House of Lords
Wednesday, 18 July 2007.
The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Norwich): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
UN: Human Rights Council
My Lords, despite resistance from others, we support full implementation of the Human Rights Council’s mandate to promote and protect human rights everywhere. We welcome provision on its new agenda to address specific human rights accusations, wherever they occur. We continue to work positively on the establishment of the council’s universal periodic review mechanism to review the human rights record of every UN member state on an equal footing.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his new office in this House. I hope that I can say without being accused of flattery that among the international NGOs with which I am concerned there was rejoicing at his appointment. I also thank him for the very diplomatic reply to my Question, but perhaps I may ask him to be a bit less diplomatic in his answer to my next question.
In the light of what happened last month at the fifth session of the UN Human Rights Council, especially the inclusion of only one situation for selective treatment—that of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel—what, if anything, can be done to guarantee that the council ensures universality and is not guilty of double standards and politicisation in breach of its mandate? I reflect in that question what has already been voiced in the European Parliament.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for his kind words and I am very grateful for the support of the NGOs of which he knows. The new Human Rights Council is a work in progress, and you win some and lose some. British diplomacy has been very active in ensuring that nine country-specific and 28 thematic special procedures have now been approved as a result of the last session. Unfortunately, we lost the vote on retaining rapporteurs for Cuba and Belarus—two countries that evidently deserve rapporteurs. The noble Lord is correct that, unfortunately, the only special arrangement referred to related to the Occupied Territories, but I hope that we will continue the fight to get more equal treatment for all cases.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Lord. We are immensely pleased that someone of such vast international experience can join us and we hope that he is frequently able to share his wisdom and experience with us at the Dispatch Box. The United Nations Human Rights Council has had a pretty patchy first year, as everyone agrees. We all want to see it strengthened and we hope that the new agenda and new procedures will do that. But is it really true that, even in this new phase, it has decided to end its scrutiny of Iran at a time when we are getting reports of people being stoned to death there, together with other atrocities? Surely now is not the time for the council to give up on that matter. Does the noble Lord have any information on that subject?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his welcome. I believe that I am correct in saying that Iran is not currently the subject of one of the country-specific mandates. We have not yet been able to establish a country-specific mandate for Iran. I completely concur with him that we should try to do so.
My Lords, I assure my noble friend that his appointment is widely welcomed on these Benches, too. Will he confirm that it remains the policy of Her Majesty’s Government to oppose the use of the death penalty in all countries and in all circumstances? Can we have an assurance that part of his efforts at the FCO will be devoted to ensuring that countries such as Iran and Iraq do not abuse the death penalty in the present blatant and indiscriminate manner?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises the enormously important issue of how as a global community, not just a British one, we both protect human rights and prosecute the war against terrorist attack. We all agree that these need not be incompatible objectives. The protection of human rights around the world is one of the vital ways in which we limit support for terrorism. We want to stand for freedom, but freedom within secure borders here and abroad.
My Lords, the Minister will be highly familiar with the internal politics of the UN General Assembly and the various agencies and councils. Her Majesty’s Government are members of an extremely close caucus, the EU, and of a very useful network, the Commonwealth, which together amount to nearly 40 per cent of the membership of the UN. How actively do Her Majesty’s Government work through these networks and how useful do we find that in promoting the aims of a more effective Human Rights Council?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. After many years at the UN General Assembly, I arrive in this House a happy and relieved man—a refugee from a much more complicated environment. The point on the Commonwealth is a good one. We should make much more use of it to promote values such as human rights and democracy around the world and turn it into a much more active lobby, if you like, for that within the broader UN membership.
Olympic Games 2012: Lottery Funding
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What has been the average time taken between a request by the Olympic Development Authority to the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund via its distributor for release of funds and the receipt of those funds by the Olympic Delivery Authority.
My Lords, the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund has committed to releasing grants to the Olympic Delivery Authority within 10 working days of the receipt of a compliant request. This allows for the proper appraisal of requests and the administration of payments. In practice, the average time between receipt of a compliant request and payment has been approximately four working days.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he recall the House being warned that, if this circus is to come to town in 2012, there could be a very severe danger of bombs, bullets, boycott, blackmail and bloodshed, to say nothing of the case about bogus budgets, which has already been well and truly made? Does he accept that, while some funding delays are acceptable, those that go through the Olympic projects review group are not acceptable and there is a danger of bumbling bureaucracy being added to the list?
My Lords, we have learnt the lesson from the Dome. We have set up two organisations: the Olympic Delivery Authority, to deliver the infrastructure and to create the park, and LOCOG, the co-ordinating committee, to mount the Games. The two bodies work in close consort. It is an efficient structure, sufficiently so to win us plaudits from the International Olympic Committee.
My Lords, is there now a reasonably firm budget for the whole of the Olympics; and can the Minister enlighten us on whether we have yet to solve the problem of inclement weather in this country, and on the provision of cover for those who watch from the stadium?
My Lords, can the Government confirm that we have a process at the moment that meets international standards for the distribution of funds, one that has been applauded throughout the system? When it comes to a roof for the stadium, it is quite normal for people to get soaking wet at athletics meetings.
My Lords, that may be, but the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, pressed me on whether there would be any roof at all. I can assure the House that that is the intention for the main Olympic stadium. On the overall position, of course we have to watch the issues carefully, because very big sums of public money are involved, both from the Exchequer and from the National Lottery, which is also a form of public money. We therefore need clear structures in place to ensure proper, efficient delivery and accountability and it is on that that we have been commended.
My Lords, that is certainly the case, but there is no cause for complacency, because this is a very complex operation. The House will recognise that the crucial issue for the Games is that everything has to be in place on a prescribed and definitive date. At the moment, we are proceeding satisfactorily.
