part of the Bill.

My purpose is very simple—to remove four of the clauses from the Bill. I always find this stage of a Private Member’s Bill slightly maudlin. I feel rather like a condemned man having his last cigarette before going to the Commons to be shot. However, the process of a Private Member’s Bill has been particularly successful in this case.

I seek to remove Clauses 1 and 2 because the Government have already dealt with those provisions in other legislation, for which I thank them. The work done on EPCs as part of HIPs was incredibly important. HIPs are unpopular but recent discussions with the installation industry, the boiler manufacturing industry and those dealing with all forms of energy efficiency revealed that they considered EPCs a massive boon in bringing to the attention of home owners the importance of improving the energy efficiency of their homes. Millions of tonnes of carbon could be saved by the Government’s action. I have one question for the Minister. I know that it is usually the role of those proposing a Bill to answer all questions but she may be able to satisfy me on this point.

The EPCs also set out to deal with residential and commercial property. When will those regulations come forward? There is a proposed meeting of the All-Party Group on Climate Change headed “Can EPCs save the planet?”. It would be great to find out if those regulations have come forward. Particularly heartening is that I was contacted by the Landlords’ Association, which is very keen on the issuing of EPCs for rental property.

Clauses 3 and 5 are also to be removed, though Clause 5 on mortgages was dealt with in the Budget yesterday. I am interested in how the Chancellor is going to change mortgages, because the Council of Mortgage Lenders was particularly opposed to this. When we talked about changing mortgages, it went back to the 1925 Act. If it were to change, we would have to change most of the mortgages issued in the last few years quite substantially. I believe there is some difficulty in that.

From these Benches we welcomed the opportunity at Second Reading to discuss the issues surrounding the noble Lord’s Bill. I reiterate my thanks to the noble Lord for bringing this important topic to us in this way.

I suspect that on all sides of the House we recognise that energy efficiency and microgeneration represent important elements in any strategy to deal with providing a balanced environment, in the battle against climate change and in creating a greener world. By focusing on the planning issues contained in Clause 4, the noble Lord challenges the Government to respond to the Bill’s provision for review by the Secretary of State of the planning issues presented by microgeneration.

Noble Lords will recognise that other elements of the broader debate embodied in the deleted clauses will not have gone away. We hope that the Minister can assure us that the Government acknowledge them and will give serious consideration to the Bill in its amended form.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, feels like a condemned man in the Committee stage of his important Bill. In thinking about what to say today, I looked at the Second Reading speech of my noble friend the Minister. I was delighted to sit next to her during that debate and was surprised to see so many mentions of kitchens and by the number of noble Lords who signed up to living in windy parts of the country. I notice that those elements of the debate are not necessarily to be continued in what will be a quick and efficient Committee.

I re-emphasise the comments of my noble friend at Second Reading about the importance of what she called, “a heroic debate”. She also commented that the Government were extremely sympathetic towards the intentions of the noble Lord in bringing this Bill forward. I thank him for providing us with the opportunity to discuss these important issues again.

As my noble friend Lady Andrews said at Second Reading, the Government welcome the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to withdraw the four clauses. Clauses 1 and 2, on the promotion of energy efficiency ratings through the home information packs and estate agents’ property details, are, as we have already discussed, unnecessary because regulations are being laid before Parliament later this month which will implement these policies. The third provision required substantive changes to the current council tax and business rates regime, which we shall not consider before we have had time to properly examine the final findings of Sir Michael Lyons’s independent inquiry.

The Government also support the withdrawal of requirements on lenders to offer products supporting the take-up of energy efficiency and microgeneration measures. The noble Lord raised the timetable for the implementation of the EPCs for rented and commercial properties. I understand that he has an APPG meeting coming up; I do not know the date of that meeting. I reassure him that the timetable for the regulations will be announced very shortly.

I thank the Minister for that response.

On Question, Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

1: Clause 6, page 4, line 2, leave out “Energy Efficiency and Microgeneration” and insert “Development Orders (Microgeneration)”

The noble Lord said: I will take a very short time over this. The purpose is to allow small microgeneration through wind turbines, dealt with in Clause 4, to become permitted development on agricultural land. I realise that there is a White Paper on planning, which is an opportunity that should not be missed by the Commons to take this up and debate this problem area in the planning process. The Climate Change Bill followed a previous Private Member’s Bill, the Renewable Energy Bill, that was introduced in this House two or three years ago. It put forward ideas about small microgeneration on buildings.

The problem with that is that it extends only to the curtilage of the building. Small microgeneration up to 50 kilowatts, which would be able to generate enough to run a house, can be put on the building but not in a field next to the building. This issue is causing some concern. As the planning process drags on interminably, it is almost impossible to get planning permission for what we believe should be a permitted development. I hope that the Government will bring forward some constructive proposals in their White Paper to cut down on planning time. The only purpose of the amendments is to take the Bill forward. I hope that those in another place might see the absolute merits and pass them into law. I beg to move.

I hope I can encourage the noble Lord to feel optimistic about the concepts surrounding the debate going forward. As my noble friend Lady Andrews said last month, the Government are very much at one with the noble Lord over the importance of the climate change agenda and the promotion of microgeneration technologies. However, my noble friend also made clear that there is no need for primary legislation, as current government policy already deals with the actions that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, seeks to support.

The amendments would leave us with one substantive clause, the current Clause 4. As indicated by the proposed new Title, the resulting Bill will require the Government to conduct a review and report on the effect of planning requirements on the installation of energy efficiency measures and microgeneration equipment on, importantly, agricultural land. However, we feel that the clause is unnecessary. We have already strengthened planning policies over the past year. We have issued a ministerial Statement that built on the existing policy in the planning policy statement on renewable energy—PPS 22—issued in 2004, and we launched a public consultation on a new draft planning policy statement on climate change.

The latter expects planning authorities to make the most of existing and planned opportunities for decentralised, renewable and low-carbon energy supplies to supply both proposed and existing development. Local planning authorities should expect substantial new development to gain a significant proportion of its energy supply on-site and renewably, and/or from a decentralised, renewable or low-carbon energy source.

We have also carried out a review of permitted development rights for the installation of microgeneration equipment by householders, as I am sure the noble Lord is well aware. In addition, we want to consider including agriculture in our response to the Baker proposal that permitted development rights for microgeneration should be further extended to uses besides domestic uses. The Government do not support the amendments to Clause 6 and to the Title.

I did not think the noble Baroness would have a change of heart on that point. I am heartened by her statements. It is important that the Government note that although PPS 22, in my view, strengthens the case for microgeneration, at a recent planning appeal on the erection of a wind turbine, PPS 22 was used by those objecting to the planning appeal as well as those trying to support it. So the wording for making a case for moving forward with microgeneration, rather than preserving the landscape, needs to be strengthened substantially. On that basis, I very much hope that there will be an opportunity for many in the other place to see the merits of this argument and crusade forward with it. Even if the Bill does not get much further, the debates will feed into a growing change within government and outside on the need to increase the stock of microgeneration, which can only be for the good.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

2: Clause 6, page 4, line 5, leave out “and Wales and Scotland” and insert “only”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

In the Title:

3: In the Title, line 1, leave out from “provision” to end of line 3 and insert “for a review of permitted development orders in relation to the installation, on agricultural land, of microgeneration equipment; and to make provision about the exercise of powers in consequence of the review”

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at 5.18 pm.