House of Lords
Wednesday, 11 July 2007.
The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Introduction: Baroness Vadera
—Shriti Vadera, having been created Baroness Vadera, of Holland Park in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for life—Was, in her robes, introduced between the Baroness Ashton of Upholland and the Lord Joffe, and made the solemn affirmation.
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether they intend to amend the statutory definition of overcrowding in relation to housing.
My Lords, we are very conscious that the present statutory definition is long out of date and are considering how and when to update the standard. However, we do not believe that that in itself will solve overcrowding without having the levers in place to help overcrowded families. We have, for example, invested more than £40 million in London pilot schemes to provide innovative solutions to some of the worst cases of overcrowding.
My Lords, the current statutory definition of overcrowding dates back to 1935. It discounts children under the age of 12 months and counts kitchens as bedrooms. Why have the Government taken three years since giving an undertaking to amend the definition when the Housing Bill was going through and yet we still have no action on that?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right about the definition. I would not defend it—nobody in government would. But merely changing the definition could be mere tokenism if we did not have a strategy in place to address the most serious forms of overcrowding, which is exactly what we have. In the consultation process we identified the need to take incremental action, and we have a range of strategies in place. We are investing heavily in London—with some £40 million as I have said; putting support into local authorities when they have critical problems; and looking at innovative ways in which to convert homes as well as build new homes.
My Lords, how can the Minister have a strategy if she does not know how many rooms are needed or how many bedrooms are acceptable?
My Lords, we do. If we had a modern definition of the bedroom standard, half a million families would qualify. There is no point in us imposing that definition unless we are sure that local authorities can deal with the problem, which is the point of investing in housing supply. Overcrowding cannot be solved by one strategy; there must be a whole approach to building more homes and converting them and building more social homes as well.
My Lords, is there a particular problem with overcrowding in relation to London? What steps are the Government taking to address this?
My Lords, that is absolutely right. It is essentially a London problem. If noble Lords look at the figures, they will find, for example, that 200,000 families in the capital across all tenures are in overcrowded accommodation—that is one in five children, compared with 7 per cent in the rest of the country. That is why we have put £500,000 into just sub-regional co-ordinators’ work to bring innovative practice to local authorities, £20 million specifically to create houses with extra bedrooms, and £19 million to create more than 500 new homes, working through pilots. We have to look at every way we can to solve this problem through building, especially social housing.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware of the many reports that have come out from Shelter over the years about the disadvantage educationally for young children in overcrowded accommodation. Will she impress on her colleagues across government that that really needs to be addressed? I find it extraordinary that it has not been when so much time has been put into trying to improve the educational achievement of children. Even yesterday, there was a Statement on that matter. Can she please explain why there has not been any joined-up thinking in this area?
My Lords, there has been a lot of joined-up thinking, particularly through Sure Start. Many families in overcrowded accommodation are by definition the poorest. Many of them come from BME communities and are able to access Sure Start. We are very conscious indeed of the impact that being brought up in a poor and overcrowded home can have. That is why we are putting more than £700,000 into five London boroughs to improve the well-being of families and to look at strategies for supporting them.
My Lords, as the Minister said, overcrowding is one of the reasons for building new housing. However, does she support the view that was taken by her right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the other place yesterday when she said that in order to provide sufficient land for housing, the green belt should cease to be protected?
My Lords, I am sure that is not what my right honourable friend would have said because in the recent planning Statement we made it clear that we had absolutely no intention of compromising the green belt. We have built hugely on brownfield sites and we have well exceeded our target on those sites. As we come to build the affordable homes that we need we will look at ways of using more brownfield sites precisely with that in mind.
My Lords, what are the Government’s plans in relation to what the Prime Minister said earlier today in the other place about extending the house building programme each year? Will that have any bearing on relieving overcrowding, especially in the boroughs that she mentioned?
My Lords, I know that the House is waiting eagerly for the Statement to be repeated and I do not want to pre-empt it. However, it is a great pleasure to us that housing is seen by the Prime Minister as such a priority, particularly housing supply and increasing social housing. We increased social housing by 50 per cent between 2005 and 2008 and we look forward to doing much more.
My Lords, although we welcome a national strategy, at the end of the day there is a great part to be played by local authorities in this matter, and there is a very disparate record. Do the Government have it in mind to winkle out those authorities which, by any definition, are recalcitrant in building houses and will they be dealt with effectively?
My Lords, we prefer to offer incentives rather than penalties. Carrots are usually better than sticks. But certainly through our new planning and housing policy, PPS 3, we are making it easier for local authorities to assess their local housing needs and giving them more assistance in determining how much they need to build, the sort of houses—for example, the larger, family homes—they need to build and in releasing more land.
Olympic Games 2012: Facilities for Worship
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What dedicated facilities for worship they will provide as part of the Olympic village, hospitality and residential arrangements for the 2012 Olympic Games.
My Lords, London 2012 is committed to the provision of a multi-faith centre in the Olympic village. The work on scoping out the exact nature and location of this provision is ongoing as part of the planning. The London organising committee has been working with representatives of different faiths, and will continue to do so to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer but, as I understand it, the IOC requirements stipulate separate religious arrangements for five major faiths. In the circumstances will the Minister reconsider the previous decision not to appoint a faith adviser in order to overcome the difficulties which may arise from this apparent neglect?
My Lords, we certainly intend to comply with the International Olympic Committee’s requirements. We are making arrangements to be in contact with significant leaders of all faiths to ensure that we fulfil this remit. The House can rest assured that we are fully aware of our obligation. It will recall that the London bid was successful because we were able to demonstrate the multi-faith and multi-ethnic dimension to London, which was a very attractive point in securing the Games.
My Lords, will the Government put new urgency into such co-operation between people of different faiths? The Olympic Games, which I support fully, bring together people from various nationalities, backgrounds and faiths. What a golden opportunity to build bridges and to get better understanding.
My Lords, as I hope I have already indicated, of course the Government are eager to seize the opportunity provided by the Olympic Games in providing for multi-faith worship in the Olympic village. We will also emphasise that there will be a warm welcome for people from all faiths in such a diverse community as London represents. The noble Lord is right that the Olympic Games, which are a cultural as well as a sporting event, offer a great opportunity for advancing exactly the issues that the noble Lord has identified.
My Lords, will the Minister undertake on behalf of the Government to facilitate constructive conversations between the Olympic authorities and any committee that may be set up by the churches and wider Christian organisations in this country to address the issues listed in this Question? I declare a putative interest, insomuch as I may have an involvement in any such committee when it is set up.
My Lords, that is certainly good advice. The Government are seized of the obvious fact that the Olympic committee will need to identify contributions from all faiths, particularly the Christian faith, in terms of a great deal of our representation. It will be recognised that these are multi-faith provisions for the Games, and LOCOG will not be doing its job if it does not liaise with significant representative institutions of all faiths.
My Lords, although I do not present myself as any authority on Biblical text, are we not advised that,
“where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”?
There will be ample opportunity for religious dialogue, but it does not necessarily depend on having buildings for a two-week period.
My Lords, my noble friend has established his authority on all matters on which he comments to the House. He is right that a building is not an absolute requirement for multi-faith exchange, but we are urged to provide a place of worship and respect for each faith appropriate to that faith, and we are setting out to do so. There is a certain diversity of demand on this, and the Olympic authorities will be obliged to provide accordingly.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that a significant aspect of the Olympic project is the regeneration that the Olympics will bring to some of the needier communities in London? In view of the importance now being attached to the role of spiritual capital in all regeneration processes, how are Her Majesty’s Government working to enable the churches and other faith groups to be full partners in the regeneration aspects of the project as well as the worship?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right, and he will recognise the diversity of the community for which this legacy is to be provided. He will appreciate that the intention is that all should benefit from the Games. I said that the Games are more than just an athletic and sporting event but are also a cultural event. There is also the Olympic ideal, which is about the unity of people from all over the world. Surely that is the best legacy that we can offer the community.
My Lords, will the Minister clarify that responsibility for the hospitality to multi-faiths will lie with LOCOG and that any construction required to satisfy that is already in the ODA budget?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right on both counts. There may be some adjustments to certain aspects of the building to take account of particular faiths’ requirements, but the planning of the buildings and the concept are to meet our obligations. The noble Lord is absolutely right; it is LOCOG’s responsibility.
My Lords, how many faiths have been provided for?
Five, my Lords.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is very important that competition in the Olympic Games should not extend to the provision of worship facilities for individual religions. There should be communal provision, not facilities provided for individual faiths, which would introduce a competitive element?
My Lords, I do not think that there is any question of a competitive element. The noble Lord is right: broadly we are seeking to provide a building to encompass the needs of all faiths; but some provision will be needed to meet the specific needs of particular faiths, and we will seek to comply with that as best we are able.
My Lords, if the Government are required to provide buildings for all faiths on the Olympic site, could he please consider athletes of a secular nature, who might like to have somewhere to go to get away from all the warring religions?
My Lords, I cannot think of an arena that will be better for putting aside the world’s ills and concentrating on the world’s good points than international competition in sport and athletics.
EU: Climate Change
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What further discussions they propose to hold on climate change matters at the next meeting of the European Union Council of Environment Ministers.
My Lords, the Council agenda is set by the presidency. However, we understand that at the next meeting of the EU Council of Environment Ministers on 30 October, climate change discussions are likely to focus on agreeing the EU’s mandate for negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties in Bali in December.
My Lords, admittedly, the Portuguese President is armed, usefully, with the name Socrates, but is the Minister really confident that there has not already been some slippage in the formulation of the initial plans for the Union’s programme on climate change control? Is the Minister aware, for example, that there is a serious worry about slippage on the 20 per cent renewables target? Is he confident that at the October meeting, Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments led by the Portuguese presidency will make significant proposals to take this programme forward in an energetic way?
My Lords, the short answer is yes. The EU is giving a lead on this. It is a 27-strong group that has large negotiating clout, and if we operate as a group, we can be successful. What was decided at the spring Council of Ministers and by heads of government was broadly welcomed by the framework convention. Therefore, we are showing the necessary leadership; so I can answer yes, broadly, to the question.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that insufficient attention is being given to this very important subject at an international level? Would he agree that while it is important for the European Union to consider this matter, it should also be considered by the United Nations, at the Government’s initiative? Does he not agree that, on climate change, we should prepare for the worst? If we are wrong about that, is it not right that we lose comparatively little in addressing the issue?
My Lords, we are heading towards the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties. It meets four times a year and will meet in Bali in December. The 30 October meeting of the EU is a preparation for that. My noble friend says that insufficient attention is being paid by the UN, but, frankly, the facts do not bear that out. This a world issue; the EU is playing a leading role in this, but is guided by the United Nations, because we have to get a joint agreement as far as possible between developed and developing countries.
My Lords, when will the Government have the wisdom to recognise that Europe is isolated on this issue, and that the United States, India, China and Japan—to name only major nations—have made it clear that they will have no part in fixed targets for carbon dioxide emissions? Therefore, for the United Kingdom to bind itself to the most restrictive targets in the whole of Europe, which is out on a limb, will merely condemn this country’s economy and do great damage for no purpose whatever.
My Lords, I do not think the facts bear that out. I understand the noble Lord’s position. It is true that we have to have wider involvement; it is important to get movement from the United States, Australia, Japan and, indeed, China, which is on the move. This is being done not just within the EU with us promulgating what is happening, but within the United Nations framework convention. The whole point is to get agreement that encompasses movement from developing countries as well as the developed countries. There has to be movement from the developed countries, and it will be no good if the United States and others stay outside. All the signs are that they are coming inside.
My Lords, the Minister is right to mention China. Back in 2005, there was an EU and China Partnership on Climate Change. What concrete results have come out of that partnership, and what leverage does the European Council wish to make on China in its future plans on climate change and energy?
My Lords, in the past few months there has been evidence that climate change has risen up the agenda for the Chinese Government. In January this year, they established a national advisory panel on climate change, providing scientific evidence to formulate strategies and guidelines on policies and regulations. They are seeing some of the damage that is being done to their own environment and economy and to the health of the Chinese population. It is not a question of them remaining isolated. Nevertheless, they will move at a different pace. It is right for developed countries to show a lead in this matter.
My Lords, will the Government be relating these big issues of climate change to people’s communities? The role of local government, which regrettably is not mentioned in the draft Bill on climate change, is a vital part of the whole campaign for climate change. In Europe, we have the excellent system of twinning cities, so surely the cities and communities across Europe should be helping and learning from each other, which would be an inspiring move at the European meeting.
My Lords, my noble friend is quite right, but there has to be individual effort as well as local authority, government and industry effort. As from this week, noble Lords can check their own carbon footprint by going to the Defra website and reading the carbon calculator. As long as people see a connection between what they do in their own behaviour along with what the food and energy industries and national and international Governments do, we can make progress collectively. If people do not see a connection between their own daily activities and climate change, action will not be successful.
My Lords, defining what substantial reductions in carbon will mean in practice will need some robust negotiation. What plans do the Government have to progress that as soon as possible?
My Lords, I have no targets to give the noble Lord. Everybody knows our targets. We are giving a lead; in fact, we are ahead of what we agreed to do at Kyoto. It is important that we seek to give a lead and to take a united front in Europe. Twenty-seven countries are involved. It is true that the original 15 took a higher target than the others at Kyoto, and that is being developed. The UK and Sweden are already on track. Germany, France and Luxembourg are very close to it, so collectively good action is being taken across Europe. We will be tested against what we do by our actions, not just our words.
Government: Secretary of State for Defence
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether, in view of the active engagement of the Armed Forces in two operational theatres, they will reconsider the decision to make the office of Secretary of State for Defence a joint position with that of Secretary of State for Scotland.
My Lords, the Prime Minister, the Government and all my ministerial colleagues are fully committed to defence, to success in Afghanistan and Iraq and to the Armed Forces. As my right honourable friend made clear in the other place yesterday, he and I are able to draw on excellent support from ministerial colleagues and officials in discharging those responsibilities.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, but I am not at all convinced by his Answer. With many pressing issues in Scotland, how can the Secretary of State for Scotland give proper attention to defence matters? While he works part-time, our overstretched and underequipped Armed Forces are fighting two wars and taking casualties. Does the Minister have any idea how undervalued they feel as a result of this extraordinary situation?
My Lords, I do not accept the description of our Armed Forces as underequipped and overstretched. If we look at how the Government have supported the Armed Forces on what I accept are difficult operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, that is not a fair characterisation. My right honourable friend has said in the other place that he thought long and hard about whether both jobs could be combined. He takes the view that they can. It is important that we do not just look at what proportion of time is spent, but recognise that it is a normal part of government business for duties such as this to be combined where appropriate. For example, there is a precedent in the eminent form of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. When he was Secretary of State for Defence between 1972 and 1974, he was also party chairman of the Conservative Party.
My Lords, is the Minister not trying to defend the indefensible? Noble Lords should recall that he is Minister of State in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and in the Ministry of Defence. Not just one but two Ministers in the Ministry of Defence are now part-time. Would it not have been more sensible to have allocated the responsibilities of one Minister to the two who now have part-time duties, saving a ministerial appointment to leave three Ministers paying full attention to defence?
My Lords, I understand the point that the noble and gallant Lord is making, but I just do not accept this concept of a part-time Minister. I accept that I have taken on additional responsibilities in the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. However, when one looks at the responsibilities that I have taken on—for example, responsibility for the aerospace and defence industries—one sees a natural synergy between them and defence. The fact that I now have responsibility for driving forward regulatory reform will put a lot of power to my elbow to get defence procurement reformed more speedily. There are opportunities to make government work more effectively by having Ministers work in this way. The fact that this Government are trying these things is a good sign, as is the way in which we are bringing in people, such as my new noble friend who sits on the Benches with me today, from outside of politics to help us to run this country most effectively.
My Lords, does the Minister not appreciate that there is a significant difference—
My Lords, with all due respect, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.
My Lords, can the Minister please be more precise about the duties of the Secretary of State with regard to Scotland? He mentioned that the Secretary of State will be assisted by ministerial aides, but can he be precise about the junior ministerial appointments that will be in place and the extent of the Secretary of State’s work on legal, as opposed to administrative and management, duties? It is essential that our Armed Forces have the greatest support possible when they face life and death struggles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
My Lords, I am happy to clarify that. In representing Scotland within the Cabinet, the Secretary of State will have responsibilities for answering questions on Scotland in the other place. He will have a Minister of State for Scotland working with him, who will be responsible for day-to-day matters. I have spoken with my right honourable friend about managing these responsibilities and my responsibilities within the Ministry of Defence. I believe that this House should focus on whether there are any practical issues or evidence of us failing to address matters. We fairly accept that we must be held accountable as Ministers for our results and achievements. If any issues of real substance concern this House and the other place, we will address them.
My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that, while the House may accept that there is, with the industrial issues that may arise through defence, a certain rationale in his position, it is quite different for the Secretary of State? The best analogy that he can produce is with my noble friend Lord Carrington from 1972 to 1974, when we were not engaged in two most grave and difficult encounters, as we are at present. Our forces are in serious danger and there is an urgent need for strong political leadership in the crisis that we face in Iraq and Afghanistan; our forces are entitled to the total and undivided attention of their Secretary of State. I appreciate the difficult position that the Minister is in, but will he listen to the voices in this House and make sure that the message is conveyed to the Prime Minister that, although these things can happen in reshuffles, a serious mistake has been made and it should be corrected?
My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord’s deep experience in these matters, in particular his experience as a previous Secretary of State for Defence. Let me be absolutely clear: I, as a Minister in this House, and my right honourable friend, as the Secretary of State for Defence, recognise that when we have people fighting on our behalf on very difficult operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, making the sacrifices that they are, the absolute, number one priority for us is them. Nothing is more important than that. They have our undivided attention. However, I will do what the noble Lord asked and take the message back. I hope that the noble Lord and this House feel that we listen. We ask the House to assess the achievements that my right honourable friend has made over the past year and what we achieve in future in managing this.