Not the competitors, I fear, my Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, it is common for athletics to be conducted in the open air, but there will be cover in the stadium. How far that will extend and to which categories of spectator I am not able to define precisely at this moment.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, mentioned the question of security—bombs and bullets, I think he said. Does the Minister agree that Tarique Ghaffur, the assistant commissioner in charge of security, is more than happy with the arrangements being made at present?
My Lords, it was London that bid for the Games, not the Government, and it did not do so on the basis that this investment would reap huge financial rewards. It will certainly bring extensive rewards in the prestige of staging the Olympics; after all, it is almost 60 years since we last had that honour. However, we are quite clear that the development of the land in east London will bring returns, which we are confident will help to restore resources to the lottery, for instance, some of which have been concentrated on the Games.
My Lords, when the Minister cited the Dome as an example of financial efficiency, did he have in mind the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on it? It said:
“It is also clear that the task of managing the project has been complicated by the complex organisational arrangements put in place from the outset, and by the failure to put in sufficiently robust financial management”.
My Lords, I did not say that we are paralleling the organisation for the Dome but that we had learnt lessons from it. I said that, in splitting the responsibilities between the two main bodies concerned with delivery of the Games, we had taken on board a crucial lesson from the Dome: to avoid mixing up the objectives and thereby causing difficulties.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Guardsman Daryl Hickey, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan last Thursday.
It would be wrong to set an arbitrary timetable for withdrawing British troops from Iraq. Any changes to troop numbers are based on conditions and in consultation with the Iraqi Government and our coalition partners. We have already reduced the number of our forces to around 5,500. The planned transfer of Basra Palace to the Iraqi authorities later this summer will see our force levels further reduced to around 5,000 troops.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply; perhaps I may associate myself with the message of condolence. Is it not the case that the whole of this Government, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, whom I, too, welcome to this House, are somewhat in denial about the scale of the humanitarian disaster in Iraq? Will the Minister confirm that the figures quoted by the Prime Minister this morning for deaths in Darfur are comparable in scale to the estimates made by the Johns Hopkins University for deaths in Iraq? Given that, is it surprising that a recent opinion poll quoted by the Economist showed that 47 per cent of Iraqis thought that attacks on coalition forces were justified? Is it surprising that people ask what the point is of British forces fighting pitched battles with the Iraqi police? Given that the US Secretary of Defense has said that the war may not be winnable, should we not be doing what Republican Senators are now doing, and thinking about a negotiated exit strategy?
My Lords, we recognise the very significant problems and difficulties that we face in Iraq. However, we do not believe that this is an unwinnable war. This is not a war; it is a process by which we are supporting the ability of the Iraqi people, their democratic Government and in particular their security forces to take over responsibility for the security of their own nation. We have made progress towards that end. We believe that the process of supporting those forces will in the end provide us with the exit strategy that we expect.
My Lords, we on these Benches add our condolences to the family and friends of those service personnel who have lost their lives recently.
What is the Government’s response to evidence showing that the casualty rate rises whenever the troops disengage and their strength is reduced, as in Iraq, as part of a transition process? With the insurgents now launching far more attacks in an attempt to show that they can take some credit for the withdrawal process from Iraq, can the Minister assure us that our troops will have the most up-to-date armour and helicopters with a lift capacity available to ensure that their exposure and increased risk is kept within manageable proportions and not extended through this exercise?
My Lords, I am absolutely able to give the noble Lord that assurance on providing our forces with what they need in terms of up-to-date equipment for force protection. We need to recognise that, as we move through the process of transition in Basra province, we must expect attacks on our forces to increase. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been saying for some considerable time, we must expect as we go through this difficult transition process that our forces will increasingly become the target. We are doing everything that we can to provide them with force protection in terms of tactics and equipment, but as the senior military commander, Lieutenant General Graham Lamb, said on Friday:
“We are increasing our strike rate against the militia. We have doubled our arrest rates and we must expect an increase in our casualty rate along with this”.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that in the Basra area by far the greatest proportion of the violence is directed at coalition forces? If the forces were to withdraw, presumably the violence—in that area, at any rate—would diminish and not increase. If there is still a job to do, of course the forces must stay and accept the risks, which are becoming considerable, but what exactly is their job today in Basra?
My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right: our forces are increasingly the target for the militias. The reason is that the militias want to take credit, as they see it, for forcing us out of Basra. However, we have shown our strategy to be successful in the other provinces that we have handed over—for example, Al Muthanna province. Once the Iraqi security forces, in particular the Iraqi army, have the capability to take over responsibility for security, our forces are then able to withdraw and the level of violence decreases. So the solution to the problem in Basra—the last province, for which we hope to see transition later this year—is to get the Iraqi forces trained up and with the strength and capability to take over responsibility, and to make the transition at that point.
My Lords, with the greatest respect, it is the turn of the Labour Benches.
My Lords, the Government have been scrupulous in expressing their condolences, on each occasion, for the death of any serviceman engaged in this undertaking. Does not that run the risk that we sometimes forget the fact that, because of the skills of modern medicine, many people who might previously have been fatalities are now very seriously wounded? A considerable number of seriously wounded servicemen are now coming back. As well as expressing condolences for the deaths that unfortunately occur, can we be assured that the best possible treatment is being given to both servicemen and reservists who find themselves seriously wounded in these operations?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right: because of developments in modern medicine and the resources and procedures that we are now using on operations, the level of survival from quite horrific attacks is much greater than it would have been in the past. That, of course, increases the burden of care for our wounded and we are absolutely putting in the resources needed to provide that care.
My Lords, most new franchise agreements require the operator to increase capacity. We believe that these measures will stimulate further increases in rail use, continuing the very encouraging trend that has been established in the past 10 years.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that, while there has been some growth, for which I give the Government credit, the congested state of the roads is largely responsible for it? Will he, for once, try to think positively about the railway, to make friends with the motorist, to double station car parks, and to increase the capacity of trains significantly? We are very tired of the same old policies from successive Governments of regarding the railways as almost a second-class citizen.
