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Lords Chamber

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 29 March 2007

House of Lords

Thursday, 29 March 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

Food: Public Procurement

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will take steps to increase the amount of British food which is publicly procured.

My Lords, the Government are continuing to take steps to encourage and help public bodies to increase opportunities for small and local food producers, as shown by the guidance tools, the case studies and other information published on the public sector food procurement initiative website.

My Lords, does the Minister not regret, though, the lack of progress that has been made? That initiative was launched by the Government back in 2003, but clearly the Government, with their £2 billion public food budget, have no idea of which departments within the Whitehall system actually use UK-produced food. I gather that one of the departments that have not answered is the Department of Health. What will the Minister do to rectify this matter?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a bold allegation, which I do not think is borne out by the evidence. In 2006 we produced Selling to the Public Sector—A Guide to the Public Sector Procurement Initiative for farmers and growers; we produced the red tractor scheme for safe, assured and traceable food for the public sector; and this year we published the DIY Guide to Implementing the PSFPI—Advice for Practitioners, which is full of modules and case studies for farmers and local producers to get a grip on this.

The record of Whitehall departments is not perfect. Most departments know the percentage of British food served in 2005-06, but I regret to say that the Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office state that the information can be provided only at disproportionate cost. That is not good enough. No. 10 does not know. That is not good enough. I have the Prime Minister’s support on that. He said:

“I want the public sector to take a lead on doing things sustainably—through the way we run central Government and through the way we buy goods and services”.

Later this year the Sustainable Development Commission will start publishing these figures for all around Whitehall, and therefore people will be on the spot.

The noble Baroness asked me about the Department of Health, but it does not appear to be on the list. Apart from the departments I mentioned, all the others seem to know. The Scottish Office and the Welsh Office, by the way, do not have in-house catering.

My Lords, as the noble Baroness’s Question applies particularly to food that is publicly procured, perhaps all those leaflets should be directed at the departments, not at farmers, growers and other purchasers. Can the Minister say what Joint Committees deal with the purchasing of British food? I declare an interest as a small food producer.

My Lords, it works both ways. We have to do work in departments, which is why the Sustainable Development Commission is getting involved. Defra is calling in all the contractors to make sure that we do this, and we are encouraging other departments to do the same.

It ought to be made clear to the public sector procurers that they can in the contracts demand farm-assured products. That is a bonus; they cannot demand the red tractor but, by and large, demanding farm-assured products is the way to do it. I want them to take the French approach, putting people first and the rules second. That would benefit everybody.

There is enough information out there now, and there can be no excuse. Later this year we will launch the Year of Food and Farming, which is part of the process to connect farmers with suppliers and producers. We will of course include Whitehall departments.

My Lords, I declare an interest as my son, who farms near Berwick-upon-Tweed, has recently become a director of the UK branch of the Slow Food movement. The movement was launched in Italy and is now taking off in the United Kingdom. Does the noble Lord agree that its objective of promoting the production, sale and consumption of locally produced food is very much in line with the objectives set out by the noble Baroness in her Question?

My Lords, I agree entirely. I applaud the Slow Food movement and the opening of an office and centre in Ludlow. It shows that the consumer of the food is as much a part of the food chain as the producer. Having on the labels the names of those who made and produced the food enables people to join in the process and gives them a greater connection.

In answer to the other question, we are running conferences around the country in terms of the public sector buying local food. There was one up in the north on 22 March, and the list of attendees from government departments ran to a couple of hundred. The issue is being taken extremely seriously in government. The £2 billion mentioned by the noble Baroness is the amount spent on public sector procurement and we could do a lot more to make sure that such food is British and local.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the encouragement given by the Minister’s department to colleague departments to buy British food, but will he go further and set real targets for the volume of products sourced in the UK to be used within other government departments and a time scale for those targets to be met?

My Lords, I do not know about targets, but we have collected information. Departments have used it in Answers to Parliamentary Questions about the items used by them that have been produced in the UK—be they eggs, milk products, root vegetables, salads, fish, chicken or other products. They do not all have the information, but it has been set out, mainly in the other place, in answer to Questions. We have a baseline. The Sustainable Development Commission will use some of the information as part of the baseline for publishing these figures. That will give a real push to the rest of Whitehall, because the amount of money spent, whether it is in hospitals, schools, the Armed Forces or the Prison Service, is substantial. It is mainly where the £2 billion goes.

My Lords, as the Minister implied a moment ago, is not part of the problem the confusing—I perhaps should say “misleading”—labelling system? Can something be done about labels which state “produce of this country”, when the product in question is not the produce of this country at all but has merely been packaged here?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Labelling is not the only issue, but public sector procurers in this country can and should be persuaded to demand farm-assured products. That is the way to the solution of this matter. It gets round in some ways the problem of the labelling, because, although a food producer may use products from abroad, the farm assurance label by and large gives one the confidence that the majority if not all the produce is from Britain.

Common Agricultural Policy: Single Farm Payment

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How much money the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has asked HM Treasury to set aside for the possible European Commission fine which may be required for the late payment of the 2005 single farm payment.

My Lords, Defra has not requested any additional funding from Her Majesty's Treasury to cover potential disallowances in respect of late payments made to farmers under the single farm payment scheme for 2005.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and I declare an interest as one of those still awaiting his modest 2005 single farm payment. Will he respond to reports in this week’s press that, in addition to a fine of up to £305 million, the total bill for the Government’s inept handling of the payments will include costs of £156 million for fixing the failures of the RPA and £21 million in interest payments to farmers, so totalling nearly £500 million? Is this not yet another example—like the Olympics, where they forgot about VAT—of the Government’s complete incompetence in organising the nation’s finances and their arrogance in dealing with taxpayers’ money?

No, my Lords; I do not accept the noble Lord’s figures. We have not paid and are not liable for anything like £21 million in interest payments to farmers. We have paid just under £1 million in interest payments; it cannot be much more than that because there is not much left to pay. On the other figures, we have made a provisional allowance in case there are fines and penalties but, in cash terms, no programmes have been affected. There have not been any fines or penalties from the European Union and we have had no indication from it of any such figures. But we have prudently taken that action because we know that we have made some payments late and could be subject to a penalty two or three years down the road. We will argue against any penalties. As of 30 June last year we had paid within 1 per cent of the legal limit—96.14 per cent of the money—and this year we are paying out a lot more a lot earlier. But the noble Lord’s figures cannot be added up. There are difficulties here and I make no bones about it. It has cost a lot more because of the difficulties in implementing the scheme, and that is much to be regretted.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for previously facing up straightforwardly to the crisis on the detailed financial figures. None the less, this is an unprecedented shambles. Let us bear in mind the Commons Select Committee report and its comments about responsibility. In 1997, this Government promised transparency and direct accountability and responsibility by Ministers. Is there any other option for Margaret Beckett after this but to resign?

My Lords, I am not commenting on anything in the Select Committee report. The Government will produce a response to it in due course. Matters concerning Ministers are for the Prime Minister; matters concerning civil servants are for the head of the Civil Service. It is as simple as that. I am responsible for the RPA from 8 May last year and the fact is that I do not know—I was not at the meetings when all the decisions were taken. I freely admit that if David Miliband and I could have done we would have torn up the whole system and started again, but that is not possible. I would not want to give anybody the wrong impression. This year will in some ways be as difficult as if not worse than last year, although so far we have been more successful in paying out money earlier.

My Lords, will my noble friend say a little more about the progress that has been made since 2005, looking into the future in dealing with these payments?

My Lords, first, I want to make it clear that the RPA staff—the 3,000 people in the five offices, all of whom I shall visit next week for the second time—are not responsible for this. They have worked their socks off to try and work this scheme in the interests of the public and the professional civil servants and to get the money to farmers. As for this year’s payments, as of yesterday—28 March—we have made payments to 96,476 out of 109,000 farmers, which is 88 per cent; 60 per cent of all farmers have had the full payment while 28 per cent have had a partial payment. The value of money paid out so far is just over £1 billion out of £1.54 billion, so we have paid out 70 per cent of the money this year, although I freely admit that it will be extremely difficult from now to the target at the end of June. The system is not geared up for that, even with all the changes in working practices that we have made. I believe that at this time last year something less than £50 million had been paid out.

My Lords, recently there has been a move from a task-based approach to a whole-case working approach to dealing with single farm payment claims, which is much to be welcomed. But is the Minister aware that there is a real concern that some of those whole-case workers are relatively inexperienced, often in their first posts, and that there continues to be a lack of transparency and co-ordination between the registration teams, the mapping teams, the processors and the legal department, making it extremely unlikely that difficult cases will have an individual allocated to them? What is being done to ensure that front-line RPA staff have appropriate training and adequate management support in securing the effective and co-ordinated delivery that farmers have a right to and deserve?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right that the new chief executive of the new management team has put processes in place. About a dozen people are on the teams dealing with the cases on a whole-case approach and will have the necessary experience; the training started last summer when I was visiting the RPA offices. But I do not think that we can judge this only on the basis of age and inexperience as the staff sometimes have to deal with incorrectly filled-in forms—this is not all one-sided. But as the commissioner mentioned when I shared a platform with her earlier this week, the forms are excessively complicated, and that is something that we have to deal with. As we get closer to the difficult claims—as I say, we have paid out to 85 per cent of farmers—individuals will have to be assigned to individual cases. That is crucial. But the situation will be a lot better than it was last year when an individual farmer’s application could have been dealt with at the same time in any one or all five of the RPA offices.

My Lords, is not the real problem that a bad system was chosen, a system which was different from that in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland? Whoever chose the system really ought to take responsibility for it. Is it not a bad thing when the system chosen results in farmers not getting their money and possibly in fines as well? Somebody really ought to resign.

My Lords, when this system is stable—it will not be until at least 2008—it could be a lot better than that in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A year was lost in the implementation of the planning. Anyone who reads the paperwork will see that a year was lost but that the start date stayed the same. Forty thousand new claims came in including some that the department had never dealt with before, such as those for pony paddocks. Food had never been grown on that land and there was never a Common Market subsidy for it. The paddocks were unknown and none of that land had been mapped. There was a catastrophic drop in productivity because the system was not geared up for that. The de minimis at 0.3 of an acre is far too small and we will address that in the health check of the CAP reforms which the commissioner has agreed to. There are some difficulties. It is easy to comment with hindsight—I was not there, although I have read some of the papers—but, as I say, we are trying to do better than we have in the past.

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc.) Act 2004

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will repeal Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc.) Act 2004 and end the pilot trials now in operation.

My Lords, pilot activity in respect of decisions to withdraw asylum support ended in November 2005. Work is continuing on the evaluation of the pilot. No decisions will be taken on whether to implement Section 9 more widely until that work has been completed.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the trial areas are now a thing of the past. What has happened to the 116 families, 219 children, involved in the three trial areas? How soon will the reports be in our hands? What plans has the Minister to give evidence to the Independent Asylum Commission so that it has the full government perspective?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the evaluation is not complete, and I am not in a position to prejudge it. A number of the families involved in the Section 9 pilot have come back on to support and a small number have left under the voluntary assistance scheme.

My Lords, how many families with children would have been deprived of support if Section 9 had been implemented during these months? How many of those families have accepted the enhanced IOM voluntary return package? Why is it taking so long to produce the evaluation when we already knew from the Barnardo’s study carried out when the power to repeal was granted in the asylum Act 2006 that the pilots had been a failure?

My Lords, it would help the House if the noble Lord were rather more precise in his question about voluntary returns. Statistics show that in 2006 some 5,330 people who had sought asylum left the UK under the assisted voluntary return programme. That detail is in the public domain. I cannot speculate on when the evaluation will be completed but I understand that it will be in the next few months.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the children in those families are treated far differently from indigenous children and therefore not in the context of Every Child Matters?

My Lords, we take the welfare of children affected by the asylum process very seriously. We have put measures in place to ensure that they are not left destitute, that there is support and accommodation for them and that they continue to be with their families. I recognise that this is a very difficult, tough area of public policy, but when people are not here legally we have to take effective measures to ensure their safe return to their country of origin. In saying that, we have to respect their human rights and go through due process to ensure that they return.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that this is a very difficult area of public policy that we perhaps ought to debate more fully? My experience has been that often the families being offered return were offered financial assistance that would have been very significant in the country they were going to. The issue was not always the safety of the family in their country; the problem was that they wanted their children to be educated here. It is a very difficult double bind to allow people to come in and get their children educated here. In my old area, there were about 200 such children in our schools.

It is very difficult, and I am not entirely happy with how we deal with this problem at the moment. We need a wider and more open debate, maybe here, about how to handle this narrow, small group of families whose children are disadvantaged, often because parents want something that does not fit with the rest of our policy, which this House would agree with.

My Lords, we are very fortunate to live in a successful country with a highly successful economy. People are envious of that and seek to come here to make their way in the world. The asylum process is used as a means of achieving that; one can understand why, given the circumstances of many people who seek to come to this country. There is a generous package of voluntary assisted return and reintegration, and there is also an enhanced package, which has been on offer for those who claimed asylum on or before 31 December 2005. Many families have sought to make use of that package in securing their safe return.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will accept that the packages are not convenient for people who face persecution in their own countries and do not want to take up the offer. Does he agree that the Government have a responsibility to monitor destitution that arises directly from Section 9? Has he seen the latest Rowntree report on destitution in Leeds?

My Lords, I have not seen that report. We take the welfare of these families very seriously. That is why, as I explained, measures are in place to ensure that families are cared for and looked for if there is a prospect of them falling into destitution, particularly where there are children and young people in that family. We have to accept that there is a rigorous process in place to assess whether someone is a legitimate asylum seeker. It is absolutely right that we seek to secure failed asylum seekers’ return to their country of origin. We monitor very carefully all countries where that is the right course of action and we produce regular reports.

Television: Children’s Programmes

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether, in view of the significant reduction in programmes for children in the commercial television sector, they have any proposals to amend Section 264 of the Communications Act 2003 (Ofcom reports on the fulfilment of the public service remit).

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have no plans to amend the Communications Act in response to commercial public service broadcasters cutting back investment in new UK children’s programming. However, Ofcom has announced that it is looking at the future of children’s TV programming in the UK in advance of its next scheduled public service broadcasting review. We will consider very carefully any recommendations that Ofcom puts forward.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and declare an interest as an associate of an independent production company. Does he not agree that home-grown children’s TV programmes are crucial to public service broadcasting, yet the outlook is bleak in the terrestrial commercial sector? Outside the BBC, the only PSB channel that is commissioning UK-made children’s television programmes is Five, which last week announced cuts. Over the past year and a bit, ITV has reduced spending from £20 million to zero. Does that not mean that the BBC now has a near monopoly on terrestrial TV, undermining the plurality aspired to by the Government in the BBC charter White Paper and damaging severely the independent sector as a supplier?

My Lords, like the BBC, we put an emphasis on healthy competition in the provision of programmes, and there are anxieties about the reduction in investment in children’s programmes in commercial television. Part of that is a reflection of the digital age and the vast increase in programmes available. I emphasise that 82 per cent of children have access to digital programmes, but the noble Baroness has raised an important point; it is why Ofcom, ahead of its scheduled review in 2009-10, will look this year at children’s television.

My Lords, is it not almost inevitable that the greater restrictions recently imposed on food manufacturers advertising on television, especially for food with high salt, sugar and fat content, has made less money available for the production of children’s programmes? Behind this Question lie happenings that should be taken into account by the Government and Ofcom. I have to declare an interest as chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority.

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the happenings, as my noble friend put it. The restriction of advertisements of unhealthy food for children as part of the public health programme has certainly reduced advertising revenue. For those reasons, Ofcom is looking at children’s television. It is recognised as a problem consequent upon the factor identified by my noble friend, and we await the investigation.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the BBC Trust’s decision to suspend “Jam”, its valuable online programme that supports children and teachers on the UK curriculum and is particularly helpful for children with learning disabilities? Can he remind the BBC of the importance of the education strand of its Reithian principles?

My Lords, the noble Baroness in her question has already aided me in reminding the BBC of that important matter. The BBC is an important provider of children’s programmes, and in many areas it has greatly extended its provision in the digital age—it has two very successful digital channels. However, decisions such as that referred to by the noble Baroness are for the trust, not the Government.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that Ofcom is looking into the provision of children’s television, but does the noble Lord accept that children generally watch far too much television, which has associated problems such as obesity and a lack of outside activity?

My Lords, the noble Lord may welcome the fact that commercial television is concentrating its children’s programmes at the weekend, thereby freeing children to get involved in more active pursuits during the week. Commercial companies are also reducing the number of hours of children’s programmes. However, it is a question of parental authority and decisions. There is widespread public interest in children’s health, and I think that the message is getting home to parents. In the not-too-distant past, the need for exercise by children may have been neglected, but all sorts of pressure is now being put on parents to ensure that their children undertake exercise much more frequently.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, if he were to come to McNally Manor on a Saturday evening, he would find the McNally family and perhaps a few of the children from the neighbourhood all gathered with popcorn and other eatables to watch the next edition of “Doctor Who”? Is that not a reminder that good children’s television is not just a duty but makes commercial common sense and should that not be drawn to Michael Grade’s attention, as I know that he has some experience in these matters?

My Lords, after yesterday, I wondered how long I would have to wait for an invitation to McNally Manor, and I am grateful that it has occurred so soon. The “Doctor Who” programme has been watched by as many adults as children and is an example of a hugely successful television programme that was originally children-oriented but captured the imagination of the whole nation. That is the ideal to be strived for and it requires resources and commitment. I doubt that Michael Grade, who is all too well aware of the commercial implications of good television, is unaware that, if he were able to broadcast a programme like “Doctor Who”, the position of commercial television would improve significantly.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, a Statement will be repeated by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on restructuring the Home Office. We will take it immediately after the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth.

Legal Services Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 and 2,

Schedule 1,

Clauses 3 to 12,

Schedule 2,

Clauses 13 to 18,

Schedule 3,

Clause 19,

Schedule 4,

Clauses 20 and 21,

Schedule 5,

Clauses 22 to 25,

Schedule 6,

Clauses 26 to 32,

Schedule 7,

Clauses 33 to 43,

Schedule 8,

Clause 44,

Schedule 9,

Clauses 45 to 75,

Schedule 10,

Clauses 76 to 81,

Schedule 11,

Clause 82,

Schedule 12,

Clauses 83 to 87,

Schedule 13,

Clauses 88 to 100,

Schedule 14,

Clauses 101 to 111,

Schedule 15,

Clauses 112 to 170,

Schedule 16,

Clauses 171 to 174,

Schedule 17,

Clauses 175 to 178,

Schedule 18,

Clause 179,

Schedule 19,

Clauses 180 to 186,

Schedule 20,

Clauses 187 to 204,

Schedules 21 to 24.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Cabinet Office: Standards-setting Bodies

rose to call attention to the case for putting standards-setting bodies falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Office on a statutory footing; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are five such bodies: the Committee on Standards in Pubic Life, the House of Lords Appointments Commission, the Civil Service Commission, the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. They operate in different ways but have in common their role in advising on and/or regulating the Government’s approach to public appointments, as well as, in the case of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, offering advice more widely on conduct in public life.

They are all non-statutory bodies which rely on the Cabinet Office for their resources. The Cabinet Office liaises with the Committee on Standards in Public Life, while the remaining four are supported by its cross-government independent offices unit.

I think it is appropriate to address their status and responsibilities. The Public Administration Committee of the other place has already taken some evidence on their role as part of its inquiry into ethics and standards, but that was some months ago. I think that now is a useful time to engage in debate and draw on the knowledge available in this House. It is a useful opportunity to get some idea of the Government’s thinking.

The case for putting these bodies on a statutory basis can be grouped under three headings: independence, accountability and certainty. The case for enshrining the independence of such bodies is clear. It is the same as that used by the Government in the passage of the Constitutional Reform Act. On that occasion, the Government argued that not only was it essential that the highest court was independent, but it had to be seen to be independent. For that reason the Appellate Committee of this House is to be replaced in two years’ time by a supreme court. The same principle applies but, I would argue, with greater force in the case of these standards-setting bodies. It applies with more force because there is, I would contend, more public scepticism about the independence of these bodies than ever existed in respect of the House of Lords in its judicial capacity.

Leaving bodies to advise Ministers and variously to regulate behaviour, where those bodies are appointed by Ministers and rely on government for their resources, creates grounds for doubt about their detachment from government. Janet Gaymer, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, gave a small but telling instance of the problem in her evidence to the Public Administration Committee. She noted that her office e-mail address used to include the words “Cabinet Office”. As she said,

“it will send out the wrong message. Happily, that has now been changed, but that was the case”.

In practice, these bodies have worked well—I have no criticism to make of them, rather the reverse—but perception is crucial. Enshrining independence in public authoritative form, through statute, strengthens not only the bodies themselves but also Ministers. Problems can arise where Ministers reject the advice of a standards-setting body, but they can also arise, in terms of public perception and hence acceptance, when Ministers accept the advice of such a body. If a body appointed by Ministers provides advice that is seen as overly favourable, or at least not overly critical, of Ministers, there is the danger of its advice being discounted. The cash-for-peerages scandal has arisen because the system worked. Certain nominations were blocked. But what would have happened if a controversial nomination had been cleared by the appointments commission? Whatever the objectivity of the commission, there is the danger that people would say, “Ah, it would say that; its members are appointed by the Prime Minister”.

It is important that the independence of standards-setting bodies not only exists but is seen to exist. Creating the bodies by statute and enshrining their independence not only delivers independence but arguably is the most effective formal mechanism by which they can be shown to be independent. Much will then depend on what they do. The formal framework is necessary, but it is not sufficient.

The second ground is that of accountability. The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham, in his evidence to the Public Administration Committee, said that the Prime Minister was accountable to Parliament for the work of the committee. Given the wide remit of the committee, which includes advising on parliamentary as well as ministerial conduct, I am not sure it is appropriate that the committee is accountable solely to the Prime Minister. I understand Sir Alistair’s argument on the value of the arrangement, but I also see the problems.

There is a general issue of accountability. Who do the standards-setting bodies report to? In his evidence to the Public Administration Committee, the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who I am delighted to see in his place, said that the committee advised on individual cases, but if Ministers failed to consult, or if the committee’s advice was ignored, it published the facts on the website. As my noble and learned friend went on to say:

“We then leave it to whatever forces will play upon that set of circumstances, and I think that is right … These matters are in the end controlled by public opinion in the sense that they decide what is and what is not acceptable”.

Transparency is clearly a powerful weapon, but the issue is one of accountability, of reporting to a body that, if necessary, can take action. My noble and learned friend does not wish his committee to have enforcement powers—I have no issue with that—but the question is whether the committee should report to a body that is in a position to act—in this instance, Parliament. Janet Gaymer also touched on the issue in her evidence. She said:

“I suppose that if you ask me to whom I am accountable I will say that initially it is to the public who is on the receiving end of my work. But as representatives of the public in Parliament clearly there is an element of scrutiny which Parliament must have, which is why we are sitting in front of the Select Committee”.