Companies (Political Expenditure Exemption) Order 2007
Official Secrets Act 1989 (Prescription) (Amendment) Order 2007
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Amendment of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006) Order 2007
Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, that the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 24 May, 5 June, 7 June and 15 June be approved. 19th and 20th reports from the Statutory Instruments Committee, Considered in Grand Committee on 3 July.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
On Question, Motions agreed to.
Government: Legislative Programme
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:
“For over one and a half centuries the annual gracious Address has been drafted inside government and agreed by the Cabinet far from the public arena, but I believe it is now right, in the interests of good and open government and public debate, that each year the Prime Minister make a summer Statement to this House so that initial thinking, previously private, can now be the subject of widespread and informed public consultation. Today, in advance of final decisions, the Leader of the House is publishing details of our initial list of proposed legislative measures, inviting debate on them in both Houses this month and making provision for region-by-region deliberation and responses.
“To respond to the rising aspirations of the British people, we must deliver new and better opportunities in education, employment and the provision of housing and health, ensuring that in a fast-changing world there is opportunity and security not just for some but for all British people. A new educational opportunity Bill will mean that for the first time not just some but all young people will stay in education or training until 18. The new Pensions Bill will ensure that for the first time not just some but all working people have the right to a workplace pension with a duty on every employer to contribute towards it.
“Putting affordable housing within the reach not just of the few but the many is vital both to meeting individual aspirations and securing a better future for our country, so for housing and planning in the 2007-08 Session there are three proposed Bills. Let me tell the House the scale of the new opportunities for home buying and renting that we are proposing. In two eras of the last century—the interwar years and the 1950s onwards—Britain made new house building a national priority. Now through this decade and right up to 2020 I want us, in environmentally friendly ways, using principally brownfield land and building eco-towns and villages, to meet housing need by building over a quarter of a million more homes than previously planned—a total by 2020 of 3 million new homes for families across the country. So for England we will raise the annual house-building target for 2016 from 200,000 to 240,000 new homes a year.
“We propose a new Housing Bill which will support and encourage initiatives on the ground by local authorities and other authorities. To do this we will bring together English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation to create a new homes agency, charged with bringing surplus public land back into housing use to deliver more social and affordable housing and support regeneration. This will include new partnerships with local authorities, health authorities and the private and voluntary sectors to build more housing, made affordable by shared equity schemes, and more social housing, responsive to individual needs.
“The Planning Bill will implement the Eddington and Barker reports to speed up the development of the major infrastructure projects that Britain now needs to facilitate economic and housing growth, and to speed up planning generally.
“The planning-gain Supplement Bill—to ensure the public receive benefit from planning gain—is provisional because if, prior to the Pre-Budget Report, a better way is identified of ensuring that local communities receive significantly more of the benefit planning gain to invest in necessary infrastructure and transport—and it is demonstrated that these are a better alternative—the Government will be prepared to defer next Session's legislation.
“To move housing supply forward, English Partnerships is negotiating a new deal with the Ministry of Defence to acquire at least six major redundant sites to build over 7,000 new homes. Similar discussions are being undertaken with the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency and the British Railways Board residuary body; and the Department for Health is undertaking an urgent review of surplus land owned by NHS organisations and trusts to explore opportunities for its transfer and development to provide additional homes. So I can announce that, in total, over 550 sites owned by central government are now being examined for housing development, with the potential for up to 100,000 new homes.
“In addition, we estimate another 60,000 homes can be built on brownfield land currently owned by local authorities. The Minister for Housing will publish further details next week in a Green Paper.
“The Chancellor of the Exchequer is announcing today that he will consult on creating a new regime for ‘covered bonds’ to help mortgage lenders finance more affordable 20 to 25-year fixed-rate mortgages, and he will report by the Budget on how to overcome other barriers preventing lenders from offering people long-term mortgages, including the case for changes to instruments used by the Debt Management Office.
“And, because at the same time as building more affordable homes we must also reduce their environmental impact, we will consult with local councils on using the New Towns Act to enable ‘eco-towns’, with zero or low-carbon housing, to be built more quickly. And I can assure the House that we will continue to protect robustly the land designated as green belt.
“Alongside this, measures in the Climate Change Bill, published in draft on 13 March, will make Britain the first country in the world to introduce a legal framework for reducing carbon emissions by setting targets for carbon emission reductions for each five-year period to 2050. The Energy Bill will provide greater incentives for renewable energy generation. And the Local Transport Bill will support the Government’s strategy to tackle congestion and improve public transport.
“I turn now to some of the other proposed Bills in our programme. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the National Health Service, we will do more to put power in the hands of patients and staff and ensure that every patient gets the best possible treatment. So, alongside the NHS review announced last week, the Health and Social Care Bill will create a stronger health and social care regulator, with a clear remit to ensure improved access, clean and safe services and high-quality care.
“The Children in Care Bill is an attempt to do more to protect vulnerable children, and the Child Maintenance Bill will do more to prevent children from falling into poverty when parents split up. Behind the Unclaimed Assets Bill is our determination that money in dormant bank accounts will be used to improve our country’s youth and community facilities. The Human Tissue and Embryos Bill has already been published in draft.
“To support British businesses as they strive to succeed in the new globalised world—and to break down the barriers holding enterprise back—the Enforcement and Sanctions Bill will keep the burden of regulation on compliant businesses to a minimum, while effectively targeting and penalising those who deliberately disregard the law. The Employment Simplification Bill will deliver simpler and fairer enforcement of the national minimum wage.
“Protecting the security and safety of the British people is paramount for any Government. We stand ready to introduce new measures into the Criminal Justice Bill—to be carried over into the next Session—including those as a result of the review of policing by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, which reports later this year. Because we are committed to building a broad consensus on the right balance between protecting our national security and safeguarding civil liberties, the Home Secretary plans to consult on —and we are seeking an all-party consensus on—new measures to ensure more successful prosecutions against terrorist suspects; increased penalties for terrorists charged with other criminal offences; and on the period of pre-charge detention where, for terrorism alone, exceptional circumstances in my view make it necessary, while ensuring rigorous judicial oversight and parliamentary accountability. As the House knows, we will review the use of intercept material in prosecutions.
“The full and final programme will be set out in the Queen’s Speech in November and many of the proposals that I set out to the House last week will be taken forward in a Constitutional Reform Bill.
“Just as with the challenge of securing justice and security for all, the challenge for this Government, and the foundation of our legislative programme, is to: support all parents with children, not just some; invest in the educational chances of all children, not just some; offer more people the chance to get on the housing ladder; help more people into work; give all patients the best healthcare; and, in this way, respond to the rising aspirations of the British people by ensuring that the opportunities which are today available only to some are available to all.
“I commend the Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I commend the Statement to the House.
My Lords, perhaps I may be the first to thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. In effect, this is a Prime Minister's speech. It mentions 16 Bills which would normally have been mentioned in the gracious Speech. It makes me wonder whether the Prime Minister has graciously left Her Majesty a couple of tiddlers to announce when she comes here in November.
Many of us will also find that this smacks of the further Americanisation of politics—a presidential approach that runs counter to the spin about reducing spin and which is geared more to presentation than to effective constitutional government. It enables the Government to do what they tried to do 10 years ago and were rebuffed for—putting tawdry new Labour slogans, on which the Statement is notably rich, into the announcement of the legislative programme.
I hope that we will think again about the idea of a Prime Minister's speech. Little of this is new. Much of it, such as the Climate Change Bill, welcome though that is, and the Planning Bill, was a re-announcement of a re-announcement. Other aspects, such as the absurdly named Enforcement and Sanctions Bill, which we are told is all about less enforcement and fewer sanctions and regulations, are pre-announcements of what will in due time become re-announcements. Pre-announcements, re-announcements, spin—how very familiar all this is.
The Prime Minister claims to be setting out to solve problems in domestic policy. It is odd how he skates over the fact that he has been running domestic policy in this country for the past 10 years, as the Alastair Campbell diaries again confirm. It is a programme allegedly to solve problems that he himself has largely created.
We are told that there will be a roadshow to discuss the Prime Minister’s speech. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell us how that will operate. We are told that people will have their say. That is to be encouraged, but they are not of course allowed to have their say on what really matters, such as a referendum on the European constitution. Why not? Will there be a website on which people may comment on the Prime Minister’s speech? If so, what guarantee is there that any more notice will be taken of it than of the near 2 million people who wrote in to oppose road pricing? In fact, is there a proposal for a road pricing Bill to be in the parliamentary programme?
The idea of raising the school leaving age to 18 is not new. It will certainly provoke debate, not least among many young people. There is certainly a need to improve standards for children in care, but two more Bills on childcare are no substitute for the kind of measures proposed by my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith in his bold and far-reaching report. Where in this programme is the desperately needed action to bind families and rebuild our broken society? We hear that there is to be yet another health service Bill. Will the noble Baroness tell the House how many NHS Bills there have been since 1997, and how many reorganisations? I count eight Bills and 10 reorganisations, but I may have missed out one or two. Does not embarking on a Bill make a mockery of the so-called NHS review that was announced only last week? How can the Government listen to this review if they have made up their mind already? It is ludicrous and makes one fear that this whole operation is really a giant gimmick.
Of course, we welcome the offer of discussions on security. This is a change, and I congratulate the Prime Minister on it. We also welcome the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, who will take legislation through this House and whom I promise very detailed and constructive scrutiny in Committee. However, may I say how disappointing we on these Benches—and, I suspect, the Liberal Democrats—find the new Prime Minister’s parroting of his predecessor’s obsession with the costly folly of identity cards? Again, there is talk of a Constitutional Reform Bill. As there have been no proposals since the conflicting votes in both Houses earlier this year, will the noble Baroness confirm that this will not include legislation to alter your Lordships’ House? The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill might be an ideal vehicle for the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, whom we also welcome, for putting his deregulatory stamp on legislation and reducing the burdens on employers that have piled up in recent years. The whole House looks forward to his piloting of the Employment Simplification Bill, given the CBI’s trenchant observations in the past on the national minimum wage. Will the noble Baroness confirm that Professor Sir Ara Darzi will lead on the Health and Social Care Bill? The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, was a truly outstanding manager of legislation, and of much else besides, and we will miss him; but Sir Ara’s fame goes before him, and we must assume that the Prime Minister hand-picked him for this role.
It may surprise the noble Baroness to know that we on this side of the House see no need for a debate on this mishmash. If the Government are offering time, let us have debates on specific aspects of policy, such as family breakdown or further change in the health service. Certainly, in due course, we should have a debate on housing, on which the Statement majored. That is a crucial question in which are wrapped many complex questions that go beyond housing into planning, the environment, immigration and family life. That would be far more useful than bringing into this place the kind of general political debate that the other place relishes. After all, we will have due time to discuss these and other proposals in the debate and actual programme of the actual gracious Speech.
I conclude by saying that sadly obscured behind this gimmick is the germ of a good idea; that Parliament should have more time, both before and after legislation, to scrutinise. There are proven mechanisms for that: the Green Paper, the White Paper, the draft Bill, and the kind of pre-legislative scrutiny that is proving to be so valuable on the deeply controversial Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. Those things can take place at any time of the year. We do not have to wait for a Prime Minister’s speech, any more than we have to wait for the gracious Speech. Wrapping it all up in a cocktail risks losing the clarity, distinction and focus that are Parliament’s duty and, if I may say so, this House’s strength.
Sadly, there is nothing in all of this about one glaring lack in our system; that is, post-legislative scrutiny. Would not a bit of time given to post-legislative scrutiny avoid many of the administrative follies and failures that burden our citizens and inform better legislation in the future—for instance, the Licensing Act and the Gambling Act? All I see here is a pig in a poke. While I would welcome any measure that would genuinely improve parliamentary scrutiny, I regret that there is nothing in this pre-planned presentational gimmick that will do anything for that.
My Lords, I thought that it was particularly cruel for the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to refer to all the new Ministers on the Government Front Bench because it is a sad truth that not a single Labour Back-Bencher was promoted to the Front Bench in the recent reshuffle, in spite of the fact that my own Benches were ravaged by the Prime Minister looking for advice from this galaxy of talent I have behind me. I am not as harsh as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the Statement, which was foreshadowed in paragraphs 100 to 102 of The Governance of Britain. It has some welcome initiatives and puts forward ideas about how Parliament and the public can discuss plans and priorities. I also disagree with the noble Lord about a debate in this House. I understand that the Conservatives pressed for a debate at the other end. I hope that we will have time for a debate. On the regions, the Statement says that “region by region” they will be consulted. Perhaps the Lord President will explain how this regional consultation will work and whether any of the consultations will be able to change plans and priorities.
The danger is that the Prime Minister is raising expectations about his style of government. Is this a genuine sea change in terms of avoiding legislative overload and knee-jerk reactions? Is it a real commitment to move power out of Whitehall, to work out a new concordat between central and local government, and to transfer real power, including financial responsibility, for delivering local services? Is it an end to the micromanaging of health and education from the centre? These are the real tests against which these proposals will be judged.
On terrorism, I share with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the willingness to explore how we keep together an all-party consensus. I notice that the Prime Minister was rather coy when he said in the Statement that,
“we are seeking an all party consensus on … the period of pre-charge detention where, for terrorism alone, exceptional circumstances make it necessary”.
The paper is more blunt. It states:
“We look for possible extension of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects beyond the current limit of 28 days”.
If the woolly words in the Statement mean that the Government are coming back to extend the 28 days, I can say only that from these Benches such a proposal will be vigorously tested and vigorously opposed.
I shall not try to cover all the issues, but I look at the housing commitments with some enthusiasm as a vice-president of Shelter and as one who came into politics at a time when housing was at the top of our agenda. Harold Macmillan made his reputation by building 300,000 houses a year. It is perhaps an example of how housing has dropped off our radar that 50 years later the aim is for 240,000 houses. I would ask the Leader of the House to remember that in the south-east of England, particularly in places such as Hertfordshire, there is a real concern that the green belt will be gobbled up and that local opinion will be overruled by new planning laws.
On education, I welcome the commitment to educate more young people until they are 18. I think that there is a special role for FE colleges to play in this. Many young people who drop out of school do not take kindly to formal academic education, but I am consistently impressed during my visits to FE colleges at how they provide both academic and vocational education which is tailored to that age group and to those who may not have stayed in education.
A little nugget to which I am very attracted is the use of unclaimed assets for youth facilities. Again showing my age, I belong to a generation that benefited from youth clubs and a whole network of youth provision. Research studies show that there is a link between good youth facilities in local areas and tackling vandalism and youth crime. If this is a way of putting money into those areas and providing facilities, that is to be welcomed.
At the heart of this, there seems to be a wish to see an end to over-legislation. My right honourable friend Sir Menzies Campbell referred to the 29 criminal justice and related Acts of the past 10 years, which have produced more than 3,000 new offences. We are looking for quality, not quantity, in legislation. On the constitution, I should like to ask the Lord President of the Council where this is going to go. We have been promised a Constitutional Reform Bill. Does that rule out any proposal for a constitutional convention or a wider consultation on constitutional reform? The lessons of the past show that the broader the consensus, the better the chance of carrying constitutional reform through.
We are not as sceptical as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but we are looking for delivery as well as promises. We are looking for a greener, fairer, freer society to come from these measures, and we will judge them on their merits.
My Lords, I thought that I detected the nugget of a congratulatory note in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, particularly—and rightly—in the context of seeking all-party consensus wherever possible on the issue of terrorism. Indeed, I am delighted that both noble Lords have endorsed the approach, if I may put it as strongly as that.
The purpose of what we have before us is very important. Noble Lords will know that I have spent a huge amount of time in this House on legislation—seven Bills last year and goodness knows how many the year before. One of the issues that always arises both in your Lordships’ House and in another place is the opportunity to be able to consider the issues coming to us in legislation before they are turned into legislation itself. By giving the House the opportunity now and each summer hereafter to consider the sorts of proposals being put forward by the Government, it will be more able to carry out its work as a revising Chamber.
Both noble Lords have asked about regions and road shows. We have identified regional Ministers in the other place who will play a major part in taking forward how we develop this, but we are looking at how best to make sure that we do have the kind of local and regional discussions noble Lords wish to see, particularly on issues such as development in Hertfordshire. The noble Lord and I both live in St Albans and are very mindful of the green belt and the issues surrounding affordable housing at the same time. It is important to take this to the regional and local level.
I teased the noble Lord as he spoke that it would take two minutes before he got to the referendum. No doubt it will re-emerge and I will be able to deal with it in our future discussions on the Statement. The noble Lord also spoke about the National Health Service and was kind enough to remind me about the numbers of Bills and reorganisations. I was chair of a health authority and so I, too, have been involved on the ground. It is important that we look carefully at the National Health Service. I am delighted that my colleague will be leading the review and that we have the expertise of such an eminent individual to take us forward on that.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to being ravaged by these Benches. I should say to the noble Lord that we may not be done yet. We are seeking to draw on the talents of your Lordships’ House and beyond to work with the Government, without prejudice and with great independence, to ensure that we get for this country the best possible people able to work. That is a worthy aim. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is keen to have a debate in your Lordships’ House. We will listen to the House. We will certainly make time available if that is what the House wishes but I am keen and interested to know what noble Lords feel about this and will respond accordingly.
Are we raising expectations in what we are doing? Yes. It is right and proper for the Government to raise expectations of what we are seeking to achieve, not for the Government but for the country. Within the programme we have put forward we have laid out some very important forward-looking approaches to tackle some of the difficulties that still remain.