My Lords, I cannot accept what the noble Lord says. The Government have a very good record on the rail network. Since 1997, rail-passenger kilometres have grown by 34.5 per cent and the number of passenger journeys has grown by some 35 per cent. Each week of the year we invest a further £88 million. The Government are not ashamed of their record—in fact they are very proud of it—of investing in the railways and in creating increased capacity.
My Lords, according to recent newspaper reports, only 44 of 177 stations in the South West Trains franchise are open for 12 hours a day. At some of the smaller stations, the ticket offices are not open at all. There is now a real fear among passengers that, in order to claw back some of the money from having overpaid for the franchise, the ultimate objective is to close all ticket offices. Coupled with the meteoric rise in fares since the new year and the no-holds-barred attitude adopted by travelling staff on the railways, do the Government agree that this is an open invitation to travellers to get back into their cars? Will the Minister invite the regulatory rail authority to leave its comfort sidings to go and talk to the franchises about these important matters? I should declare an interest as a regular traveller on South West Trains.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a regular traveller on Southern trains. The service that I enjoy has steadily improved over the last few years. In real terms the regulated fares are around 2 per cent lower than they were 10 years ago, the number of passengers travelling on the rail network is higher now than any time since the 1960s and, year on year, the number of passengers using the rail network continues to grow ever faster. The Government are investing increasingly in the rail network and will carry on with that work. As to the noble Viscount’s point about ticket offices, it is true that some have closed. However, we are in the modern era and many people now pre-book using online or telephone options to secure the right ticket to travel at the right price.
My Lords, how does it benefit the travelling public to relieve the National Express group of the Midland Mainline franchise—the group that transformed it from a complete shambles to the most punctual TOC in the United Kingdom? The replacement is Stagecoach, which has not exactly covered itself in glory on South West Trains. Does he accept from me that professional railwaymen are fed up with transient Ministers and civil servants faffing about with the railway industry and failing to bring any proper long-term stability?
My Lords, I was hoping that the noble Lord would declare an interest. He always makes his points about the rail network very well indeed. I do not think that we have transient Ministers. The current Rail Minister, Tom Harris, is doing an excellent job and has been in it for some time. He is a great advocate for the rail network; I suffer in his shadow. We are investing more. I cannot comment on the individual comparison that the noble Lord made—to do that would be wrong of me as a Minister—but we have a record to be proud of. We are increasing access to and use of the rail network. We have a long-term plan and later this summer will deliver the high-level rail strategy.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is now more expensive to travel for 100 miles by South West Trains than by driving a car? The finance department of your Lordships’ House still presses us to use the trains. Is this the real plan, or have I missed something?
My Lords, it is true that there have been some price increases on that rail franchise. There is no hiding from that—it has been in the newspapers, so I suppose it must be true. However, if one books intelligently, one can buy advance fares very cheaply. I do not accept for a moment the absolute comparison made by the noble Lord. It is cheaper to use the railways if you ensure that you book early—online, over the phone and in advance—as many people do, instead of just using walk-on fares. Yes, that franchise has had some increases, but generally you can get very good deals if you use the network well and you think ahead.
My Lords, I have not travelled extensively on the French network for some years, but I am a great admirer of it—it is very good. Some lines, particularly the journey from Paris to Nice, are a delight. However, in EU countries there are higher subsidies and direct taxation to pay for services. In this country the balance is something like 58 per cent funded by passengers and 42 per cent funded by the taxpayer. That has gone up and down over the years but has not changed much, and we accept that balance because we think it is right that we protect the taxpayer from excessive burdens from the rail network.
Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [HL]
1: Page 12, line 36, at end insert-
“( ) If the Secretary of State gives such consent, the Secretary of State must publish a notice stating that consent has been given and specifying the reasons for giving consent.”
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. Like all the other substantive amendments being considered today, it relates specifically to Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill and the measures to strengthen consumer advocacy and redress.
Amendment No. 1 relates to Clause 22 and the council’s voluntary activities in this part of the Bill. The clause allows the new council to acquire an interest in a company with a view to that body exercising certain functions on its behalf. Following a useful debate in Grand Committee we accepted that it was appropriate for the new council to be able to exercise that power, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 1 builds on that premise and places an obligation on the Secretary of State to publish the reasons for any such approval given to a request by the new council to acquire an interest in a body corporate.
The amendment is in line with the Government’s commitment to transparency and openness in its dealings with the new council, and would ensure that any consent given by the Secretary of State to a proposal by the new council to acquire an interest in a company, and the reasons for the decision, are made publicly available, transparent and open to public scrutiny. I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
My Lords, I shall speak to only one amendment in the list. I am delighted to be across the Dispatch Box from the increasingly experienced noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, the new Minister, is not unwell—or, worse, that he is not already bored with the necessary but at times, admittedly, time-consuming process of legislation. I look forward to the noble Lord’s presence on the other side of the House in debating Bills to come, and hope that he will come to embrace parliamentary duties with the same vigour and keenness as do his colleagues on the Bench today. I will have to trust that he will read the Minister’s remarks on the amendments in the Official Report tomorrow.
Amendment No. 1 was made as an addition to the Bill by my colleague Mark Prisk in another place. It requires that the Secretary of State may publish the reasons for any approval given to a request by the new National Consumer Council to acquire an interest in a body corporate. It is an important amendment that goes right to the heart of the debates of a few months ago, which I am sure noble Lords will not have forgotten.
Overall, the Bill has seen marked improvement in both your Lordships’ House and another place. There are three main areas where, I am pleased to say, my party has made improvements: we have improved the accountability of the new National Consumer Council, including ensuring that in its acquisition of any corporate body it is subject to ministerial approval; we have helped consumers by ensuring that best practice in complaints handling is followed; and, thirdly, we have ensured that the new National Consumer Council better reflects the successful operation of the existing council.