The problem with this line of argument is that there is no structured or systematic means by which the public can hold these bodies to account. Reliance is essentially being placed on the media or on a Select Committee to pick up on a particular case. I see no reason why there should not be a more systematic line of accountability to Parliament. That does not rule out being answerable to others. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, when it reported in 2004 on the role of statutory regulators, reached two conclusions that are pertinent to today’s debate. The first was that independence and accountability are compatible with one another—one is not at the expense of the other—and the second was that giving regulators a statutory basis does not prevent them having a wide arc of answerability. Indeed, the committee drew attention to what it referred to as 360 degrees of accountability. I see no reason why the same would not apply to these bodies were they to be established by statute.

The third argument is that of certainty. Giving these bodies a statutory base would deliver certainty in remit and continuity. The need for this is reinforced by recent developments. The failure of the Prime Minister to renew the contract of Sir Alistair Graham as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life has attracted public attention; indeed, it was pursued in this House on Tuesday in Question Time. The important point for this debate is not the failure to renew Sir Alistair’s contract—the practice has been to serve a single three-year term—but rather the uncertainty that has been created by not having a successor in place. This point was made by Sir Alistair in his letter to the Cabinet Secretary on 13 March. He noted that it would likely take some months for a successor to be identified and appointed following open competition. As he continued:

“This will leave the Committee without a permanent Chairman for what is likely to be a considerable period and, during a time of unprecedented public concern about standards of conduct in Government and erosion in trust in the political process more generally. This risks the perception, unfair or otherwise, that this Government places a low priority on the maintenance of the highest standards of conduct in public life”.

The effect of not having timely arrangements in place for a successor, he said,

“will be to ensure that the Committee is unable to undertake its core work for a considerable period of time. The inevitable perception will therefore be that the Government does not wish this Committee to be actively undertaking a programme of work at this stage”.

The other instance I wish to cite derives from the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Here I refer to the evidence given by the chairman of the commission, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, to the Public Administration Committee, in another of its inquiries—that on propriety and honours—published in July of last year. In his evidence, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, was unsure of the scope of the commission in dealing with a resignation honours list. Did it have the responsibility to scrutinise such a list? The noble Lord told the committee:

“It is embarrassing for me, because frankly, I think they should. I think it does, actually. I think this will fall under our scrutiny but I am rather embarrassed that I cannot give you complete certainty. I will follow it up afterwards and give you complete certainty”.

He later wrote to the committee to say:

“My understanding now is that if there is a Prime Minister’s resignation list, we will be asked to vet it”.

As the committee concluded:

“The Prime Minister’s vague assurances and the Appointment’s Commission ‘understanding’ that it will vet any resignation honours list are unnecessarily equivocal. The Appointments Commission is specifically charged with considering names which have not been subject to the normal assessment and selection processes. This body should be clearly and unequivocally responsible for vetting Prime Ministerial resignation honours lists”.

On these grounds—independence, accountability and certainty—there is a prima facie case for putting the five standards-setting bodies on a statutory basis. I am aware that some of those who run these bodies are not necessarily persuaded of the case, but then again they have not set their faces against it. I think the time has come to give the matter serious consideration.

The case for putting the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory footing has long been made. The royal commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham recommended a statutory Appointments Commission. My noble friend Lord Hurd, in his evidence to the Public Administration Committee, argued that the appointments process should be settled by Parliament and overseen by a body it has set up and operated through rules it has determined. The committee concluded that the commission,

“has shown that it can scrutinise nominations effectively and stand up to pressure from political parties. Nevertheless, its position should be reinforced by defining the Appointments Commission's role, powers and independence in statute as soon as possible, and certainly as part of any reform of the House of Lords which retains an appointed element of its membership”.

The proposal for a statutory Appointments Commission is embodied in the House of Lords Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. It is relevant to note that the Commissioner for Appointments in Scotland is established on a statutory basis, and has been operating as such since 2004. It is therefore timely to address this issue. We do not know when the Public Administration Committee in the other place will report, so it is important that the Minister does not hide behind a potential report in order to avoid offering us the Government’s thinking. Does the Minister accept that there is a case for protecting the independence of these bodies and that there is need for enhancing accountability and certainty? If he does, does he accept that doing so by statute is the most effective way of delivering those goals? If not, what is the Government's alternative?

We have seen floated the idea that theses bodies may be merged into a single super-ethics body. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who is in her place, referred to it on Tuesday. I would argue strongly against such a proposal. The five bodies fulfil distinct functions and require particular expertise and resources to carry out their tasks. The bodies may be created in one super-statute, but with each retaining its independence and integrity. The alternative would be to have each created by a distinct Act.

I am glad of the opportunity to raise this issue. That is the purpose of these general debates, and I look forward to the contributions from other noble Lords as well as the response of the Minister. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I give sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for introducing a very interesting and important debate. I am only sorry that more Members of your Lordships’ House have not put down their names to speak.

I agree almost entirely with what the noble Lord has said. The debate raises a particularly important issue in relation to what is loosely called the royal prerogative but is in fact the Prime Minister's prerogative. The Prime Minister’s prerogative covers an enormous field. It covers any decision to go to war, almost all aspects of the Civil Service, the ministerial code of conduct, appointments to your Lordships' House, almost all public appointments and treaty-making powers.

There is a widely held belief that the Prime Minister’s prerogative powers are excessive and should be diminished. In particular, there is a very strong belief that the Civil Service should become a statutory body, and, as part of that, the Civil Service Commissioners should become a statutory commission. There is a long history behind this. A Civil Service Act was included in the Cook-Maclennan report negotiated before the 1997 election between the late Robin Cook and my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, who of course will be winding up for these Benches.

The Government confirmed their commitment to a Civil Service Act in response to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Public Service in July 1998. They confirmed it again to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, of which I was then a member, in July 2000 in response to the committee’s sixth report. The Civil Service Act was recommended once again by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its ninth report in April 2003. That in turn was followed by the publication of a report and draft Bill by the Select Committee on Public Administration of the House of Commons in December 2003, and then by an Executive Powers and Civil Service Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill as a Private Member’s Bill. That Bill received its Second Reading in your Lordships’ House on 5 March 2004. It inspired a three-hour debate in which a Civil Service Bill was supported by, among other speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Sheldon and Lord Wakeham, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who was and still is the First Civil Service Commissioner, and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, who was then the immediate ex-Cabinet Secretary, as well as by many others. From the government Front Bench, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, confirmed the Government's intention to introduce a Civil Service Bill in his response to the debate. The Government then published a draft Bill as part of a consultation paper in November 2004. However, since then, the whole scene seems to have fallen alarmingly quiet. It is absolutely clear from the history that the Government's attitude to a Civil Service Bill is the same as St Augustine’s attitude to chastity: not yet.

Of the other four bodies in addition to the Civil Service Commissioners mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, two should unquestionably become statutory bodies. Those are the House Of Lords Appointments Commission and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. In both of those, the independence of the commission from the Executive is essential. That is obvious and beyond any doubt in the case of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. It must be as impartial as possible in selecting the independent Members of your Lordships' House and in vetting party nominees. That is recognised on all sides and it seems clear that any Act for the further reform of your Lordships' House is more than likely to give a statutory basis to the Appointments Commission.

The position of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, OCPA, is perhaps not quite so obvious. OCPA does not make or recommend individual appointments. It lays down rules of practice for the appointment process and for monitoring the working of the appointments system. There is of course the long-standing problem that all Governments, although perhaps especially that of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, have tried to stuff public offices with people who are committed party supporters.

OCPA was created as a result of the first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and it has done a great deal of good. The public appointments system is now, I think one can say, less partisan than for a long time past, but there is some way still to go and it is essential that public appointments should, as far as possible, be made on merit without regard to party allegiance. OCPA is vulnerable as long as it remains within the remit of the Cabinet Office. Its independence needs to be protected by making it a statutory body.

That leaves two bodies: the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, known as ACBA. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, did not mention ACBA during his speech. ACBA can impose restrictions on civil servants wishing to take up outside appointments for a limited period after their retirement from office and it can make recommendations to outgoing Ministers to the same effect, although recommendations to Ministers, unlike those to the Civil Service, are not binding. It performs a useful service, but it is concerned mainly with advising on individual cases, and a case is not made out for setting it up as an independent statutory body.

Finally, I served on the Committee on Standards in Public Life for six years under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, who I am glad to see follows me as a speaker, and Sir Nigel Wicks. Since the committee was set up in 1994 by John Major, it has performed very valuable services to the country. It is, of course, a purely advisory committee without powers, and it is arguable that, as a purely advisory committee that gives advice mainly to the Government, it is appropriate for it to remain within the remit of the Cabinet Office and answerable directly to the Prime Minister. I understand that this is the view of Sir Alistair Graham, as expressed by him in response to a journalist’s question at Tuesday morning’s meeting, at which I was present, on the publication of the committee’s annual report.

I do not agree with Sir Alistair on that point; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. The scope of the committee’s work goes beyond that of the Government and the Executive, as demonstrated by our seventh report on standards of conduct in your Lordships’ House and our eighth report on standards of conduct in the House of Commons. The committee should be an independent body, with the power to select its own targets for investigation. It does not have that power at present. It proposes subjects, but it is required to obtain clearance from the Cabinet Office as to whether it is to take them up. Broadly speaking, it should be to ethics in public life what the National Audit Office is to public finances. A statutory basis would also give the committee greater security. There was always a worry at the back of the minds of its members that the committee might be abolished altogether, or perhaps, more likely, that its funds would be cut to a level that would make it ineffective.

Sir Alistair seems to have annoyed the Government by his outspokenness. It is true that he has departed from the practice of his predecessors, who all acted on the basis that they should, as chair of the committee, speak only on its behalf and not express their own views on controversial issues. I do not complain about the fact that Sir Alistair’s appointment was not renewed for a three-year term, given that no predecessor has been reappointed for a second term. It was, however, seriously wrong to refuse to extend Sir Alistair’s appointment for the few months until his successor can be appointed. The delay in making the appointment shows that the Cabinet Office is not an appropriate body to sponsor the committee. This is the third successive occasion on which the search for the successor to the current holder of the office started too late to be able to appoint the successor at the end of the term of the existing chair. On both occasions, however, the term of office of the existing chair was extended until a new chair could be appointed. The refusal to extend Sir Alistair’s term for a few months seems vindictive. I have high regard for Rita Donaghy, the senior committee member who has been asked to act as an interim chair. Inevitably, however, the committee will be marking time during this period.

To sum up, the case for giving three of the five bodies listed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, a statutory basis is unanswerable. The three bodies are the Civil Service Commissioners, the House of Lords Appointments Commission, and the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The case, although perhaps not unanswerable, is very strong in the case of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It is only in the case of ACBA that I believe that it would be inappropriate to set up an independent statutory body.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, on bringing this debate before the House. The issue of whether there should be a statutory basis for Cabinet-appointed committees is discussed over the dinner table and in such contexts, but to my knowledge it has never been debated on the Floor of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, brought to his speech a wealth of study from several committees with whose work and history he is familiar.

I have a modest contribution to make; it is entirely pragmatic and based on my knowledge and experience of one such committee, the Standards in Public Life Committee. When the time came for my noble and learned friend Lord Nolan to lay down office—he had been appointed for a three-year term—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, asked me whether I would be willing to succeed my noble and learned friend, which naturally was an impossible task for anyone. I was further asked whether I would be happy for the terms of reference to be extended to include an inquiry into the funding of political parties and more general issues about how the finances of democratic life, so far as it consists of party activity, are to be handled. I thought that that was a challenging remit for the first task that I would undertake.

Before coming to my specific comments, I should like to make one general comment. The principled approach, advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is that essentially all such committees as we are discussing should have statutory underpinning. Of course, that criterion would create certainty. Although the arguments are not at all the same, the pragmatic approach is not dissimilar. It considers whether you want your highest court in the land to be a committee of the House of Lords or to be hived off and turned into a Supreme Court in a separate building. I will not re-enter the argument. There are two quite different philosophical approaches to that.

Based on my experience, my approach essentially is pragmatic. My first point is on flexibility. Looking back at how the Standards in Public Life Committee was set up, we all recall that there was a period of allegations of sleaze, particularly directed at the Conservative Party and its Members in the other place. In those days, the big issue was cash for questions; today we have in our minds cash for honours. That was the leading point, although there were other severe criticisms of the conduct of particular Members of Parliament.

Although I was not involved at the time, I recall that the then Prime Minister, the right honourable John Major, considered that he had to take drastic action to clean the stables. In October 1994, he set up the committee with the terms of reference:

“To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life”.

I do not know the exact history of how that was drafted, but I suspect that the Cabinet Secretary of the day would have played an important part and a few people would have discussed those terms of reference. Essentially, this was an initiative by the then Prime Minister to deal with what he conceived to be an urgent situation where the good name of politics was in question, because such accusations spill over from one party to another and everyone is tarnished.

While the committee was at work on its first major project, which was the seminal report on standards that laid down the Nolan conditions about standards in public life and the seven principles—it is a remarkable document—the question arose whether the committee could investigate the funding of political parties. In May 1995, around seven months after it had been appointed, the committee’s response to this was:

“It would not be within the committee’s present terms of reference to examine the overall nature of party political funding and, for example, to address such questions as whether state funding of political parties was desirable”.

It went on to explain that the chairman had said that some aspects of the funding of political parties did come within the existing terms. I shall read the last sentence of that statement:

“It would be wholly wrong for political parties to seek or accept funds against an expectation of, or following, the award of public office, honours, contracts or improper influence”.

The committee stated that principle.

The incoming Labour Party made it perfectly clear in its 1997 election manifesto and later in the Queen’s Speech that it intended to refer to the Nolan committee the question of funding of political parties. A one-sentence amendment was drawn up for the committee stating:

“To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements”.

The obvious points I am making about this, on a pragmatic basis, are that first you had Prime Minister John Major confronted with a situation that needed to be handled with some urgency, and then there was an incoming Government with a problem about the funding of political parties that they had been harping on about for some time and wanted dealt with immediately. How would all that have played out in a statutory context? It would have been completely different. It is hard to imagine a Bill to set up a committee getting through Parliament in less than six months—it would have been fast going for such legislation—and to amend it would have meant further debate and argument. The statutory approach would have had disadvantages.

I shall say more about Lord Nolan’s remarks on this later. On accountability, it is crystal clear that the Prime Minister is accountable for the creation of such a committee. The right honourable John Major appointed it and the present Prime Minister continued its existence. He has relied and depended upon it. From 1997 to the present, at any point during Question Time in the House of Commons a Member could have asked, “Why did you set up a body like this? Why does it not have a statutory background? The public are dissatisfied and they do not trust the committee”. To my knowledge, not a word to that effect has ever been heard. Any suggestion that the Committee on Standards in Public Life was thought to lack independence seems almost laughable.

On the first morning of my first day on the committee, the name on the letter I had to look at was that of Bernie Ecclestone. I do not need to continue the story. Did we appear to lack independence? From then on, the Government did not agree 100 per cent with our report on the funding of political parties, but they agreed to a high percentage of it. Certainly the media, which obviously I had to meet every time we published an annual report or any other report, could have asked me questions based on the public perception that we lacked independence. It is a completely mistaken idea to think that either we lacked it or were perceived to do so. In fact, at times we have been thought to be a bit of a pain in the neck or thorn in the side of government by coming out with reports and making recommendations that have been very unwelcome.

That takes me on to my second major point: autonomy. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred to getting the identity of the next topic we were going to investigate agreed with the Cabinet Office and, via that, with the Prime Minister. It is correct that we had dialogue with the Cabinet Office before we undertook a new project, but my recollection is that the committee, when I was chairman, as I was for three and a half years, always had a high moral and philosophical position that, if it came to the crunch, so long as we were there as a committee and our terms of reference were written in the broad language in which they were, it was finally up to us whether we would engage in a particular topic, even if it was thought undesirable by the Executive, particularly the Prime Minister. I do not believe we were ever intimidated out of looking at a subject that we thought ought to be looked at.

The rather loose and informal way in which the committee was set up had advantages. You select people of the requisite integrity and background. We had three Members of Parliament and some admirable people from business and other sections of life who were simply not going to be pushed around. If you tried to push them around, they would simply resign. You can see the advantage of the flexibility of getting the committee set up and in amending its terms of reference and the vagueness about who finally can dictate the next topic. It is my belief that we were in a position where we could always do that.

The disadvantage is that, until the noble Lord, Lord Norton, spoke, one did not know the range of references and so on, so I cannot give him an adequate response, but I can take up his three themes. On independence, the committee I am talking about was perceived to be independent. I am not quarrelling with those who say that it would be safer or better to put other committees on a statutory footing. I do not know about their work—I have not studied them enough—so that may well be correct.

On accountability, I have talked about the accountability of the Prime Minister for the appointment of the committee and allowing it to continue to exist. Were he to dismiss it because it stood in his way, it would be a serious threat to his position. The committee I am talking about had reached such a position that that would have been a highly questionable and politically dangerous course to take. I also agree with the author who was quoted as saying that the committee is accountable to the public. I certainly think that is true of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

There has been talk about the tenure of office. That seems a straightforward case of sheer incompetence by the Cabinet Office. In my case it was meant to be a three-year term, but I was kept in office for an extra six months, simply, I think, because there was other work going on and no one took the trouble to appoint a successor. I believe that may have happened in other cases; I know of one currently, and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, mentioned that there had been three such examples. That incompetence should be addressed. The selection of a new chairman in due course should be treated seriously.

I am speaking about the single committee I know about. The absence of a statutory base has been an advantage, and the Government would be disadvantaged by a prescriptive rule that any standard-setting body must always be created by force of statute.

My Lords, I join those who have spoken in expressing appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for introducing this topic in a very timely way. We are awaiting the report of the Select Committee on Public Administration of the House of Commons; it has been deliberating for some time and has taken wide-ranging evidence from a number of those involved in the bodies that the noble Lord brought within his purview. I can bring only limited experience to the debate—I served on the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments—although the constitutional issues it raises have been of great interest to me and many in this House for some time.

I agree with one of the noble Lord’s conclusions about the possible restructuring of these bodies. The option has been considered and, in some cases, supported by commentators and those involved in the debate that the bodies should be pooled in a gigantic organisation, for reasons of modernisation—dare I use that ugly, modern word?—and effectiveness, or to give a higher profile to the work done by these regulatory committees. I believe that the nature of the work done by all of them is quite different, each from the other. Even if one were to establish an over-riding body, it would necessarily have to operate in discrete panels. All that would be achieved would be the creation of a hierarchy of decision-making, leaving the chairman with less immediate grip on the precise issues which were being dealt with by the panel and more responsibility for, frankly, bureaucratic consideration.

I do not see that as a sensible way ahead. I notice that it was alluded to by the new First Civil Service Commissioner with particular regard to the work of her body, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and perhaps the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments on the tidy ground that it would be looking to the appointment and perhaps the promotion of civil servants as well as their conduct after leaving office. I think that very different considerations apply to each of those roles. We should avoid the argument with regard to tidiness.

I strongly subscribe to the view expressed by the noble Lord that at this time of great and widely expressed public concern about the standards of public administration and public life, the matter continues to be embarrassing for everyone involved because, in a sense, we are all tarred by the same brush. We have to see what can be done to bolster the authority of the bodies that have been established to protect our democratic system from taint, by looking not only at what they do but at what they do not do and ought to do. The objective of independence is extremely important.

Along with the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, I take a somewhat pragmatic approach to this. It is right, as he suggested, that these bodies are truly independent. He may also be right in saying that we can be satisfied with the perception of their independence. It has to be said, however, that the noble Baroness, Lady Fritchie, in her concluding report as Commissioner for Public Appointments, drew attention to her embarrassment about carrying out her work in a building which was part of the Cabinet Office and about her being the head of a body which was funded by the Cabinet Office, reported to the Cabinet Office and whose members were essentially appointed as a result of consultations with the Cabinet Office. She had a point: more could and should be done to strengthen the apparent independence of these bodies.

There are very strong arguments for putting some of these bodies on a statutory basis, as has been advocated, particularly the Civil Service Commissioners, the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the House of Lords Appointments Commission. All of them would be strengthened by being seen as working at arm’s length from the Prime Minister from the word “go”. The concentration of patronage in his hands is part of the wider constitutional problem which we face in this country of centralisation of power and the Executive’s inadequate control by, and accountability to, the institutions that are part of our democracy.

I therefore go along with the broad view, but it would not be a cure-all. I would counsel against the belief that the provision of a statutory basis will necessarily overcome some of the problems about remit and direction of work. How it should be encompassed in statute is a genuine problem, because it could be either too confining, limiting the power of initiative—which, as has been suggested, is an important role of, for example, the Committee on Standards in Public Life—or too vague and not provide the clear format for the operations of the body. Those arguments are not fatal to the case for statutory basis, but they raise problems that ought to be addressed. They are an example of why we should not rush to judgment on these matters. They also illustrate why I hope there will genuinely be further debate when the Public Administration Select Committee makes its report—notwithstanding the fact that the debate has been running for some time and the uncertainties within the bodies we are seeking to regulate, which it would be comfortable to have resolved.

Accountability is the test of our willingness to look for radical solutions, and we are right to do so. The current consensus among most members of the Civil Service, present and retired, is that the proper line of reporting is as it is for such bodies; that is, through the Cabinet Office to a Minister and in turn to Parliament. Is there not a better way of making clearer the checks and balances that such arrangements are designed to fortify but which do not always have the strength that they should? You could clearly go down the route of recognising that if these bodies are going to be influential, they must take close account of the work of the Executive and what is practical in guiding the Executive towards the espousal/acceptance of the concerns of the supervisory regulatory bodies. They have to be in touch—very closely in touch—with the Executive, if they are going to come up with sensible and workable solutions.

There is more to it than that, however. If you simply engage in a dialogue with the bodies that you are seeking to regulate, you will be less open to the views that are held by members of the public and which are expressed in our democratic system through Parliament. There is a strong case for Parliament having an element of influence over the direction of such regulation, not just a theoretical one that is ex post facto when reports are published and there is an opportunity to ask Ministers about them but that influences the direction of the work of such bodies. There is much to be said for appointments being considered by Parliament or one House of Parliament; it need not be by both Houses. A process of advice and consent might help. Furthermore, it is not totally unprecedented in our system of democratic governance to seek some such independent role.

Having served for a very long time in another place as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I tend to think of the role of the National Audit Office, which is perceived as being, and is in fact, completely independent of government and whose chairman, or effective chairman, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, is appointed as a result of a dialogue between the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Minister responsible. That recognises that the legislature and the Executive have an interest which needs to be embodied in the structures that we create to ensure the true independence of the system.

On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, made about continuity, in one sense I accept what he says; but there is another requirement to which the noble Lord, Lord Neill, alluded—the need for flexibility. The truth is that the methods of government, the problems facing government and the issues that come before these bodies change, so the system has to be apt for confronting the changes of direction and quick off the mark in recognising them. There, too, we must acknowledge the difficulty of drafting the statute that allows that kind of flexibility. The informality of the procedures that are followed may be regarded as too dependent on the discretion, wisdom and judgment of those who operate them, but I am bound to say that they give a certain strength to the system in so far as they allow it to be flexibly responsive to changed circumstances. I pose that as a requirement, but I do not believe that it is an insuperable obstacle.