Housing is a key area. We have said that we will protect the green belt vigorously—“robustly”, I think, was the word used by my right honourable friend—and we will. We shall look to see how best we can provide accommodation and housing for the different and varied people who wish to have accommodation, single people being a particular concern.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said about young people and about further education colleges. Those issues are being looked at so that the offer for our young people is as good as it should be. I think the proposal to use unclaimed assets offers an opportunity to create the kind of services the noble Lord, Lord McNally, remembers and—again I declare an interest with teenage children—would enable us to provide opportunities for our children, the vast majority of whom are absolutely wonderful. We need to remember that they are deeply involved in their communities, hard working and attempt to do their very best.
We will be embarking on consultations and looking to see what more we can do. I hope we will have the opportunity, both today and on other occasions, to discuss with the ministerial team who are with me today on the Front Bench and others outside how best to take forward this programme to the great benefit of our nation.
My Lords, at least in relation to the timing, this is a completely new approach to the announcement of legislation proposed for the next Session of Parliament. Unlike in recent years, we shall have a period from now of a form of pre-legislative scrutiny as the proposals can now be the subject of widespread and informed public consultation; and later this year, of course, we shall have some days of debate on the Address after the programme is in a more specified form in the Queen’s Speech.
The earlier statement of government intentions will be very welcome if it enables draft legislation to be better and more sensitive to parliamentary and public opinion expressed in the interim. That is the intention, it is possible to do it and it would be very welcome. But, of course, for informed public consultation at least some of the proposals may need more supporting information, greater definition of the purposes and coverage and, perhaps in the autumn, the first results of consultation.
For example, this splendid book showing the carbon footprint of the Palace of Westminster on the front cover contains an enormous amount of useful information. The Constitutional Reform Bill is of real interest to Cross-Benchers, and the document states that the draft legislation and the main elements of the Bill may in many cases depend on subsequent consultation exercises. So the handling of the Bill is going to be quite difficult and will be of considerable interest to us.
Finally, there is a sentence about inviting debate on these issues in both Houses this month. I heard what the noble Baroness said but, in the light of the Prime Minister’s Statement, the Cross-Benchers would need to be kept closely in touch with what is proposed for discussion in this House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for his welcome. This opportunity will enhance our ability to look at legislation and consider the issues that noble Lords and people throughout the country feel are important. We will end up with a better legislative programme, and noble Lords will be more familiar with the legislation by the time it arrives in your Lordships' House. Many noble Lords over the years have raised with me the importance of that.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will lead on the Constitutional Reform Bill and is leading for the Ministry of Justice on Lords reform. There he is in an important new guise. He will bring all the skills that he has available to him to deal with these matters. I know that he will be bringing forward his own views, but, within the Constitutional Reform Bill, there will not be provisions for Lords reform—I did not answer that question directly. Of course, I will keep the Cross-Benchers closely in touch with our discussions.
My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that the latest projections produced by the Government Actuary’s Department show that between 2004 and 2031 the population of the United Kingdom will rise by 7.2 million? Nearly 6 million of that 7.2 million will be due to immigration. That is enough to populate six or seven cities the size of Birmingham. Does not the Leader of the House think that it is odd to talk, as the Prime Minister has, of the need for millions of new houses without acknowledging the strain that mass immigration puts on services such as housing and on the very fabric of society? Surely it is time that the Government address the need to restore some semblance of immigration control. That should be at the forefront of the Government’s thinking when they are considering what should be in next year's programme.
My Lords, I would signal to the noble Lord the massive contribution made over the generations by people who have come to this country, settled here and developed their businesses. The work that they have done in this nation has helped to make it as great as it is. That has happened generation upon generation, and some of those people, I am pleased and thrilled to say, are represented in your Lordships' House. That contribution brings benefits. It is right and proper when considering our housing policy that we are mindful of the range of different people within our country, not least, as I have already indicated, the needs of single people.
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Baroness about the status of the speech today and the document that is before us. We have heard before about pre-legislative scrutiny. Are we now talking about something different in that we are looking at a summer of reflection?
This booklet is detailed. I have always thought of a Bill as a piece of concrete that is very nearly set when it is brought before us. Instead, will we have a jar of putty? This is an important point. On the penultimate page of the booklet, there is an item referred to by my noble friend, the Unclaimed Assets Bill, which is significant. There may be such things as orphan shares, orphan insurance policies and unclaimed moneys in the Co-op. On the other hand, it occurs to me that these assets have been built up in the specific communities where these banks and building societies are based and they should have a claim rather than the country at large. Can such matters be raised and placed in the Bill or is the die cast?
My Lords, the noble Lord has set out perfectly why this is an important Statement and an important moment in the life of this Government. For precisely the reasons he mentioned with regard to that particular proposed legislation, we should be discussing these issues not only in your Lordships' House but around the country, in regions and with organisations that have those assets.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the pace of social change in this country is so fast that people demand to be informed much more effectively by politicians? If politicians do not rise to that challenge, we are all in trouble. I very much welcome this approach, because it opens up the possibility of more people being involved in discussing legislation before it reaches this House. That is one of the other reasons why I have always supported both pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. I believe, particularly having heard the Leader of the Opposition here, that any politician or political party that keeps to its current position will stay in the past. It will be a party not of the future but the past.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. It is right for people to expect us to keep them better informed of our proposals, and this is part of that process. Obviously, I am interested as well in what noble Lords say about both pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, important issues that no doubt we will discuss in your Lordships' House very shortly.
My Lords, like others in the House, or certainly on these Benches, I very much welcome my noble friend’s proposal for a more inclusive approach towards the Queen’s Speech. She will not be surprised if I ask her about one Bill that she mentioned for next year, the pensions Bill. She will know that, for the personal accounts in that Bill to be safely bought and sold, they must be underpinned by a complete basic state pension. Will my noble friend give the House warm words on the amendment that the whole House supported just a week ago today, which would make that possible and thus deliver the Bill much more securely in next year’s Queen’s Speech?
My Lords, my warm words will be entirely reserved for my noble friend, who has been a champion on the issue of pensions and women for many years. I pay enormous tribute to her. However, my noble friend Lord McKenzie, to whom I also pay tribute for the incredible amount of work he has done in this area along with his honourable and right honourable colleagues, will deal with the issues on the current Pensions Bill later today.
My Lords, I wish to press the noble Baroness the Leader of the House a step further about the constitutional reform Bill. If we are to have the widest possible consultation, as she suggests, that legislation would be a prime candidate for pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill by a Joint Committee so that both Houses can be fully involved. There are five pages on this Bill in the document produced by the Government to accompany the Statement, but frankly it is still very sketchy. That would surely be a very admirable way in which to pursue the objectives to which the Prime Minister and the noble Baroness referred.
Is there any significance in the fact that the picture on the front of this document appears to show the sun setting over the Houses of Parliament?
Maybe just the House of Lords, my Lords, who knows?
My Lords, that was a joke. I think that it is a beautiful picture, chosen because it shows off to great effect the beauty of the building that we are privileged to sit in. I hope the noble Lord will see nothing more significant in it than that.
It is very important that we have consultation on constitutional reform, and I have no doubt that I and, more importantly, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will provide opportunities to do that. As for whether the Bill should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee, I thank the noble Lord for the idea, which I shall discuss with my noble friend.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and particularly welcome the priority given in three Bills to housing and planning. This generation will not forgive us if we do not act quickly to deal with the scourge of unaffordable housing, but the next generation will not forgive us if we do so at the expense of the environment, so I am particularly pleased to see these issues twinned with the proposed measures on energy and climate change, and absolutely delighted with the proposals on eco-towns. I look forward to a vigorous debate in the House.
My Lords, I agree with everything my noble friend has said. I pay tribute to her for the incredible amount of work that she has done on these issues. The approach that she sets out is absolutely right.
My Lords, have any arrangements been made for cross-party consultation on counterterrorism measures, or for the government debate on which this matter could be further considered in the light of recent events?
My Lords, I do not know the detail of conversations that may have occurred in another place. However, when those details are available, I shall ensure that noble Lords, especially the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, are fully informed.
My Lords, I support the comments of the noble Baroness opposite on the value of this paper’s suggestions about housing. I have a slightly different question. The decline of council housing has resulted in the inability to retain as low-cost housing those houses which have been built for that purpose. The minute somebody moves from a cheaper house to a better one, it goes on the market. Have the noble Baroness or the new Prime Minister, with all his financial experience, given any thought to that matter?
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very important and interesting point. The Minister for Housing, my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper, will make a Statement next week. I know that she has been considering these issues. I shall ensure that the noble Baroness’s comments are passed on to her. I think that I was the first person in the country to have a shared-equity flat, in Ladbroke Grove in London. My picture was in the Guardian, as I remember. That provision made a huge difference to my life, so one of the things that I feel very passionately about in what we are proposing is the opportunity for young people to use shared equity.
My Lords, I have a slightly more worrying reflection. We are, perhaps inadvertently, gradually altering our unwritten constitution step-by-step. It seems to me that this has certain perils. We do not know what the ultimate road will be. We ought to take account of that. The Government are not sure where it will end up; perhaps they have not decided yet. Indeed, it reminds me of the limerick by Edward Lear about the young man of Ostend, who thought he could hold out to the end, but just half the way over from Calais to Dover, he did what he didn’t intend. What do the Government finally intend to do? If we want to alter our unwritten constitution should we not do so in an orderly and systematic way rather than using the salami tactic?
My Lords, I do not have a limerick to compete with the noble Lord’s. I think that what he is driving at is precisely what we are seeking to do in the proposals we have set out today: to enable us to consider in the round not only individual pieces of legislation but a legislative programme. As noble Lords pointed out, when one considers housing, for example, there are interconnected issues such as energy and climate change where it is of great benefit to see where the Government are going more generally.
My Lords, will there not be a one-off opportunity to replenish the supply of rented housing with the selling-off of the land at present owned by health authorities, the Ministry of Defence and local authorities? If all that land were used for building rented housing, there would be a tremendous boost to the supply, perhaps on a one-off basis, which would compensate for all the public sector land sold off in the past to build £300,000 executive houses, as in the case of Orpington and Farnborough Hospitals in my former constituency of Orpington.
My Lords, I thought that I mentioned in the Statement that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Yvette Cooper, the Housing Minister, have identified 550 sites where they believe we will be able to make additional land provision. Of course, the discussions have taken into account Ministry of Defence and local and health authority land.
My Lords, first, this is a startling departure from previous arrangements. Presumably, Her Majesty the Queen has been consulted on this. It would be interesting to know that. Secondly, on placing Parliament’s right to ratify treaties on a statutory basis, presumably this House will still be involved in the ratification process. Does it mean—I am thinking especially of European Union treaties—that Parliament will be able to amend treaties, or will it still have to accept either the whole or nothing at all?
My Lords, No. 10 has liaised with the Palace at all stages about the proposals to publish a draft legislative programme. On the European Union treaty issues, the Portuguese presidency, which started on 1 July, has said that it will endeavour to finalise the approach that it wishes to take, at the end of which decisions will be taken. Obviously, if there is legislation to be brought forward, it will come to both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, there is clearly a difference between a draft programme and draft Bills. There was nothing in the Statement about chapter 3 of the programme, dealing with draft Bills. Having read chapter 3, I completely endorse it; there is nothing objectionable in it, but I could not find anything new in it. Can the noble Baroness enlighten me? In particular, is it the intention that most Bills will be published in draft? Will she also say something on the one notable omission in relation to the legislative process, to which my noble friend alluded: the absence of any reference to post-legislative scrutiny?
My Lords, we have tried to bring together the different processes in the document because we felt it would be appropriate. It may be a reiteration of current practice, but it is none the less, as the noble Lord will know, important to put the whole process in the document. I trust that the document will be read not only by Members of your Lordships’ House and another place but more widely, and it will be available on the web. Therefore, it is important to set out the process. Draft Bills are always done on a case-by-case basis. I take what the noble Lord says, but part of what we are trying to do is ensure that there are many more opportunities to consider the issues as well as the detail of the legislation. I hear what the noble Lord says about post-legislative scrutiny. Indeed, we are all thinking about that at the moment.
My Lords, I greatly welcome the Statement and the plans to build 3 million new homes by 2020. Does my noble friend agree that those homes should be built to meet people’s changing needs throughout their lifetime and not put wholly unnecessary pressures on health and social care services because of their inaccessibility? That is the interconnectedness that she just mentioned. Does she further agree that builders and developers will not build to the lifetime home standards unless it is a mandatory requirement and not just voluntary as at the moment?
My Lords, those are important points. As I indicated in my comments about single people, it is important that we think about the housing needs of our population in the round and build accordingly. I take on board my noble friend’s comment.
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pensions Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Bill read a third time.
moved Amendment No. 1:
1: Insert the following new clause-
“Post-legislative scrutinyFour years after the passing of this Act the Secretary of State shall arrange for post-legislative scrutiny of this Act to check on its operation and may arrange subsequent scrutiny.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I will be brief. Perhaps I could at the start make one point clear to the House. Last week, the Government were defeated on an amendment on added years, which we all remember. My speech on that occasion was much praised by the well respected columnist Jackie Ashley in the Guardian, who said that “the most eloquent support” for the amendment came from me. Personally, I totally agree with that assessment, but I have to admit that the words that she quoted as spoken by me were in fact uttered by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. That is a great pity, because it was the best notice that I have received in the Guardian for years.
This speech is mine, which is probably a great mistake, but I have hopes that my speech writer last week may have some sympathy with the amendment. I am delighted—and I say that with feeling—that my Front Bench are supporting me on this occasion and that I am supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, and the Liberal Democrats.
My Lords, I beg both noble Lords’ pardon.
I have never had so much trouble in trying to persuade the Government to act in their own interests and to prevent the kind of expensive errors that can cost the taxpayer dear and harm the public. I think that I am semi-encouraged by what the Leader of the House said a moment ago—that the Government are “thinking” about post-legislative scrutiny. That is better, given that they have previously rejected it out of hand. We need a little bit of form, as I am sure the Minister would agree.
We now accept the case for pre-legislative scrutiny of proposed legislation before it is introduced and we accept that it can be of immense value. It enables some of the issues that might otherwise cause problems to be hammered out beforehand, and it can produce better legislation. But that is only half of the problem. The other half is what actually happens after legislation is passed. Have its intentions been carried out? Have new problems arisen that have not been foreseen? That is why post-legislative scrutiny is important. In my experience, major problems have arisen in pensions legislation, and they have arisen here. The legislation may be clear enough, but its implementation can fall down.
I give two examples of that. The first is my own legislation, the Social Security Act 1986. Among its provisions was a measure, now accepted by this Government, to reduce the maximum amount of SERPS that widows or widowers could inherit on the death of their spouse. We postponed the start date for 14 years to 2000, so that people could prepare for the change. As Secretary of State, I issued a leaflet after enactment which everyone agreed correctly set out the change. My then Minister of State, John Major, promised a major publicity campaign to inform everyone of the change, even more than they had been informed by the debates on the legislation.
After the 1987 election, we both left the Department of Health and Social Security. There was no major publicity campaign, which John Major had promised; even worse, the department issued a leaflet that was wrong. The department’s leaflet, NP32, wrongly stated that a widow could inherit the whole of her late husband’s pension. The error was not discovered until 1995—interestingly, in a debate in this Chamber and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Gould. The error was entirely administrative—that is admitted. Rachel Lomax, who became permanent secretary at the Department of Social Security, explained the reasons to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. She said:
“What I am saying is that when Bills are going through the House and Ministers are tremendously engaged in something and there is a big presentational task to be done, you get the attention of the top people in the Department and this great clustering of officials you talk about. Regrettably, when it comes to disseminating that sort of information in technical leaflets, you do not”.
“I do think that is the fundamental problem here. Nobody actually looks from the policy, the concept, right down to when it hits the customer”.
These were not the words of a politician but of a leading civil servant in Whitehall, and anyone with government experience knows exactly what can happen in the government machine.
How would post-legislative scrutiny have helped? First, any scrutiny of that kind would look at the proceedings of Parliament—at what Ministers have actually said, particularly when they are giving assurances on what will happen. They would have spotted that John Major’s assurance of a major publicity campaign was not being carried out. Equally, any scrutiny would have examined the leaflets issued. They might also have looked at what was happening in the marketplace where some unscrupulous or ill informed insurance salesmen succeeded in persuading people to leave good final-salary schemes for contributory schemes.
That takes me to my second example, which was discussed at length earlier in our proceedings. I refer to a range of people who claimed that they had been misled into joining occupational pension schemes that then folded. That was examined by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. I do not want to go into the detail of that case, which has been well rehearsed, and to which we will doubtless return. The first of the three findings on the maladministration said that,
“official information—about the security that members of final salary occupational pension schemes could expect from the MFR”—
the minimum funding requirement—
“provided by the bodies under investigation—was sometimes inaccurate, often incomplete, largely inconsistent and therefore potentially misleading, and that this constituted maladministration”.
That was a case and the advice given stretched from 1995 to 2004. It is also possible that the kind of post-legislative scrutiny that I am advocating in this amendment could have prevented at least some of the advice being given in the terms that it was, which would have been a saving to the public Exchequer and would have benefited the public greatly. It should be remembered that errors in pensions can cost many millions of pounds either in savings forgone or in compensation. That is why it is in the interests of any Government to allow sensible measures of post-legislative scrutiny. I support post-legislative scrutiny, as indeed does the Law Commission, of all Acts of Parliament. Ministers may not always like the result of such scrutiny—I see that—for it may reveal mistakes in implementation, but the sooner mistakes are picked up the better and less costly the whole process will be. Nowhere is that more important than in pensions legislation where mistakes can cost so much.