On the question of estate agents and supporting consumers, however, the Government have not gone as far as they ought to have done. Her Majesty’s Government have brought forward improvements to the redress schemes following Conservative amendments in your Lordships’ House, but it is a shame that they have been unwilling to modernise the law, in particular the definition of “estate agency”, to reflect how the housing market works today. Nor, regrettably, has there been recognition by Her Majesty’s Government that redress for residential lettings should be the same as for house buyers. It is a missed opportunity.
Hot on the heels of the HIPs fiasco, it is clear that the Government will be wary of regulation in the housing market. But unlike Her Majesty’s Government’s proposals for HIPs, our amendments—to modernise the law, include residential lettings and increase fines for rogue agents—did have the support of the vast majority of the industry and consumers. That amendment was presented in Committee in another place, and the Government accepted the principle in concession to the amendment tabled by my honourable friend there.
I hope that the Minister will, however, consider the terms of the amendment tabled in the Commons and will be able to convey it to the department of the noble Lord, Lord Jones, for deliberation. I would like to register my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, for his stewardship of the Bill in your Lordships’ House previously. It was constructive and thoughtful, and with his help many positive additions to the Bill were secured. I look forward to seeing the implementation of the Bill and will follow with interest the progress of the new National Consumer Council.
My Lords, I am slightly surprised at the tone the noble Baroness took regarding the noble Lord, Lord Jones, because I would have assumed that she would be delighted that he had been replaced as a potential Tory candidate for London by Boris Johnson. I hope that these attacks on the Minister—the well known Liberal Democrat—will now cease.
I welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Evans, is dealing with these matters and I suspect that he will be dealing with them with his usual competence for some time to come. I am particularly surprised by the noble Baroness’s remarks, as, having read Hansard from another place, I think that Amendment No. 1 seems exactly what her colleague proposed there. That was supported by the Liberal Democrats, and I support this amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, for their support for the amendment. You haven’t got a Jones but you’ve got an Evans, is all I can say. We will read with care the points that the noble Baroness feels ought to be passed on to the department.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
2: Page 26, line 3, leave out “may make regulations prescribing” and insert “must by regulations prescribe”
3: Page 26, line 14, at end insert-
“(5A) If a date is prescribed in relation to a regulator for the purposes of this subsection, from that date subsection (1) has effect in relation to that regulator as if, in that subsection, for “must” there were substituted “may”.
(5B) In subsection (5A) “prescribed” means prescribed by order made by the Secretary of State under this section.
(5C) Before prescribing a date in relation to a regulator for the purposes of subsection (5A), the Secretary of State must consult-
(a) the regulator,(b) the Council, and (c) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
4: Page 26, line 28, leave out paragraph (a) and insert-
“(a) set out the standards the regulator proposes to prescribe,”
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 4.
This group of amendments relates to the complaint-handling standards provisions in the Bill, an issue that was debated extensively during the passage of the Bill through this House previously. The debate that occurred centred quite rightly on how best to ensure that regulated providers in the electricity, gas and postal services sector have in place and operate appropriate and effective internal complaints-handling procedures.
This is particularly important because, under the new arrangements for consumer representation being introduced as a result of the provisions in the Bill, there will no longer be a sector-specific consumer body with a complaint-handling function for the energy and postal services sector; therefore, regulated providers in these sectors will be required to take full and proper responsibility for handling their own complaints. The measures in the Bill are about empowering and protecting the consumer, and we need to have the right incentives in place to achieve this objective.
The amendments would require regulators to make regulations prescribing standards for complaint-handling. This is the clearest and most certain way to ensure that consumer complaints will be dealt with to an approved standard by regulated providers in these sectors. Regulators have an important role to play here; they are best placed to determine what is appropriate and necessary for their sector; therefore, they must have a degree of flexibility in determining what standards are set, to which complaints they apply and how these standards should be enforced.
Amendment No. 3 is included in this group to allow for future changes to the energy and postal services markets. It provides for the Secretary of State to make an order prescribing a date on which the duty on regulators to prescribe complaint-handling standards will change to a power to prescribe such standards. Before making the order, the Secretary of State must consult the regulator, the new council and other persons as appropriate. The amendment is required to allow for future changes in the energy and postal services market which may make the requirement for regulators to prescribe complaint-handling standards obsolete. Any decision by the Secretary of State to remove the duty will be informed by the representations made to the consultation and, in particular, the views of the regulator on the continuing need, or otherwise, of the standards. I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 2 to 4.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
My Lords, although I was absent for a great deal of the Bill’s Committee stage, I have read the proceedings in great detail. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Wilcox on the way in which she handled matters and the benefits that she, with others, achieved in Committee, particularly that of best practice in handling consumer complaints, which is reinforced by these amendments.
I am a little cynical, although hopeful, that this will be effective, given that Ofcom took so very long to do anything about continual gambling on terrestrial television. Moreover, on the back of telephone bills, it says something like, “If you have any complaints, you may write to us and expect a reply within 12 weeks. If you don’t get a reply in 12 weeks, please write again”. That is why I am cynical.
I share my noble friend’s concern that we have not progressed with protecting consumers in the ever-changing housing market. I hope that, if and when problems arise, we shall know where to point the finger when consumers are not adequately protected.
Finally, I, too, wish the new National Consumer Council every success. It has a very big job on its hands, which I am sure it will do very well. It will be very different from the NCC of which my noble friend and I were chairmen, but I have every confidence in its ability to meet the challenges of the future.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
5: Page 26, line 35, at end insert-
“( ) The requirements of subsection (1) may be satisfied by action taken before the commencement of this section or the passing of this Act.”
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 5.
The amendment relates to Clauses 44 and 47 and the new redress and complaints-handling provision to be introduced in the energy and postal services sector and, potentially, in the water sector, after consultation in 2008. These aspects of the new framework for consumer representation and redress are an important part of the new arrangements introduced by the Bill. A direct consequence of the new provisions is that regulated providers in the energy and postal services sectors—and potentially water, after consultation in 2008—will be required to take full and proper responsibility for handling complaints from consumers of their services.