I hope that when we come to consider the embracing response to the Public Administration Select Committee we will not regard it as unthinkable that one or other House of Parliament should have an oversight role in respect of these matters while, at the same time, not seeking to sever the necessary intimacy of the relations with the bodies that they are overseeing.

My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth on initiating this very timely debate. It is odd that our practice is not to address academics in this House as learned; in my view there are few noble Lords more deserving of that appellation than my noble friend.

My noble friend wishes to call attention to the case for putting standards-setting bodies falling within the responsibility of the Cabinet Office on a statutory footing. The fact is that none of the public bodies for which the Cabinet Office has direct responsibility is established on a statutory footing. While this situation persists, board members of the very bodies which exist to call Ministers to account will be appointed by those same Ministers. I am sure that your Lordships would all be grateful to the Minister for his views on the appropriateness of this fact.

My noble friend has explained that this is as much about being seen to be independent, as about being independent. According to the Cabinet Office, advisory non-departmental public bodies are,

“ideally suited in areas where the Government needs independent, expert, ongoing, relatively low cost advice on a defined issue”.

Ministers are answerable to Parliament about advisory NDPBs and have the power to wind them up. Appointees are required to be independent of government, yet they are appointed by Ministers. These facts underline the importance that they are not only independent but are seen to be independent.

My noble friend has spoken about five advisory, or non-statutory, NDPBs which are responsible for setting standards. The first of these is the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which provides advice to the Prime Minister on applications from the most senior members of the Civil Service and Armed Forces who wish to take up outside appointments within two years of leaving Crown Service. Similarly, the committee provides advice to the Foreign Secretary on applications from senior members of the Diplomatic Service. The committee also offers advice direct to former Ministers if they wish to accept employment outside government. The powers of the committee have come into question as recently as this month following the suggestion that a former Minister who served in that capacity until May 2005 accepted a position at a lobbying firm in apparent contravention of the ministerial code.

The second body which is both non-statutory and sets standards, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, was set up in 1995 following a series of recommendations from the Nolan committee intended to increase public confidence in the way in which appointments to quangos were made. The principal recommendation was that an independent commissioner should be appointed, whose role was to be the establishment of a code of practice for ministerial appointments to public bodies, and the monitoring of the process to ensure that those appointments are made on merit after fair and open competition.

The commissioner’s code of practice covers all ministerial appointments to the boards of executive and advisory non-departmental public bodies, NHS bodies, public corporations, nationalised industries and utility regulators. As my noble friend said, the commissioner’s Scottish equivalent is established under statute, so questioning any argument that the one south of the Border should not be.

The third such body is the Civil Service Commission, an independent body sponsored by the Corporate Development Group. It hears appeals from civil servants against matters such as dismissal, refusal to allow participation in political activities and forfeiture of superannuation. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, referred to the background of a possible Civil Service Bill, which noble Lords on all sides have been demanding of the Government for some time.

The fourth such body, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, was set up in 1994 with the terms of reference that the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, quoted. On 12 November 1997, the new Prime Minister extended the terms of reference as follows:

“To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements”.

This month, Sir Alistair Graham, the committee’s outgoing chairman, wrote to the Cabinet Secretary about the Prime Minister’s decision not to renew his appointment when his current term as chairman expires on 25 April this year. Sir Alistair raised concerns about the appointment of his successor, saying:

“I am extremely concerned that, despite raising this issue with you on a regular basis since September 2006, no arrangements have been put in place to appoint my successor. As you are aware, under public appointments rules, this will require an open competition, which even if started now, would take some months to complete, and then further delay is likely depending on the availability of the successful candidate”.

He went on to say:

“This risks the perception, unfair or otherwise, that this Government places a low priority on the maintenance of the highest standards of conduct in public life”.

While one can appreciate the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, for retaining the pragmatic approach, it is perhaps this sort of development which shifts the emphasis towards at least a serious consideration of the statutory route. Sir Alistair’s letter was raised in the context of an Oral Question in your Lordships’ House on Tuesday, to which my noble friend referred. I should like to return to it briefly today. When I asked the Minister what his reaction was to their statement, he first said that,

“any such criticism would be unfair”.

As Sir Alistair made clear, whether it was fair or unfair criticism was not the point. It is as much about the perception. It is, once again, about being seen to be, as well as being, independent. The Minister went on to say, in response to my question on Tuesday:

“However, we would certainly be open to criticism … if the Government were to … take decisions about the future before the Select Committee had produced its recommendations”.—[Official Report, 27/3/07; col. 1557.]

I find that a non-sequitur. If one were to take that line on all senior public appointments where a Select Committee was deliberating on a related issue, we would be in a state of complete paralysis—that is unless reports, so far denied by the Government, that the future of the Committee on Standards in Public Life is itself under consideration are true. I am sure that the Minister will be grateful that he has another chance to answer my question today.

The last, but not the least, of the non-statutory standards-setting bodies is the House of Lords Appointments Commission. Much has been said about it in recent months and my noble friend Lord Norton and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, spoke about it today. As my noble friend said, we would all benefit from clarity, for example on whether its remit includes vetting the Prime Minister’s resignation honours. In view of the clear likelihood that this will become topical in the next few months, the Minister will no doubt tell us what is proposed.

As several noble Lords mentioned, the Public Administration Select Committee in the other place is currently inquiring into the role and independence of the ethical regulators of government, particularly those established through ministerial powers. It will provide,

“a stocktake of the ethical regulation of Government, and will explore whether there are improvements that can be made to the present arrangements”.

It raised some important questions at the outset of its inquiry, including whether it is necessary for these bodies to be seen to be independent by having a physical separation from government; and, indeed, whether it is possible for them to be genuinely independent while reliant for pay and rations on the Government whose activities they are required to regulate.

The inquiry will include examination of the non-statutory standards-setting bodies for which the Cabinet Office has responsibility and its conclusion will be an important contribution to the debate generally on this subject. Can the Minister therefore kindly assure noble Lords that the Government will give serious consideration to the committee’s recommendations and take them fully into account?

There are some fundamental points which we may expect the committee to make, and they include the following. The first, as my noble friend emphasised, is that the bodies in question must be, and must be seen to be, independent of the Executive arm of government. This assumes an ever greater importance as the Executive arm becomes seemingly increasingly distrusted by the public. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, referred to concerns that the whole system might become tarred with the same brush. Secondly, and closely related to the importance of their independence, is the bodies’ accountability, logically to the public through Parliament, perhaps in a similar way to the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

Thirdly, as my noble friend also mentioned, transparency is crucial in addressing those aspects. By that we mean transparency in their reporting and their more general openness and receptiveness to public scrutiny. Good indicators of this would be through regular, full, clear and accurate reporting to Parliament, and thereby the public, subject to standards and levels of disclosure stipulated in statute and subject also to independent verification. Lastly, they must have clear and simple structures and properly cover the relevant concerns. As we know, the Public Administration Select Committee is including among its considerations whether the current, often overlapping structures should be reorganised to do this more effectively.

My Lords, will my noble friend acknowledge that those on the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments receive neither pay nor rations?

My Lords, I am most grateful for my noble and learned friend’s intervention. I sincerely apologise for suggesting anything so improper.

As my noble friend Lord Norton explained, each of these aspects could be significantly enhanced if the bodies in question were to be given the protection of being put on a statutory footing. We would, I am sure, be grateful for the Minister’s views on whether this can be achieved, and if not, why not.

As my noble friend Lord Norton and the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, said, there is a rumour that a sort of super standards-setting body may be set up. Whether or not this happens, my noble friend’s point is that it is much more important that the existing ones are put on a statutory footing.

In closing, I reiterate my specific questions for the Minister. First, will he kindly give us his views on the appropriateness of the fact that board members of the public bodies for which the Cabinet Office has direct responsibility, which exist to call Ministers to account, should be appointed by those same Ministers? Secondly, as I referred to in Questions on Tuesday and in today’s debate, Sir Alistair Graham has clearly voiced concern that the failure to appoint his successor risks the perception that the Government place a low priority on the maintenance of the highest standards of conduct in public life. I have suggested that the Minister might again try to give a careful explanation of his assurance about why that is an inaccurate perception. Lastly, can the Minister kindly assure noble Lords that the Government will give serious consideration to the recommendations of the Public Administration Select Committee when it reports on its stocktake of the ethical regulation of government and take those fully into account?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for introducing the debate and presenting a most interesting and challenging case. It is not one to which I am able to respond positively in all respects, nor would he expect that, but he certainly identified crucial advantages that might derive from placing the bodies for which the Cabinet Office is responsible on a statutory basis. We have had a lively debate, largely concentrated on the Committee on Standards in Public Life, not least because noble Lords who have served on that committee attested to the nature and value of their work, as did the noble Lord, Lord Neill, so assertively and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. We have had an interesting debate in terms of perspectives on this issue.

Specific questions were addressed to me, not least by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who is in a favoured position; namely, having asked a Question earlier in the week to which he considered that he did not receive a satisfactory Answer, he gets a second shot at it today. Would that we were all so lucky to get such second chances. I hope that I shall satisfy him today, at least more than I appear to have done earlier in the week.

This has been a wide-ranging debate. It was bound to be given that the bodies which were clearly enumerated—the Civil Service Commissioners, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, the House of Lords Appointments Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life—are very important bodies which cover a wide range of extremely important issues.

I recognise criticism about certain aspects of behaviour. The public are increasingly sceptical about all matters political, and we recognise the nature of our times and the change in our political culture. We have all sorts of explanations for that. There is an extremely questioning public, but whether that questioning relates to specific criticisms of particular bodies is an altogether different matter. I maintain that, on the whole, those bodies have operated effectively and with considerable success without a statutory footing. They are independent of the Government. It cannot be maintained that somehow, once distinguished individuals are appointed to such committees with clear terms of reference, they then lose their independence. One of the main issues of contention in this debate, advanced particularly by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, relates to Sir Alistair Graham. I cannot think that anyone is suggesting that the body that he chairs, or he as its chairman, has lacked independence and a spirit of challenge over the period in which he has been in office.

Before we suggest that we need dramatic changes to these bodies, we have to put them in the context of the quality of the work that they do. The media will, from time to time, express enormous interest in these issues, and for a short period the public may feel that,

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”,

and be enormously concerned. However, more substantial surveys do not bear out the impression that the whole of public life in Britain is held in disrepute. Last year, the Committee on Standards in Public Life commissioned a national survey from the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute of public attitudes towards the standards of conduct of public office-holders in the United Kingdom. The results of that survey make for interesting reading: 74 per cent of those questioned thought that standards of public office-holders in the United Kingdom were higher than or about average compared with those elsewhere in Europe; 64 per cent thought that standards of public office-holders had either improved or stayed the same compared to a few years ago: and only 13 per cent rated the standard of conduct of public office-holders as low.

That is a slightly different perspective from the alarm bells that are sometimes rung in the media and are reinforced by comments during the course of lively political debate to suggest that everything to do with public life is held in low regard by the nation. Some of those bodies have attracted very little criticism of their work. We have scarcely heard a critical mention in this debate, which gave an opportunity for critical voices to be heard. Who does not think that the Civil Service Commissioners set good standards on recruitment by which the Civil Service goes about its tasks? They audit compliance by departments and agencies against those standards. They publish a recruitment code that interprets the principle of selection to the Civil Service on merit on the basis of fair and open competition. They also hear appeals from home civil servants under the Civil Service Code that cannot be resolved through internal departmental procedures.

The Civil Service Commissioners are chaired by Janet Paraskeva, whose predecessor as First Civil Service Commissioner was the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. No one is suggesting that their work has not been up to standard. They have been operating on that basis for over 150 years. During that period, it has been necessary for their role to evolve and keep pace with changing times. For example, the new Civil Service Code, issued in June 2006, allows the Civil Service Commissioners to hear a complaint under the code directly from a civil servant. In addition, the selection panels for the most senior appointments to the Civil Service are now chaired by a Civil Service Commissioner. They show ability and an element of flexibility, to which I will return later in relation to other committees. The Civil Service Commissioners have had an excellent record in those terms.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, mentioned the question of a Civil Service Bill, which did not feature as the most fundamental part of the debate. There is considerable public interest in that, and there is interest in this House. I am not in a position today to make a statement about a Civil Service Bill, but a statement will be made in due course. Criticisms have been expressed about the necessity for a Civil Service Bill. The issues that have been raised in consultation on the Bill, which has been in the public domain for some time, have resulted in action already within the framework of government. There is already an annual report to Parliament on special adviser numbers, costs and responsibilities. One of the prompts behind the concept of the Civil Service Bill is the inclusion of the responsibilities of special advisers. Updated codes of conduct for Ministers and special advisers were published in July 2005. Induction programmes for new Ministers and special advisers, so that their roles are clarified and the boundaries and responsibilities are clearly defined, take place already. There is consultation with the main Opposition party leaders on the appointment of the First Civil Service Commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. It is contended that the Bill becoming an Act has been overlong in the waiting as far as some noble Lords are concerned. The Government are aware of some significant issues, and we have ensured that appropriate action has been taken within the framework of government.

The Commissioner for Public Appointments also seems to have occasioned limited comment today. I am not sure whether it is meant to be in the statutory framework that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is suggesting, but I presume that it is. The strength of the regulatory system for making public appointments was commented on by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which praised the arrangements. It commented on:

“The successful development of a culture which recognises the importance of appointment on merit … The broad … acceptance by appointing authorities of the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ authority as custodian of the Code of Practice on Public Appointments; and … The commitment of most appointing authorities to running proportionate operations, strong on process, but that clear outcomes—excellent appointments contributing to public service delivery and carrying the confidence of both ministers and the general public—are important too”.

The existing arrangements have been commented on by the very committee that has been the main focal point of discussion and debate in this House today and in recent consideration; the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, indicated that that body would benefit if it had been established in statute. First, does anyone doubt its independence? Whatever one says about the period of tenure of Sir Alistair Graham—and it has been true of his predecessors, too—does anyone think that he was in anything other than a category entirely independent from Government? I have heard it said today that he was a thorn in the side of the Government from time to time and challenged them. Objectively, that is certainly the case. What does that establish? It establishes his independence.

Secondly, I very much respect the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, on the importance of flexibility and the ability of a committee such as this to address the significant issues of the moment, which, if it were in statute, could not even begin to address issues that were not within its terms of reference until an Act of Parliament had been amended. Given that the committee would need to look at issues of high controversy, can one think of the process by which such a Bill would go through Parliament? All noble Lords are experienced enough to appreciate that that Bill would have a fairly stormy passage, it certainly would not be swift in its execution and achievement and it would lose precisely the features that the noble Lord, Lord Neill, identified, in terms of the past practice of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

I have been questioned by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on the continuation of the committee. Let me put this into context—and I am somewhat surprised that the Opposition do not recognise the significance of that context. On one side, the Government are being pressed to recognise that a Select Committee in the other place has been engaged on these issues for a considerable period. It rightly expects its recommendations to be taken seriously and the noble Lord enjoined me to give an assurance that the Government would look at its recommendations with due care and attention and take them seriously. I give that commitment. That committee is due to report shortly.

Also, we are in a unique position. Whether this House has suddenly become so delicate about democratic affairs that it will eschew any discussion about what is happening at the other end, I am not sure. It did not have such reservations yesterday, although that was a different matter. We should not ignore the fact that this country is in a unique situation in which a Prime Minister has announced that he is giving up his position within a certain time frame, leading to the expectation that there will be a change of Prime Minister in the next few months. Suggesting that that does not impact at all on a body such as the Committee on Standards in Public Life while a Select Committee is evaluating the work of that body and others is engaging in an element of naivety. Of course, we expect that the Government will look at the recommendations of that committee with due seriousness, but we also recognise that the Government who will be doing that will be on the point of change, as far as the office of Prime Minister is concerned.

Like other chairmen of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair is leaving after three years in office. Is there therefore anything surprising or particularly sinister in his term of office coming to an end at this stage?

My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is a cause of great concern that, unlike his two predecessors, the term of office of Sir Alistair has not been extended to cover the interim period before a successor has been appointed and that that appears to be an attempt by the Government to punish him for the outspoken manner in which he has conducted his chairmanship?

No, my Lords, that is not the case at all and his very able deputy is carrying on the work of the committee. The simple fact of the matter is that Sir Alistair’s term came to an end, as the terms of all previous chairmen have, and he has been asked to resign to complete his term on that basis. The suspicion would be valid if we were not in the unique situation that I have just described; namely, that we have an important report from the Select Committee in another place on these very issues and we expect the Government to consider that report with great seriousness. I refute the concept that there has been some improper activity on the part of the Government as far as Sir Alistair is concerned. What is quite clear from the letters that have been exchanged between him and the Cabinet Secretary is how much his work on the committee has been appreciated over these past three years.

I come to the final points that I want to make on these matters. In expressing a constructive proposal on how these committees could be enhanced in public life, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has stimulated a debate that has produced conflicting opinions. All noble Lords who have contributed to the debate have helped to flesh out these issues and I am grateful to those who have served on particular committees for identifying their experiences.

We have to put this matter in context. Britain does not have public life, public administration or a Civil Service that set low standards—very far from it. It is to Britain that a large number of people come to attend our National School of Government in order to understand how Administrations can be run—free, fair, proper, to standards of probity and with the absence of corruption. The bodies which are the subject of this debate play their part in the vital role of setting and upholding those standards across the nation.

While recognising the constructive criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, we should also recognise that we do not want to lose the virtues of the past, nor should be succumb to a crude populism that suggests that public life is held in low regard, that standards are declining rapidly and that the nation is ill-served. Far from it—we should have confidence in the institutions that we have.

My Lords, I see from the Clock that I have slightly less than an hour in which to respond. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I would put the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, slightly differently, and say that the emphasis has been on quality rather than quantity. Sometimes a short debate can be more productive than a long one and, as the Minister said, it has been especially valuable to hear from noble Lords with experience of one or more of the bodies that we are discussing. That has shown the value of debates such as this.

I take many of the points that have been made. I especially agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, on a Civil Service Act; there is general agreement from everyone on the quality of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, as evidenced by its latest annual report. However, it will be no surprise that I agree with the theory of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, rather than that of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, concerning the remit of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and what flows from that. Once the committee starts to look into the role of political parties, that puts it beyond simple answerability to the Prime Minister.

I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, said about not seeing this as a perfect solution. It is merely a means to an end, and it is important to get the means themselves absolutely right. I take his point: one would have to devise the statutes so that, in effect, flexibility was written into them. As I mentioned earlier, it is merely a starting point and there is then a question of how the powers are used.

I am grateful for the Minister’s reply. He offered us some insight into the Government’s thinking, which appears to be, “We can’t see what the problem is”. He is right to say that the standards maintained in this country are comparatively high, but some of the other surveys commissioned by the Committee on Standards in Public Life show a less rosy picture than he indicated in respect of particular actors in this country. The fact that we achieve higher standards than elsewhere is no basis for complacency. We should strive for the best, not simply to be above average.

The Minister’s other argument concerned perception. I rather enjoyed listening to it because he effectively destroyed the whole case put forward by the Government for the Constitutional Reform Act. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, will remember, the Government’s argument was: “We can’t prove that there is any perception that the Law Lords are not independent but we perceive there’s a perception; therefore, we need to move them out of the House of Lords”. So the logic of the argument advanced by the Minister is that the Government should now introduce a Bill to repeal the Constitutional Reform Act. I am sure that we look forward to that.

As I said, this has been a valuable debate. There is a case for looking at the role of these bodies to see whether they should be on a statutory basis and whether some, rather than all, of them should be on a statutory basis. We need to pursue that and I may well pursue it later through a Private Member’s Bill to ensure that it remains on the agenda. I am sure that we will return to the matter in due course but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Home Office: Restructuring

My Lords, earlier today, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, by means of a Written Ministerial Statement in another place, announced machinery of government changes in relation to counterterrorism. Alongside, but not contingent on, that announcement, he also announced the creation of a new department—the Ministry of Justice.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has this morning in another place made an Oral Statement. With your Lordships’ permission, I shall repeat that Statement in full. Following that, again with your Lordships’ permission, I shall make a statement to this House providing further details of the machinery of government changes, particularly in relation to the new Ministry of Justice. First, the Home Office Statement is as follows:

“Since the end of the Cold War, we have faced new challenges, especially from mass migration and international terrorism. As Home Secretary, it has been my responsibility to ensure that we have a response up to the challenge of the age. That is why I have pursued challenging reform programmes across all aspects of the Home Office.

“We have made changes to NOMS and will build 8,000 more prison places; we are rebalancing the criminal justice system in favour of the victim; we are beginning the rollout of neighbourhood policing; and we are launching the respect agenda to tackle anti-social behaviour. In addition, we are making changes to ensure the fair and effective management of immigration, and are moving IND towards agency status.

“In addition, following the alleged terrorist plot last August, the Prime Minister asked me to conduct a review of counterterrorism. Arising out of that review, the Prime Minister has today announced machinery of government changes. These changes will lead to a step-change in the management of the terrorist threat, and there will be other changes to create a coherent ministerial committee system to ensure better joint working and engage with the struggle for ideas and values. We will also establish a new unit, the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, in the Home Office.

“No responsibility will be taken away from leading government departments. There will be no changes of responsibility for agencies. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will retain its responsibilities, the Department for Communities and Local Government will remain in the lead on the prevention strand of the respect agenda, and the Ministry of Defence will retain responsibility for the Armed Forces and defence generally.

“These changes will add capacity with a strategic response to the threat we now face. As a result of these reforms to enable the Home Office to meet new challenges, some responsibilities will have to be shed. These functions will be merged with the Department for Constitutional Affairs to create a new Ministry of Justice. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will be giving more details on the Ministry of Justice in another place”.

My Lords, that is the end of the Home Secretary’s Statement in another place. Perhaps I may add a little on the Ministry of Justice.

The creation of a Ministry of Justice is an important—indeed, a landmark—moment in the development of our public services and our justice system. From 9 May, the new Ministry of Justice will bring together Her Majesty’s Courts Service, the National Offender Management Service, the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, the Tribunals Service and the current responsibilities of the Department for Constitutional Affairs under one Secretary of State in the Lord Chancellor. It will work for a world-class justice system that has protecting the public, reducing reoffending and delivering sense in sentencing at the heart of everything it does. In addition, it will continue to work for a properly resourced and effective civil and family justice system.

The Ministry of Justice will improve the ability of the justice system to serve the public, whether they are victims or witnesses in a criminal case, or whether they are using the family or civil courts or the Tribunals Service. It will also become responsible for sentencing policy, criminal law, criminal procedure and penal policy—currently the responsibilities of the Home Office.

The need for a strong and independent judiciary is fundamental to any criminal justice system. The Ministry of Justice will further strengthen the already strong relationship between the judiciary and the Executive set out in the concordat, which describes the roles and responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor and the judiciary. The Lord Chief Justice has stated that he does not object in principle to the creation of a Ministry of Justice, provided that there are appropriate safeguards to ensure a properly resourced justice system. We share that desire and will work with him to achieve it.