The amendment would give the Government maximum flexibility. I emphasise that; we are not advocating an expensive course. The Government Front Bench and my own Front Bench should note that we are not talking about an independent commission, which cost £1.5 billion, corrected to £1.5 million last week by the Minister. We want independent scrutiny; there is no point in doing it unless it is independent. The most obvious course is for it to be carried out by a Select Committee—whether joint or of only one House—or some other form of parliamentary committee. We are not asking that all issues should be debated again. We are concerned to ensure that the intention and declared aim of the legislation is being implemented. That is what the amendment is all about. If passed, it would be attached to this Bill, although as I said, there is a case for attaching it to all Bills. It would certainly be attached to the next Bill on pensions, which we know will follow.
This Bill has important provisions in a whole range of areas, including the uprating of the state pension, an increase in the state pension age, preparations for the personal accounts scheme and the delivery authority. No one can argue that this is insignificant legislation; it is very important legislation and it is very important that we get it right.
There is one further and final good reason for taking the step set out in the amendment. The new Prime Minister wants the role of Parliament restored. I agree wholly with that aim. This measure would take us a further step down that road. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend’s amendment introducing a new clause. Both government and Parliament tend to regard Royal Assent as the end of the legislative process. Legislative success is judged in terms of how many Bills are enacted, not in terms of what effect they have. It is essential that we recognise that the legislative process exists beyond Royal Assent. That is a midway point, not an end point. It is essential that we devote more time and resources to assessing whether an Act has fulfilled its purpose. Otherwise, as my noble friend has said, the danger is that problems only become apparent too late or, sometimes, not at all.
Post-legislative scrutiny, as suggested by this amendment, can serve to improve the quality of legislation introduced to Parliament. The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House in its 2004 report, Parliament and the Legislative Process, endorsed the principle of such scrutiny and recommended that each Bill be accompanied by a list of criteria by which one can judge whether it had fulfilled its purpose. That, it recognised, would help to concentrate the minds of Ministers and departments. It would inject greater rigour into the process and provide a reasonably objective basis for assessment. I chaired the committee in that inquiry. All the witnesses who gave evidence on the subject recognised the value of engaging in such scrutiny. They included the then Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, who said in his evidence to the committee:
“Departments are frequently involved in assessing the effects of legislation and policy at pretty well all stages. Whether it is being done sufficiently rigorously or consistently is another question. In principle I think this is a very fruitful avenue for us to explore together because there is no point in passing legislation if it is not having the desired impact or it is having a different impact”.
I reiterate that last point:
“there is no point in passing legislation if it is not having the desired impact or it is having a different impact”.
How do we know whether it is having the desired effect? The best way, as my noble friend has said, is by engaging in post-legislative scrutiny. There are now a number of precedents for such scrutiny. I strongly believe that we need to build on those precedents and, if possible, inject a structured means for regular, post-legislative scrutiny.
The Law Commission, as my noble friend touched upon, reported last October and recommended a means by which Parliament can engage in more consistent post-legislative scrutiny. The Government have yet to reply to that report. In the mean time, they could do no better than endorse this provision. The timescale stipulated in the new clause seems eminently reasonable. The principle that underpins it is unassailable. The provisions are not over prescriptive. I commend it to the House.
My Lords, if your Lordships have any doubts about my claim on Report that my noble friend Lord Fowler and I were still talking to each other, my name on this amendment would, I hope, dispel them. My noble friend is quite right in saying that over the past 10 years we have had major improvements in our consideration of Bills. We have produced valuable pre-legislative scrutiny—on the Disability Discrimination Bill, for instance, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, will remember—where the Joint Committee’s deliberations informed not only the Government in drawing up the final Bill but also the debates on that Bill in both Houses. It is a far better Act than it would otherwise have been, mainly because of the direct input of stakeholders, not least the disability charities. The interests of stakeholders are what the Statement we have just been listening to was all about. Such pre-legislative scrutiny is not pertinent to every Bill, especially those where it is necessary to have them on the statute book within a year. Nevertheless, where Bills are suitable, the procedure has worked well.
This year, another place has decided to experiment with a shortened form of pre-legislative scrutiny. The Minister and I will shortly be discussing the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, which had its Second Reading in another place last week. It has been agreed that the first two Committee sittings will be evidence-taking, before that House settles down to discuss it in the normal way. If this modified procedure is a success, it will be suitable for far more Bills.
Like the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council just now, I am therefore a devoted fan of pre-legislative scrutiny. However, there is a gap in our legislative armoury which my noble friend has quite properly identified in the amendment.
It often takes a minor earthquake—perhaps losing a court case—to persuade the Government of the day to bring in an amending Bill. Even then, it takes forever to squeeze it into the legislative programme for a particular year.
When Parliament is faced with a Bill on such a complicated subject as pensions, it is almost inevitable that it contains clauses with perverse effects or which do not achieve what was intended. Rather than drip-feeding those niggles into the government machine, it would be far better to have a thorough review of the resultant Act after a period. My noble friend Lord Fowler, with all his experience, believes that that should be four years, and I agree. It is a point on which the consensual alliance between the Minister and me may, I suspect, break down. Large chunks of Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill are hideously complicated and they are there for life. Who is to say now that the amended dispute resolution procedure in Clause 16 will prove satisfactory; or that the new arrangements for carer’s credits and the deductions in qualifying years for a full state pension will benefit women to the extent that Ministers say they will; or that 68 will remain the appropriate age to receive a state pension? A properly orchestrated review would identify such problems and point to the need for alterations, not only administrative alterations but also legislative ones.
In the past, I have made adverse comments about skeleton Bills that are filled in with innumerable statutory instruments. The financial assistance scheme—about which we talked at some length, although it is only a clause—is a prime example. The Merits Committee has said time and again that orders should not be made, except for the purposes defined in their parent Acts. I could not agree more strongly. Altering Acts by statutory instrument years after their enactment because failings are identified or circumstances change is not the way that government should behave. A review, such as that proposed by my noble friend, which leads to the correction of administrative mistakes and, if necessary, to an amending Bill, is a worthy adjunct to our parliamentary procedures, and I support it unequivocally.
My Lords, I am delighted to give the official support of these Benches to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and I am equally delighted that we are ending this stage of the Bill in this House with both of the main official Opposition parties singing again from the same hymn sheet.
In his introduction, the noble Lord discussed the rather incorrect report in the Guardian on Monday of the great triumph last week. The report was even more interesting than that because it named every speaker apart from the two of us from these Benches, my noble friend Lady Thomas and me. If you read it, you would not be aware that only the Liberal Democrats were officially supporting that Motion. However, the Guardian has its own ways. In the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, Ian Cowie and Harriet Meyer gave an excellent, full and proper account, and so did the Sunday Telegraph. It is interesting how the wheel turns.
I was particularly pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, saying on the Statement how much he welcomed post-legislative scrutiny. We hope that all noble Lords will take this opportunity to strike a blow for that today.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, pointed out the Law Commission report. I have done a little digging on that. Before this debate, I asked the Library to check what the latest state of play on that was. I remind noble Lords that on 10 January the previous Leader of the House said that the Government were grateful to the Law Commission for its work on post-legislative scrutiny—let me say that it was excellent work—and that they were consulting within government before responding formally to its proposals. Indeed, she said that she was attracted to the notion. This afternoon, the Library checked with the Law Commission to see where this had got to. A fair summary of the Law Commission’s reply was, “We don’t know when the Government will respond, and we don’t even know which Minister is in charge of seeing that we get a response”. That is six months on from the reply I quoted from the Leader of the House. On the assumption that we hear nothing more this Session, it will be at least a year from the publication of the Law Commission’s report before, at the very earliest, the Government give their reply. You do not often hear long grass growing quite so loud, do you? So, whatever the result of this amendment to the Bill, will the Minister undertake to find out from the new Leader of the House who is in charge of responding to the Law Commission’s report, and when that response will appear?
The Hansard Society a couple of years ago also made a similar and strong point that Parliament should review the laws it passes. It referred to the fact that when a law is enacted and implemented, its provisions bind society, unless it is subsequently repealed or amended, and that it is often only after its implementation that the effects and implications of an Act can be truly assessed. But it is at that point that Parliament usually shifts its focus to other measures. So, rather than leaving post-legislative review to chance, there should be an agreed process to assess how legislation is working in practice. It says that,
“post-legislative scrutiny is informal and haphazard and usually takes place when a law has caused obvious controversy”.
Funnily enough, it then mentions the Child Support Agency, which is exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, rightly brought up,
We remember well the previous Pensions Bill. This would be about the time that, had we had this provision in that Bill, we would be undertaking post-legislative scrutiny. I refer in particular to the position of the Pensions Regulator which is now for the first time likely to be tested in court. The regulator has just served his first contribution notice in the case of Sea Containers. The Pension Protection Fund is now fully up and running. Looking back three or four years is the ideal time to do post-legislative scrutiny on that Bill.
It is high time that we stopped talking and voted to start scrutinising. Pensions are the ideal place to start.
My Lords, I shall not be supporting the amendment, but I have a lot of sympathy with both the proposal and many of the arguments made this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, mentioned SERPS, which, with your Lordships’ help, I had the delight of seeking subsequently to untangle in a way that did not betray any understandings or misunderstandings of what was envisaged.
Let me give some other examples. There was the 1995 legislation and what turned out to be the inadequacy of the minimum funding requirement, and the failure, as a result, to put in place a pension protection fund—a central discontinuance fund—which might have abated that risk. There was the failure when we were dealing with stakeholders, and I was the Minister responsible. We chose not to go for a compulsory contribution from employers because of the argument about burdens on business. We were led to believe that employers would none the less do the decent thing. Not surprisingly, something like 85 per cent of them did not. They erected the schemes but did not contribute; they remained shell schemes. There was a clause in the Bill allowing compulsion to be introduced for 3 per cent. It was not fleshed out; it did not happen; and we therefore have to have personal accounts and a brand new start again.
Another example is pension credit, which I am sure we would all agree on. I was delighted that pension credit has done so much to address the poverty of our elder pensioners. Perhaps we did not fully appreciate the fact that if the basic state pension stays price-linked and pension credit is earnings-linked, you have built in an impetus with the best of intentions to bring more and more people into the thicket of means-testing. That is what we have done. All those issues might have been picked up by some version of review.
What perhaps surprised me a little was that although we expect Ministers to churn about within departments every 18 months or so, I had not appreciated that senior civil servants churn on average, so far as I can see, about every three years within a department. So departments come to a topic with a departmental agenda but not necessarily with a departmental memory. The result is that, despite all the best intentions and the highest intelligence in the world, you do not actually have a learning loop informally built into the system in which experience can be brought to bear on continuing processes. That is why in my view we need a more structured way of dealing with this. I am not sure whether the amendment is the right way, any more than an independent commission is, and I am hoping that my noble friend can suggest ways that the department will be dealing with this. Certainly we have been doing that for some women's pension issues—gender issues—and that has been extremely valuable.
In most areas of social security, if there is a problem with benefits, because they are instantly available—people are instantly eligible and instantly pick it up—we can see problems very quickly. With pensions, we are laying down ground rules that may not mature to affect the individual until 20, 30 or 40 years down the road. If there is no ongoing process of scrutiny, by the time that problems see the light of day naturally, people may have already lost entitlement and rights and may have behaved in ways that end up being against their financial best interest. For all our sakes, we want to avoid that.
I am not persuaded that the amendment is necessarily the right way to proceed; but I am persuaded that there is an issue here that needs to be addressed. I hope that my noble friend can tell us how the department proposes to proceed with this.
My Lords, I am not necessarily opposed to the amendment, but I do have some questions for its supporters. The Bill will not become fully operative for quite some time. Four years seems to be a very short time after which to undertake post-legislative scrutiny. By its nature, pensions legislation is concerned with long-term stability. We are anxious to ensure that people expect legislation to be in place and operative for a very long time, until the time when they become entitled to their pensions. If there is to be constant scrutiny, people will wonder about the degree of stability that exists in pensions legislation. So I have some doubts about whether the wording is appropriate.
Although, as my noble friend Lady Hollis said, issues often arise that have not been thought about when legislation is discussed in the House, I remind her that the issue of the minimum funding requirement was raised in an amendment at the time that that Bill was before the House, as was the whole issue of the wages index. My friend Lady Castle and I fought on a number of occasions to have the wages index linked to the state pension provision. These issues come up during the discussion of legislation without it necessarily requiring post-legislative scrutiny at frequent intervals to provide effective legislative cover for pensioners and future pensioners.
My Lords, I was very impressed by what I heard about post-legislative scrutiny as an instrument in many instances and I support that whole approach. I regard it as even more important for this Bill, not least because the complications that, as we all know, arise almost at once when expectations are not matched tend to be put to one side by both Ministers and civil servants, rather than facing up to the longer-term implications.
I am not certain that I would not have preferred to have had the original amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, but I can see that, as a compromise, this may be a step towards confronting the issue. If we can have at least one go at assessing in four years’ time just what the effect has been, with a Select Committee looking at what has taken place, it will, I hope, make a firm recommendation that there should be another look in another four years’ time.
There are some very important aspects of the Bill. There is the whole recognition by the Government of the Turner report view of the role of carers, redressing some of the awful behaviour towards those who have carried out that role in the past. It will be good to see exactly how that is working out. We will want to see the effect of the very welcome amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on the nine years of contributions that we can add to people’s earnings. It was passed last week, and I hope that it will stay in the Bill when it goes to another place.
It would be very helpful to know those things, as well as life expectancy trends. Life expectancy has changed really quite considerably. On a personal note, I would like to know whether the gap between men’s and women’s life expectancy has narrowed to the point where I really can press for the annuities question to be taken on board. For all these reasons, I warmly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, as a step forward, but I rather hope that someone will recognise the need to do this rather sooner than in four years’ time.
My Lords, I have one small point to add to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about delegated legislation. One of the many benefits of post-legislative scrutiny of the Bill would be that it would enable Parliament, practitioners and the public to know which parts of the Bill have been triggered by the appropriate delegated legislation and which have not, and whether there is any timescale in which the rest of it may be triggered. Clause 36, for example, deals with orders and regulations. Subsection (3) says:
“Before the Secretary of State makes any regulations by virtue of … section 15(5), or … section 18(9), he must consult such persons as he considers appropriate”.
How do we know when these regulations will be made? That is one virtue of post-legislative scrutiny which is not brought out enough. People think that all parts of a Bill come into force at the same time once it is enacted, which is very far from the case.
My Lords, I rather hoped that we could end with consensus across the House on this last amendment. We thought long and hard about this matter, but unfortunately I cannot support the amendment. I suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and I can at least say that we have the satisfaction of being reunited with our Back-Benchers on an issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has argued strongly for the value of post-legislative scrutiny. Indeed, we support the idea that greater effort should be given to this issue. I begin by reminding noble Lords of the Government’s commitment to maintaining the consensus that has been established through a transparent review of the assumptions underlying the reform programme. We have already set in train a programme of work to develop an evidence base in consultation with a range of stakeholders that can underpin the future evaluation of our reforms. This includes a series of recent workshops with academics, pension experts, stakeholders and other government departments to explore their views. We aim to produce an evidence and strategy document later this year. I reject the suggestion that the Government believe that their job is done when legislation is passed—a point pressed by the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Fowler. That is not the Government’s view.
Alongside what we are doing, noble Lords may be aware—indeed, several noble Lords commented on this—that the Law Commission has reported on post-legislative scrutiny, and we are very grateful to it for its valuable contribution. It rightly recognises that one size does not fit all and that any system of post-legislative scrutiny will need a degree of flexibility. Different Acts will need to be treated in different ways. Some will have longer timescales than others before any assessment can be made of how they are working out in practice. In some fields, new legislation may be only a small part of the overall picture. In others, a new Act may be absolutely central to the policy and administrative framework. The Bill falls within that definition. We continue to give close consideration to the Law Commission’s report into how parliamentary and other structures can best deliver its objectives. I do not think that anyone wants a structure that involves the formulaic, time-consuming and burdensome scrutiny of every Act, irrespective of need. Nor do I think that a structure that leads simply to a re-run in Parliament of high-level policy debates would be appropriate, and, to be fair, that is not what the noble Lord proposes.
We are consulting across government before we respond formally to the commission’s proposals in the coming months. I am conscious that perhaps I should reply in more detail to the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, to give him a clearer indication of quite who will be responsible and who will be driving forward that response. In those circumstances, it would be wrong for me to pre-empt the Government’s response, but we support the idea that greater effort should be given to post-legislative scrutiny, which will enable Parliament to assess whether legislation is having the intended effect.
Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the key recommendations of the Law Commission include, for example, a joint parliamentary committee with a flexible remit to decide which Acts should receive scrutiny, how, by whom and when. In a sense, by putting the amendment in the Bill, we might pre-empt that recommendation if it were something that the Government might wish to adopt. I assure noble Lords that any proposals involving Parliament will be open to debate in this House and in the other place. I hope that I am right in thinking that the noble Lord’s main objective is to ensure that we are fully committed to keeping this Bill, when enacted, under review to make sure that we are in a position properly to judge whether it is working out in the way intended.
There are two elements to the amendment. The second part, to provide a power to arrange subsequent scrutiny, would not substantively add anything to the inherent ability of the Secretary of State to keep legislation under review. The first part, which requires post-legislative scrutiny after four years, could interfere with the flexibility needed to make sure that any review is conducted at the most appropriate time. My noble friend Lady Turner touched on that in particular. The Bill provides for a package of reform measures that will come into effect over approximately the next five years. It would be premature to carry out any post-legislative scrutiny before the reform measures have been implemented or have had time to bed in. For example, we will not, within four years, have implemented the reforms to simplify state second pension or have abolished contracting out for defined contribution schemes.