As an incentive for industry to take complaint-handling seriously, the Bill requires regulators to make regulations prescribing standards for complaint-handling that will be binding on regulated providers in these sectors.
Where a regulated service provider has not been able to resolve a complaint to the satisfaction of the consumer, the availability of redress schemes will ensure that consumers will benefit from the certainty of a complaint’s resolution and the award of compensation where appropriate.
These measures are about empowering and protecting the consumer, and we are working closely with representatives of the key organisations concerned to ensure that we achieve a smooth transition to the new framework which maximises benefits to consumers and minimises the uncertainty for staff in the existing organisations.
We expect that the new sectoral redress schemes will be established by industry and approved by the relevant regulators. In parallel, regulators will also be considering how best to introduce the new standards for complaints-handling. We are discussing with both industry and industry representatives how best to make the transition to the new arrangements. From these discussions, it is clear that we face an intricate and challenging timetable to deliver the different aspects of this new structure, and that work on the detailed aspects of implementing these provisions needs to start now, even prior to Royal Assent. Therefore, we want to be able to make a start with building on the important background preparatory work which has taken place to facilitate the swift and successful introduction of these measures.
The intention behind the amendments is simple: to clarify expressly the status of certain actions, such as consultations and other procedural actions, and to provide that, where they are carried out prior to Royal Assent and commencement, they satisfy the requirements of the Bill as set out in Clauses 44(1) and 47(4).
In view of the time constraints on the implementation timetable, the amendments will enable us to make progress with implementation activities prior to the commencement of the relevant sections of the Bill, and provide the assurance that these actions will satisfy the obligations in the Bill specifically in these two areas. This will save a great deal of time later on in the process and assist with the swift introduction of these measures in due course. I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 5.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
6: Clause 45, page 26, line 37, leave out “where standards are” and insert “in relation to standards”
7: Clause 47, page 27, line 31, at end insert-
“( ) The requirements of subsection (4) may be satisfied by consultation undertaken before the commencement of this section or the passing of this Act.”
8: Clause 67, page 41, line 18, leave out subsection (2)
9: Schedule 1, page 53, line 7, leave out from “(b)” to “before” and insert “send a copy of the certified statement and the Comptroller and Auditor General's report to the Secretary of State, who shall lay them”
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9.
This is a minor technical amendment, which simply makes the department, rather than the Comptroller and Auditor General, responsible for laying the new council’s accounts before Parliament.
Paragraph 32 of Schedule 1 places a requirement on the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine, certify and report on each statement of accounts received from the new National Consumer Council. Prior to this amendment, the Comptroller and Auditor General would have been required to lay a copy of each statement and the report before Parliament.
In discussions between the department and the National Audit Office it has been suggested that the requirement to lay copies of audited accounts and associated reports before Parliament should be the responsibility of the department rather than the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Under the amendment, the Comptroller and Auditor General will still be required to examine, certify and report on each statement of accounts received from the new council before sending a copy of the certified accounts and of the report to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will then be responsible for laying copies of the report before Parliament. Precedent has been set for this revised arrangement by other newly created bodies; for example, for Natural England, in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, and for the Olympic Delivery Agency, in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. The Secretary of State is responsible for laying the accounts of those two bodies. This amendment would bring the position of the new council into line with that of the other newly created bodies. I beg to move.
Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
10: Schedule 5, page 61, line 16, leave out “where standards are” and insert “in relation to standards”
11: Page 61, line 32, leave out “where standards are” and insert “in relation to standards”
12: Page 62, line 11, leave out “where standards are” and insert “in relation to standards”
Home Information Pack (No. 2) Regulations 2007
Housing Act 2004 (Commencement No. 8) (England and Wales) Order 2007
rose to move, That this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to revoke the Home Information Pack (No. 2) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1667) and the Housing Act 2004 (Commencement No. 8) (England and Wales) Order 2007 (SI 2007/1668).
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it is eight weeks since we last had an opportunity to debate the Government’s proposals to introduce home information packs. Then, this ridiculous policy was having to be put on hold because of the wholly predictable fact that there were insufficient home inspectors trained to carry out either the home condition inspections or the energy performance reports. The Merits Committee had also issued a damning report on the whole project. The old regulations were withdrawn in May, new regulations were promised and laid in June, so here we are again.
The new regulations maintain the insistence that there should be a home information pack when a house is sold, but the requirement for it will be phased in, starting on 1 August for four-and-more-bedroom houses. Here lies the first recipe for disaster. How are four-bedroom houses defined? What is to stop an owner altering the rooms and selling the house on a different basis, say as having three bedrooms, a study and a playroom? That would not require a home information pack. Four-bedroom houses also amount to less than 20 per cent of the housing stock and are unlikely to be sought by the majority of first-time buyers—the people home packs are meant to help.
The pack itself has to contain an index, an energy performance certificate, title extract and a seller’s form. That is all; everything else that a house buyer might need to know, such as the condition of the property, or information on warranties or policies to guarantee against defects, leasehold interests, rights of access, sewerage, drainage, water, gas or electrical services, may or may not be provided. If it is not, the buyer will still have to find and pay for it himself. The mangled mandatory pack is to cost in the region of £600, to be borne by the seller. It is blindingly obvious that this cost will find its way into the sale price of the property, so the buyer will pay for it anyway, as he will almost certainly have to do for an independent survey on the condition of the property—one of a standard to satisfy him and his mortgage company—as well as the searches and all the documents for the sale.
Since we last spoke, the requirement to have a home information pack before a house could be put on the market has vanished. Now it will be sufficient just to have ordered a pack. But what buyer is going to sit around waiting for a pack to appear? At some stage, buyers will do what any buyer has always done—commission their own searches and documents in case the pack never appears, and pay for them. Furthermore, is it really the Government’s business to endorse a system that would circumvent the need for a home information pack if the property is being sold under the sell-for-free system run by some property finders, so that when estate agents must sell with a home information pack these businesses do not have to do so? That could distort the market.