The Ministry of Justice will work closely with the Attorney-General’s office and the Home Office to ensure that the Government maintain, develop and build on the reduction in levels of crime and the increase in the number of offences brought to justice in the past 10 years. As I said, it will also continue to have policy responsibility for civil and family justice, as well as key elements of constitutional and rights-based policy, such as data protection, freedom of information and the Human Rights Act.

The Ministry of Justice will begin operating on 9 May 2007. The Government are committed to ensuring that change is handled well and with the minimum of fuss and disruption. Departments will work closely together to ensure that processes and organisational changes improve delivery.

The delivery of these reforms represents a challenge, but the professionalism and commitment of prison and probation officers, court staff, tribunal staff and all those working in the new ministry and across the justice system will ensure that we make the most of this opportunity.

These changes are an important next step in the improvement of our public services and in the reform of our public institutions and constitution. I commend them to the House.

My Lords, I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will forgive me for not subjecting the text of his Statement to an intimate analysis but I received a copy of it only as I made my way towards the Chamber.

I am sure that it is no fault of the noble and learned Lord that this Statement has been made to your Lordships on the afternoon of our last day’s work before the Easter break. The Statement raises vital matters about the nation’s security; I am thinking not just of crime but of terrorism. It would have been much better if we could have had a thorough debate about the division of these responsibilities before a final decision was made by the Government. This underlines the importance of a full review of the relationship between Parliament and the exercise by government of the royal prerogative. In my submission, it is most unsatisfactory that these matters were not thoroughly debated before a final decision was made.

The origin of these proposals, in my submission, arises from the events of January 2007. Your Lordships will recall them well. There was a fiasco over some 27,500 British nationals who had been convicted of crimes abroad but whose convictions had not been recorded domestically. Their records were left sitting in the Home Office without being transferred to the police national computer. That was a straightforward example of administrative incompetence. Perhaps, to distract our attention from a matter manifestly concerned with ministerial responsibility, the right honourable gentleman, the Home Secretary, responded by demanding a radical restructuring of the Home Office.

It is very hard to escape the conclusion that running the Home Office is simply too difficult a task for the current Home Secretary. Indeed, by comparison with previous Home Secretaries, he has got off lightly. In addition to the present responsibilities, Home Secretaries used to be responsible for charities, gambling, broadcasting, civil defence, the fire service, and even human rights.

One has to look at the Statement in the context of the history of events from earlier this year. Nothing in the Statement gives us any confidence that anything will be done about the litany of mistakes and administrative errors made by the Home Office. What will be done in the Home Office about improving its administrative performance? And what will happen to communications in the light of the establishment of these two new departments? Your Lordships will recall that a number of foreign prisoners should have been considered for deportation on release; but they were not because there was a breakdown in communication within the Home Office between those responsible for prisons and those responsible for immigration. Both of those responsibilities were within the same department and are now to be separated. What confidence can we have that communications will improve to the extent whereby such a thing could never happen again?

There are already two departments: the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs under the leadership of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. One clear plus to come out of this rearrangement, as I understand it, is that responsibility for the rules of criminal evidence will now pass to the Lord Chancellor. He already has responsibility for the rules of civil evidence. I believe that is an absolutely vital change. It is simply not satisfactory that the department that defines new criminal offences should also be responsible for the way in which the accused are tried. One has only to consider how hard successive Home Secretaries have tried to undermine, for example, the constitutional principles of habeas corpus and jury trial in the context of terrorism offences. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will assure us that, in future, all matters of criminal evidence in relation to any new offences designated by the Home Office will be matters for the noble and learned Lord and not for the Home Secretary. It is vital that the protection of the accused in the courts has nothing whatever to do with the Home Office.

On the other hand, I am extremely concerned about the amalgamation of prisons with the exercise of criminal justice. That is because, as I understand it, the new Secretary of State for justice will be responsible for, or continue to be responsible for, sentencing matters. There must clearly be a concern among your Lordships about those two responsibilities being managed by the same individual; because if insufficient money were provided to build new prisons, there would be an enormous temptation for that to affect the Secretary of State’s attitude to sentencing. The less money there is for new prisons and the less secure prisons are, the more likely the Secretary of State is to change sentencing policy so that fewer people are sent to prison. In my submission, that is a serious conflict of interest and I, for one, will need a great deal of persuading before I think it is a good idea to combine prisons with criminal justice.

My Lords, the circumstances that have led to this important decision to split the functions of the long-standing Home Office should not be allowed in any way to diminish either its importance or the public recognition of the virtues of the establishment of a Ministry of Justice. For 25 years, we on these Benches have advocated the principle that appears to lie behind the Government’s announcement today of the transfer of certain important departments, particularly concerned with the criminal justice system—the National Offender Management Service, the Prison Service and the National Probation Service—to the new ministry.

It might have been preferable to enable some parliamentary discussion to take place about the decisions before they were announced by the Prime Minister in a written communication to Parliament. It does not make sense for arrangements that have lasted for many decades to be wound up on such a say so, without input and contributions examining the costs, virtues and possible disadvantages of precisely what is proposed. It remains to be seen whether the new Ministry of Justice, unshackled by some of the considerations that have rendered the Home Office ineffective and too often a department that has set its face against reform, will be more enlightened in its conduct of criminal justice and, for that matter, civil justice matters.

On the provisions that have been announced affecting security and counterterrorism, many questions remain to be answered, as in some respects the Statement is internally contradictory. On the one hand, the Prime Minister indicates that he is strengthening the role of the Home Secretary but, on the other, the Home Secretary says that the changes do not alter the responsibilities of the Foreign or Defence Secretaries, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government or other Ministers. Those two statements do not lie nicely with each other. Furthermore, we have been advised that a system of Cabinet committees dealing with security and counterterrorism matters—the COBRA arrangements in the Cabinet Office and the JTAC arrangements in respect of intelligence—is working well. We have not been led to believe that reshuffling Cabinet committees would be crucial to the effective protection of this country against the perceived threats of terrorism. It is only fair to recognise that Cabinet committees frequently come and go without public indication of the process. I doubt whether such restructuring amounts to very much. I hope that there will be an opportunity fully to consider both aspects of the changes at an early date and well before they are implemented on 9 May.

The detail is referred to in some but not all of the papers. To illustrate the attraction of eliciting more information, there is reference to the establishment of a research information and communications unit in support of the struggle for ideas and values. That might be seen by some as a new propaganda agency within the Government. There are many uncertain issues that merit elucidation, which clearly cannot be done through exchanges across the Floor in response to a Statement.

I conclude, as I began, by welcoming very strongly the establishment of a Ministry of Justice—that reform is long overdue in this country.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome of what is, as I said in my Statement, a very important and, I believe, correct change in the machinery of government. I apologise to the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Maclennan, for the fact that they did not have copies of the Statement much before it was delivered. That is entirely my responsibility and I apologise.

Both noble Lords asked whether it was satisfactory to deal with machinery of government changes in this way. Traditionally, such changes are always announced at the time that they come into effect. The reason for that is that it has traditionally always been thought that you cannot announce such a change too long in advance because you in effect put a great blight over the relevant parts of government. In principle, that is right. In those circumstances, this course is in line with the way in which that is normally done. I have two further points. First, the counterterrorism changes come into effect immediately and the Ministry of Justice will begin on 9 May—after a short pause. I should say that that short pause is not for the purposes of debate; it is in order to make the necessary arrangements—this is quite a substantial change. The numbers of people in the new department, for example, will go up from about 28,000 in the DCA to about 90,000 in the new department. One needs a bit of time in which to do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that the birth pangs of the change came in relation to foreign national prisoners issues of January of this year; that is not correct. It was made clear in another place that the counter-terrorism changes are a result of the review conducted by the Home Secretary during the autumn and towards the end of last year.

I was asked about what to do with the Home Office. My right honourable friend made it clear that there are significant difficulties in relation to the Home Office. This is a significant and sensible way of dividing up the work that it currently does. I believe very strongly that it is the right division of work; it relates to criminal law, criminal evidence, sentencing, prisons, probation and courts, all of which have obvious synergies together. The outcome of that will be much better results in relation to, for example, reducing reoffending and ensuring that there is proper public protection because the courts, prison and probation services will be much closer. In relation to the bigger picture, there will be a significant justice ministry in Whitehall that is able to discuss with the Home Office a whole range of issues and together they will produce results that are best for the public. I strongly commend the changes to the House. Before I sit down, the noble Lord wishes to intervene.

My Lords, I apologise for intervening on the noble and learned Lord. I am most grateful to him for giving way.

So that your Lordships’ House can be absolutely clear, does that mean that in future all legislation on counterterrorism will originate in the new Ministry of Justice and will be brought to the House by the noble and learned Lord? He said that the new Ministry of Justice will be responsible for all criminal law and evidence. In my view, what flows from that statement is that the noble and learned Lord will be responsible in future for counterterrorism legislation.

My Lords, terrorism remains the responsibility of the Home Office. As with every department, where one of the ways to combat a problem is by creating a criminal offence, that department remains responsible for it—that is the case with terrorism. If a new criminal offence is to be created, that must be discussed with the Ministry of Justice. It is unquestionably the Home Office that is responsible for terrorism.

I was asked what the effects of the changes would be—that question was implicit in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan. There are two changes in relation to counterterrorism: the establishment of a new ministerial committee on security and terrorism, subsuming the current defence and overseas policy sub-committee, and the counter-radicalisation aspects of the Domestic Affairs Committee. The Prime Minister will chair the committee with the Home Secretary normally acting as deputy chair, although other Ministers, such as the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will deputise as appropriate. In addition, in order to support the Home Secretary in his new role, an office for security and counter-terrorism that is based in the Home Office and which reports to the Home Secretary will be created. The Office for Security and Counter-terrorism will take on overall responsibility for the CONTEST strategy, reporting through the new ministerial committee.

My Lords, I shall briefly explain why, when I worked in the Home Office about 30 years ago, I formed the view that such proposals were necessary. First, when I was a civil lawyer in the Home Office, I came to realise that the Home Office was very good at the things that it knew about but very bad at dealing with the civil law. There was an institutional schizophrenia within the department. I therefore strongly believe that placing the whole of our law—statute and common law or civil and criminal law—in one department with responsibility for the state of the law is a great step forward.

Secondly, I believe that placing responsibility for human rights, the rule of law, the separation of powers between the Executive and legislature, on the one hand, and the courts on the other, is extremely important. Thirdly, I believe that these changes will secure a proper balance between the important interests of liberty on the one hand and of security on the other in two different departments, which will be well focused on those two vital interests and on the need to secure a fair balance between them.

I say very briefly that those who think that the problems that I saw in the mid-1970s no longer exist should reflect on, for example, what happened in the Equality Bill, when the Home Office introduced religious discrimination provisions that caused a great deal of difficulty. It was not really its departmental expertise. The same, I believe, was true with race hate crimes, but that is another matter.

I now wish that the Department for Constitutional Affairs could be responsible for equality as well as for other human rights. I wish that the department could be given that lead responsibility.

Finally, I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor whether responsibility for the important new Commission for Equality and Human Rights could be placed under the Ministry of Justice, which is where it should be, rather than being perhaps balkanised across other departments with no single department having lead responsibility. If he cannot answer that today, I should be grateful if thought could be given to it. For my part, I regard it as essential that the responsibility for human rights should go with responsibility for that commission. I therefore unhesitatingly welcome the proposals. I regard this as a very significant step forward.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome. The equalities commission is the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government and there are no plans to change that.

My Lords, the very scale of the transformation taking place—the noble and learned Lord described it as “an important milestone” and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, acknowledged the history behind it—leaves me disturbed despite the Statement by the noble and learned Lord that it is always done this way. I am disturbed, and the whole House must be disturbed, by the announcement of such far-reaching changes on the last day before Recess in a Written Statement to the other place. It is also rather curious that the change takes effect on what is said to be the eave of the recession of the Prime Minister. One wonders whether the haste is not to some extent due to the fact that the Prime Minister—who I suspect is scarcely demob happy, but who may be legacy lustful—is anxious to secure such things at a pace that would not commend itself more widely.

Having said that, I welcome the recognition that responsibility and accountability for GCHQ and MI6 rightly remain with the Foreign Office, regardless of the personality of the Secretary of State for the time being, because they are intimately and closely associated with each other and should remain so.

Whether or not he likes it, the noble and learned Lord must find himself obliged to become a glutton for punishment. The speed with which his original status as Lord Chancellor was transformed must have astonished him as much as the rest of us. The scale of the task that he is now taking on, which the Home Secretary is glad to be diminishing, must also be startling. I must express my anxiety that this is yet another example of the reckless tide of institutional upheaval that is characteristic of this Government, whether in respect of the licensing laws, the gambling laws or any institution anyone cares to mention. Can I tempt the noble and learned Lord to join me in constructing a brief platform on which we might campaign together to persuade leaders of all parties? It consists of just six words, which I have long and frequently commended. They are: “For God’s sake, leave us alone”. They would evoke enthusiasm in almost every institution, whether school, hospital, corporate organisation or even the legislature. I urge the noble and learned Lord to distil that and campaign with me for that very sensible good cause.

My Lords, for the 10 years that I have been in the House of Lords, I have sought to find common cause, even on one issue, with the noble and learned Lord, but just when I think I am there, it slips through my fingers. I am sad that he is anxious about the changes. He is saying, “Stop change”. I believe that the changes in relation to counterterrorism are right. They have been made after detailed consideration during the second half of last year and in the light of experience with counterterrorism. They are necessary. I welcome the noble and learned Lord’s welcome of the fact that GCHQ and MI6 remain the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary, which I believe is the right conclusion.

As I have indicated, I think that bringing prisons, probation and criminal law and policy to the new Ministry of Justice is the right course to improve the justice system.

My Lords, while I welcome the gist of what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, I think it is very unfortunate that we are contemplating making these changes today. A Statement should have been made earlier or later, but not now, when we cannot debate it.

Many of us have advocated exactly the formula that has been announced for the new Ministry of Justice. It is a good thing that it will be established, but why was it not done much earlier? After all, the Society of Labour Lawyers advocated it long ago. Why did we wait so long?

My Lords, the question of the timing has been raised by a number of noble Lords. As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, it is inevitable that machinery of government changes are announced as a fait accompli. What we are announcing today is consistent with that approach. We did not do this earlier but, as with so many reforms, I wish we had. We have done it now. We cannot do everything all at once, but we are doing it now. I apologise for doing it 10 years late.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the formation of a Ministry of Justice. I have not been calling for that for as long as some other noble Lords, merely since my time as Chief Inspector of Prisons when I became aware that it was impossible for the Home Secretary to give due attention to what is needed because of all the other demands on him. That is looking back, but, looking forward, I welcome the change in hope. The National Offender Management Service was an opportunity to do tremendous things in the criminal justice system. It was not seized because it was rushed into without adequate consultation with all the people involved. The noble and learned Lord has now created another opportunity, and I hope that he will seize it and before merely implementing what he inherits and taking on the current situation, he will take the opportunity to have a real look at the way the criminal justice system is operated. I even hope that it is possible that the Offender Management Bill, which is to be introduced immediately after Recess, will be considered to see whether it is as relevant to the future as it was to the past under the Home Office.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support. I agree that this is a great opportunity, and it is one that we intend to take.

My Lords, I join my noble friends in welcoming the creation of the Ministry of Justice, which is long overdue. It will bring criminal and civil justice together under the same roof, where they ought to have been long since. Is the noble and learned Lord worried about the possibility that taking over responsibility for prisons might turn out to be a poisoned chalice? I am concerned about the possibility that prisons might come to dominate the activities of the new Ministry of Justice because of the sheer weight of public interest in them. From what the noble and learned Lord said, it seems that the number of staff will be roughly trebled as a result of the merger. How large a proportion of the ministerial budget of the Ministry of Justice will go to the prison and probation services? Is the noble and learned Lord satisfied that the Ministry of Justice can operate without being dominated by the prison and probation services?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support of the proposals. At the moment, the DCA’s budget, without any additions, is about £4 billion. After the change, we will have a budget of approximately £9 billion, which represents more than the current budget for prisons and probation and a much smaller amount for policy work. I am not worried that the prison and probations services will come to dominate because I believe that the synergy is right for them all. The point of the change is to bring them together in one place, not with one dominating another, but with them all working together. I quite understand why the noble Lord has raised his concern, but I believe that the change is manageable and is the right change.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lester, I speak from now rather remote past experience as a Permanent Secretary in the old Home Office. As a general comment, I simply remark that my experience was that machinery of government changes rarely make it easier to handle or resolve difficult and controversial issues of policy and certainly distract—in the short term at least—those involved in the upheavals that go forward. If these changes go ahead, I hope that those upheavals can be handled and diminished as much as possible.

In the Home Office we were already familiar with the contrast between what you might call the Ministry of the Interior aspects of Home Office duties and the Ministry of Justice responsibilities. One was dealing on the one hand with issues which on the whole tended to erode liberty—the protection and security issues—and on the other hand issues which were there to protect and preserve liberty—the Ministry of Justice issues. The two interests often conflict.

In the existing system, a conflict of interest in that regard has to be resolved by one man—the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Under the new arrangements, the conflict will not be resolved there. The Home Secretary will be pursuing with undeviating determination the responsibilities for security and terrorism—the Ministry of the Interior-type responsibilities—and no doubt the Secretary of State for Justice will be pursuing with equal vigour the issues of liberty and justice. Where there is a conflict, the issues will not be resolved by one departmental Minister. So far as I can make out from reading the Statement, they will come to one or other of a pair of committees to be chaired by the Prime Minister; and the conflict will eventually be resolved inside No. 10, adding yet more to the burdens on the Prime Minister of the day.

Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor really think that it is worth making this upheaval in order to deprive the Home Secretary of this crucial responsibility for resolving issues where the effect on civil liberties can conflict?

My Lords, I believe very strongly that it is worth making the changes. The noble Lord is plainly right on his first point, that the machinery of government changes bring disruption with them and, to some extent, distraction. The decision any government have to make is whether that disruption and distraction are worth the medium and long-term benefits. I believe that, for reasons which have nothing to do with any wrongness in government, the circumstances which governments face change and governments have to change to meet those new circumstances.

The noble Lord referred to Cabinet committees. The Cabinet committees to which I referred relate to the counterterrorism activity. It is extremely important that the activity not only of, for example, using the police but also ensuring that the battle for values and ideas is won should be co-ordinated. That is why one committee is needed to replace a number of committees and why we need to ensure the Home Secretary is in a role where he can co-ordinate all that activity. I do not believe it makes it more complicated; its aim is to make it less complicated.

Everybody in government is on the same side in relation to the conflict between civil liberties and the fight against crime and terrorism. Of course there will be issues in striking that balance, which the Government discuss collectively at the moment. I do not believe that resolution of those issues will be made any more difficult by these changes. I believe that with a Ministry of Justice there will be a much more coherent approach to reducing reoffending and to penal policy.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and declare an interest in that my wife is a magistrate. In magistrates’ courts, where 90 per cent of all criminal justice is dispensed, there is a clear disjoint between their efforts to reduce reoffending rates and reformation and the suite of tools they have available. How will the new Ministry of Justice focus on this issue? What will my noble and learned friend be doing to focus on the right support for the courts, particularly the development of a holistic range of non-custodial sentences, so that the courts do not have to send people to prison in the first place and so that those who offend do not reoffend?

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for his welcome of the proposals. He absolutely identifies the right issue. I make two points in relation to that. First, it must be clear that the courts remain as independent after these changes as they are before. Secondly, in building up means of reducing reoffending, we will be building on the hugely valuable and important work done by NOMS and by the Home Office over the past 10 years; for example, in building effective community penalties, where appropriate, to assist people to stop offending behaviour.


rose to call attention to the rights of the child and to the role of stability and family life in the well-being of children with particular reference to the recently published UNICEF report, Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I set down this Motion to give the House an opportunity to discuss the above-named recently published UNICEF report, and to note its shortcomings.

In their introduction to the report the authors say:

“The true measure of a nation's standing is how well it attends to its children”.

They go on to say, referring to their own report:

“Given the potential value of this exercise, every attempt has been made to overcome data limitations. Nonetheless, it is acknowledged throughout that the available data may be less than ideal”.

The report draws on the most recent comparable data available, but in some cases those data are several years-old. It is possible that later data may show the UK in a more positive position.

However, the findings of the report are to some extent mirrored in other recent reports; for example: the IPPR report in 2006, Freedom's Orphans, which draws attention to the poor socialisation of some of our young people today and to the serious consequences; the reports by Save the Children and the University of York, The Well-being of Children in the UK, published in 2005, and the Commission on Families and the Wellbeing of Children, published in October 2005; and, indeed, some of the Government's own publications, including Every Child Matters: Change for Children, published in 2006.

Things may be getting better, but as the fifth richest country in the world should we not be ashamed of having ever let things get so bad? I would be very interested if the Minister could give the House up-to-date figures for this country and comparable figures for the rest of Europe.

I did not table this Motion with the intention of attacking the Government. My hope is that it will give rise to a debate that will, in the long run, contribute to reducing the number, or indeed, the proportion, of the nation’s children who are prevented from attaining their full potential because of inadequate or inappropriate parenting.

In the 10 years since this Government came into power in 1997, they have instigated many initiatives targeted at improving the well-being of the nation's children, probably more than any other Government before them. First the Social Exclusion Unit was set up to identify in more detail the problem—a very intelligent start. Then Sure Start was set up at the instigation of the Treasury to solve the very important problems in children's early years. There was the Connexions service, the Youth Justice Board, more childcare and nursery schools and many other things; and there was more money for education. More recently, we began to hear about the huge organisational changes involved in the Every Child Matters programme. That work is still developing.

Now, dead on cue for this debate, the Government have published their latest report, Every Parent Matters. I am grateful to the Minister for sending me a copy on Monday. The report is most welcome. For 10 years, I have been hoping and occasionally trying to persuade the Government to accept that parents should be treated as partners rather than clients or, still worse, enemies in the great enterprise of raising the nation's children. Imagine, therefore, my surprise and delight when Every Parent Matters came into my hands. A good deal of surprise arose, I have to say, from the need completely to rewrite my speech for this afternoon, but the delight was genuine. If the report is implemented, the change of emphasis that it urges on local authorities and professionals will, I believe, eventually lead to better outcomes for children.

In the foreword to the report, Alan Johnson, the Minister, states:

“Parents and the home environment they create are the single most important factor in shaping their children’s well-being”.

Amen. That was music to my ears. At last, I see real hope that the professional and voluntary sectors will have to build parents into the equation as their partners. I am delighted that the report recognises two things, the first of which is the key role of parents. It recognises that parents should normally be encouraged and respected as the leading partners in providing for a child’s parenting and well-being. It states that the majority of parents give their children the family life that they need to develop to their full potential but that some are putting their children at risk of failure—failure in school and failure in life—by denying them the security, love, family life and parenting that they need in their early years and, indeed, throughout their childhood.