Neither is it right to suggest that there is no scrutiny going on at all. Post-legislative scrutiny is currently carried out by Select Committees, including the Work and Pensions Select Committee. This is in addition to internal departmental reviews. We need to be concerned about adding another layer in the suggested form, which I believe would be inflexible. The reforms to the basic state pension will take effect for people reaching state pension age in April 2010. By the time the scrutiny would have to take place, there would have been little time to gauge the effect of the reforms. It would take place a year after those provisions came into effect.
I would hope to have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and other noble Lords not to press the amendment, because I do not believe that we are apart in recognising that post-legislative scrutiny has an important role to play. But to put it in the Bill with a restricted time limit, and with the use of a term where we have not identified quite what post-legislative scrutiny means and how it should generally be conducted, I would suggest is not appropriate.
My Lords, frankly, that is one of the more disappointing replies that I have heard. If it convinces anyone, I would be utterly amazed. It may convince some people who have already made up their mind, but I cannot think that it has convinced anyone else. The noble Lord says that he hopes for consensus: there has been substantial consensus, apart from him and one or two speakers making half-speeches more or less in his favour.
The noble Lord says that he is committed to reform. It is about the slowest process of reform that I have come upon in the House and it is rather invisible. We have had report after report talking about post-legislative scrutiny. I made my maiden speech on post-legislative scrutiny six years ago. How long will this process of consultation and consideration take? Basically, the noble Lord has said, “Not this Act: we don’t mind about other Acts, but not this Act”. The issue of pensions is exactly where post-legislative scrutiny should come, because so much money, including so much public money, is at risk.
I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, including my noble friend Lord Norton, for his splendid speech, my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Hollis, and the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. I referred to him as that other multi-millionaire, the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, but I meant the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, who I think was wrong. The Constitution Committee did not regard four years as too long; it favoured scrutiny three years after commencement. Even if she thinks that, the amendment goes on to say that the Secretary of State “may arrange subsequent scrutiny”. That gives as much scope as any Government would require.
My Lords, can the noble Lord be a bit more explicit about what he thinks post-legislative scrutiny is? What format will it take, by whom will it be done and what will the process be?
My Lords, with great respect to the Minister, I set that out in my initial remarks—I do not know whether he is trying to delay things. As to process, the noble Lord is completely wrong. In fact, the Minister read the departmental brief and then said that I was not saying that all the issues should in principle be re-examined.
I have come here to help the Minister. I have tried to get an assessment of his intentions in the legislation. Post-legislative scrutiny could be done at very little cost by a committee in Parliament—I have no particular views about whether it should be a Joint Committee or a Select Committee. I have tried to leave the Government as much flexibility as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, was correct: we should stop talking and start scrutinising. I should like to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In doing so, perhaps I may take the opportunity to thank all noble Lords from the Opposition Benches, from my own Benches and from the Cross Benches, as well as stakeholders, who have taken the time to make their representations and who have ensured through their enthusiastic and knowledgeable engagement that the Bill has had a thorough examination. This is nothing less than such landmark legislation affecting millions of people deserves.
I should also like to take the opportunity to give a big thank you to the Bill team for their patient explanations and their thoroughly professional approach to the legislation. I know that they probably look forward to the end of this Bill with the same enthusiasm as they look forward to the start of the next pensions Bill.
From the start of the pension reform process, the Government have been determined to achieve change through consensus. I hope that noble Lords will agree that consensus continues to be very much in evidence, notwithstanding our last vote; for example, where we responded to the House’s concerns through concessions on the clarity of policy and drafting for the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority. It is true that there are still areas of the Bill on which there is less consensus, and we will wish to return to amendments made in this House on the financial assistance scheme. Similarly, we will be seeking to change the provisions to introduce retirement income funds as an alternative means of providing retirement income. Finally, although we recognise the strength of feeling on the payment of voluntary national insurance contributions, this is another area that we intend to return to during the other place's consideration of Lords amendments.
We could never expect pension reform to be straightforward. This is a complex subject, and getting a fair and affordable solution demands a careful examination of the issues; but that has not prevented us making enormous progress, for which I again thank noble Lords. I am confident that in the next couple of weeks we will reach a conclusion that includes the right balance between cost and fairness.
I look forward to Royal Assent later this month so that we can get on with implementing these reforms. As a result of the changes, we are proposing to raise payments made by the financial assistance scheme to 80 per cent, ensuring that more people receive more money immediately. My thanks again to all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bill’s progress through your Lordships' House.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)
My Lords, on behalf of, I hope, the whole House, I thank the Minister very much for his constructive—certainly behind the scenes, not always in front of the scenes—approach to our miscellaneous queries and worries about the Bill. He said that his advisers would look forward to the next pensions Bill. One rather wonders, after some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon, how many of them will still be en poste in carrying the pensions brief. I am sure, though, that that will not apply to the Minister. He says that the House will “wish to” return to the various amendments that we have passed, but I think, on reflection, that that may have been a slight exaggeration on his part. I am sure that we will forgive him.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Oakeshott, I, too, thank the noble Lord for all his patience. We look forward also to the next stage of the Bill. Although the process has not quite finished, we thank him for his patience during this time.
On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.
Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Viscount Ullswater) in the Chair.]
Clause 64 [Changing governance arrangements]:
moved Amendment No. 138:
138: Clause 64, page 36, line 11, at end insert—
“(4A) The proposals may provide for the change in governance arrangements to be subject to approval in a referendum.”
The noble Baroness said: This is a formidable group of amendments, but they are all about one topic. If the Committee will allow, I shall address the government amendments and the opposition amendments at the same time. I do not believe that the amendments are controversial; indeed, they are enabling. They seek to provide local authorities with greater flexibility in the use of referendums. They will allow them to respond more quickly to their electorate where a referendum has been conducted.
The amendments address an anomaly in the Bill as drafted whereby councillors may have to wait several years before they are able to implement the result of a referendum. Clause 64 allows councils to pass a resolution for change only during their permitted resolution period. Essentially, that means that, where a council has held a referendum for change, it would have to wait until its next permitted resolution period before it could give effect to such change. Given the electoral intervals, that may mean several years.
I am sure that we can all agree that that is not right. The electorate should not have to wait to see the change that they have voted for. Indeed, the council would not want to leave them wondering whether such a change will happen. Therefore, the amendments will allow local authorities to give effect to change more quickly. Amendment No. 148 ensures that, where a referendum has been carried out and the result is positive, the authority has to resolve to change within 28 days.
When we were considering the timing issues that had arisen in relation to referendums and the permitted resolution periods, we felt that it was also an opportunity to provide greater clarity about allowing councils to make their proposals for change subject to a referendum. As such, we decided to include this in the Bill. Amendment No. 138 does that. It allows councils, when drawing up a proposal to change, to make it subject to a referendum.
The Committee will be aware from the 2000 Act that it was a requirement for mayors to be appointed, but only subject to a referendum. The Bill before us replaces those provisions and removes that requirement, but puts in place new arrangements for referendums which extend opportunities for them to be held in the way that I suggested. Now a local authority is able to choose to make its proposals for any change subject to a referendum. The 2000 Act also allowed local citizens to petition for referendums. This Bill leaves those provisions completely intact and indeed extends them to allow for the new models that we discussed yesterday, as introduced by the Bill. That is achieved by Amendments Nos. 160 and 161. Obviously, this is about providing greater flexibility and choice for local authorities and the electorate.
Clause 64 puts this into effect for making change, and the proposals for change are made under new Section 33E. Amendment No. 138, as I mentioned before, will allow councils, in making a proposal for change, to choose that change subject to approval in a referendum. They will have that choice in all circumstances.
Amendments Nos. 139, 141, 146, 147, 148, 186 and 187 are all consequent to this principle. They are all about the procedures to be followed when changes to governance arrangements are made following a referendum. For example, Amendments Nos. 139 and 141 deal with the time for the implementation of proposals. Amendment No. 141 provides for when the change must be made following the resolution. That will depend on the model that the authority is currently operating under. If the authority is operating a leader and cabinet executive and as a result of the referendum it is required to move to a mayor and cabinet model, the first election of the mayor would take place three months later, either the following May or October, whichever is earlier. Further detail on this will be set out in regulations, and Amendment No. 163 provides for that.
If the authority were operating a mayoral model but resolved, after a referendum, to move to an elected executive, the appropriate election of councillors would take place on the day on which the next election of the mayor was due to take place.
I have already explained why it is important for an authority to be able to move as quickly as it can to a new model agreed in a referendum. Such a change can also result in the first election under the new model being out of sync with elections for that class of authority. I will give one illustration. I know that this is slightly complicated because we are talking about different timescales, different models, different relationships between the electoral year and the mayoral election and whatever. I wish that I had an overhead projector, but in the absence of that it is better that I promise to write and set all this out, because verbally it is difficult to follow.
One example will explain what I mean. If a referendum in a London borough in June 2008 resulted in support of a mayor, the council would be required to pass a resolution 28 days later, in July 2008. If it was previously operating a leader and cabinet model, the mayor would be elected in October 2008. Subsequent mayoral elections would be due to take place four years later, in October 2012, but the problem is that all other local elections in London would be in May 2014. Having the mayoral election in October 2012 but all other councillors elected in May 2014 would be confusing. Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 mean that that can be avoided, by allowing the Secretary of State to extend the mayor’s first term so that the mayoral election could happen at the same time as the election of the councillors for the borough, in 2014. It is sensible just for that one process.
When the governance arrangements have been put in place as a result of a referendum, a further referendum is required to change that model. Under Amendment No. 151, there are two cases in which a change in governance arrangements is subject to a referendum. We insert new Section 33L to make that clear. The first case is when the governance model that the authority is already operating has been put in place as a result of a referendum. In such cases, any subsequent change must be done by referendum. The second case, which I have addressed already, is when the local authority’s proposal provides for a change to be subject to approval—the choice model. That second case includes cases that follow a petition. So our amendment inserts two sets of circumstances into the Bill, because we believe that it is right, when the public have decided on a particular governance model in a referendum, that they should also decide any future change.
Opposition Amendments Nos. 138A, 147A, 138B to 138E, 159A and 159B, 187A and 187B attempt to do different things. Amendments Nos. 138A and 147A would require that any change to governance arrangements was subject to a referendum. Amendments Nos. 138B to 138E would require councils to place information about proposed changes in governance arrangements on their websites. Amendments Nos. 159A and 159B would put a bar on an authority resolving to change its governance arrangements in the six months before the date of the ordinary elections. Outside that period, councillors will be free to make such a resolution at any time. Amendments Nos. 187A and 187B are about how we might use powers to make incidental or consequential provisions in relation to the term of office of any member of any form of executive in the intervals between the relevant elections.
We cannot accept Amendments Nos. 138A or 147A, which would require a referendum in every case of change, because that would cut across the idea of councils as being democratically elected bodies that are well placed to lead their communities and take the difficult decisions. I am not saying that direct forms of democracy do not have their place; indeed, we provide them by extending the referendum opportunity, but they cannot supplant all decision-making by those elected.
While we have some sympathy with Amendments Nos. 138B to 138E as regards making information widely available, they are unnecessary as there is already a comprehensive regime for access to local authority information in the Local Government Act 1972. Specifically, new Section 33E to the 2000 Act, inserted by Clause 64, makes specific provision about how a local authority must make available its proposals for governance change. I am sure that local authorities will use all the technologies available, not least their websites. I believe that we can confidently leave that to councils.
Amendments Nos. 159A and 159B seek to replace the concept in Clause 64 of the permitted resolution period. This concept is that councils should be able to consider governance matters only during a limited period—the permitted resolution period—unless there is a referendum for change. We agree that this period should not be too close to an election. We think that a resolution changing governance arrangements should take place at least four months away from the elections—new Section 33Q provides for that. We believe that that is sufficient. However, we do not agree that, outside this limited period prior to an election, it should be possible to make resolutions about governance changes at any time. We think that that is a recipe for instability. We seek to avoid governance changes becoming part of the normal processes of democratic engagement. For example, when there is dissatisfaction with an elected mayor, the normal democratic process is to vote that person out of office at the next election; it is not to seek to change the whole system of governance. We do not think that we ought to create a situation where the rule book can be changed at any moment. We want to see a framework where rules are clear and stable and apply to particular situations. That is why we have difficulty with Amendments Nos. 159A and 159B.
On Amendments Nos. 187A and 187B, I indicated when I spoke to government Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 how we might alter the term of members, including a mayor of an authority, to line up in the way that I suggested. I believe that that is the most sensible way to proceed.
I am very conscious that these are complex issues. I am very happy to give Members of the Committee examples in writing, which I think might help. However, I hope the noble Baroness will now feel able to withdraw the amendment. I beg to move.
moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 138, Amendment No. 138A:
138A: Clause 64, line 2, leave out “may” and insert “must”
The noble Baroness said: I think that, procedurally, we have probably dealt with this in the most efficient way but it has given rise to a slight oddity in that I now move my amendments after the Minister has spoken to them. However, in the interests of brevity, I shall not move formally the 11 amendments here, nor shall I oppose Clause 64 standing part of the Bill when we come to it because we have had a fairly full explanation from the noble Baroness about how these things will work. However, they have given rise to rather more questions than answers. The noble Baroness responded to some of the questions that I thought I had when I tabled the amendments, but others have now arisen.
I am still not entirely clear why the Government took a view that referendums were necessary in the 2000 Act, whereas they are not now. I still do not feel that I entirely understand that. I am still trying to understand what the Minister just told us about terms of office. I thought that I understood her to say that for once only a mayor’s term of office could be extended by two years. That is a very long time on a four-year term. Even though it applies once only I should be cautious about that. I suspect that some of my colleagues may want to comment on that.
This is not a huge issue but I am slightly concerned about the references in the Bill to local newspapers. I do not really understand why that reference is there at all if there are other places where the need for publicity is more comprehensively covered. It seems to me this is one of those cases where those clauses should either include all forms of publicity, including electronic ones, or should not specify any at all. Difficulties arise when clauses are included which cover part but not all of the matter. I beg to move.
I confess to having got lost on the bit about London. Can the noble Baroness explain where in the amendments—if that is the case—the London provisions would arise? I might have been distracted by thinking that she was referring to the Mayor of London. The London mayoral election is due in 2012. I thought that she was talking about the difference between 2012 and 2014. My question about where this arises is for a technical but very important reason. I am concerned that if we let this go through in Committee on something which I for one—I am sure other noble Lords are much more on the ball that I am—do not understand and feel that we should come back to, my understanding is that we will have lost the opportunity to do so because we will have agreed to the amendment. That really concerns me.
My two pennyworth on this is that until 1975, when we had the referendum on a massive issue, I took it for granted that referendums were not part of the British electoral scene. I remember that in 1975 in my constituency, after the issue was over, I would go round meetings and say that by a majority of two to one my constituents had decided that they were in favour of staying in the Common Market. That was true, because I had three letters, two in favour and one against. That was the extent to which the British people take to a referendum as an instrument. Other issues arise over time, in which people are deeply involved. I remember Section 28 debates when I got over 500 letters, which were overwhelmingly one way. When an issue arouses passion, people are stirred to do something about it. In the recent past in this House, we had the debates on the assisted dying Bill. Again, over 300 letters came out of the blue, with people giving me their point of view.
My take on the complexity of what is before us now is that of course it is right for the Government and for those who oppose the Government’s view to take this opportunity of trying to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s but, substantially, I say the fewer referendums the better. Not that they are a bad thing; they are useful. I do not like the amendment, which in effect seems to me to be accepting grounds for more referendums than otherwise. The Minister—in a very long speech because she took the care to not only put her point of view but deal with the group of amendments—satisfied me that on balance what the Government are seeking here in rejecting the amendment is right.
I was not going to intervene, but when the noble Lord, Lord Graham, gets to his feet he always rouses me to mine. Actually, it was not that at all.
I am sure that the Minister has explained this absolutely clearly but it has gone straight in one ear and out of the other. I want to be clear about whether, to change the arrangements, the council carries a resolution and says that it is going to change, for example, from a leader elected by the council to an elected leader or an elected mayor. I understand that there is a certain amount of time after a resolution has taken place before the election takes place. What happens with the rest of the council? I do not understand Amendment No. 141. Does the rest of the council stay as it is until the next ordinary election? The election for the leader or the mayor might take place two years in. The council would stay the same but would have the elected leader imposed on it. The councillors would stay as they are for the rest of their term and, if necessary, the proposal would be that the elected mayor would be given an extension of time up to the four-year term. Is my understanding correct?
It is wonderful to have my noble friend behind me. Sometimes I think that I am redundant, as he is able to answer admirably on behalf of the Front Bench.
Three questions were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. The first was why there would be no referendums. I was also asked why we had moved away from the 2000 model. The reason is that it is essential to give more scope and, by allowing any change now to be sanctioned by approval or petition, we are making the system more flexible. In addition, after a referendum for a mayor, there will have to be a referendum for a change, so this is an attempt to introduce more flexibility. The extension is limited to the first period. I take the point that it is unfortunate that the periods are slightly out of sync and that they have to be managed in that way, but we are trying to extend choice.
There is no specific provision for the London boroughs in this situation, although there is specific provision for the London metropolitan areas and the boroughs in terms of the permitted resolution periods. I took an example from London but I could have taken an example from any borough and the effect would have been the same. Amendment No. 187 would apply in the same way to all local authorities. I put on the record an assurance to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that the council does indeed continue as before.
We are in some difficulty on these Benches for the reasons outlined by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It appears that, if we agree the government amendments today, we cannot amend them later, but it is difficult to know whether we can agree entirely because we are still waiting for information which will make a complicated situation clear. However, at this stage, there is no question but that we shall withdraw our amendment.