There is almost universal agreement on three points. The first is that the energy performance of a house is becoming an important piece of information. Under European law it will become a requirement to have that information in 2010, but it is unnecessary for a performance certificate to be attached to the sale of a property at this time. I am afraid that the Government have made up this aspect; they are gold-plating the directive, presumably to justify continuing with the packs. We believe that the requirement for the certificate could and should be detached from the home information pack and become a standalone requirement, carried out against the timescale of the directive—once every 10 years—and not, as currently, as not more than one year old on sale. This is not even particularly efficient. Delivery of energy performance certificates through home information packs will take about 15 years to assess the nation’s housing stock, whereas if, for example, energy companies were encouraged to deliver energy performance certificates out of their budgets for energy efficiency, the same result could be delivered in a far shorter time.
Secondly, since the first idea about having home information on houses at point of sale was considered, things have moved on. E-conveyancing is becoming a reality, the provision of seller disclosure forms is being considered, and the industry’s various other initiatives to make house purchase and sale quicker and more efficient are really well under way and begin to make any suggestion of home information packs redundant. Their protracted introduction may have gingered up the professional organisations to think further about how to improve efficiency, but modern ideas are now taking off.
Thirdly, home information packs are a con. What is now on offer is a million miles from where the Government first started, when they were going to consist of comprehensive documentation, including a home condition report, which would mean that a buyer would have all the information required to make a speedy assessment of a property and a decision on a sale. Bit by bit, that has fallen apart. Home condition reports, once compulsory, have become voluntary. Insufficient inspectors have been trained to carry them out. Concern that they would not be of a standard to enable mortgage lenders to rely on them has still not been resolved. In all, the whole pack has unravelled.
Why are the Government persisting with this completely discredited policy? What is to be gained by continuing to pretend that it will benefit, in particular, first-time buyers and deter gazumping when every professional body, apart from those whose job it is to sell home packs, says that it will do neither? Why now justify these failed proposals on the only aspect of any value—the energy performance certificate—which is perfectly capable of being introduced on its own? Further consultation on the process of doing so has not been undertaken with the professional bodies, such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the National Association of Estate Agents, and it is clear that without the transitional introduction of packs, there would not yet be sufficient domestic energy inspectors trained to cover the whole market.
Will the Criminal Records Bureau checks for those trained to be domestic inspectors be as stringent as those for home inspectors? It is reported today in the press that domestic energy inspectors will not be checked for previous convictions. If that is the case, it will be a disaster.
Seldom can a government initiative have gone so spectacularly wrong. It has been panned by practically all the professional bodies associated with house sales. Despite warnings from this House and the other place on innumerable occasions that the policy was simply not going to work, the Government have, none the less, ploughed on. This is the Minister’s opportunity finally to admit that the policy is badly flawed, should be withdrawn and either rethought or abandoned. We will gladly support the introduction of energy performance certificates as a separate and freshly considered initiative, but home packs must go. I urge the Minister to do everyone a favour—buyers, sellers and professionals—and abandon the packs this afternoon. If she will not, I will ask the House to support my Motion against her. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to revoke the Home Information Pack (No. 2) Regulations 2007 (SI 2007/1667) and the Housing Act 2004 (Commencement No. 8) (England and Wales) Order 2007 (SI 2007/1668).—(Baroness Hanham.)
My Lords, here we are again. It seems that for the past two years or so a debate on the latest saga on home information packs has become a regular feature of business in your Lordships’ House. The policy, which had some flaws when originally conceived and included in the Housing Act, has become worse. The Government, in a sense, have been a victim of being almost too obliging; by attempting to respond to many often conflicting pieces of advice from outside bodies, they have ended up with something less coherent and less consistent than it was when we started.
These Benches have always been ambivalent about home information packs, essentially on the basis that it was difficult to imagine that a buyer could have full confidence in information provided by the seller. That fundamental flaw always made us concerned about whether home information packs would be viable.
However, we have always supported energy performance certificates. They are a good way of helping householders to keep warmer, to save money and to reduce carbon emissions—we know that 20 per cent of UK carbon emissions come from domestic housing. It is a pity that the Government did not take stock at some point and concentrate on how best to deliver energy performance certificates, separating them from home information packs. All our concerns have been amplified by the Government’s removal from the home information pack of its most significant element—the home condition survey. Without that, the pack is, frankly, meaningless.
I hope that the noble Baroness will address some of our concerns. First, on security checks, we have been told that domestic energy surveyors will not have to undergo as rigorous a criminal check as inspectors carrying out home condition reports. Can she confirm that and perhaps explain why different standards apply? Indeed, I understand that estate agents, who also have access to one’s home, undergo no checks at all and that varying standards are required for utility inspectors. Perhaps the noble Baroness might consider whether there should be some consistency in approach, so that householders understand the background of the people whom they are letting into their home, particularly those whom they let in because they have to, as they have no choice about these inspections.
Will the noble Baroness update the House on the current standing of the judicial review, which was launched by the RICS some six or eight weeks ago? I know that the judicial review was put on hold in order to give the Government a chance to refresh their thinking. In a similar vein, could she tell us how the pilot studies are going? One of the points made by the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee in its last report was that not enough information about the pilot schemes was being made public; it asked how we were therefore to make a judgment.
We are in a difficult situation because there is no doubt that the industry, in its broadest sense, needs some clarity on how the Government will progress. A rather fetching document from an estate agent came through the door of my London flat. It is called Getting HIP: The Low-down on the New Legislation. It says:
“Home Information Packs will be with us soon—well, we think so anyway … after so much uncertainty, who knows whether they’ll ever come into force”.