Why are parents so important? A major reason is that their influence almost inevitably dominates the very early years of a child's life. Those early years are when crucial emotional and social development should be taking place. A child’s healthy social and emotional development depends on that experience of a secure, loving attachment, a secure loving relationship with a dependable adult, from birth—indeed, throughout childhood, but particularly between conception and the age of two or three.

Of course, all children are different, as some have more resilience than others, but almost all, perhaps all, fare best if they have the experience of a secure and loving attachment in their early years. The outcomes for those who do not have such an attachment often appear as lack of self-esteem, lack of social skills or lack of communication skills. Those are the building blocks on which subsequent healthy relationships will be built, and too many children grow up in families that deny them those building blocks. That is one of the explanations for the poor socialisation of some of our youth today.

I am also delighted that the report recognises that fathers matter, that both a loving father and a loving mother are important to a child's well-being. Living in a home with a committed, caring father, it states, will improve a child's chances of success in school. Fathers simply should not feel that it is acceptable to walk away from a child whom they have fathered or that it is enough just to contribute to maintenance without giving the child emotional support and setting him or her a good example as a father should. I accept, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, said to me once when he was Lord Chancellor, that you cannot make a father love his child, but surely a father has a moral duty at least to try to help his child.

Some other issues seem to have been largely omitted from the report. The first is precisely the right of the child to a secure family life. Does a child have a right to a secure family life and to parental love? Statistics show clearly that children who live in two-parent families with a father and a mother in a stable relationship have better life chances. There is undoubtedly room for more research on the chain of causality—why that is the case—but, pending further research, there is a strong case for encouraging more young parents to form and sustain that sort of family, even if the help that we give is only through such things as affordable housing, tax breaks, flexible working, parenting education and support, more back-up from grandparents, and so forth.

If we are right in believing that a child absolutely needs a secure and loving relationship in his early years if he is to develop to his full potential, should he not have a right to that secure, loving relationship? I, and someone who is helping me, have spent a great deal of time looking at the law on the subject. It is depressingly unclear. Probably the nearest that we come to a statement on the subject is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states in Article 18:

“Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern”.

I wonder what they mean by “will be”. Is that a pious hope; is it a statement of intent; or is it indeed an order?

I turn from rights to duties, because there can be no rights without duties. The report does not address the duties and obligations of parents to their child, the role of commitment by parents, such things as the joys and rewards of being a parent, or the countervailing responsibilities, duties and sacrifices that parents have to make, including those relating to parental lifestyle choice such as career, money and the threat posed for some by monogamy.

During the past 50 years, our society has rid itself of outdated Victorian moral values, which were unfair or indeed sometimes cruel to women, but we have failed to replace those values with new ones that protect children adequately. Children need families with stability and love and they need a good example. There is a need for a much clearer understanding in our society of the duties of parents. Surely we need a new consensus on family values centred on the well-being of the child. Obviously, families need freedom to run their own lives, but they should not have freedom to damage their children's chances.

The third thing that the report does not address is the challenge of motivating and engaging parents who are at present short-changing their child. Of course, there will always be some parents who cannot or will not change, but we should be working at the margins with those whom we can influence. Also, the report does not address the funding, training and staffing of the new services that it envisages. It would be tragic and shaming for this country if the well-being of the nation's children ended up on the backburner for lack of adequate funding.

Finally, I shall move into the world of fantasy to tell you my dream, my secret wish list. On the basis of the research evidence available and of experience, this Government or some Government ought to be bold enough to do the following things. The first is to promote family stability by stating publicly that secure, committed, two-parent families are, for whatever reason and under today's conditions, likely to give children the best chance to develop to their full potential, and that parents who make that commitment should be encouraged and supported. Secondly, the Government must say publicly that, because a father’s role is important to his child, and because he, not the child, caused that child to be born, every father has the responsibility not only to pay maintenance but to give his child the time and love that it needs, whether or not they live under the same roof. Thirdly, the Government must say publicly that fathers and mothers who marry, or who make some other comparable long-term commitment to one another and to their child, are doing the nation as well as their child a service, and they should be encouraged, supported and rewarded accordingly. Fourthly, the Government should set themselves a target that, within a given period of years, every bona fide and committed parental couple will, within seven days of the birth of their first child, be offered affordable housing so that they can begin to make a home together for their family. I recognise the investment involved, but I believe that we can afford it. Fifthly, the Government should set a target to reduce by an agreed percentage over the next 10 years a proportion of the nation’s children who grow up in families that deny them the opportunity to develop to their full potential emotionally, mentally and physically. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for inviting the House to debate this important subject. The UNICEF report on childhood in industrial countries holds up to the light the way in which we in the United Kingdom support and parent our young people, and it finds us wanting. However, we can point to some sections of the report, such as the figures for relative poverty, and take some comfort from the fact that, if more current figures had been used we would have done much better. Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I accept that the data used do not take into account the considerable investment by the Government to end child poverty or initiatives such as Sure Start, even taking into account the figures published yesterday that showed that we had slipped back in our efforts to end child poverty. We are trying. Others will point to initiatives such as the introduction of the specialised diploma scheme to address the poor level of educational well-being, which exists despite our children being better off than many for educational resources, and to improve the rates of children not in education, training or employment, as well as the ambitions of the current 40 per cent of our 15 year-olds who expect to find work requiring low skills.

We should hang our head in shame at the document’s analysis of issues that point to the mental and physical well-being of our children, and accept that, when we compare the UNICEF report with more recent research based on the direct experiences of young people, the picture of a troubled and unhappy generation still holds true. Although British children are less likely to die as a result of accidents, we show a high number of children with a very low birth weight, which is a well established measure of risk to cognitive and physical development through childhood and which may be linked to our relatively high rates of teenage pregnancy.

The study excludes mental health, but we know from research from the Nuffield Foundation that mental ill health in adolescents in this country is growing faster than in those in many other European countries and the United States. Research from YoungMinds, a mental health charity, shows the high level of anxiety and stress experienced by young people as they move from adolescence to young adulthood. The research also shows that children feel let down by their education. To paraphrase John Reid, they feel that they are not made fit for purpose and that they lack basic skills. Children killing children is almost impossible to believe. It seems to be becoming a new skill. The research highlighted the importance of the peer group, with friends taking the place of family as the most influential people in a young person’s life. Pray to God that this may not be so. It is deeply sad that we have the lowest number of children who find their peers kind and helpful. Recent reports on bullying have highlighted the level to which bullied children feel unprotected by others in our society. YoungMinds reports that it has spoken to children and young people who have said that their lives are made miserable by bullying, but that in their experience schools focused on the needs of the bully not on supporting and protecting those who complain.

The House must be fully aware of the concern about risky behaviour. It will come as no surprise that our young people take high risks by taking drugs, smoking, drinking, having sex early and having very high rates of teenage pregnancy. We may wring our hands over this current generation and wonder what we have done wrong, but I think we already know many of the answers. The old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child should be at the heart of how we raise our children today. We need to stop demonising young people by putting photographs of 10 year-old children with an ASBO on the front page of a national newspaper. We should listen to the child’s mother who says that his behaviour improved once he had medical help for his attention deficit disorder, and we should ensure that children like him receive help quickly.

The report points to the need for parents to remain fully involved with their children throughout adolescence, by which we mean maintaining the basics of talking, listening, being there when they come home from school, eating with them and knowing where they are going, what they are doing and with whom they are mixing. However, parents need support to do this. Those who work long hours—the Government want us all to go into the workplace—or who work in more than one job to pay high mortgages cannot be in two places at once, so we need to change the long-hours culture and to develop more family-friendly working practices. Those who do not know how to parent need practical help from the earliest days, with a high input from midwives, health visitors and other grown-ups. Schools must be places of safety where children can learn in peace. We need smaller classes, as we have been saying for years, and more behavioural support for the disruptive. The business community must become involved in supporting the parents who work for them and the young people who are left at home. However, we must also allow young people to find the resources within themselves and to take pride in what they can achieve, and we must help them to take responsibility for their own actions.

I have spent much of my life pointing out to the ignorant that the colour of your skin does not determine your ability. It can, however, determine your opportunity to succeed, and where it does, it can waste a lot of potential. I cannot accept that, in a nation that enables every child to have a school place and free healthcare and in which we have a range of professionals to help children born into disadvantaged communities, we still have so many young people whose potential is never realised. It is time for us to be humble, to look outside ourselves to see what is being done in other countries, and to take steps to put their good practice to work here. Our children cannot wait, and they deserve nothing less, or should we have a reformation of good manners, as Wilberforce said in 1807?

My Lords, I am privileged to follow the noble Baroness, who I know has been deeply committed to these subjects over many years. We first worked together in relation to the particularly tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence. He came from a family who were involved in his well-being, shared in his activities and supported him at school. They behaved in the way that all of us studying this deeply distressing report would wish and unlike the young men who were responsible for that matter.

We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for introducing this debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. Like the Minister, I have had gentle hand-bagging—as one might say, depending on one’s political pedigree—from the noble Lord over the years. During my ministerial years he was a regular lobbyist and campaigner, a charming and coercive champion of these issues. So how much more worrying it is that we should read this UNICEF report, which is a challenge to us all. There are many paradoxes in it. I am sure that the Minister will be tempted to explain why the methodology is flawed and to say that it is a self-report. In the EU, it is the British who always complain more. In the complaints league, it is always the British who like to say that they are miserable and unhappy and who have a lot to talk about. But, using the words of the noble Baroness, I hope that we can approach this subject with a sense of humility.

It is deeply shocking that we should emerge in the bottom third of the table on relative poverty and deprivation. Of course poverty is not the only issue. Why else would we find that young people in the Czech Republic—which has a much lower GDP than the United Kingdom—have a much greater sense of well-being than our own? Why do we rank so low in the quality of children’s relationships with their parents and peers? Is there something in the comments today by His Excellency the Cardinal about something in our secular world repelling faith communities?

I recall the subtle resistance to giving money to faith-based groups when Section 64 grants—public money given to philanthropic organisations—were given and in the early years of the lottery. The Salvation Army, Jewish Care and the Children’s Society frequently provided a better quality of care than many of the secular models. Why is it becoming more difficult for faith-based schools? As many of us know through our own experience, faith-based schools are often much better at instilling not just knowledge and facts but a sense of belonging and the values that we want in our young people. Can we redress that balance? Why are our child health figures on low birth weight and infant mortality so poor? And what of the deterioration resulting from the MMR disaster and the myths that were allowed to spread all too soon?

Children need care, control and continuity—which is another way of expressing the noble Lord’s comments. It is like flying a kite. If children are too indulged—too loved—the kite falls down. But too little control or supervision is equally damaging. The early work by Harriet Wilson at the Child Poverty Action Group looked at families on a very difficult housing estate in Birmingham. How did some of those mothers—many of them single parents—ensure that their children did not lead lives of delinquency and crime? The answer was simple but difficult for the mothers involved. It was about supervision. It was about watching the children and knowing where they were.

For so many young people, who apart from their families knows them throughout their lives—where is that continuity? The person who can best rebuke a 14 year-old is a person who knew them when they were four. Parents are hard-pressed and there are more and more disrupted families. I like the wording in the UNICEF report which says that none of us wishes to be insulting or offensive to single-parent families, many of whom are single parents through no fault of their own. But we should not dispute that bringing up a child is hard enough for two parents and doubly hard for one. The evidence on the difficulties facing children in single-parent families is there for all to see.

It cannot, however, be down to parents alone. As the noble Baroness beautifully said, it takes a village to bring up a child. I endorse that. I speak particularly highly of youth groups such as the Scouts, the Brownies and the Boys Brigade. I remember when uniformed organisations were frowned on because they were thought very oppressive or authoritarian. But for young children who are feeling turbulent, unsettled or unsure of their identity, putting on that uniform is often the making of them—marching up and down, working for badges and being involved in a group activity. None of us can praise too highly the volunteers who give of their time, often unpaid, to run those organisations. We give time off for people to serve in the TA and as magistrates, but we do not give time off for those who help in youth organisations. Perhaps the Minister will take that on board.

When children are fed up with their parents—with one or both of them, and children are always fed up with their parents—where do they go? Who can they run away to within the family? It is the people who provide the ongoing relationships who are so important. The church and all faith groups understand that. Following a birth, you have the affirmation of that new life and you have godparents. I do not mind whether that happens in the Church of England or any other faith group; the message is that young people need stakeholders—champions and others who will be there for them particularly when they are revolting and disgusting. How can we build that in and stop children being isolated in this terrible teen culture of teen clothes, materials, bedrooms and music which locks them outside society?

Perhaps there is an unintended consequence in all the laws on child labour. Children used to work with adults on farms, in tourism and in the markets. They knew what adults were doing and they learnt to become adults. As for the continuity of relationships throughout life, I am sure that, like me, most noble Lords would champion the role of the grandparents who are there not only when the children are splendid but when they are impossible.

Have we become so risk averse that we do not allow children to take any risks? Children need to feel that they have been brave and courageous and have overcome the risk. The young people in my life are involved in sailing, a dangerous activity where I hope they will not be a danger to others and can manage the danger to themselves. By avoiding all sense of risk and adventure, we do our young people a disservice. We certainly do not help them on their way.

The popularity of the noble Lord’s debate, in which so many wish to speak, means that our time is sadly limited. I simply hope that, in this Parliament, we might give as much time to discussing the interests of children as the previous Parliament gave to discussing the very tedious subject of fox hunting. Parliament has a lot to make up for. We first legislated to protect animals, a tedious subject—I can say that as long as I am unelected; if we have to have elected Peers I will have to be nice about animals again—in 1822, with Martin’s Act on the cruel treatment of cattle. We did not protect children until 1889, in the Prevention of Cruelty to, and Protection of, Children Act. We need to do more for children.

My Lords, I too join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his timely debate on the findings of the UNICEF report. While recognising the limitations of the report, it is still an apposite warning to us about the well-being of some of our children in our society, especially when we are one of the richest nations. Although the Government are attempting to address some of the concerns, this is a long-term project and will need considerable effort by successive Governments, whoever they are, to change things around. There is no quick fix.

It is obvious from the report and from other findings that we need to work on policies that take children out of poverty, and I acknowledge the attempts made in last week’s Budget to address this. However, important though that is, Governments, organisations, institutions, communities, families and individuals also need to work together to make sure that children and young people feel affirmed, included, encouraged, listened to and loved by their families, peers and the wider society. Here I should like to affirm the role of the voluntary sector and the faith groups in the work they are already doing to support family life and offer children the chance to relate to adult role models beyond their immediate family circle. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, for her reference to these groups.

The question which needs to be addressed urgently is this: how can we as adults create a society where children enjoy their childhood, have space to make mistakes, dream dreams and flourish? Some of the ways forward are addressed in the Every Child Matters agenda, but is there more we could be doing? The findings in the UNICEF report reaffirm the decision of the Children’s Society to establish the Good Childhood Inquiry, an independent inquiry into childhood which I commend to noble Lords. The society is looking to open an inclusive debate on what makes for a good childhood in the United Kingdom today that will shape future policy which is informed by children and young people themselves.

For example, preliminary research conducted by the Children’s Society to launch the inquiry with 8,000 young people showed that the two words most commonly mentioned by young people when asked, “What makes a good childhood?”, were “family” and “friends”. Their comments emphasised themes such as the importance of being loved and supported, and being treated with fairness and respect by others. An emerging theme from the evidence submitted to the inquiry so far is that families, whatever their form, need to be able to provide financial and emotional security and stability for their children. This backs up what my friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his book, Lost Icons, when writing about childhood and choice:

“The protection of the imaginative space of childhood obviously needs a background of security, adult availability and adult consistency”.

Helping adults to grow up in order to let children flourish is not something which can be achieved by legislation or enforcement. We cannot force people to marry or stay together in unhappy relationships, even though we think that stability and commitment are important. To force adults to attend parenting courses via court orders and the threat of criminal sanction is to treat them in a childlike way—it infantilises them—even if in the end they benefit from such courses. Adults cannot keep see-sawing between viewing children and young people as vulnerable and needing our protection all the time, and seeing them as a threat to society or as competition for their own needs. Instead, in our government policies, our businesses, our institutions and our own actions, we need to support and encourage people to make choices that are about “us” and not “me”—choices that encourage responsibilities as well as rights, promote fidelity and commitment, and give children space just to be children.

I welcome the really important initiatives of the voluntary sector undertaken by bodies such as the Children’s Society and faith groups aimed at listening to and encouraging children and young people, particularly those whose childhood is most bleak. However, it might also mean business being prepared to take less profit so that employees have a better work/life balance so that they have the energy to give to relationships and children. It could mean increasing the minimum wage to a living wage so that those on low incomes have more choice and less worry. It might mean being more upfront about the importance of adults making stable and committed relationships such as marriage, and giving time to nurturing them. We could choose to fund adequately services that encourage emotional literacy and negotiation or that work alongside parents at an early stage.

The Children’s Society’s research and the UNICEF report suggest that our wealth has not brought us the kind of childhood we want for all the United Kingdom’s children. Here I support totally the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and ask that we do not squander our resources and wealth, but look to find the means not only to assist this generation, but also in finding ways that improve the well-being of future generations of our children.

My Lords, I was tempted to scratch from this debate because a series of events meant that I have not been able to delve into the research that I would normally do before such an occasion. But the issues are so important and fundamental that they have to be addressed, and I wanted to spend a moment or two of your Lordships’ time in considering them myself. It is poignant to note that the table on page 41 of the report we are discussing, thanks to the good initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, reflects priorities through the eyes of the children, not the administrators. The first and most important component of a child’s happiness is its family, the second its friends and the third its school. It is disturbing to look at how those institutions actually serve them. Noble Lords can read the figures for themselves, but 80 per cent of our children do not enjoy their schooling very much, while 32 per cent do not eat the main meal of the day with their parents even several times a week, and so on.

In the short time I have for this disorganised speech, I want to look ahead to the National Offender Management Service legislation coming to us and ask the Government not to be obsessed simply with the prevention of reoffending. This report directs our attention to the prevention of offending in the first place. That is immensely more important and cost-effective.

There are certain basic issues we have to address, but we tend to fall into the use of mantras without thinking about what they mean. Most people of my generation regret the lack of discipline in schools and families. For most people, the word “discipline” calls to mind the parade ground and the punishment block. That is not how it should be. As my noble friend Lady Bottomley said a few minutes ago, it is care and control which lie at the root of this. Care and love are expressed by control. For a child to know who he or she is, they have to discover where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour lie. Much bad behaviour is experimental to discover what can be got away with, and eventually what are the boundaries within which one must live. That applies right through education and needs to be taken account of by schools. In the family, discipline should be understood by the child as something rational and beneficial, while in the school it should be something that belongs to the children. Discipline should not be seen as a thing imposed by a vengeful hierarchy, but something worked out in a community for the benefit of its members. School councils and so on are the machinery for this. How many schools actually conduct themselves along those lines? They are enormously important to children who leave school thinking either that good manners and acceptable behaviour are something applied by “them” and they are always to be evaded, escaped or offended against, or they can belong to “us”, the community.

I remember vividly when I was researching for the report into discipline into schools that my colleagues and I did many years ago. Norway had been lecturing us not long before about how badly we taught our immigrants, and how easy it would be to absorb them. I was amused to find that we arrived in the middle of that country’s first wave of immigrants, and it was having a lot of difficulty—except for one school, which stood out at once, because it had 17 flags on the front, all of different nations. Every time a refugee came to the school from a different country, he got his flag on the front of the building. The school discipline was worked out in consultation with the pupils, and if a child was so foolish as to start painting a graffito on the wall, he was set on by all the others and taken off to be dealt with by the staff because they were offending against their school. That is what discipline, and society, should be like. What has gone wrong with us is a disintegration of society so that we are all “us and them”; we are not all “we”.

The report is a collection of averages set against averages. We have national averages of various criteria set against the averages of other countries. It is a very broad brush. Beware of averages, however, because they conceal as much as they reveal. Between these averages are chasms of far worse conditions, with a few shining pinnacles of better ones.

We need to be concerned not only with the tone of society, which is important, and an acceptance of good manners as being a necessary ingredient, as well as a vehicle, of acceptable social standards—I have lost the beginning of that sentence, but I will cast back. I was speaking of the chasms. I have mentioned in another debate, and I make no apology for mentioning again, a seminal work published by the CYPS, written by Shaun Bailey, called No Man’s Land, which gives the most intimate, detailed, convincing and constructive analysis of what goes on in a sink estate and what can be done about it. I ask the Minister to spend 40 minutes on it. He will speed-read his way through it with great ease; it is a good read. It describes the ills of such a community, such as the very high percentage of single parents. Before we denigrate single-parent families altogether, the author was a product of one, and he is in my view a lay saint—he is a terrific battler for the underdog.

If you are a child and you are not in school, what are you going to do? You are frightened, for a start, because you are on your own—hence the beginnings of gang culture. Four years ago Diane Abbott had a conference in the Queen Elizabeth II Hall across the road, in which we were convinced that a great number of children in London actually feel safer on the streets in their gang than they do in school—in some cases, safer than in the fortress flat they live in on their abandoned estate.

We have to give security and update those estates. We also need to look at children who are not in school through the summer holidays; they will get up to something, and if we do not give them something constructive to do, they will do a great deal that is destructive, get into trouble and, eventually, join the criminal treadmill. That applies in spades to children excluded from school during term time, who do not even have their colleagues to turn to.

I said this would be a disorganised speech, but I have voiced an important principle: discipline, to be effective, should be friendly and accepted by the people who generate it. If we can export that from schools into society, we will change this country enormously for the better.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Northbourne for obtaining this debate. Again, he has drawn our attention to families and the need for children in families to have stability. My noble friend’s Motion could not be more timely, with the publication of the UNICEF report and current concern about the violent attacks by children against children.

I shall concentrate my remarks on ensuring that every child has the right to the experience of a sustained loving relationship with at least one parent or parent substitute, to continue a theme of today’s debate. In particular, I shall follow on from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and consider the experience of children of families caught in a cycle of low family achievement. As the joint Treasury and Department for Education and Skills discussion paper published in January, Policy Review of Children and Young People, says of such families:

“It is essential to support them on a sustained basis, if services are ultimately to shift resources and focus to a more preventative approach. It is also important if the Government is to break the cycle of disadvantage across generations”.

The theoretician of child development, Andre Green, writes of the British theoretician, DW Winicott, that the good enough mother is also the bad enough mother. There is a virtue in being a bad enough mother; one who does not frustrate her child’s development by being too much present. At the same time, if she is too much absent, the consequences can be catastrophic and result in the child’s disintegration.

It is striking that the two countries at the bottom of the UNICEF list are the United Kingdom and the United States; respectively, the founding father of liberalism and the child that has not only proved itself a chip off the old block, but has re-exported liberalism to the home country. The implication of the UNICEF report—and I recognise that report’s shortcomings—is that in the constant tension between support for families and encouraging individual responsibility, between being the good enough mother and the bad enough mother—we have allowed liberalism to unbalance interventionism. Crucially, we have not done enough to ensure that one way or another, above all things, every child has the opportunity to enjoy stability of relationship—the enduring love of a parent or parent substitute.