Perhaps I may seek clarification. If the Government amend the Bill today, presumably the Bill will be republished before Report. Will it not then be a new Bill to which we can make amendments, irrespective of which clauses are included and which are taken out? It will be a brand new Bill. Will there be no opportunity to amend amendments that have been put in?
My understanding is that, when the Bill as amended by the Government goes back to the other place, it cannot be amended again—that is, the changes that have been made cannot be amended.
But the Bill is not going back to the other place; it is coming back here on Report.
Yes, indeed, and the changes, having been made, cannot be unmade.
This is extremely unsatisfactory. The Minister rightly said that this is a very complicated matter. She was not able to explain it in full this afternoon and said that she would write to people about it. That is absolutely right. However, we are being asked to agree to amendments but that agreement depends on us understanding them on the basis of what the noble Baroness says when she writes to us, and we will not be able to amend them subsequently if we do not agree with what she says in writing.
I gave as full and clear an explanation as I could and offered to ensure that noble Lords had that in writing. My speaking note was long and detailed and I could not have added a great deal more. If I were to write, I would simply exemplify what I have described—that is, setting out the timetable, the resolution and the effect. I explained the matter to the Committee in as much detail as I thought was tolerable.
I am sure that this happens all the time and there must be some clarification. It may be that the Minister is correct that when we put a whole tranche of amendments in, that is it. I do not understand why if this comes back as a completely republished Bill—it will—we are then unable to amend some of those clauses and amendments that have been put in. We cannot take them all out again; I understand that, but why is it not like any other clause in the Bill to which we can table amendments? That may need clarification and I am happy to rest for a while, but I should like an answer before the dinner break.
I, too, would like to be clear about the matter before we move on from these amendments. I raised concerns before today on whether it would be possible to amend the current amendments, which will be part of the Bill when it comes to Report. I was told that because the House would have agreed these government amendments, it would not be possible to amend them on Report. That concerned me very much. The most helpful thing—it is possibly not so helpful to the noble Baroness, but involves the spirit in which we are trying to deal with this Bill—would be for the amendments not to be moved today, to allow us to read the complicated explanation, to which there will be an addition through correspondence. We could perhaps deal with them more sensibly at the next stage.
I wonder whether there has possibly been some misunderstanding about our procedure. I understand that if the amendments are made today it will not be possible to unmake them on Report—to remove them completely—but that there is nothing to inhibit us tabling amendments to those amendments at the next stage. I understand that this procedure operates in any other Bill. I see that the Minister is nodding; I think she agrees that it applies to this Bill as well.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee and I were left in no doubt as to the position regarding amending the amendments. But if that is not true, and we are in a position to amend at Report, there is not such a problem. The advice that we were given was pretty clear, but it now appears not to have been correct. My noble friend was very helpful.
I confirm my understanding. I have to move the government amendments and the Bill is then amended and becomes a new Bill. But new points can be made at Report on the changes in that Bill, as printed.
I am sure that my explanation, plus the explanatory examples, will discourage noble Lords from wanting to extend this arcane debate. I hope that that will be the case.
The point that I was going to make when I spoke before was that it is an interesting situation, but it is unsatisfactory because we are taking the Bill—rightly because of its size and importance—on the Floor of the House. If it were being debated in the Moses Room, we would be able to insist that these amendments were not incorporated at this stage but were brought back at Report, as every decision in the Moses Room has to be unanimous. If we opposed, the amendment would not be made and we would come back to it at Report, as has happened on a number of Bills in which I have been involved. As we are rightly taking this Bill in the wider forum of the Floor of the House, we may be in a difficult position. We shall probably have to rely on the advice given on our Benches by our former Chief Whip who knows about these things. Let us hope that everything comes out all right in the end.
I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 138A.
Amendment No. 138A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 138, by leave, withdrawn.
On Question, Amendment No. 138 agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 138B to 138E not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 139:
139: Clause 64, page 37, line 8, leave out from “(England):” to end of line 11 and insert “the appropriate elections of councillors;”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 140 not moved.]
moved Amendments Nos. 141 to 143:
141: Clause 64, page 37, line 13, at end insert—
“(5) For the purposes of subsection (4)(a), the “appropriate elections of councillors” are the elections determined in accordance with whichever of the following paragraphs is applicable—
(a) if the local authority is currently operating—(i) a mayor and cabinet executive, or(ii) an elected executive,the “appropriate elections of councillors” are the ordinary elections of councillors of the local authority held on the day on which the next ordinary election of a mayor or elected executive was expected to be held when the resolution to make the change in governance arrangements was passed;(b) if the local authority—(i) is not currently operating a mayor and cabinet executive or elected executive, and(ii) is required to pass the resolution to make the change in governance arrangements during a permitted resolution period,the “appropriate elections of councillors” are the first ordinary elections of councillors of the local authority to be held after the end of the permitted resolution period in which the resolution is passed;(c) if the local authority—(i) is not currently operating a mayor and cabinet executive or elected executive, and(ii) is not required to pass the resolution to make the change in governance arrangements during a permitted resolution period,the “appropriate elections of councillors” are the first ordinary elections of councillors of the local authority to be held after the resolution is passed.”
142: Clause 64, page 37, line 22, after “33D” insert “or in regulations under section 34, 35 or 36”
143: Clause 64, page 37, line 31, after second “executive” insert “: general requirements”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
I must advise the Committee that if Amendment No. 144 is agreed to I will be unable to call Amendment No. 145.
moved Amendment No. 144:
144: Clause 64, page 38, line 1, leave out from beginning to end of line 10
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 145 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 146:
146: Clause 64, page 38, leave out line 11 and insert “Changes subject to approval in a referendum: additional requirements”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 147:
147: Clause 64, page 38, line 12, leave out from “arrangements” to end of line 17 and insert “if—
(a) the change is of the kind set out in section 33A (new form of executive) or section 33C (move to executive arrangements), and(b) the change is subject to approval in a referendum.”
[Amendment No. 147A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 147, not moved.]
On Question, Amendment No. 147 agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 148 and 149:
148: Clause 64, page 38, line 22, at end insert—
“(3A) Any such resolution must be passed within the period of 28 days beginning with the day when the referendum is held.
(3B) Any such resolution must be passed at a meeting specially convened for the purpose.”
149: Clause 64, page 38, line 32, leave out from beginning to end of line 41 and insert—
“33L Change not subject to approval in a referendum: additional requirements
(1) This section applies to a change of governance arrangements if—
(a) the change is of the kind set out in section 33A (new form of executive) or section 33C (move to executive arrangements), and(b) the change is not subject to approval in a referendum.(1A) Any resolution to make the change in governance arrangements must be passed during a permitted resolution period.
(1B) Subsection (2) applies if—
(a) the local authority is operating a mayor and cabinet executive or an elected executive, and(b) the proposed new form of executive is a leader and cabinet executive (England).(2) In such a case—”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendment No. 149A not moved.]
moved Amendments Nos. 150 and 151:
150: Clause 64, page 39, leave out lines 4 to 9 and insert—
“(2A) Subsection (3) applies if—
(a) the local authority is operating a mayor and cabinet executive or an elected executive, and(b) the proposed new form of executive is a form prescribed in section 11(5).(2B) In such a case, the resolution to make the change in governance arrangements must be passed—
(a) at a meeting specially convened for the purpose;(b) by a majority of at least two thirds of members voting on it.”
151: Clause 64, page 39, line 9, at end insert—
“33LA Cases in which change subject to approval in referendum
(1) For the purposes of sections 33K and 33L a change in governance arrangements is subject to approval in a referendum in either of the following cases.
(2) The first case is where the proposals for implementing the local authority’s current form of executive were themselves approved in a referendum.
(3) The second case is where the local authority’s proposals under section 33E provide for the change in governance arrangements to be subject to approval in a referendum.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 152 to 156 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 157:
157: Clause 64, page 39, line 28, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 40
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 158 to 159B not moved.]
Clause 64, as amended, agreed to.
[Amendment No. 159C not moved.]
Clause 65 [Referendum following petition]:
moved Amendments Nos. 160 and 161:
160: Clause 65, page 41, line 17, leave out “as follows” and insert “in accordance with subsections (2) to (4)”
161: Clause 65, page 41, line 22, leave out from “England,” to end of line 24 and insert “an executive which takes such form permitted by or under section 11 as may be specified in the regulations;”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendment No. 162 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 163:
163: Clause 65, page 41, line 26, at end insert—
“(4) In subsection (3) after “33” insert “or of any of sections 33A to 33P”.
(5) In section 35(3) of the Local Government Act 2000 (c.22) (referendum following direction) after “33” insert “or of any of sections 33A to 33P”.
(6) In section 36(3) of the Local Government Act 2000 (c.22) (referendum following order) after “33” insert “or of any of sections 33A to 33P”.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 65, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 66 agreed to.
Clause 67 [Elected executives]:
moved Amendment No. 164:
164: Clause 67, page 42, leave out lines 18 and 19
The noble Lord said: I hope I know where we have got to and what we are doing. I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 165 and 170 and to the Question whether Clause 70 shall stand part of the Bill. Clause 67 sets out what will happen when an elected executive leader leaves office for whatever reason, how the vacancy will be dealt with and whether there will be by-elections. Amendment No. 164 would leave out lines 18 and 19 on page 42, which read:
“But the term of office of all the members of an elected executive ends if the elected leader ceases to hold office”.
As the Bill stands, if an executive leader leaves office at any time during the four years, the whole of the executive will be deemed to have lost their seats. They will no longer be councillors or members of the executive and the work that they have been doing will cease. The Government might seek to persuade some councils to experiment with this so they need to explain why they think it is a good idea.
It is certainly a recipe for instability; one of the Government’s watchwords in favour of their proposals is “stability”. It will leave a council without an executive for whatever period it takes to fill the vacancies, depending on how they are going to be filled. If there are to be by-elections—it is suggested that there could well be by-elections—that could certainly be a period of two months. I am not quite sure what the provision for calling a by-election in the event of an elected leader dying, resigning, being sacked, being put in prison, or whatever, will be. I assume that election regulations will be produced to cover this. Assuming that they are similar to the regulations which apply to local elections generally, the minimum period of time in which the by-election could take place is a bit less than six weeks. It could be quite a lot longer than that, depending on the provisions—up to seven weeks, or perhaps two months or even longer.
The Government must explain what they think will happen in that interregnum, how the work of the council will continue, and why it is a good idea that other members of the executive who have presumably been working away on their portfolios and collectively running the authority should be booted out while that is taking place. It seems wrong or, at least, a recipe for uncertainty and instability.
Amendment No. 165 replaces a little item in the Bill that says that the Government may, in effect, by regulations explain how the office will be filled if an elected leader or member of the executive dies. I have set out some provisions which are, to some extent, contradictory, because they form a probing amendment to find out what kind of things the Government are thinking of if this happens. Perhaps I should have tried to amend Section 41 of the Local Government Act 2000, but it does not matter because this is a probing amendment. It is a question of finding out what the Government think should happen. I shall go through them quickly.
Paragraph (a) probes whether there will be a by-election, and if there is a by-election, whether it will be time-limited. Will there be a by-election if there are only three months or one month to go before the normal round of elections starts when nominations will be sought for a new leader? Does it depend on the new elected leader and his team having a longer period? How will that work? If the vacancy is not to be filled by a by-election, should it be filled by the council in any circumstances? If an elected executive member ceases to occupy the post for whatever reason, will there be a by-election or can the leader simply appoint somebody to the team or, as has already been suggested by the Minister, may there be circumstances in which the vacancy is not filled? Could it be filled by the council? If the vacancy is not to be filled at all unless and until the executive is too small—if there is an executive of five and three people resign, die or whatever and there are only two left—is there provision for filling one seat to reach the minimum of three, or would the executive be returned to its previous size? How would that happen? Would there be a by-election for a mini-slate of three? If there was a by-election for a mini-slate of three, could we go back to people saying, “No, we want six”, “We want only one”, or whatever? Could there be different slates? From the information we have had so far, it does not seem to me that this has been thought out at all.
Subsection (7) states that there shall be regulations. I am probing to see what the Government think they should be. Subsection (8) states in the normal way—I say “normal” but this is a very abnormal situation—that if a vacancy on the executive is filled by a member of the council, there would then be a council by-election. Subsection (9) covers the transitional period and how a void—a complete absence of an elected leader and elected executive—would be filled for however long it takes to fill it because otherwise the council would be left leaderless. I do not think that is what the Government want.
Amendment No. 166 is not in this group, but I shall speak to it now as it would be to the advantage of the Committee to speed things up a bit. It is about the strange proposal set out in the proposed new Section 40B of the Local Government Act 2000, which is set out on pages 42 and 43. We discussed it a little yesterday.
I am advised that the noble Lord has to speak to Amendment No. 166 separately.
I shall do that. I have the right to group the amendments if I wish to do so, but if the Minister does not want me to, I shall extend her the courtesy. If it is easier for the Minister to deal with Amendment No. 166 separately, I shall speak to it separately. That is fine.
Clause 70 is about related matters—the timing of elected executive by-elections—and I am probing to find out what system the Government intend to put into effect for elections to fill a vacancy in the membership or for the leader because of resignations. It is designed to find out the Government’s thinking on that.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.
Whether or not Amendment No. 165 is agreed, if there is a vacancy in the executive and there has to be an election or someone is moved up through some mechanism which causes a vacancy on the council, there would have to be a by-election for the ward councillor. My noble friend raised some interesting points about the timing. Normally, if there is a vacancy on a council six months before an ordinary election, it is not filled. The issues of democracy here are extremely interesting. I am sure that there are even more permutations than my noble friend was kind enough to raise this evening.
This has raised an interesting aspect of the Bill. We have been picking away at the question of elected executives, and yesterday we touched on the problem of having a block of people elected to one job who are then no longer councillors because they have been taken out of the system. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has put his finger on a potential problem. I am looking forward to the Minister’s reply because it may generate even more questions. It will be helpful to hear it before we have more debate on this matter. This is an extremely important area.
I have given notice of my intention to oppose the Question that Clause 70 stand part of the Bill because I was reflecting on the nature of the slate model and how it might work in practice. It seemed to me that whatever may be the chances of the leader having to go during a four-year period, the chances of someone from the slate having to go in four years are pretty high. We all see that. People become ill, change their jobs or move away. All sorts of things can happen. Whatever the legislation states, only a limited range of options would be available in practice. One would be to keep the vacancy open until the end of the four-year term. That would be unsatisfactory because it would spread the work among a smaller number. Alternatively, the entire slate could be re-elected. It would be unfortunate for people who had settled into their job and were doing it well to have to be up for re-election because one person goes. There could be a by-election for one position on the slate with a slate of one, but there would be a real chance of somebody from a different political party being elected and being on the slate. It would then not be a slate at all. The leader could choose the replacement, in which case he would have no elected mandate. In practical terms, only one of those four courses of action could be taken. Since all of them are unsatisfactory, that shows how unsatisfactory the model is.
I have a terrible sense of déjà vu because we addressed some of these issues in some detail last night. However, I am happy to go over some of the issues and think about some of the permutations that have been raised. It might make sense if I were to address Clause 70 first, give the narrative and try to address some of the questions that have been raised. I preface that by saying—noble Lords must be weary of hearing this—that this is a new model that serves the purpose of creating an executive that stands on a slate and is separate from the work of the ward councillors. It is a collective leadership model.
Clause 70 and Schedule 4 amend Section 41 of the Local Government Act 2000 in the light of the Bill’s provisions on directly elected executives so that the Secretary of State can make provision in relation to the election of a new elected executive if vacancies arise.
Clause 70 also amends Section 41 of the 2000 Act, so that regulations under that section take account of where councils specify the minimum effective membership of the elected executive. The clause also states that regulations under Section 41 may not provide for an elected executive by-election if the number of members is still above or equal to the minimum effective membership. We talked that through last night.
Schedule 4, which interrelates with the clause, allows the authority to specify the minimum effective membership below which a by-election must be held in authorities that have specified a number of members or a range of numbers for the members of elected executives. That provides the leader of the executive with the discretion whether to call a by-election where there is a vacancy but the minimum effective membership is still met. Those provisions do not have effect where there is a vacancy for the position of leader; that is, where the elected leader ceases to hold office, there must be an election for a new executive—noble Lords are quite right. The argument is that that is because it is in the nature of the slate. I think we can all subscribe to that. However many complaints noble Lords have, they understand the logic of that.
Those provisions are necessary because of the way in which an executive is to be elected. A proposed executive will put itself forward as a group, branded alongside the leader as a team that will do the job for the council. When a vacancy occurs on the elected executive and the minimum effective membership is still left, the responsibility rests with the leader to decide whether such a vacancy should be filled, given the flexibility and the range of numbers which we have discussed. Clause 70 provides the flexibility to ensure that vacancies can be handled appropriately.
Amendment No. 164 would do away with that. The noble Lord would like to remove the provision that an elected executive falls if the executive leader ceases to hold office. As I have explained, that contradicts the logic and intention of what we are trying to achieve by means of the slate; therefore, I take issue with the amendment.
I will deal next with Amendment No. 170. I think I said this last night: we have not invented this model from scratch. This is the same notion that applies for the elected mayor. It is provided for in the regulations under Section 41 of the 2000 Act. The second issue, which is touched on by Amendment No. 170, is where a vacancy arises in an elected executive. It is exactly to introduce further stability that we amended the clauses on Report in another place so that the council can specify a minimum effective membership of an elected executive below which a by-election must be held. It gives the leader of the council discretion over the need to hold by-elections where membership of the executive falls below a specified minimum. The amendment removes that safeguard.