It also says:
“The government has won few friends with how HIPs have been introduced but it’s our role to help vendors through the chaos”.
The Government cannot be happy that the industry is regarding the policy in that light. I am sure that the noble Baroness will want to assure the House that the Government are taking the situation very seriously and that they recognise that clarity within the industry is required.
As of 13 March, the Government had spent £11.6 million on developing the policy. A reply to a Written Question that I tabled in July said that an additional £8 million has been spent since then. The fact that almost £20 million has been spent on a policy that has not yet begun and which the industry really does not understand is not, I suggest, a great success.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government. It takes a huge amount of ingenuity to keep a grisly soap opera running for five, six or seven years and repeatedly bringing it into your Lordships’ House, with each edition worse than the previous one. More and more people outside are interested as the press begins to realise that what we have been talking about is accurate and that the policy is riddled with contradictions and loopholes and is probably unenforceable.
Our Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee is kept busy entirely as a result of the noble Baroness’s department. For the second time this year, it has had to look at the package and, for the second time this year, it has had to report that the proposals will not achieve the policy objective in the way anticipated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred to the home condition survey, which I am delighted is not in the home information pack. I did the training for it. I would never have relied, as a purchaser, on a house that had had a home condition survey, because the survey did not cover the really important things in a house, such as drainage, electricity and water. These were expressly excluded and one would have had to do a proper survey of one’s own to cover those matters.
My noble friend Lady Hanham referred to people coming into homes with the right qualifications and the right security checks, but perhaps there is no need for that. Estate agents are in and out of people’s homes every day and they do not have to have any security checks. Anybody can set up as an estate agent—any ex-prisoner, for example. The noble Baroness, when she loses her position at the next election, can set up as an estate agent the next day. We all trust her implicitly, but there are an awful lot of estate agents whom one does not trust at all.
However, we have lost an opportunity, because the noble Baroness rejected my amendment that would license estate agents. One of the advantages of licensing estate agents would be to cover the important matter of the safety and security of the consumer. It is entirely the Government’s fault that that problem, which has been highlighted over domestic energy surveyors, will be raised more and more often. It is a delight to see the government Deputy Chief Whip on the Front Bench. In, I think, 1978, he introduced what became the Estate Agents Act 1979. At that time, he, too, would have wished very much for estate agents to be licensed and for proper security checks to have been made.
Energy performance certificates are very important but they are a fairly blunt instrument to achieve what the Government want to do. As my noble friend Lady Hanham said, they gold-plate the EU regulations; that is not unusual with government departments. I recall it happening very often when we were in government—and that is not to our credit.
There are many loopholes in this proposal. Not every house that is put on the market needs an energy performance certificate. The house may be marketed by a home-finder who is not an estate agent or the vendor and they may say, “I am getting a pack prepared”; in that case, an EPC does not need to be prepared at that stage.
If the Government really want an energy survey of our homes, they need to include the houses that never come on the market. Quite a number of houses will never come on the market and never have an EPC. The Government’s policy will therefore not achieve their objectives.
I am delighted that the Government will now allow us estate agents to do first-day marketing, but that raises exactly the problem that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, mentioned. The vendor will be able to say, “I have commissioned a pack”, and, in a housing market such as it is now, the house will doubtless have been sold before the pack is ever produced—not that it will ever be of much benefit to the purchaser. In a bad housing market, the situation will be different. I expect that we could be in a bad—or a very different—housing market in the not-too-distant future. We will then get a different argument, which will involve all the additional costs that the Government are forcing on vendors by requiring them to have produced all this rather worthless information up front.
I support my noble friend Lady Hanham. I ask the Minister once again to reconsider all of this; please take it away and please take it back to your Secretary of State, Mrs Balls, and say to her, “This is not a policy that will work. You are a new Secretary of State; let’s have a fresh look at this”. The Minister will know that there was a big meeting yesterday at the RICS, at which it and the NAEA looked at the whole of housing policy. We should build on that and come forward with something that everybody in the industry agrees on and the public can live with and benefit from.
My Lords, the difficulties that are inherent in the sale and purchase of real property are considerable and historic, and will remain with us whatever view the House takes on this Motion. In our debate on 22 May, many, including myself, belaboured the point that for more than 300 years there has been an inevitable time gap between the moment at which an agreement—a meeting of minds in an oral agreement—is made with regard to the sale and purchase of land and the moment at which that agreement becomes binding in law by the evidence in writing of the agreement. For the past 18 years, that has had to be in writing. That will remain the situation, and that is the essential problem.
In that time gap, good and evil will operate. The good that will operate will be that the purchaser is able to negotiate fully a mortgage—that is needed in the vast majority of home purchase transactions—and he will be able to make full investigations into the physical state of the property and any environmental problems. That cannot happen overnight and it is the main reason why there is that time gap of three to six months between the oral agreement and the exchange of contracts. The room for manoeuvre by the Government—by any Government, however committed—is therefore limited.
I sought to belabour that point on the last occasion and I make no apology for doing so again, because it seems to be central. However, the Government, on this occasion, are in a stronger position than they were on 22 May. At that time, I suggested, perhaps less than prudently, that the failure to make the home condition survey part of a compulsory scheme was a fundamental flaw. I have changed my mind. Even if it was made compulsory, a valuation would still be necessary. On what would that depend? It would depend on the property’s physical condition. Therefore, a home survey that did not contain a valuation—and it has never been suggested that it would contain one—would inevitably be duplicated and, in practice, would not achieve anything on its own. For that reason, I have changed my mind.
There is a case for the home information pack even if its effect is limited. One beneficial effect is the creation of a culture of acceleration in relation to that period of three to six months. There is some anecdotal evidence that constant pressure—and the Government have been consistent on this for 10 years—has brought about some change, because of that climate of psychology. Indeed, there is overt evidence that over 50 local authorities, being acutely conscious of the delay in issuing search results and of the cost of searches, have reduced both the time and the cost by at least 20 per cent. What about the £20 million spent on this over the years? If that money has been responsible for that result alone, as I believe it has, it will have been money well invested.