In recent history, we have failed to ensure an adequate supply of housing for our families, as my noble friend Lord Northbourne has observed, and more than 100,000 children are in temporary accommodation as a consequence. Until 1997, our health services were chronically underfunded, with especial shortages in adult mental health services and child and adolescent mental health services. The number of children in custody has been rising significantly over several years, and in February this year we had the highest number of children in custody in a February since records began. I hope your Lordships will not think it controversial to suggest that this custody record implies, at least in part, a failure on our part to ensure adequate family or surrogate family relationships.

Her Majesty’s Government have made the welfare of children and families a policy priority. The Minister has helpfully supplied many of us with the important document, Parenting Matters. It is immensely encouraging to learn of the Government’s investment there, but I shall highlight one concern that must not be overlooked. The paper refers to the value of good-quality early-years childcare and the new duty on local authorities to secure sufficient childcare under the Childcare Act. It can be of great benefit to children at the right stage of their development to interact with their peers, and, of course, for their parents to be in employment. However, it is apparent that much of the group care must be of doubtful quality. The workforce is poorly paid and consists largely of poorly educated young women. There is often a high turnover of staff and a shortage of qualified supervisors. I know the Government are working hard to address these matters, but we are far behind our neighbours in this.

Poor-quality childcare may not manifest its harm until an individual seeks to make relationships in adulthood. Poor-quality early-years childcare may undermine the attachment of parent to child. The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, made the point about the importance in adolescence that parents’ commitment is still strong. That may put some threat in there.

Public discourse on this matter focuses primarily on access to childcare, and in particular its cost. Research indicates that parents are willing to trade off quality against cost. I recognise Her Majesty's Government’s achievement in establishing a framework for care from zero to five to improve quality. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that he is constantly revisiting quality in early-years group care.

I welcome the recognition in the report of the policy review of children and young people about,

“providing support and motivation to front-line professionals to engage in what are often extremely challenging circumstances”.

The introduction of the social work degree, Her Majesty's Government’s success in recruiting applicants to that course and the creation of a professional registration are all important steps towards regenerating the social work profession. Despite these improvements, 49 per cent of local authorities find retaining social workers difficult or very difficult. Her Majesty's Government have proposed the introduction of protected status for newly qualified social workers.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in his most helpful letter to me of 16 February, wrote:

“Many newly qualified social workers are thrown in the deep end, with difficult cases right from the start of their employment, and where this happens the burn out rate can be high”.

He continued:

“The development of a newly qualified social work status will have costs, and I cannot pre-empt decisions that have yet to be taken in the context of the current Comprehensive Spending Review”.

I recently raised this matter with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. If the Minister can supply any further information, I would welcome it. I recognise the difficulty of the timing, given the process of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Does the Minister recognise that newly qualified social work status would be thoroughly consonant with paragraph 7.11 of his Policy Review of Children and Young People? It says:

“The Review has identified the importance of support and motivation of front-line professionals to ensure that they can provide sustained and effective services”.

When does the Minister expect to have identified the likely costs of implementing newly qualified social work status?

The role of social workers in ameliorating the lives of the children of our most troubled families is essential. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who has brought the UNICEF debate on the well-being of children right back home, into our own backyard. In that context, I propose to follow him with the question of adoption and to treat it with reason, as distinct from faith.

The reasoning is that which was before your Lordships on 21 March. It was in the conclusions of a most reverend Primate, two right reverend Prelates, my noble friend Lord Pilkington—a man of the cloth—the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Browne, and many others. That reasoning was the basis of their objection to the regulations, which were, first, misunderstood in argument and, secondly, not justified. They were in effect ill conceived in law and would probably be read down by our courts if one sought to enforce them.

The point made and taken so well by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham was: what is needed by the child? He said that in any sort of family there was love, support, fair treatment, and so forth. It does not appear to have been appreciated, as was said by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on 21 March, that the courts routinely give adoption orders in favour of homosexuals where the circumstances of the case warrant it. That is because it is the accepted rule that the interests of the child are paramount, not the interests of the adopters. The situation referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, was a classic example of where the courts make the order, have made the order and will continue to make the order. The reason might be that the child could not cope with an ordinary family relationship or, to put it the other way, the family relationship would be broken up by the state of the child. In either of those circumstances and many others, the order is made.

Why should there be any justification for discrimination against the Catholic agencies? The whole process of adoption is perfectly sound. The application for an adoption order is afforded to anyone, rich or poor, of whatever faith—or none—ethnic origin or sexual orientation. It comes before a court, which is a lay tribunal, and is subject to appeal.

The adopters are assisted by the adoption agencies, but there is a total service for homosexual couples. If they cannot go to an agency direct, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Morris, they are transferred. The point is that the services are available. So if they are available and are satisfactorily rendered—and nobody has said they are not—what is the justification for this discrimination?

If this matter were to come before our courts, it could well be read down because it failed to take due account of the balance of the relevant articles of the ECHR and constituted unjustified means to an unacceptable end. In those circumstances, it would be a good idea if reconsideration were given to the way in which these matters were dealt with on 21 March.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating this debate and welcome the publication of Every Parent Matters. Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I shall highlight relationships, which are fundamental to all human well-being, especially that of children. It is an area in which church and faith groups have a particular interest and a particular contribution to make, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, has already reminded us.

The UNICEF report recognises that,

“the quality of children’s relationships is as difficult to measure as it is critical to well-being”.

It bases our standing at the bottom of the table on the objective criteria of percentages of children living in single-parent families and step-families and those who eat their main meal with their parents, as well as on more subjective percentages of those who report that their parents spend time just talking to them and that they find their peers kind and helpful. As Every Parent Matters recognises, it is the quality of relationships with parents, adults and their own peers that forms and supports children’s well-being and behaviour, and not material possessions or even appropriate legislation alone.

Children’s and young people’s subjective well-being is another area where our children’s self-perception puts the UK in the lowest position in relation to the OECD average. Subjective well-being depends largely on relationships. Young people’s self-perception is linked to the attitudes of, and opinions expressed by, adults, and the evidence shows that that is too often negative. Research carried out in 2004 by the Young People Now magazine, as part of its positive images campaign, found that 71 per cent of press stories about young people were negative and that only 14 per cent were positive. Furthermore, huge press and public interest continues to focus on crimes committed by young people, producing an exaggerated fear of crime. The British Crime Survey shows that the public repeatedly overestimated both the amount of crime committed by young people and the proportion of all crimes for which they were responsible. We must not forget that most victims of youth crime are young people themselves.

It therefore behoves those of us who work institutionally and personally with young people to try to redress the balance by drawing public attention to the important contribution that young people make to the well-being of our society. Many of them are passionate about the shape of our society, the future of the environment and issues of justice and equality. They set examples of compassion and understanding which we would all do well to imitate.

The quality of relationships underlies patterns of behaviour, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, referred. It is therefore disappointing once again to see that the UK ranks last for risk behaviour, which measures the proportion of young people taking potentially harmful substances as well as their sexual activity, including rates of teenage pregnancy.

Adult responses to risk are often contradictory. On the one hand, we want children and young people to be agents of their own rights and choices—rightly so; on the other, we recognise that there are rightly limits to their agency. This tension between safety and freedom emerged as one of the cross-cutting themes of the Children’s Society survey to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham has already referred.

Public policy too often reflects this ambivalence. For example, at the age of 10, children are not deemed responsible enough to own a pet, yet can be held criminally responsible for their own actions. A recent survey by the Children’s Society and the Children’s Play Council showed that, in contrast to the more non-interventionist policies of other countries, children in some parts of the country were prevented from riding bikes in parks or climbing trees because these activities were considered too risky. Health and safety legislation has gone mad in certain areas. We need to be more aware of real risk and, at the same time, allow children to be children and enjoy appropriate freedoms, as I am sure did all your Lordships and as did I. The quality of relationships with parents, adults and their peers is vital to the well-being of children and young people.

For this reason, the churches and faith communities give a high priority to our work with children and young people. As noble Lords will know, we do so in a variety of ways: parent and toddler groups, playgroups, Sunday schools in addition to our maintained schools, youth clubs and so on. In addition, we seek to encourage the establishing of good family relationships through work with those preparing for marriage as well as with young parents. I cannot speak for other faith groups, but, in the Church of England, approaching 1 million pupils attend our 4,700 schools; we provide activities in the local community outside church worship for more than half a million young people under 16, and for some 38,000 between 16 and 25. More than 136,000 volunteers run these activities for children and young people. I am sure that those statistics could be mirrored by other churches and faith groups. The voluntary organisations play a considerable part in caring for young people and building good relationships.

We therefore share the concern of many people about the outcome of UNICEF’s research, and we want to go on playing our full part in ensuring the well-being of our children and in establishing the good personal relationships on which so much of it is based.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already offered to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on securing this important debate. The report by UNICEF highlighted and reinforced what many organisations such as Save the Children and Barnardo’s have said for some time; that the position of families in poor or low-income households has deteriorated. That has knock-on effects for children in these particular groups.

We all know that of the six dimensions measured by UNICEF, the UK came bottom in five, ranking bottom of 21 industrialised countries in the well-being assessment. Looking after children should be everybody’s business: parents, schools, communities and Government. With less than 70 per cent of British children living with both parents, in contrast to more than 90 per cent of children in Greece and Italy, it is terrible to learn the statistic that 3.4 million of those children—that is 27 per cent of all children—are living in poverty.

Children who grow up in poverty are less likely to do well at school and have fewer social opportunities than other children. School attendance is poorer. They are more likely to leave school with no qualifications, have poor literacy and numeracy skills, live in sub-standard housing and have poor diet and little play space.

Families which are least financially able pay £1,000 more on average for their utility bills, loans and insurance—if they can get it—than those families on average incomes. It is scandalous, and the Government need to do more. By removing the 10 per cent tax bracket, the recent Budget did very little for them. They do not want to depend on state hand-outs, but want to work and support themselves. Women in particular, whose jobs are often driven by the needs of their families, will find themselves worse off. There is no comfort in telling them that the tax credit system will see them right. These systems are complicated, arduous and long, and those that are most disadvantaged are the very families that have the least skills. I am afraid that the Chancellor has penalised the very people that were encouraged to go out and get work.

It is important that our children and young people grow up confident and as well as meeting their educational needs we need to place emphasis on their well-being and happiness. Self-esteem is hard to measure but it is a crucial building block in the lives of us all. Families, as we used to know them, have changed, leaving few safety nets for children to fall into. Communities and neighbourhoods do not offer the same comfort that once they might have done and often the lack of positive adult role models has increased the circumstances that culminate in our coming bottom in family and peer relationships. We also fare badly with regard to drug and alcohol abuse and have higher rates of teenage pregnancies than our European partners.

It is depressing to see queues of our young people outside fast food places eating highly fat-laden foods that offer little nutritional value but add to the problems of obesity and other health-related problems. It is a sad reflection of our society when children begin to believe that these are normal diets, as even in their own homes it is often their staple food. It is important to ensure that children and young people are made food-aware and know how to use fresh ingredients, especially if it is not the norm in their own homes. It cannot be left to celebrities to highlight these issues and for Governments to be reactionary; it needs long-term planning and strategies to ensure that outcomes can be measured properly and not excite newspaper headlines for a day or two.

While we look at obesity and its added impact on the National Health Service—and, with other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, it is predicted that by 2010 more than 1.7 million children throughout England will be obese—we also need to look at anorexia. Again, the power of celebrities and the media is far greater than what schools and parents can exert. Surely it is time to see how we can work with these powerful tools who carry responsibility when they enjoy personally huge financial successes from these young audiences. I hope that the Minister can tell your Lordships’ House whether targets set in 2004 between the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to halt year-on-year increases in obesity have been met.

More children suffer from depression and mental health disorders than ever before, with low esteem, low self-worth and self-harm also on the increase. Studies on adults show that mental health problems in adult life have most often stemmed from childhood. Can the Minister assure the House that adequate provision for children and young people is available in appropriate settings and not among adults in adult wards?

If we are to eradicate poverty and give all children and young people opportunity and aspiration, we cannot just offer sticking-plaster remedies that fill newspaper headlines. It is crucial to look at providing positive incentives in which families can thrive and offer support, and when needed reach and get support that is not difficult or complicated to access. We cannot be a nation that in parts is economically wealthy and successful and yet socially remains impoverished, where we leave our most vulnerable behind. We cannot criminalise our children by trying to predict who will be future criminals without expecting those young children not to fulfil those prophecies. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government are investing in children and young people’s services with proper funding strategies, ensuring that consultation for what they need is fully taken into account?

Finally, can the Minister assure the House that more vigorous efforts will be made to eradicate bullying in both schools and neighbourhoods and that parents will be encouraged to participate more readily in activities in and out of schools?

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, not just on this debate but on how he badgers, cajoles and speaks out on behalf of parents and children. I have been at the other end of it too, even though I am a lowly Cross-Bench Back-Bencher.

I shall try not to repeat the points covered by other noble Lords. I was particularly impressed by the long and excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the discipline that children need, and the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, on that. One issue that we have not sorted out, certainly in our schools, is the balance between love, care and discipline. We have a generation of parents who have not learnt that skill because that generation, who went through school just after me, lost that capacity. Nor am I going to engage in a discussion on adoption with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell.

I was very disappointed by the UNICEF report. I was surprised, too, because I thought that we might be doing better. I spend some of my time in Europe working with European organisations that seem to envy much of our infrastructure for children. I tend to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, that we tend to say it how it is in this country—and there is some of that. I was disappointed because, if the report is true, our children are in poor health, unable to maintain loving and successful relationships, feel unsafe and insecure, have low aspirations and put themselves and others at risk—and this in 21st century Britain.

The Government have been quick to point out that a lot has been done since the picture reflected in the five year-old data used for the UNICEF study, and the Every Child Matters agenda has made a real difference to the lives of many families. I hope that the Minister will reflect on some of that and update us on what has happened. Evidence from many references already given suggests that we are still not reaching the children and young people in greatest need; for example, those in the criminal justice system. That system is outside the noble Lord’s department, but they are still children. The criminal justice system is obsessed with punishment rather than understanding why young people offend and attempting treatment and education. The criminalisation of our young sees us lock up more children than any other country in Europe, but they cannot be that much worse. Eighty per cent of young people reoffend, others self-harm, and the likelihood of positive outcomes is poor. If this Government wish to be tough on crime, they will not achieve it this way. Of course, young people must be held responsible for bad behaviour, but locking up many of them simply does not work. It confirms all they fear about themselves and the society in which they live rather than raising their sights and aspirations through positive programmes of intervention. Recently we have heard about such schemes in Manchester in the United States, which are having considerable success.

According to Care Matters, our services for looked-after children are also poor. Like the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I sometimes wonder why the Government believe that constantly changing the framework of services, rather than concentrating on the quality and content of practitioners’ skills, will lead to improvement. Not too long ago, overall responsibility for children’s social work services was transferred from the Department of Health to the Department for Education and Skills. I still hope that this will have a positive outcome for service delivery, but the impression of children’s services given in the Green Paper Care Matters is overwhelmingly negative. One chapter is entitled “Life outside school”, implying that the remainder is mainly concerned with life inside school. The aspirations for improvement through the DfES’s new programmes may include a huge increase in family centres, but otherwise does it concentrate firmly on education rather than on a balance of other life experience and skills; that is to say, human relationships, about which other noble Lords spoke so eloquently? I hope that the Minister will tell me that that is not so.

A group of children and young people whose well-being does not appear to be on the Government’s radar are asylum-seeking children who have settled here. Separated children arriving alone in the UK face many challenges. I do not have time to catalogue the horrors that these young people have usually experienced before they reach our shores. Many, when they arrive, receive a poor welcome. The care that they are given by social services up to age 18 is excellent. Local authorities are doing all they can under difficult circumstances. But through its case work, the charity Voice has encountered practice that causes great concern on behalf of the young people it works with. The wishes and feelings of these young people about their placements and support needs are often ignored in a system in which, increasingly, some policies and decision-making processes appear to discriminate between separated children and the indigenous cared-for population.

The following are real stories. Abi is a 16 year-old from Angola. He was placed with a foster carer when he was 13, where he has remained. He has settled and done well. He was told by social services that he had to move from the placement on his 16th birthday. Abi told one of the helpline workers, “I am not ready to move. Emotionally I rely a lot on my foster carer. I have no one to support me if I leave here”. Social services admitted that the reason for moving the young person was purely financial.

Another child aged 17 applied for asylum but was told on her 18th birthday that she could not hear about her appeal. She had been offered a place at university, which was then withdrawn because she had not heard about her appeal. Her life is now again held in the balance. She is a bright, able young woman. I understand that only 20 per cent of these children receive decisions within the target timescale. Although this is a Home Office area, is the DfES speaking up on behalf of these children?

The Government have worked hard to place children and young people at the heart of their programmes, but concentrating on education to the exclusion of much else will not achieve the change they seek. As I have said to the noble Lord before, “Education, education, education” must be balanced by welfare, love and care. A new report might give a better picture, but does that matter? We know where we should concentrate. I urge the Government to reconsider their policy and to look at the whole child, the complete child and the well-being of the child, as every child matters.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has done the House a great service in using the UNICEF report as the basis of the important child welfare issues that have been the subject of this afternoon’s debate.

The report should have been a wake-up call to all those who believe that the UK has one of the most advanced standards of living in the developed world and that our children must therefore benefit accordingly. Although there is evidence that the figures used by UNICEF were not as up to date as they could have been, and some of the yardsticks that it used were perhaps not those most likely to produce the clearest outcomes, the report shows that if this country is not actually on the bottom line, we are pretty close to it. We are certainly too close to it for comfort or for any complacency by the Government or anyone else. The UK still has one of the highest rates of child poverty in Europe despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Why should that be the case after the strenuous efforts of the Government over the past 10 years—tax credits, other benefit changes and the New Deal—to reduce child poverty?

The UNICEF report claims that it should be interpreted as,

“a broad and realistic guide to the potential for improvement in all OECD countries”.

Anyone who has read the report would certainly agree with that. You do not need to read it to know, though it spells it out clearly, that evidence from many countries persistently shows that children who grow up in poverty are more vulnerable and more likely to be in poor health, to have learning and behavioural difficulties, to underachieve at school and to become pregnant at an early age. In defining poverty and assessing existing levels to try to alleviate that poverty, there must be an understanding that we are talking about relative poverty, about the lives of the poor in any society or country measured against the lives of others in that country. That translates fairly simply as one thing: distribution of income. That is the key. The UNICEF report, warts and all, demonstrates that the UK is one of the most unequal societies in the OECD. That impacts most of all on our children.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, highlighted in the title of the debate the role of stability and family life, which is vital in deciding the quality of life of any child. Many children in two-parent families suffer despite that, while many with a single parent often thrive. But it would be difficult to demur from UNICEF’s conclusion that,

“at the statistical level there is evidence to associate growing up in single-parent families with greater risk to well-being, including a greater risk of dropping out of school, of leaving home early, of poorer health, of low skill and subsequently of low pay”.

I am not a parent, but those findings appear to carry some weight. In the UK, 17 per cent of families have a single parent, which is the highest rate in Europe. That must have some impact on child poverty, though I caution that it would be wrong to exaggerate it.

More important is income levels, which do most to cause the unequal society that the UK is today. Although it is an easy sound bite, that does not in any way devalue the comment made this week by Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo’s, an organisation that noble Lords would agree is synonymous with the welfare of children:

“We are the fourth richest country in the world, we are a country where we can countenance individual bankers getting annual bonuses of £22 million while we give a family of two parents and two children, living on benefits, £10,000 to live on for a whole year”.

Martin Narey was responding to yesterday’s distressing news from the DWP figures on households below average income, which reveal that there has been a rise of 100,000 in the number of children in relative poverty from 2004-05 to 2005-06. For the Government to meet their target of reducing child poverty by half, a further 1 million children must be lifted out of poverty, which is 200,000 a year between now and 2010. While some progress has undoubtedly been made on that, it was very pleasing that the Chancellor last week announced new investment in the Budget of £1 million focused on the poorest families through working tax credit and an above-earnings increase in child tax credits for 2008. It has been estimated that that alone could lift as many as 200,000 children out of poverty, but it will take time.

Employment Minister Jim Murphy talked yesterday of encouraging more single parents into work, which is welcome, but the key to that is childcare. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about the effects of poor-quality childcare. It must be affordable, accessible and good quality if it is to serve its purpose. The renewed commitment by the Government to give single parents £40 a week back-to-work credit is an important incentive to help them to make that step. The increase in the extent of nursery provision for three and four year-olds will also help more single parents to take advantage of work opportunities.

I hope that Mr Murphy will act on the recommendations on child support reform published earlier this month in the report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee in another place. The report contains important recommendations that the Government could introduce through their forthcoming child support reform Bill to help children in poverty. I particularly point the Minister to the committee’s call for a full benefits disregard for child maintenance payments, because that would ensure that all of the maintenance support would go towards supporting the child. That, in turn, would make it more attractive for a single parent to return to paid employment.

Another Select Committee in another place, the Scottish Affairs Committee, is undertaking an inquiry into levels of poverty in Scotland, where, as in other parts of the UK, poverty levels remain extremely high. I was interested to read the memorandum submitted to that committee by the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, which stated that, despite the national minimum wage and tax credits, low pay combined with job insecurity and a lack of flexibility for working parents continued to undermine work as a route out of poverty. The CPAG highlighted the fact that nearly a quarter of children living in poverty are in households where an adult is in full-time employment, while a couple with two children where one of the parents works 40 hours a week for the minimum wage, and who receive full benefit and tax credit entitlements, is still left £50 a week below the poverty line. It should be noted that a family with two children is officially defined as being in poverty if it earns less than £332 per week—over £16,500 a year.

That graphically demonstrates the scale of the task facing the Government in making real progress in shifting children out of poverty. In fairness to the Government, they have been working in a cross-cutting manner to tackle some of the issues associated with helping parents, and many noble Lords have referred to the fact that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, kindly sent copies of Every Parent Matters to all noble Lords who were to speak in this debate, with an associated booklet, Helping You Help Your Child. Although I am not a parent, I still found them extremely informative; but parents should find them very useful, because they include chapters such as “Being a Parent Today—the changing roles of mothers and fathers”, “The Transition into Adulthood” and “Developing Parental Engagement”.

I also learned that, from April 2008, all local authorities in England and Wales will be required to provide a full range of information about local and national services to parents of children from birth up to the age of 19. Later this year, families with children aged three to four will begin to be able to access 15 hours of free early education a week. Bookstart provides free packs of books to each family in England with children at various stages of development. I do not know how many people are aware of that, but I hope that those timely and excellent publications will be widely available. All that is to the good but, ultimately, actually tackling poverty by providing a network of support to poor families will do most for the well-being of children.