Will the noble Baroness consider the fact that under those circumstances it would be entirely possible for a leader to choose not to have a by-election, not for any reason of good governance—he or she might ignore the interests of governance—but simply because they perceived they would be unlikely to win it, and the alternative then would be to have an elected executive slate member from another political party? Does the noble Baroness accept that the opportunity for political manipulation is immense in this?
I am not sure whether political manipulation is the correct phrase. As I understand it, if a council chooses this option it will set out the conditions that will attach to the size of the executive and the conditions under which the leader might choose to have a by-election. That would be set out in the individual constitutions of the councils which choose. We have allowed enough discretion for this to happen and a range of numbers, for example, in between which these decisions can be made, on the assumption that it is better for councils to have as much flexibility as possible to decide.
I cannot say that what the noble Baroness talked about will not happen; she identified a number of variations on that. But the situation we are in means that that discretion has to be allowed within the model; it is contained within the notion of leadership—this power attaches to the leader. As I have said, we recognise that by-elections in certain circumstances are inevitable when the minimum number is reached, but how they manage within that range will be a matter for the councils. We have tried to build both discretion and stability into the model. I do not think that I can go further than that, because these things are still being considered.
Amendment No. 165 seeks to remove the Secretary of State’s power to make provisions for elected executives. Those provisions are currently in place for mayors. We have made regulations regarding the filling of casual vacancies occurring in the office of the elected mayor. The parallel here is that an election to fill the vacancy shall be held within 35 working days from the date the office is declared vacant. The provision made for this transitional period is that the office will be filled by the deputy mayor until such an election has taken place and the vacancy has been filled.
Obviously, we want to provide for as smooth a transition as possible. So, where there is a vacancy in that office, an election for a new executive will be held within 35 days from the date that the office is declared vacant; that is, the election of the new leader and the slate. We intend to provide that, until such an election has taken place and the new executive is in office, the old executive, led by the deputy leader, will continue. That should address the concerns the noble Lord raised about the transitional period. We have tried to build in that stability.
I do not think that there is any opportunity for political manipulation because the provision would allow for the leader to decide that he could manage with a smaller executive for the duration. I think that that is a perfectly reasonable discretion to allow the leader.
As the Committee knows, I have sat through most of these debates. It strikes me that noble Lords, especially from the Liberal Democrat Benches, are filled with the possibilities of chicanery and deliberate misinterpretation. They obviously have experience of all those things. We all have. I know the illustration about the six months. When a councillor retires or resigns, as noble Lords very well know, the date on which the vacancy is declared is a moveable feast. Very often, in my experience and that of other Members of the Committee, that sort of thing has happened.
The Minister—and the Bill in general—has sought to put flesh on the bones of revolutionary ideas, every single aspect of which can be questioned. Everybody can bring their experience, but I wonder whether we are spending rather too much time on the minutiae of the Bill, when a mass of work is still waiting to be done. That may well suit some purpose or other, but I cannot quite see it myself. The Minister is saying to us, “Trust the models that we have put forward and trust the good sense of the people we are trying to assist: the elected councillors, who represent the local populace”. If the view is held that whatever is put forward is capable of being improved or changed, we will not get very far. I think that I have provoked the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, enough for me to sit down.
I briefly point out to the noble Lord and to the Committee that the four Liberal Democrat Members on these Benches have between us 97 years as councillors in local government. When we express our concern about the model, it is from a genuine belief in and conviction about the importance of local government and about the unworkability of the model.
I am grateful for the support of my noble friend, but I respect the reasons why noble Lords are raising these questions. I am doing my level best to give the Committee as much information as I have. I do not want to keep reiterating that whether or not by-elections are held will depend on the discretion of the leader and the conditions created by the constitution within the choice of model. There is certainly no opportunity just to appoint someone willy-nilly. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said. Of course we are concerned that this is an innovative model and we will try to explain how we think that it will work, but I hope that noble Lords will feel that they have explored this in as much detail as is practicable at the moment.
I am slightly surprised by the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Graham, who suggested that we are looking at the minutiae when there is still a lot of work to be done. Looking at the minutiae and challenging the Government to tell us what they are going to do in ways not set out in the Bill is one of the very important tasks that Committees of this House have to do and, in my view, do very well on a lot of Bills, so I do not apologise for trying to do that. If this House lets through legislation that is unworkable or, even worse, is silly nonsense, we are not doing the job that we are here to do.
If I wanted to engage in political skullduggery or chicanery, I would not be spending hour after hour in this Committee, worrying away at the details of the Bill. I could find other ways to do that which might be more productive in immediate political terms. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that we are filled with the possibility of political chicanery. That may be because in our horrifying 90-odd years of council experience, we have come across a bit of it and perhaps understand how to deal with it and stop it. A little bit of that might even be a matter of poachers turning gamekeepers.
My noble friends tell me to speak for myself. That would never happen in the south of England, but when your political opponents behave like that, sometimes it rubs off a little bit.
We understand that the Minister is doing her level best, but, to use a north of England colloquialism, we think that she is bragging on a pair of deuces and that there is not much in her hand. There are times when Ministers have to go back, having listened to what has been said, to challenge the department in all its respects to say, “I am not sure that that is right”. We are challenging this because we are trying to rescue the Government from what I might call another Stoke-on-Trent fiasco. In the last version of the Bill, seven years ago, the Government produced a model that one authority adopted which now has to be unscrambled in that area. We have a chunk of the Bill that is the Stoke-on-Trent clauses and a chunk that is the Brighton and Hove clauses. We do not want to have to come back in five or six years to unscramble Stockton-on-Tees or anywhere else. Our motives are pretty honourable on this, if not always in some other circumstances—again, I speak for myself.
My noble friend raised the question of what happens if there is a by-election and someone is elected from a different party. That provision is nonsense and we ask the Government to go back to look at it. The Minister said, “These are things that are being considered as we speak”. I congratulate her on her openness and honesty, but the interpretation that we might put on it is that they are making it up as they go along and have not quite sorted it out yet. By Report, we hope that they will have.
My final point concerns the six-month question. Will there be the six-month rule that normally applies in local authority by-elections—that there will be no by-elections for a vacancy that happens after, usually, the first Thursday in November, or whenever, six months before the normal election day—or can there be by-elections for the leader and executive right up until the next lot of elections? I do not think that question was answered.
The six-month rule will apply; the noble Lord is quite right.
I am now trying to get my mind around what will happen during that six months. Presumably, if the leader dies during the six-month period, the existing executive will continue, led by the deputy leader. I understand that now, without thinking that it is sensible. On that basis, for the time being—we will have to come back to all these issues—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 165 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 166:
166: Clause 67, page 42, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 17 on page 43
The noble Lord said: The amendment would leave out proposed new Section 40B of the Local Government Act 2000, which is set out on page 42. To some extent, we discussed this yesterday and I do not want to go over that ground in understanding how it would work. Thinking about it overnight, it occurred to me that many councils that may go for an elected executive model, especially those in more scattered areas—perhaps county councils or scattered districts that consist of a lot of different communities—may be tempted to put up the maximum number of people that they are entitled to under the rules. The reason for that would be to put up their leading supporters, their leading members, their leading councillors, in the different communities in their districts.
I was thinking about that overnight and for some reason I thought of Macclesfield. I used to live in part of what is now Macclesfield. In Macclesfield district, there is the large town of Macclesfield and the smaller towns of Knutsford and Wilmslow, where I used to live. Then there are places such as Poynton, Prestbury and Disley, Bollington and Alderley Edge, which at the moment have one ward or more than one on the council. I was trying to work out how I would organise the fighting of elections in that area. Fighting local elections is something that I know about. I would want someone on the ticket from each of those areas. Therefore, I would go for the maximum number possible and there would inevitably be more people who would be elected as councillors and then more by-elections. I merely advise the Committee, based on that experience, that if the Government go for an elected executive in areas such as that, it will almost certainly be as big as they can get away with purely for electoral reasons. The situation may be different in a more compact authority of just a town, but there are fewer of those around now. In practical terms, the proposal will skew things towards the higher end rather than the lower end, simply because each party will mobilise itself in the best possible way to maximise its votes. I do not know whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but it does mean that the by-election problem will be acute. I beg to move.
I simply cannot wait to engage with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I do not want to reiterate anything that I have said. I have listened to the noble Lord, and I really do respect his enormous experience. I do not know how many of the 97 years he personally accounts for—
Indeed, but I know that I really am in the company of experts on the Bill. I cannot accept the amendment, because proposed new Section 40B is an essential part of what we are trying to do. I have listened to what the noble Lord has said, but I am afraid that I cannot accept his amendment.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 67 agreed to.
Clause 68 [Other elected executive members]:
[Amendment No. 167 not moved.]
Clause 68 agreed to.
Clause 69 [Meaning of “elected executive member”]:
[Amendment No. 168 not moved.]
Clause 69 agreed to.
Clause 70 [Time of elections etc]:
[Amendments Nos. 169 and 170 not moved.]
Clause 70 agreed to.
Clause 71 [Voting at elections of elected executives]:
[Amendments Nos. 171 and 172 not moved.]
Clause 71 agreed to.
Clause 72 [Leader and cabinet executives (England)]:
moved Amendment No. 173:
173: Clause 72, page 46, line 7, leave out “, on the day of a post-election annual meeting”
The noble Lord said: I have tabled a string of amendments, starting with Amendment No. 173, which deal with the proposal that the leader of the council should be elected for four years. I am trying to take out that proposal so that the leader of the council will still be elected at the annual meeting.
I tabled the amendment so that we could discuss the proposal—in many ways, it is freestanding and does not rely on the rest of the Government’s proposals—consider the arguments in favour and against, and, in particular, consider different circumstances in which this may or may not be appropriate. My first argument is that if this is permitted by new legislation—at the moment, it is not—it should certainly be a permissive power. It should be something that councils could do but do not have to do. Once again, the Government are claiming to be devolutionary and to want to let go, but in practice are laying down yet more detailed rules and regulations about how councils should run themselves. In a sense, I am falling into the Government’s trap by moving the amendment, as we have done already by moving a number of other amendments. What many of us would like to do is simply to sweep away a whole swathe of existing regulations and these regulations and let councils organise themselves sensibly. However, we are not in that position; we have the proposal in the Bill.
Different councils are controlled in different ways; so the election of the leader differs. First, there is the council in which one party has majority control. The reality then, as we all know, is that that party will decide whom it will nominate as leader by whatever internal processes it has, and that person will be voted through at the appropriate meeting. In those circumstances, if the control of the council is pretty stable and is likely to stay the same for some time, there is something to be said for this proposal. The one argument that I have read in favour of the proposal and which does seem to make some sense is that it prevents people in the majority party spending all their time engaging in unproductive political activity, such as trying to get rid of the leadership, change the leadership, or return it. If a local party is in that state, I wish it the best of luck because it will need all the luck that it can get. Nevertheless, there are circumstances like that, and the proposal may well be sensible, although it seems to be aimed mainly at certain Labour groups but may not be.
Secondly, a council may have no overall control. If we are not careful, and if the structures and processes are too brittle, the council could be very unstable. It could certainly be more unstable than a council in which one party has overall control. The number of councils with no overall control has increased over the years. There are certainly many more such councils now than there were 20 or 30 years ago, except in areas in which independents used to rule the roost, and we must come to terms with that. I argue that imposing a leader for four years could create instability, which we need to avoid.
On the other hand, there are two different types of election. The first are whole-council elections. Councils that have whole-council elections and have a good political majority will probably not change political control for four years. Again, there is a much stronger case to be made for councils that elect a leader immediately after their whole-council elections and who then stays for four years. Of course majority parties can break up, and do so quite frequently around the country, and there may be a huge spate of by-elections. By and large, however, the proposal is not geared to that situation. The second are elections by thirds. Councils that hold elections by thirds have, by their very nature, a very much greater chance of changing overall political control in the next four years. The Government will set an arbitrary date on which the leader must be elected, but there will be two more rounds of annual elections in those four years. By the very nature of things, there is more chance of a council changing its political control and overall composition, or even the composition of the members of the controlling group, if they hold normal elections by thirds in two of the four years than if they rely simply on by-elections.
If you combine these two groups of factors, the proposal might work very well for councils that have a clear majority and are elected for four years. However, it is likely to cause more trouble than it is worth for councils that have no overall control or are very marginal and are elected by thirds or by halves. What normally happens at the moment is that there is an annual meeting in which a change of political circumstances can be reflected in the normal way in which the council works and without a crisis or a vote of no confidence. That is more stable than having to have a vote of no confidence or a resolution to remove the leader. I believe that the Government are not necessarily wrong in allowing this in all cases, but councils should be able to make a choice. In particular, where there are annual elections and likely to be changes in control, the situation is dangerous.
No overall control requires the council to come to an arrangement between the councillors and the groups on the council, including independents or whoever else, to provide a stable way to run the council. There is a lot of experience of this around the country. It is not a disaster: it can work very well and can produce good leadership. However, it depends on the situation in the council, and on people going to the annual meeting and putting up their hands in favour of what has been negotiated and agreed.
Over the next one or two years, circumstances may change and some of those groups may decide to change their allegiance and to form a different kind of coalition—a different way of running the council. Under the present circumstances, that happens naturally, organically and evolutionally. The Government are proposing that a leader who might be obstructing and trying to hang on must have a vote of no confidence in him or her. That is potentially destabilising and will take up a great deal of time and energy in the council, which will not be productive. That might cause the breakdown of personal and political relationships in the council, which might do more harm than good. I would argue strongly that this should not be imposed on councils. They perhaps should be encouraged to do it in the right circumstances, but it should be up to local decision-making. I could repeat all the rhetoric that the noble Baroness uses when she has circumstances in which that is appropriate to her case. I beg to move.
I support the amendments and the points made by my noble friend Lord Greaves on councils in no overall control. I was leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Suffolk County Council which was in no overall control between 1993 and 2005. In those 12 years, it was possible to have stable and effective government in Suffolk because we were able to form a coalition. By all government standards and performance measurements at the time, Suffolk council did very well in those 12 years. It was able to do so because two political parties—it could have been a different combination—were able to come together to form a majority.
I can tell the noble Baroness and the Government that, had these arrangements been in place, where agreeing to a leader for a four-year period was an inherent part of our choice, we would not have been able to support any political party. Neither would any of the other political parties have been able to work together under those circumstances. The result in a no-overall-control council like Suffolk would have been—far from having the stable government that the Government are seeking to achieve—a ruling group in a significant minority, although obviously holding the majority of the seats. I urge the Government to consider this, because they could end up with a situation which is the opposite of that which they intend.
The word for which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was searching to describe what happens in groups on a council was “plotting”. Plotting goes on and we are all plotters. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but that is the cement that binds those of us who are interested in local government. I see no objection to that because I have won some and I have lost some.
A distinct difference in culture is being argued in this debate. I respect very much the points that have been made, and they could all happen. I certainly respect the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. I favour the thrust in the Bill; that is, the strong leadership model. I should like to think that when a person is elected leader for four years it gives him a scope and an extent to which he and his colleagues can apply some strategic planning to the shape of the council and the community over that period. If the leader is subject to election every year in a no-overall-control council, I would assume that this would be an opportunity for the malcontents and the dissatisfied elements on the council to take their revenge on a leader who has lost their confidence and to get rid of him or her. There are various ways to do that, including a vote of no confidence from people who are fed up and are not prepared to carry on.
I favour what the Government are trying to do. We will not get it perfect in every dimension. It is a question of whether you want to see whether this new system is capable of working. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, proposes substantially the status quo in respect of the present arrangements. I am not saying that they are a disaster. There is not a national outcry that they ought to be changed. But the Government, rightly or wrongly, sense that this is a time when they want to see what has been epitomised as strong leadership. I am bound to say that my experience is wholly metropolitan. Although I am not a councillor now, I attend Labour group meetings in more than one constituency. My old constituency is Edmonton where I am the president of its party and I attend its functions, but I live in Loughton and I am involved in the Epping party. So I have a rough idea.
The nature of people does not substantially change. If a person is not the leader, I see nothing wrong in them being ambitious enough to aspire to be the leader. Good luck to them. They will use all the weapons that they can, the greatest of course is to undermine the standing and the confidence in the existing leader, which I have seen happen more than once in my time. I respect very much the experience from the other Benches—I believe someone said that it was 97 years. I almost have got that on my own. With the four of them, plus the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who now has appeared, there is probably more than 100 years of experience on the Liberal Democrat Benches, which I respect very much. I am not knocking in any way the integrity, experience or sincerity of the Liberal Democrat Benches, but on this issue they just are not quite grasping what the Government are trying to do.
Again, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing another range of political realities. He is right. We are introducing these ranges for a four-year term precisely to address the constant turbulence and change in the present system. Amendments Nos. 173 to 176 would effectively remove that four-year term. It goes very much to the heart of what we are trying to do. Amendments Nos. 177 to 182 would remove the provisions which allow an elected leader of an authority operating the leader and Cabinet executive and partial-council elections to continue as leader until their term of office as a councillor ends. In sum, the effect of Amendments Nos. 173 to 182 would be that usually the leader would serve only a single year before facing re-election at each annual meeting.
I do not have to say that we are opposed to this, but I want to call in evidence the Local Government Association, which made it absolutely clear in the Closer to People and Places report, which we stated in the White Paper that we would look to build on. The report recommended shifting responsibility to council leaders and strengthening visible local accountability. It recommended,
“the appointment of a leader for the full term of the council, coupled with a maximum number of terms to encourage development and succession, but also the clear expectation that personal accountability means just that in the event of serious underperformance”.
That is a very strong statement from a representative body for local government about why it wants these changes. That is underpinned by our research on leadership, which reflects the importance of stability and the fact that stable leadership is seen as producing better performance and greater citizen engagement. This provision is an important development for local government.