I finish by echoing the view of the campaign to End Child Poverty, an umbrella group involving 65 organisations active in combating child poverty. Highlighting yesterday’s figures showing that the number of children growing up in poverty has increased, the group says that for the Government to meet their commitment to halve child poverty by 2010, investment must be increased by up to £4 billion. The Government have done and are doing much to reduce child poverty, but the evidence is clear that they have to do much more.

My Lords, I agree with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and congratulate him on bringing these issues before the House. I have not yet received a copy of Every Parent Matters but hope to in the near future. I suppose that I could go down the road and get one.

This afternoon we have rightly emphasised the welfare of children, but, as your Lordships know, children are people as well as children. As people, they have rights. One of their rights is enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights—the right to respect for family and private life. Children, however, have many limitations on their rights, which are inevitably circumscribed. In particular, they are not in charge of their own lives. There is an inevitable reliance on parents, teachers and other adults who are in charge of them.

Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 identifies parental responsibilities as including parental rights and responsibilities; but the emphasis is on responsibility. As adults, we all speak, do we not, of “rights”? “Rights” predominates nowadays in the thinking across the country. Much less is said of “duty” or “duties”. Indeed, duty is an uncomfortable word. But parenting, as we all know, involves responsibilities and duties. It is a major undertaking to have a child. As was said earlier, it requires a commitment—and a commitment for life. Noble Lords who have adult children, as I have, may recognise the scenario when I say that I often hear the words, “Mum, can you help me now?”, in respect of one or other of my grandchildren.

We have to get the message across the entire country about the long-term adverse effect on children of bad or inadequate parenting. It will also affect people’s ability to parent the generation after the current young one, so, as my noble friend Lord Listowel said earlier, we need to recognise that bad parenting will continue if we do not get at the generation who are not yet parents.

I particularly want to emphasise the importance of fathers—an issue that is gaining recognition. I should like to see the Government encourage even further flexible working to enable fathers to join their children at all sorts of important events, such as school open days and sports days—if the school has a sports day—and anything else that the child considers to be important. That requires employers to recognise that parents and other carers of children have duties other than attending work five days a week from, as is particularly the case among middle-class parents, early in the morning to late in the evening. The City approach that says, “The job is the only thing that matters”, is in contradistinction to the importance of people showing their children that they care for them as well—and that means not playing golf every Saturday afternoon.

However, in fairness, we must recognise that fathers are now increasingly sharing in the day-to-day, practical care of very young children. We have gone far beyond the days of Dr Spock. Many noble Lords may not remember Dr Spock’s advice, which was to hold hard the corner of the diaper when you flush it down the lavatory. Nowadays, parents know all about looking after their young children, and fathers are as good at that as mothers. We just want that to be true of fathers across the board and not just of the responsible ones.

The Government can be congratulated on many of their initiatives. When I read Every Parent Matters, I shall no doubt see that even more are being offered. But I believe that they can do more to support marriage, stable relationships and single parents who need help. It seems to me that a relationship or partnership between government and local and voluntary organisations should also be encouraged.

Much is done already, particularly in the way of start-up help—for example, through youth groups and child contact centres, in particular—but, where parents are separated, it is very important that fathers are given the opportunity to see the child and maintain the relationship in a child contact centre. With all too many such centres, money is given by government to start them but not to keep them running, and child contact centres and some youth group initiatives die on the vine because there is no water to keep them alive.

I end by saying that children are our future. There is not much point for any of us if we do not support them now.

My Lords, we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for initiating this important debate on the well-being of children. I am also grateful to UNICEF for prompting us to think about a whole range of factors that affect the well-being of children, including, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and others have said, the need for a clearer understanding of what parental responsibilities are in this regard.

It would have been helpful if the UNICEF report card had shown clearly which data referred to which years. In an exercise of this kind, it takes a very long time to collect, verify and check for consistency such a broad range of international data. So, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said, the Government were able to rubbish the report card by saying that it was out of date and that many of the parameters measured have since improved significantly. However, all the countries surveyed in the report will have done better, and we may still be near the bottom of the league table, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, has just pointed out. Yesterday’s Treasury figures show that poverty worsened last year, with 200,000 more children living below the breadline. So there is no room whatever for complacency.

I want to concentrate on two related aspects of child well-being which have not yet been touched on: the effects on children caused by under-age consumption of alcohol, which is measured by the answer to the question, “How often have you had so much alcohol that you were really drunk?”, on which the UK is by far the worst of any of the 21 countries surveyed; and the effects on children of alcohol-misusing parents or carers, which is not measured by the survey at all. One heading deals with children's relationships with family and friends, but it ignores the possibility of violence or neglect between parents and children, except very indirectly; for example, by asking about the frequency of eating meals with parents, or of parents talking to their children.

Alcohol misuse by children is a colossal and growing problem. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that it is parents who have responsibility for the well-being of their children and should be looking to this dreadful plague which has afflicted so many of our younger generation. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that part of the responsibility rests with the role models that children look to for their conduct—the football stars and pop celebrities whose lifestyles are the very opposite of what we would like to see them adopting.

The proportion of 11 to 15 year-olds who drink has stayed at about 60 per cent since 1985, but average weekly consumption has more than doubled to 10.9 units, in 2006. The proportion of that age group drinking at least once a week rose from 13 per cent in 1990 to 21 per cent in 2006, and 27 per cent of teenagers report having been drunk 20 times or more. In this, as in the rest of the Government's so-called alcohol harm reduction strategy, we are failing miserably. It is no wonder that the Government refuse to update the Cabinet Office's interim analytical analysis of alcohol harm, which showed that in 2000-01 the cost to the nation was £20 billion a year. Despite the Home Office's attempts to stop alcohol being sold to children, their own figures showed last year that 29 per cent of on-licencees, 21 per cent of off-licencees and 18 per cent of supermarkets were still selling alcohol to minors.

The effects of this tidal wave of alcohol include 1,000 young people under the age of 15 needing emergency treatment for alcohol poisoning every year, and 8,900 young people under 18 being admitted to hospital with a diagnosis related to alcohol. The long-term effects of heavy drinking during adolescence include liver damage, especially among those who are also obese; lower oestrogen levels in girls and testosterone in boys; lower bone mineral density in boys; and brain impairment in both sexes. None of that is properly reflected in the posters or literature issued by the Department of Health. Unfortunately, under the rules of your Lordships’ House, I am not—like the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, yesterday—able to show that material to the House. However, the available material on this subject is totally inadequate and such as does exist is not properly displayed in doctors’ surgeries or in hospital out-patient waiting areas.

The UK has—as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and others—the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. That is indirectly reflected in table 5.2d of the survey, which shows that the UK percentage of 15 year-olds who have had sexual intercourse is way off the scale. Childline says that alcohol is a contributory factor in teenage pregnancy, and many of the stories told by the young people who contact it demonstrate this risk. I shall give just one example. A girl aged 13 said:

“I got drunk at a party. I don't remember having sex, but my friends say I did. Now I'm pregnant”.

Alcohol use is frequently cited as a factor associated with unprotected sex. We are living in a highly sexualised culture, and this, coupled with the universal pressure to drink, and the inseparable link between alcohol and every social occasion, makes a disastrous combination. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, spoke of the increasing number of children entering the criminal justice system. That is a very serious problem. How much of that is due to alcohol-related offences committed by those young people? Why do we not bother to measure that relationship in the statistics?

A 1995 study estimated that up to 1.3 million children under 16 were in families with alcohol-abusing parents or carers. The amount of alcohol consumed per adult in the UK has risen by 18 per cent since then, so the number of children at risk—if the figures have risen comparably—would be as high as 1.5 million. Those children are more likely to become involved in crime and to exhibit conduct disorders such as truancy and anti-social behaviour; they are also more likely to suffer health problems and to become problem-drinkers themselves. If their mothers drank during pregnancy, they may already have been disadvantaged by low birth weight, which is another factor in the survey where the UK is near the bottom of the league table, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, said. In the worst cases—several hundred a year—alcohol misuse by a pregnant woman may lead to foetal alcohol syndrome.

In almost half of domestic violence cases, the offender had been drinking, and in three-quarters of these, the victim is the mother. One can imagine the effect on children of seeing their mother being battered by a drunken father or stepfather. It may often be in the same households that the 10 per cent of boys and 20 per cent of girls who are sexually abused, as we heard on Tuesday—often fuelled by drink and sometimes by the same perpetrator—are to be found. Sexual and physical violence, often fuelled by drink, leave permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars on children, impairing their emotional development, health and ability to learn. Nearly 4 million adults in the UK grew up in a family where one or both parents drank to excess.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was pleased, as we all are, with the DfES strategy, just published, for promoting services to parents and helping them to fulfil their responsibilities to children. The document acknowledges that single parents and teenage parents require extra support but ignores the much larger number with drink problems. As Turning Point says,

“the needs of children of alcohol-misusing parents are still overlooked”.

Let us have a genuine alcohol harm reduction strategy that will stop children poisoning themselves, and use price and availability as weapons against alcohol abuse by parents so that we can curb this tide of alcohol-related violence and suffering.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is an unflinching champion—or, as my noble friend Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone called him, a “charming and coercive champion”—of children and parents. I am delighted that he was able to secure this all-important debate. I, too, extend my congratulations and thanks to him. I also thank the Minister for my copy of Every Parent Matters.

Children’s issues are one of the many topics on which your Lordships’ House excels, as witnessed today by the passionate and knowledgeable contributions from all sides of the Chamber. I acknowledge and welcome the Government’s considerable investment in their desire to improve the lives of children and young people in the UK. We have seen significant legislation in the past two years, much of which we have supported—as we supported the Sure Start initiative, although we have serious doubts about the way in which it is being delivered.

Last year, Oliver Letwin committed us to match the Government on their targets to eliminate child poverty, so I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that it is depressing and deeply worrying that the number of children living in relative poverty rose by 200,000 last year, which was the first increase in nearly a decade. There can be no doubt that we all want the same conclusions; we just differ on how we get there.

Children are now assuming a much higher profile politically, as is only right, given that they represent 20 per cent of the population. Yet despite all the changes, the UNICEF report makes uncomfortable reading and issues the wake-up call of which the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, spoke. Britain comes 18th out of 21 rich countries on material well-being and 19th out of 21 on educational well-being. The Children’s Society chief executive, Bob Reitemeier, said that the report was,

“a wake-up call to the fact that, despite being a rich country, the UK is failing children and young people in a number of crucial ways”.

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner, warned in more detail that:

“We are turning out a generation of young people who are unhappy, unhealthy, engaging in risky behaviour, who have poor relationships with their family and their peers, who have low expectations and don’t feel safe”.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough reminded us of the sad fact that children and young people in this country are getting a bad, negative press. However, as Al Aynsley-Green said:

“It is time to stop demonising children and young people for what goes wrong and start supporting them to make positive choices”.

That point was echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids.

We must look at children in the context of their families. We on these Benches believe that the great challenge of this decade and the next is social revival. Earlier this week, my right honourable friend David Cameron announced that we are setting up an inquiry into the quality of childhood in Britain. In the light of the UNICEF report, it will investigate how and why children in Britain are failed when it comes to measures of subjective well-being, behaviours and risks, and family and peer relationships. The task force will be headed by David Willetts and will be advised by a number of high-profile, well respected and independent experts, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield. That work will be in parallel with the extensive work that we have already undertaken on behalf of children, not least the excellent research on family break-up and the importance of fathers that is being carried out by the social justice policy group of my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith. For some years now, the Conservative Party has had an extended family team, which is looking at the issues that face children and families across the departments of Whitehall.

We think that it is of the utmost importance that we do our bit to raise children and family issues up the political agenda, but a lot more needs to be done. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham so rightly said, that needs everyone joining in the debate, which is why I was disappointed to read the comments of Beverley Hughes, the Minister in another place with responsibility for children. She described our review into the quality of childhood as,

“yet another vacuous policy group”.

That did not advance the argument one jot, nor was it respectful of the dedicated people who are helping us to grapple with these difficult and vital issues.

My right honourable friend David Cameron has said that Governments cannot bring up children, but the decisions that they make have an influence on how children are brought up. Nowhere is that influence greater than in the early years of a child’s life. I give as an example the increasing pressure to start formal education earlier or, as my honourable friend in another place, Tim Loughton, phrased it,

“the sausage machine of schoolification”.

Children in the UK already start school earlier than children in most other European countries and the creation in England’s national curriculum of a foundation stage for children aged three to five seems to be adding more pressure for an even earlier start. We had serious reservations about the foundation stage for nurseries in the Childcare Bill, and those reservations remain.

We now have targets, testing and ticking of boxes. Whatever happened to children learning through play and forming strong attachments with their parents and carers in those all-important first three years? That issue was covered well by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. As Mike Baker, the BBC education correspondent, said in a recent article, there is a real risk that the Government are,

“opting for short-term gains at the expense of long-term damage”.

The UNICEF report and examples such as these show us that we have a lot to learn from other countries. In September last year, our children’s team members visited Finland and Denmark. Sadly, due to ill health, I was unable to join them. They were enormously impressed by what they saw. There were excellent nurseries and care centres with well trained and well motivated staff, the importance of which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, reminded us. They were struck by the very different attitude that prevailed. The children were neither mollycoddled nor starting formal education too soon. They were playing, socialising and learning to get on with their peer group, absorbing that friendly discipline and learning the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, of which my noble friend Lord Elton spoke so persuasively. That means that they start school socially well balanced, ready and eager to learn—and, whatever the weather, they were wrapped up warm and sent outside to play.

I now turn to looked-after children. The care of children in the guardianship of the state has been a shameful side of the welfare system for too long. The most alarming fact about children in care is that they are 66 times more likely to have their own children taken into care, thus creating a generation vicious cycle—a cycle that we must break. It worries me that the state, which is so keen to tell everyone else how to be a good parent, is a pretty bad one when it assumes the role.

The key to much that needs to be done lies in a well motivated and respected social workforce. For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of serving on our social workers commission, which was set up by Tim Loughton to look into the image and role of social workers. It has an impressive panel of academics and practitioners, and I feel very humble when I sit there.

We need innovation and the sharing of best practice because some excellent work is being undertaken for these vulnerable children. The council in Brent—a Conservative council—has set up a buddy scheme whereby every council officer, from the chief executive down, is paired with a looked-after child, working closely with their social workers. That provides real incentive to ensure the best possible provision and outcomes for these children.

Knowing that someone is there to watch out for you, to speak up for you and to guide and nurture you is empowering for young people. In an ideal world, that role is provided by parents or members of an extended family as part of their duty, about which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke with such authority. Where that breaks down, it is vital that our young have someone to turn to. This is why I am such a supporter of youth clubs, voluntary organisations and mentoring schemes. The best are delivered by the voluntary sector and the faith-based groups, of which my noble friend Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone spoke in her impressive speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said in opening our debate that every child should have the right to a good family life. To that I add that every child has a right to a childhood. It is essential that we give our children time and space to grow up; that when they are growing up we give them our time, support and trust; and that we nurture that self-esteem of which my noble friend Lady Verma spoke. We need to take risks and to let them live a little. As Winston Churchill said, there is no safer thing to do than to take risks with the young.

My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for this opportunity to debate children and family life. It is an issue to which he and others who have spoken on all sides of the House bring not only a wealth of personal and professional commitment but a real passion, including the very passionate speech that we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris.

I cannot possibly do justice in my reply to the full richness of the debate. As ever, I hope that noble Lords will accept my assurance that I will provide written replies to particular points that I am unable to cover now, although I am glad that I managed quickly to ferry across a copy of Every Parent Matters to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, so that at least she leaves the House with it, even if she did not enter with it.

One key theme of the debate is that the family is not a static institution; nor is the environment around the family. Families are becoming smaller; fewer people are marrying; more are cohabitating and they are doing so for longer. Since the 1970s, the number of single-parent families has trebled, while the number of babies born outside marriage has increased fivefold.

Childhood is not a fixed state either, but constantly redefined as educational expectations, social values and social contexts evolve. As an education Minister, I believe that many of the changes that we have seen are for the better. Whereas just a decade ago we came near to writing off about half of our young people in terms of serious school-leaving qualifications, that is no longer the case. I am glad to say that social expectations are now much higher in that area, as in so many others. I include within that the expectations of our young people themselves which, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough so rightly said, are largely positive and deserve to be reported as such.

Given those broad demographic and cultural trends, let me first address the UNICEF report that has prompted this debate. The UNICEF study contains some salient observations. Let me say straight away that the Government are not in the least complacent about that. I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, said in her impressive speech: this is indeed a challenge for us all and one that, frankly, we should accept with humility.

I also agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham that to bring about change in many of these areas is a long-term project which is not susceptible to quick fixes. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that we should learn from other countries. I am sorry that she was not able to go to Finland. I have been to Scandinavia—I think I even managed to get there just before the Leader of the Opposition—and I agree that we need to learn a great deal from those countries, although I do not think that the lessons are by any means as straightforward as she may have wished to suggest. Scandinavian countries make a huge investment in childhood services and have high expectations of what those services will provide for the development of children. Those expectations are not that different from those that we have set in place.

Having said all that, it is fair to note that, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, himself accepted, the UNICEF data are mostly old and do not provide a full picture of what it is like to grow up in the United Kingdom in 2007. In particular, the UNICEF research focuses largely on adolescents, drawing as it does heavily on a World Health Organisation survey of 11 to 15 year-olds, whereas, as has been widely accepted in this debate, it is early life that fundamentally determines the fortunes of children.

Early childhood has been a particular focus of the Government’s investment and I think it is generally accepted that we have transformed under-five provision, which is so vital in determining the early life chances of children. Ninety-eight per cent of three and four year-olds now enjoy free nursery education, compared to just 56 per cent a decade ago. At the end of last year, the stock of registered childcare places stood at more than 1.29 million, which is more than double the 1997 level. In the past decade, we have created from scratch more than 1,200 Sure Start children’s centres, with a total of 3,500 to be opened by 2010. That will be one for every community, which will start to make the pattern of childhood services in this country much more on a par with that of Scandinavia.

Above all, the old data in the UNICEF report mean that there is no mention of the fact that, since 1997, relative poverty in the UK has fallen at a greater rate than anywhere else in Europe, which was an issue of central importance to UNICEF’s researchers and something that they recognised in their 2005 report cards. In the mid-1990s, one in three children in United Kingdom lived in poverty, which was the worst record of any major European nation.

The Government have set challenging targets to remedy this situation, aiming to halve child poverty by 2010 and to eradicate it entirely by 2020. By helping parents into work and providing financial support, we have reversed a 20-year negative trend, lifting 600,000 children out of relative poverty since 1998, and 1.8 million out of absolute poverty. This has involved significant expenditure. For example, we have raised the rate of child benefit for the oldest child from £11.05 to £17.25 per week since 1997, and have introduced the child element of the child tax credit, which, from next month, will benefit 10 million children to the tune of up to £1,845 per child per year.

We have also introduced the minimum wage and, as my noble friend Lady Howells so rightly said, we have given a big boost to family-friendly working practices, which are vital to enabling parents—mothers and fathers—to perform their own duties. We have introduced paid paternity leave for the first time, we have significantly extended the length of maternity leave and the increased the rate at which it is paid, and we have given parents with young children—including, I should stress, parents who work in the City—the right to request flexible working. We have also made a substantial change to employment in making it more family-friendly, which is now more generally reflected in the workplace.

Of course, I share the disappointment of my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie that figures released this week show that relative child poverty has risen in the past year. However, as he said, they do not detract from the longer-term achievement in the past decade. This work is continuing. In his Budget last week, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an increase in the child element of the child tax credit by £150 per annum above indexation from April 2008. We estimate that this will lift up to 200,000 more children out of relative poverty. The Department for Work and Pensions, which my noble friend also mentioned, has also just published its strategy for tackling child poverty, which concentrates on helping more lone parents into work and emphasises the family dimension in all dealings with parents. All our publications that give advice and guidance in this area take up the theme, which has been raised across the Chamber, of the role of the voluntary sector, which is so important in education, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, mentioned, and in social care and social services. We also recognise the role that the faith communities play in this area, and we have, for example, been strongly encouraging local authorities to engage with local faith providers where they can make a big difference to the quality of local provision. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that social workers also have a vital role to play in this area. He knows the measures that we have set in train and which we have debated in the House. We will have more to say about that after the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The inclusion of family structure in the UNICEF report’s indicators of well-being might be taken to suggest that children in lone-parent and step families do not thrive. I want to make it clear that, in the Government’s view, the quality and stability of relationships are crucial, and our policies are resolutely geared to supporting parents, whatever their individual circumstances. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, we do believe that marriage provides a strong foundation for stable relationships in bringing up children. Equally, however, our task is to give all parents and carers, without discrimination, the support that they need to provide children with the best possible start in life.

The theme of parenting—and, indeed, grandparenting, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, mentioned—has been a common thread throughout the debate. It outstrips class, ethnicity, and even disability in its influence on the life chances of children. Indeed, supporting parents and instilling parental responsibility and duty—I have no hesitation in using the word “duty” in this respect—is the vital task that faces us as policy makers and legislators. I also agree that we must be very clear about what we mean by effective life chances for children. I say without any hesitation that this is certainly not a question only of education. I come to the House as an Education Minister, which I think sometimes makes the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, slightly suspicious of me because she thinks that I must want to ensure that education takes priority over all other matters. Let me be absolutely clear: the Every Child Matters agenda has five aims that are equally important: promoting children’s health, safety, economic well-being, educational achievement, and their ability to make a positive contribution to society. Every Child Matters is also the primary means by which the United Kingdom seeks to fulfil the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as mentioned by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, involving as it does a radical programme of change in the development of and investment in children services nationwide.

One theme has come through very strongly in this debate. If every child is to matter, every parent must matter too. We need to do steadily more to help parents, which is why the Government have just published their Every Parent Matters report, which I am glad to note has been widely welcomed in this debate. Every Parent Matters sets out in one place what we are doing to promote the development of services for children, not only what we have done so far, but also what we are planning to do. It also acts as a guide for parents, which they find useful. My noble friend Lord Watson referred to many of the upcoming programmes set out in the back of the report, which may be useful to parents as well. For instance, local authorities are expected to appoint dedicated commissioners responsible for championing provision for parents and, from this May, schools’ governing bodies will be required to listen to all parents and consider their wishes.

A number of local authorities are currently piloting transition information sessions for parents of children who are moving from primary to secondary schools, providing advice for parents at that difficult stage in their children’s lives. These services will be available nationwide from next year, as set out in the document. From this September, advisers will also be on hand in every local authority to help guide parents, particularly less advantaged parents, through the sometimes worrying process of selecting secondary schools, which is so vital to the life chances of children.

Through this whole array of initiatives and support programmes set out in Every Parent Matters, we can help to prepare children ahead of significant moments in their lives. We are piloting family learning courses for parents and carers of pre-school children with basic skills needs, while the early support programme has spent £15 million over the past five years supporting young children with the most severe needs, including sensory impairment and autism. These are just parts of a whole programme of support available for parents with young children.

Lone parents have been mentioned repeatedly in the debate. Our support is particularly targeted at specific groups such as lone parents, whose fortunes have improved considerably over the past decade. Today, 1.7 million one-parent families in Britain care for more than 3 million children, a figure that is three times higher than in 1971. The New Deal for lone parents has helped more than 482,000 people into employment by helping them prepare for a return to the workplace and to secure the attendant benefits. The fact that the lone-parent employment rate stands at an all-time high of 56.5 per cent, an increase of 11.8 percentage points since 1997, will be of huge benefit to all their children. More than nine out of 10 lone parents are either working or would like to work at some point, and in-work benefits offer them incentives and critical financial aid to do so.

Let me also emphasise the importance of fathers, who are always raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in our debates and were also mentioned by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. All evidence demonstrates that the engagement of fathers in the lives of their children is vital, whether or not they live with them. We have sought to promote the responsibilities of fathers in several ways to enable them to perform those responsibilities better, from paid paternity leave to the new right to request flexible working for parents of disabled children and the under-sixes. The information duty in the Childcare Act 2006 will require local authorities to provide comprehensive information on childcare and access to local services for fathers as well as mothers. My department is currently considering how we might further strengthen support for fathers; for example, through the work of the new children’s centres. The assumption that mothers are the primary carers clearly needs updating in favour of an expectation that fathers will play a full part within a parental partnership.

None the less, family breakdowns occur all too frequently. As we know from our recent debates on the Childcare Act and the Children and Adoption Act, of the 12 million children in our country, some 3 million will experience the separation of their parents during their childhoods. Many handle the subsequent domestic arrangements well, including the continuing role for fathers, but children drawn into parental conflicts can and do suffer terribly.

Through Sure Start and the Children, Young People and Families Grant programme, we are backing voluntary and community sector agencies to provide better relationship support, including more and better contact centres, an absolutely vital area of provision which was mentioned by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The Children and Adoption Act 2006, once implemented, will give courts additional flexible powers to enforce contact orders and will give the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service additional responsibilities, including risk assessments in private law cases to highlight child welfare issues much more effectively than has been the case in the past.

High quality education and early years provision is clearly vital. The Early Years Foundation Stage will come into force in September next year, which is a single framework for care, learning and development in all registered early years settings and schools from birth to the age of five. Good early education has a sustained impact on children’s learning up to the age of 10, and the framework is designed to raise standards across the sector, assuring parents of consistency in provision and closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged children.

At school level, which is also vital, we have four priorities. The first is to provide a safe and secure environment for children, in particular to tackle issues to do with bullying and hostile environments for children, which were raised so movingly by my noble friend Lady Howells and taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The noble Lord has huge experience in this area and raised a number of issues for policy development, all of which we are taking forward. He mentioned schools councils, and I am glad to say that more than nine in 10 secondary schools now have such councils. Professor Geoff Whitty, Director of the Institute of Education at the University of London, is about to report to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on how we take the work of schools councils forward, including embedding their work in the development of behaviour and discipline policies in schools much more effectively.

We have the Education and Inspections Act passed last year which includes a requirement that behaviour policies must be devised after full consultation with the whole pupil body in schools, taking up the theme explored by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that discipline in a school must belong to the children. Unless it is owned by them it will never be effective in tackling the root causes of poor behaviour, bullying and disaffection in schools. The Education and Inspections Act implements for the first time in law the recommendations of the noble Lord’s own reports of the 1980s, that teachers should have a statutory right to discipline. We have just issued guidance on how that statutory right should be enacted. So I believe that we are taking forward the issues he raised in this first important area, which is to ensure a safe and secure environment for children.

The second theme is to provide truly personalised learning for all children which develops their talents to the fullest extent possible, with parents acting as true partners with teachers in their children’s education. More than £1 billion has been earmarked for personalised learning up to 2008, weighted towards schools with pupils from deprived backgrounds or with low prior attainment, and for the first time in this country we are developing new vocational education diplomas which will ensure that pupils who have particular vocational aptitudes but who historically have been poorly served by the education system are given the opportunity in due course to attain the qualifications they need. We believe that this will lead to a significantly higher proportion of them staying in full-time education and training after the age of 16, including apprenticeships.

The third theme of the debate is the need for schools to be more than simply nine-to-four institutions by providing a much wider range of social support for parents and children in the holidays and after school. We have the Extended Schools Programme, which seeks to ensure that over time all schools develop into extended schools and so are able to provide those services.

The fourth theme I want to highlight as vital to the development of effective schools which educate the whole child is the one raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley. It is the importance of schools focusing not just on learning programmes, important as they are, but on values by engaging young people in support of the values of duty, obligation and mutual responsibility which are so vital to the young people themselves becoming effective parents. I agree with the noble Baroness that the churches and faith communities have a part to play in this, but schools of all affiliations take these responsibilities increasingly seriously.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of alcohol abuse. Let me say that I fully accept the gravity of these matters. The figures he gave are broadly correct. I would set against the fact that there is a certain amount of serious alcohol abuse taking place the fact that a Department of Health survey published today shows that the proportion of young people who said they never drink has been rising since 2001. Last year 46 per cent said that they had never tried alcohol, but that is not in any way to minimise the importance of the minority for whom alcohol abuse is a really serious and in all kinds of ways life-threatening issue for them.

Young people are one of the three priority areas in the revised alcohol harm reduction strategy, which is due to be published this summer. We are mindful of many of the noble Lord’s points about the effectiveness of that strategy, and I will keep him in touch with its progress when it is published. Of course, the Government encourage sensible drinking by adults through unit labelling and health messages, and the Children Act 2004 requires directors of children’s services to protect children put at risk from alcohol-misusing parents. Parental substance misuse is also clearly referenced in the new common assessment framework, which supports the early identification of substance misuse, including alcohol, and ensures that children receive planned interventions. I will have to deal with the other points in correspondence.

Parenting poses universal challenges irrespective of wealth or background, but while there are many challenges there is also much cause for encouragement. The attitudes of young people themselves are largely positive. Surveys show that most parents today spend more time with their children than their own parents spent with them. Education and standards are far higher than a generation ago, and mothers and fathers today want greater involvement in their children’s lives. For our part as a Government, we recognise that parents need steadily more and better support. Our policy, as set out in Every Parent Matters, is to provide that, especially to families with the fewest independent resources. While we have more to do, there are also grounds for optimism, which was reflected fully in the contributions today.

My Lords, that was a fascinating and interesting debate, well informed and wise. It would be impossible to summarise it, and it is not my job to do so, but there were three words that I heard come up many times: love, relationships and community.

It remains only for me to thank all the speakers for staying behind from their recess for an extra hour or two for this important debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations 2007

rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 15 March be approved. 13th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 15th Report from the Merits Committee.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these regulations are the final step in implementing the new charging model for immigration and nationality services. Before I turn to the detail of the contents, I thank noble Lords for their engagement in the process. In particular, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who has made insightful and informed queries, both earlier this month in the House and in subsequent correspondence. I have written to him today seeking to answer many of his points. I hope that that will give him the information he requires.

These regulations relate only to those applications that we propose to charge at levels above normal cost recovery. The fees for the other routes at or below cost-recovery levels are set out in regulations subject to the negative process that were made last week by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, and which have been laid before Parliament.

The regulations before us cover applications made in respect of: indefinite leave to remain; limited leave to remain for work routes such as a work permit, the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and investors; the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme approval letters; work permits; naturalisation as a British citizen or a British overseas territories citizen; and registration as a British citizen, British overseas territories citizen, British overseas citizen or British subject, excluding registration as a British citizen under Section 1 of the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997.

We have set fees in these regulations above normal cost-recovery levels on the basis of the value of a successful application to the migrant or, in the case of work permits, the value to the UK-based employer, in reliance on the power in Section 42 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.

Taking into account the benefits which will accrue in respect of a successful application—which we assess on the basis of entitlements that will accrue—we have decided to seek the greatest contribution to the costs of the end-to-end immigration system from those who are seeking to work in the United Kingdom or to stay here permanently.

The entitlements we believe to be the most valuable include the ability to work; whether dependants can accompany the migrant to the United Kingdom; whether there is a route to settlement; the length of leave granted; access to benefits; eligibility for a UK passport; and the right to vote. We then looked at other factors, supported by extensive research and consultation, to consider whether to reduce the level of over cost charge, and in some cases we have done so. We have also ensured that certain applications such as those for limited and indefinite leave to remain made on the basis of humanitarian protection remain exempt from fees.

Noble Lords will want to know how we plan to treat applications received in the period immediately after the introduction of new fees and, in the case of settlement applications, after we introduce the new requirements to demonstrate knowledge of language and life in the United Kingdom. We recognise that, despite communicating the changes, it is likely that some applications received immediately after the proposed fee changes may be accompanied by an incorrect fee. So that we do not disadvantage applicants for leave to remain, and to ensure they are afforded all opportunity to regularise their stay, we have made specific provision in the fee regulations. In these circumstances we will write to the applicant and request any outstanding moneys. If such moneys are paid within 28 days of that letter having been sent, we will proceed to make a decision. These transitional measures will remain in place until 21 May 2007, after which we believe all applicants should be aware of the new fees.

Applicants for settlement after 2 April will also be required to submit evidence to demonstrate knowledge of language and life in the United Kingdom. Again, some applicants may not be aware of the new requirements and will not qualify for settlement. We want to prevent the situation where they have no valid leave to remain in the United Kingdom. Accordingly, we have introduced proposals to amend the current Immigration Rules so as to treat such applications as being for further leave to remain. Where this occurs, and the applicant has submitted the proposed new fee of £750 for settlement, we will refund the difference between this and the relevant leave-to-remain fee. We will operate this transitional policy until 31 January 2008, by which time we would expect all future applicants to be aware of the new requirements and to have made provision to take the necessary tests.

I stress that we continue to welcome legal migrants, who, we all know, contribute significantly to the United Kingdom's economic, social and cultural life. However, in order to operate a truly flexible charging system that provides some degree of protection to those routes that are most price-sensitive, or where wider policy considerations mean that a lower fee is appropriate, we need to set some fees at above cost-recovery levels. We also need to do so to raise additional revenue, which will be used to recover the costs of the step change in enforcement activity and border security set out in the IND review published last summer, but most recently in the comprehensive and radical cross-government enforcement strategy published earlier in the month.

The applications specified in these regulations are the most appropriate from which to seek the additional revenue as, importantly, successful applicants accrue significant benefits. Accordingly, I commend the regulations to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 15 March be approved. 13th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 15th Report from the Merits Committee.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her explanation. We on these Benches note the work that the Government have put in. I also take the opportunity to express our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He beat the gun slightly on the previous occasion, and I have no doubt that we shall be treated to a second instalment this evening. However, his work is certainly recognised by us.

In welcoming the regulations, I have some general questions. What revenue will accrue from the new fees? Is there a time limit on the fees? Have the Government in mind a reviewing date? We are concerned to ensure that this increase in fees is not regarded as a stealth tax.

The regulations recognise the different contributions made by different classes of immigrant. We certainly have no problem with the differential charging system that the Government have produced.

I thank the Minister for making the regulatory impact assessment available in the Printed Paper Office. It served as a very good background to the order. I welcome the regulations.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness most warmly for leaving behind the upheavals taking place in Marsham Street to come here to explain the regulations. I hope that she will still be replying on these matters once the dust has settled, because we value her wisdom and guidance on important questions of immigration and nationality, on which she is so expert.

I thank her also for her long letter to me. Unfortunately, I did not receive it until just now, because I have been sitting here since 11 am. I had an opportunity to look cursorily at it. It would be helpful if it were placed in the Library, because it appears to contain quite comprehensive answers to the questions that I put on the previous occasion which it would be useful for others to know. I only regret that in the Library it is available only to those who seek it out. Perhaps the Minister will find some way of putting the substance of it in a suitable location on the Home Office website.

As the Minister is aware, we on these Benches have serious concerns about the fee increases. I raised them when we debated the paving order on 8 March, when we had had only had some 24 hours to look at the fees, but that was enough to satisfy us that the Government were abusing the powers given to them under Sections 51 and 52 of the 2006 Act. We now repeat that charge, while recognising that, because of the way in which the legislation has been structured, we are powerless to stop what I consider to be extortion and what the noble Viscount has just referred to as a stealth tax. I shall amplify that comment later.

The 2006 Act enabled fees to be charged for any service provided in connection with immigration or nationality, overriding the normal Treasury cost-recovery rules. We had no proper answers to the Government’s reasons for doing this in the previous debate, so I ask noble Lords to reflect on the precedent that we are creating in allowing the state to charge whatever the traffic will bear for services of any kind rendered to the public. There can be little doubt that, now that the principle has been given parliamentary sanction, this and future Governments will see it as a new and fruitful means of revenue-raising, which will not be confined to the sphere of immigration and nationality.

I said that we had no objection to fees as such, and indeed it would be a bit too late to do so, as some of the fees referred to in the order date back to 1981. I also said that we had no option but to accept the order on which these regulations are based. We would need very strong grounds for voting against any order at this end of the Building—pace yesterday’s events in your Lordships’ House. I meant that we were allowing the regulations to pass because that threshold had not been reached, even though we had the reservations that I expressed. The Minister was wrong to extrapolate from that that we accepted the fees now proposed, and I hope that she would not assert that my speech on the previous occasion could have been so interpreted.

The Minister, for perfectly good reasons, did not respond to our major reservations. She contented herself by remarking that what I said would be helpful in preparing for this debate. I could have interpreted that as meaning that we should have negatived the previous order, because now we could be held to have approved the idea that the Government have complete discretion to charge whatever they like, the only constraint being the ability or willingness of the applicants to cough up. In this order they intend to recover the cost of enforcement, some of the costs of the appeal system—and we are not told how that element is determined—and the cost of future capital investment in the provision of services. Up to now there have been nine sets of regulations for immigration and nationality applications, and this is the first occasion when the amounts charged exceed the administration costs, as permitted by Section 42 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. The power is exercised only in respect of services for which charges are already made, but the Treasury is certain to be thinking about how to make money from other public services if this order goes through without too much fuss.

The Government’s response to the consultation on the new charging regime for immigration and nationality fees, attached to the Explanatory Memorandum, shows that almost all the respondents were employers and educational establishments, which will have to bear the costs themselves—although universities may pass the costs on in student fees. In the case of employers, the regulatory impact assessment shows that, of the £5.7 million that the IND will receive from the new charges, £2.7 million will come from public sector employers, largely from the health service. The exercise appears to have been designed to recover a comparatively small amount, without taking into consideration the cost already incurred by the RIA itself, the consultations or the considerable extra paperwork imposed on the employers and the IND itself.

As the Minister is aware, our main concern is for those who come here to join spouses, or as children or elderly dependants of persons who already have indefinite leave to remain. They have no option but to pay whatever is required if they are to maintain their fundamental right to family life, and there is no elasticity of demand, a term that the Government love but which is so out of place when thinking about family relationships. I see in the documents accompanying the Explanatory Memorandum a graph that purports to describe the elasticity of demand for indefinite leave to remain, showing that if fees exceed £700 the demand will decrease to something like 30 per cent of its previous level. I cannot believe that that could be accurate because most people who come here as spouses or dependent relatives will have to pay the amounts whatever difficulties they have in meeting those charges. It is manifestly unfair to make legitimate immigrant relatives or spouses pay for the appeal system and for the cost of enforcement, and particularly unjust to do so at a time when the Government are doubling enforcement resources. I have no doubt that it is expensive to detect illegal immigration and to detain and return those found to be unqualified, but why should those who exercise their lawful rights to family unity pay those costs, which they have done no more to impose on the taxpayer than I or the Minister have?

As I said, the overwhelming majority of respondents to the consultation were educational institutions, employers, job agencies and representatives of sporting or cultural interests. ILPA, the IAS and JCWI are the only ones in the list of 340 respondents that I could identify as possibly having said anything about family concerns, although I noted from my swift canter through the Minister’s letter that another 13 respondents made some reference to spouses and families. I take ILPA as an illustration. It says that,

“these huge fee increases, in particular for settlement and for British citizenship, cannot be justified, and will cause real hardship to many families”.

The set questions did not include any that might have elicited reference to family unity. It appears that the Government decided to load the biggest increases on to this category of applicant because they did not object during the consultation and because they had no powerful representatives to speak up on their behalf and cause adverse publicity in the media. As the noble Baroness is aware, Mr J A, a foreign national married to a British woman, writes concerning the £415 increase in the settlement fee,

“this massive … increase sends a message to potential immigrants that we are not respected; that our hard work and contributions to our adopted country are being taken for granted. Of course, I will pay the fee; I have to”.

I sent the Minister another letter from a British citizen married to a foreign national, Dr R O, pointing out that immigrants are not the only beneficiaries of the immigration system, as the Government acknowledge in other contexts, such as the Treasury estimates cited in your Lordships’ European Union Select Committee report Economic Migration to the EU, which show that the UK owes 10 per cent of its growth rate to migrants. Dr R O goes on to say that while some components of immigration may have some resemblance to a market economy, this is certainly not the case with spouses and relatives.

I shall not repeat all the questions that I put to the Minister on the previous occasion, as I am sure that most of them will be answered in her letter, but I hope that it answers the questions about the treatment of applicants denied their lawful appeal rights, and the 18.4 per cent of visa applicants who, according to the entry certificate monitor, are wrongly refused. It really would be outrageous if they were made to pay twice for the errors which persist even after four successive reports by the monitor and her predecessors. I see that a paragraph in the noble Baroness’s letter mentions the right of people who are found to have been erroneously refused by the entry certificate monitor to a free application to replace the one that they have lost. That begs the question that the entry certificate monitor examines only a tiny fraction of the cases. Therefore, many more people who are incorrectly and unlawfully refused cannot take advantage of this concession.

The regulations come into effect immediately, leaving no room for the round table discussion which I suggested last time, at which there might have been scope for moderating the scale of the most extortionate increases, notably those applying to visas for settlement, indefinite leave to remain and citizenship. The total of these three amounts is more than doubled from £863 to £1,825. I wish that the Minister, who, I am sure, knowing her, dislikes what she is doing, could think again about the enormous penalty the Government are now imposing on marriage and partnership.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for their kind comments. Of course I do not know the Prime Minister’s mind, but I am very hopeful that in times to come I will still have an occasional appearance on the Front Bench on behalf of the Home Office. If the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, retains his vigour, I am sure that I will. He does not need to respond to that.

I am very happy to put a full response to the questions raised with me by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, either in the Library or on the website, as he suggested, perhaps in terms of the substance of the information as opposed to directly answering the questions he asked. That may be the most helpful form for others who will read it. I would be happy to share that with the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and others in the House.

I absolutely understood that the assent given by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the previous order was simply on the basis that it set the framework and not the detail. I expected and accepted that, when we came to discuss the regulations, that would be the appropriate time to have the discussion. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that he was not agreeing in those terms.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for his agreement to the regulations. The fee level agreement is an annual agreement that is set and renewed annually with Her Majesty’s Treasury. The issues will be looked at carefully. Noble Lords will know that a great deal of research went into ascertaining where to set the fee level, so that we could differentiate between the different routes and the different benefits that would accrue to an applicant by virtue of the granting of the necessary visa or permission to stay. That research has been placed in the Library. It has details of both in and out-of-country research. It is very helpful because, not for the first time, it shows a clear methodology to assess where the fee levels should be, and it gives a clear understanding of the factors that were taken into consideration before the levels were reached. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, will find that of some help and assistance.

The noble Viscount asked about the revenue from the fees. We are, as I indicated, working within those strict limits. Our forecast for the IND is as follows. We are raising £100 million to fund the forecast enforcement strategy costs for the IND, and recovered fees are about £240 million. Overseas forecast costs are around £350 million, with costs and fees now including the costs of commercial partners. So in future a single fee will be paid by migrants. The total is £655 million, including the £100 million.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, is concerned that this could somehow be distorted into a general way of raising revenue to meet those fees. The new powers will not be used to generate unlimited fee income. They can be used only for immigration and nationality applications listed in Section 42 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. There has to be a relationship to the cost. It is not in our interest to see volume fall. I agree with the noble Lord that migrants are hugely beneficial to our country and we have been advantaged by them.

My Lords, my suggestion was that if the Treasury found that there was no vociferous objection to this provision in the treatment of claimants Act, it could easily adopt the same practice in other areas of public services that are provided, where it could charge over the odds to recover some costs that were not directly associated with the service in question.

My Lords, although I appreciate what the noble Lord is saying, the reason I said that it is unlikely that it can be done is that the framework constructed for the laying of the fees directs those fees to the service they provide. We are discussing the fees relating to over-cost recovery. Other fees are below-cost recovery and we do not make any charge for them. So we must look at the system as a whole and identify the cost of maintaining a system. The noble Lord will know, as will the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, who is also familiar with this issue, that we have to do better on enforcement if we are to allow applicants who legitimately want to come here to do so safely and appropriately.

One of the other advantages is that, as we have improved the process, we have improved its efficiency. As we improve the efficiency, there is a better chance of reducing the cost to make it faster and cheaper; so we will be able to monitor those issues. I understand why the noble Lord is anxious about the matter, but the process that has evolved in setting the fees is very interesting and successful. It has been predicated on good, solid research; it has very broadly engaged stakeholders; it has tried to better understand the market and the different migration flows; and it has tried to build within it sufficient measures to prevent disincentives occurring in areas where we would very much wish to encourage migration flows.

We think that there is a real coherence—and I will not say “for once”—in the overall research and pattern of how this has been structured. I am very grateful for that. As noble Lords should know, a number of agencies have contributed here. A number of noble Lords have participated in the consultative group and have really honed the model to make it much better than it would otherwise have been. Although I understand the noble Lord’s concern, I say that the concern is reduced as one looks at the matter in greater detail.

The noble Lord asked whether the model would give unlimited powers. It does not, because IND and UKvisas operate within the strict limits that I mentioned to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman.

The other issues mentioned arise from the same theme. I am happy to include in my more comprehensive account which is to be put on the website the detail underpinning the general statements I have made. The public consultation took account of a broad spectrum of issues. It was very extensive and ran from 30 October to 22 December last year. The document was sent to over 3,000 people, and all of the 340 responses received, including those from ILPA, were included in the overall assessment of the proposed policy on fees, and nearly 86 per cent of the responses were in favour of the current proposals. The consultation was broad-based. We think that the outcome is fair and balanced. This is not a penalty but a recognition that a real benefit flows from it.

Indefinite leave to remain fees can be justified at levels above cost recovery on the basis of the entitlements that will accrue to the applicant. We therefore believe that the fees are justified and that it is a lawful expense.

I know that the noble Lord rightly will continue to express concern about these issues and I anticipate that he will continue to scrutinise them. I thank him because, by virtue of that scrutiny, we look with ever-growing care to ensure that we are in a position to give him cogent answers. So, if I may respectfully say so, it has a beneficial effect. I know that others will quake at the fact that I have said that, but it is the truth.

I hope that, as a result of what I have said, noble Lords will be content to approve these regulations. As the House is almost empty, I thank them for staying on the last day of term and I wish them a very happy and peaceful Easter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned for the Easter Recess at 4.55 pm until Monday 16 April.