The noble Lord said that this may be acceptable and bring something to the four-year term when whole council elections take place. That means that the leader will be in office for the four years that coincide with the council’s four-year term. We said on Second Reading that we were in favour of whole council elections, but much of the debate has turned on what happens in areas that retain partial council elections. We have provided for this as well because we recognise the political realities.
New Section 44E provides for the normal term of office of the leader of a council which is subject to election by halves and thirds. It states that, unless removed from office, the leader’s term of office should end on the day of the annual meeting following the day on which he would normally have retired as councillor. That means that his term of office may be less than four years, depending on how long he had been in post as leader. That allows for the political reality of the situation as well as an additional element of stability. It will prevent the leader constantly having to seek re-election and look over his shoulder. The noble Lord referred to the difficulties that leaders face when they have to do that.
These days we need council leaders to take hard and strategic decisions on behalf of their local area as a whole. The amendments would do no more than retain the existing difficulties and obstructions which stop that strategic power being employed.
The provision of four-year terms and stronger leadership will go alongside stronger accountability and overview. It does not say that the council leader cannot be removed through the normal procedure of a vote of no confidence. That is provided for in many individual council constitutions. Nor does it necessarily undermine the situation that could arise. I understand that in councils with no overall control the situation is more complicated, but the council elects the leader and it is entirely open to it to appoint a Cabinet across the parties. That is a familiar animal. When the provisions are in place, coalition discussions could support and accommodate these changes, which would provide stability.
We believe that the four-year term introduces a real element of progress. We are supported in that view by the Local Government Association. I hope that I have persuaded the noble Lord of that.
The more I listen to the Minister—and I do not blame her personally—the more I think the Government are not living in the real world. If we are trying to inject anything into this debate, it is common sense.
The Government talk about strong leadership. There is nothing weaker than a leader who has lost control, credibility and confidence—who might have gone politically or personally crackers, due to difficult circumstances—hanging on because, institutionally, he can do so. That is the weakest leadership possible.
In those circumstances, the leader can be removed by the council by a vote of no confidence.
I listened carefully to the Minister when she said that councils could put this in their constitution. We have to insist that they do so, as an absolute minimum, so that they can remove a leader who has lost credibility or confidence or has gone off the rails. The Government might consider that seriously when they come back.
The Minister is right that if a leader has to be removed, for whatever reason—because people have voted a different way, for example—it will be done. The means with which to do it are difficult, awkward and messy, whereas at present, if people want to change the leadership in November, for example, they have time to work it out, the motion comes up automatically and it can be done cleanly. In that way, there is no opportunity for people to fight back and use the institutional situation to hang on.
We are arguing about democracy and accountability. Quite apart from the fact that the council I am on is subject to an election by thirds, I argue that if we had the choice, we should do it annually. I do not think that the Minister accurately describes the present situation in local government. She talked about people constantly having to look over their shoulder; she talked about constant change. In the councils I know around the country, that is not the case. There is remarkable stability. Let me give the example of Lancashire County Council—for my sins, I used to be a member of it. I have been racking my brains, and over the past 33 years, since it was set up under the 1972 Act, it has had five leaders—maybe six. That does not demonstrate instability or constant change. In my council, the present leader has been there since the year before we gained control and—electors willing—I have no doubt that he will stay there for some time.
Next door, Burnley changed its leader just over a year ago, but that was in clear response to the decisions of the voters in the local election. It did not need a four-year timetable to do that; it had the same leader of one party for quite a long time and it now has a leader from another party. The change occurred at the naturally right moment, when the council changed control. Surely that is how it should work, rather than people trying to hang on, particularly when there is no overall control.
Finally, the model will cause problems for a few councils that do not have overall control and have evolved their own special arrangements. Some councils, usually the smaller ones, have joint leaders. The Minister and the Government might hold up their hands in horror and say, “This is dreadful; we can’t possibly have job-sharing”. Job-sharing is a good new Labour ideology—it is done everywhere else, but not in running a council. But some councils without overall control have had joint leaders and these provisions will prevent that.
Letting councils sort out their own sensible arrangements makes them likely to be more stable, more resilient and will provide better leadership than trying to fit everyone into a “one size fits all” system. Having said that, we will go away and think about this again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 174 to 182 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 183:
183: Clause 72, page 47, line 37, leave out from beginning to end of line 3 on page 48
The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment, and I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 184 and 185. The Minister said that a leader’s term of office would come to an end when he loses his seat. However, the provision I am drawing attention to here suggests that a leader may continue his four-year term of office regardless of anything that might cause him to be removed, other than things like criminal activity. I seek an explanation of this. Is it the case that there are no circumstances in which the leader of a council under any of these models who loses his seat or fails to stand for his seat when the local elections come around, would be able to continue as leader of the council for the remainder of his leadership period? That is what this provision seems to suggest is possible, but I hope I am wrong. I beg to move.
Amendment No. 183 would remove new Section 44F which provides for the executive leader of a council and Cabinet executive to continue as a member of the council. Amendment No. 184 would remove new Section 44G which specifies how an elected leader can be removed from office. Amendment No. 185 would remove new Section 44H which specifies the regulations the Secretary of State can make in relation to the term of office of a leader and the filling of vacancies. The effect of the amendment would be that the Secretary of State would be unable to make regulations in these areas.
The noble Lord has stated that these are probing amendments, so perhaps I may inform the Committee about what the Bill actually does. Clause 72 creates new Sections 44A to 44H in the Local Government Act 2000. Together they make provision in respect of a new leader. In brief, they are an essential strand of the provisions for the strengthened leader and Cabinet model, and they provide for four-year terms for leaders.
Rather than plough through my note, I shall simply answer the question put by the noble Lord. Yes, if the leader does lose his seat, he cannot continue as the leader. I think that that sums up what the noble Lord has asked.
I am grateful for that response. Would it also apply if the leader’s term of office comes to an end and he does not apply for it again?
I believe that the same thing would apply.
I thank the noble Baroness and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 184 and 185 not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 186:
186: Clause 72, page 48, line 12, at end insert—
“(za) as to the dates on which and years in which executive leaders of leader and cabinet executives (England) are to be elected by local authorities,(zb) as to the intervals between elections of executive leaders of leader and cabinet executives (England),”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 72, as amended, agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 187:
187: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Power to make incidental, consequential provision etc
(1) Section 47 of the Local Government Act 2000 (power to make incidental, consequential provision etc) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (3) insert—
“(4) The provision which may be made under subsection (1) includes provision relating to changes in local authority governance arrangements (including changes of the kinds set out in sections 33A to 33D).
(5) That includes—
(a) provision relating to the old governance arrangements, the new governance arrangements, or both kinds of governance arrangements,(b) provision as to the dates on which and years in which relevant elections may or must be held,(c) provision as to the intervals between relevant elections, and(d) provision as to the term of office of any member of any form of executive.(6) In subsection (5) “relevant election” means—
(a) an election for the return of an elected mayor;(b) an election for the return of elected executive members;(c) the election by a local authority of the executive leader of a leader and cabinet executive (England).(7) Nothing in subsection (2), (3), (4) or (5) affects the generality of the power in subsection (1).”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 187A and 187B not moved.]
Clause 73 [Time limit for holding further referendum]:
moved Amendments Nos. 188 to 190:
188: Clause 73, page 48, line 18, at end insert—
“(A1) Section 45 of the Local Government Act 2000 (c. 22) (provision with respect to referendums) is amended as follows.”
189: Clause 73, page 48, leave out lines 19 and 20 and insert “For subsection (1) substitute—”
190: Clause 73, page 48, line 25, at end insert—
“(1A) In subsection (9) after “section 27” insert “or 33K”.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 73, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 74 agreed to.
moved Amendments Nos. 191 to 193:
191: After Clause 74, insert the following new Clause—
“Larger authorities to cease operating alterative arrangements
(1) This section applies to a local authority if—
(a) the authority is operating alternative arrangements, and(b) the resident population of the authority’s area on 30th June 1999 was 85,000 or more.(2) The local authority must draw up proposals for—
(a) ceasing to operate alternative arrangements, and(b) starting to operate executive arrangements which provide for a leader and cabinet executive (England).(3) The proposals must include all of the following—
(a) a statement of the extent to which the functions specified in regulations under section 13(3)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000 are to be the responsibility of the leader and cabinet executive (England);(b) a timetable with respect to the implementation of the proposals;(c) details of any transitional arrangements which are necessary for the implementation of the proposals.(4) The timetable must be such as to ensure that the local authority will make the proposed move to executive arrangements no later than the day of the authority’s annual meeting in 2009.
(5) After drawing up the proposals, the local authority must—
(a) secure that copies of a document setting out the proposals are available at the authority’s principal office for inspection by members of the public at all reasonable times, and(b) publish in one or more newspapers circulating in its area a notice which—(i) states that the authority has drawn up the proposals,(ii) describes the main features of the proposals,(iii) states that copies of a document setting out the proposals are available at their principal office for inspection by members of the public at such times as may be specified in the notice, and(iv) specifies the address of the principal office.(6) A resolution of the local authority is required in order for the authority to adopt the proposed leader and cabinet executive (England).
(7) Section 29(2) of the Local Government Act 2000 applies to a resolution under subsection (6) as it applied to a resolution to operate executive arrangements.
(8) If the local authority passes the resolution under subsection (6), the authority must make the move to the proposed leader and cabinet executive (England) in accordance with the timetable in the proposals.
(9) Executive arrangements which come into operation in accordance with this section are to be treated as being operated after the passing of a resolution of the local authority under section 33F of the Local Government Act 2000.
(10) In complying with this section, the local authority must comply with any directions given by the Secretary of State in connection with this section.
(11) For the purposes of this section the resident population of any area on 30th June 1999 is to be taken to be the Registrar General’s estimate of that population on that date.”
192: After Clause 74, insert the following new Clause—
“Failure to cease operating alternative arrangements
(1) This section applies if—
(a) section (Larger authorities to cease operating alternative arrangements) applies to a local authority, and(b) it appears to the Secretary of State that the local authority will fail to start to operate a leader and cabinet executive (England) by the day of the authority’s annual meeting in 2009.(2) The Secretary of State may by order specify executive arrangements for the local authority which provide for a leader and cabinet executive (England).
(3) The leader and cabinet executive (England) which is provided for under subsection (2) shall come into operation on the day of the local authority’s annual meeting in 2009.
(4) Arrangements which the Secretary of State specifies under sub-paragraph (2) are to be treated as having been made by the local authority itself.
(5) Arrangements which come into operation in accordance with sub-paragraph (3) are to be treated as being operated after the passing of a resolution of the authority under section 33F of the Local Government Act 2000.
(6) As soon as practicable after executive arrangements are specified under sub-paragraph (2), the local authority must comply with the following provisions of the Local Government Act 2000—
(a) section 29(2)(a);(b) section 29(2)(b)(ii) to (v).”
193: After Clause 74, insert the following new Clause—
“Sections (Larger authorities to cease operating alterative arrangements) and (Failure to cease operating alternative arrangements): supplementary
(1) Section 33C of the Local Government Act 2000 does not apply to a local authority to which section (Larger authorities to cease operating alternative arrangements) applies.
(2) Section 33I(1) of the Local Government Act 2000 is subject to sections (Larger authorities to cease operating alternative arrangements) and (Failure to cease operating alternative arrangements).
(3) Subsection (4) applies to a local authority which—
(a) starts to operate a leader and cabinet executive (England) in accordance with section (Larger authorities to cease operating alternative arrangements) or (Failure to cease operating alternative arrangements), and(b) draws up proposals for a change in those governance arrangements of the kind set out in section 33A of the Local Government Act 2000 (new form of executive).(4) For the purposes of section 33L of the Local Government Act 2000, the first permitted resolution period is to be the period which—
(a) starts with 1 October 2010, and(b) ends with 31 December 2010;(rather than the other period ending with 31 December 2010 that is specified in the table in section 33P(5) of the Local Government Act 2000).(5) Expressions used in section (Larger authorities to cease operating alternative arrangements) or (Failure to cease operating alternative arrangements) that are also used in Part 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 have the same meanings in that section as in that Part.”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 75 agreed to.
Clause 76 [Supplementary provision]:
[Amendment No. 194 not moved.]
Clause 76 agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 194A:
194A: Before Clause 77, insert the following new Clause—
“CHAPTER A1Exemption of LondonExemption of London
Notwithstanding any rule of law or enactment to the contrary there shall be no parish councils in London.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 204D and 204E. They would all remove the London boroughs from consideration for parish councils. Currently there are no parish councils in London and it is only with the advent of this Bill that they could become established in the capital. There are already numerous levels and offshoots of government in London—the Greater London Authority, the existing borough councils, and some neighbourhood associations within existing community council structures.
The previous Secretary of State, Mr Miliband, has spoken of “double devolution”, while the White Paper referred to giving further choice, but I cannot see how introducing yet another layer of local government and organisation into London will benefit communities or generate healthier local opposition. A paper on the implications of introducing parish councils in London commissioned by the Association of London Government, before it became London Councils, expressed deep concern that the uptake of parish councils would be disparate and favour those communities which already possess a secure identity rather than aiding communities which could benefit from a more cohesive local identity. Local councils expressed further reservations that introducing parish councils in London could undermine service provision and put community cohesion at risk by being adopted in a patchwork manner. That paper explores whether parish councils could benefit London, highlighting some concerns among London boroughs about introducing these and potentially undermining the existing neighbourhood-based arrangements set up by many councils in the capital.
Broadly, the amendments would remove London councils from being considered as appropriate for parish councils. I beg to move.
I was interested to note the noble Baroness’s choice of heading for the proposed new clause: “Exemption of London”. It exemplifies her view that parish councils would be some sort of evil imposition from which London should be spared. She will not be surprised to learn that we do not agree with her. My honourable friend in another place, the Member for Hazel Grove, in response to another speech, said:
“The hon. Gentleman is right in one regard: parish councils can be an irritant in the system”.—[Official Report, Commons, Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill Committee, 22/2/07; col. 332.]
Grit in oysters and all that, but irritants in the system are not necessarily a bad thing by any means. A number of borough councils in London have neighbourhood and area structures, and to allow for parishes would not be a vote of no confidence in those bodies. In fact, this is not anything more than a matter of choice.
I cannot count the number of times that my colleagues and I have campaigned on the “forgotten end” of the borough on the basis that the borough in which we were campaigning was a good deal bigger than its previous constituent parts. I should say that this was when we were in opposition. That struck a chord, and it is an important point. Let us keep the provision of choice, which is a theme of our debates. I do not seek exemption for London. The capital should have the benefit of a system which is available throughout the rest of the country.
I support my noble friend. I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that there may be areas where there are already quite highly developed systems of neighbourhood forums and so on, but they are not democratically accountable. It might be that in some areas the local people would prefer to have a direct say in who should be on these bodies, and having an elected parish council would help that. On this occasion, we are with the Government and would like to see this as an option in areas which wish to exercise it.
It is a puzzle as to why the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, should move the amendment. She knows London far better than many of us and she must be aware that very often areas of London are quite distinct. The existing boroughs in London are the product of what were previously three separate councils—the one I know is Edmonton, Enfield and Southgate—and inside the boroughs there is a massive amount of opportunity, not need or desperation, to create and build upon local people having some say in matters.
Although I cannot detect a move towards it, I do not see why London should be excluded from the possibility of establishing parish councils. We have all got experience of quite distinct and powerful residents associations and local bodies, and if the council in Enfield or anywhere else wants to use the mechanisms available to create parishes, it should do so. We all know there are parishes within authorities but in a different form; the parish church and things of that kind. We know that communities very often stem from bygone days, but they are still there. People are proud of them and they want to maintain that local tradition. So I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I am sorry, but we are all ganging up against you.
I am going to join the ganging-up. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, to pole position on this amendment. I hope she has an easier ride than some of her colleagues have had.
There is a wider issue here about the purpose and future of parish councils and whether or not the mechanism should apply to London. It is not only a London question but a big city one. Although under existing legislation it is possible to have parish councils in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and such places, I do not know of any big cities that have taken to parish councils. Those metropolitan districts which have taken to them since they were able to hold parish reviews and create new parish councils tend to have created them in the smaller, free-standing towns around the cities.
This applies to smaller places, too. Burnley, for example, set up a parish council in Padiham which, despite the politics, has been a reasonable success. Bradford set up a parish council in Keighley, a town which suffered hugely from local government reorganisation in 1973-74. It had been a municipal borough, a free-standing place with a vibrant civic culture—a municipal culture, if you like—but it was deprived of this overnight and incorporated in Bradford. People were told they were now part of Bradford when everyone in Keighley knew perfectly well they were not. They have come to terms with being part of the metropolitan district, but that is different. Being deprived of its local municipal government was a disaster.
Two kinds of parish councils have developed over the years: one is the classic local village or rural parish council, what might be called the Ambridge parish council; and the other is the market town, the satellite town within a larger district, which might be called the Borchester Town Council example. The Borchester type has been extended to include bigger places. In my own town of Colne and Nelson, a parish review is pending—we hope the Government will agree to it— which would completely parish the borough. Twenty-five or 30 years, ago we would never have dreamt of having a parish council or a town council in Nelson; now it seems an obvious and logical thing to do.
The concept of parish government has been extending into bigger places but, if London is going to have parishes, why not Birmingham, why not Manchester, why not Newcastle-upon-Tyne or wherever? A great deal of hard thought needs to be given to this. In this sense, I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who is expressing concern that parish councils in places such as London will be different kinds of bodies from the parishes outside. That applies to Manchester, Leeds and Bradford. If we are going to have them, let us work it out properly and give people some really good models to consider; we do not want to set up botched parish councils.
Before the noble Lord sits down, did he say “Colne and Nelson”? I thought it was always Nelson and Colne.