The limitations are considerable. I am sure that anybody looking soberly and fairly at the situation will accept that. It is right and proper that the energy certificate should be an integral part of the home information pack. Obviously, I am not privy to the Government’s thinking, but I do not know why they have gone so far in this direction, beyond the Brussels requirements—maybe out of some obeisance towards Brussels, but I doubt it. I suspect that it has much more to do with the consideration that over a quarter of our energy emissions come from domestic premises and that, for a comparatively low rate of expenditure and with comparatively little interference with the rights and day-to-day manoeuvres of ordinary people, this proposal can achieve a great deal. If that can be brought about, that again will be a first-class investment.
I appreciate that, since 22 May, there has been a vast improvement in the number of accredited inspectors. I am glad that that is so and that there is a gradual phasing-in of this system to avoid a potential big bang of bringing it in all at the same time.
However, there remains considerable cynicism on the part of those sitting on the Conservative Benches and, to some extent, on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Far be it from me to pretend to sit in judgment on them in this matter, but I hope that they will accept that here we are dealing with a massive social problem, which has caused much frustration and much unnecessary loss to many people. The losses in financial terms alone must amount to well over £500 million per annum. About 25 per cent of all sales fall through, many on account of gazumping, and there is little that we can do to change that. Even if we adopted a Scottish system of a series of missives, I doubt very much, due to the totally different culture relating to conveyancing in England and Wales, whether it would bring about any meaningful change.
Therefore, we are left with a considerable social problem, as I am sure the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats accept. What is their solution? Are they prepared to ask the public to consider any alternative here? I say that not in any spiteful way or with a hectoring attitude, but I beg them to consider whether it is necessary to divide the House on this matter. If they do, whether they succeed or not, they will create confusion and uncertainty for the general public. I do not pretend for a moment that the situation is not already tainted by confusion and uncertainty, but they will add to that and I do not think that they will do the British public any service whatever.
My Lords, I do not think that the House should be under any illusion but that we are facing an attempt by a new boy on the block to enter into the buying and selling of houses, which has been the almost exclusive preserve of a number of vested interests. When we talk of the people who have influence in this matter, we should not forget that estate agents, surveyors and others, whose cosy club has existed for a long time, feel threatened. They are right; they are being threatened.
The Government are accused of doing something, when for years nothing was done directly to tackle a problem that has affected most people—including noble Lords, and I am certainly not an exception—involved in buying or selling a house. Therefore, from my point of view, the Government are to be congratulated on doing something.
The criticism levelled at the Government is that their grand plan of three or four years ago has been watered down. However, they have listened, rejected, changed and consulted, and they have finally come to the conclusion that the only additional procedure in buying and selling a house should be the requirement for an energy performance report. The case for such a report, taking into account the issue of waste, has not been denied. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, without any caveat, that the report would cost £600, but the cost that I have been given is £300 to £400. She may be right, but so might I. I got my information from a source whose briefing, I am sure, will have reached the noble Baroness. Given that the average cost of buying a house these days is over £200,000, the additional cost of the report—shall we say £400?—is a flea bite. No one will willingly subject themselves to being bitten by a flea; however, if that is what it boils down to, and there is a service, it is a good thing.
We talk glibly about global hostility to the matter among surveyors, estate agents and solicitors, but it is not necessarily so: some surveyors, estate agents and solicitors approve. The argument has rested on the unreadiness of the system to operate. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about defining a four-bedroom house. Yes, there are clever people who are prepared to twist things and to commit subterfuge. I do not just mean estate agents or surveyors; some ordinary people will resort to it. If, for the extra cost, this piece of paper is produced, the 1,600 people who are ready now will shortly be increased to 2,000, which is an adequate number, I am told, to deal with that which the order seeks to do.
The legislation is very limited compared to how it was. For the life of me I cannot see why the House is not prepared to give the Government the opportunity to put into practice that which noble Lords have always said they want; that is, to bring down the cost of selling and buying a house. Hitherto, these reports have had to be commissioned by the buyer; in future, they will have to be commissioned by the seller, so the cost to the first-time buyer will be substantially reduced. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, shakes her head. She may be able to quote evidence to show that the cost will not fall on the seller but on the buyer. We all know that people buying and selling houses are often in a chain. What you win on one you lose on the other, but as a result the costs will be marginal.
The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, made a powerful point about the cost of abortive sales that fall in early on. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been lost because of delay, missed opportunities and so on. The Government—I do not use the words “congratulate” or “persistence”—are seized, as I am, of the need not just to do something, but to do something positive and helpful for people who want to reduce the cost of buying and selling their houses.
I take with a pinch of salt the claim that the whole industry involved in buying and selling houses is opposed to the scheme. I know them well enough to believe that, once the scheme is operating—it has to start—a growing number in the industry will come to the view, “Well, if there is some gravy to be lapped up, I may as well get a little bit of it”. The Minister has my support in her attempt to assist ordinary people to buy and sell their houses as equitably as possible.
My Lords, I promise not to make a Second Reading speech because we are looking at a regulation that is coming in. I am a great supporter of HIPs, not because of what they represent but because they include the EPC. We have discussed that with the Minister. It is an incredibly valuable aspect. Noble Lords on all Benches have said that they support EPCs, which is why no fatal amendments to the Bill have been tabled.
Everybody has mentioned how this debate is being reported. In my local property paper, the Avenues, there was a whole section on how this debate in the Lords would lead to the death of HIPs. That is not the case. We should not forget that this is a non-fatal amendment. If it is carried, HIPs will carry on. Previous votes have led to a delay in respect of most properties until properly trained individuals are ready, but they have delayed only one section. I ask the Minister to make a clear statement that all the other aspects will come into force as the regulations state—for the four-bedroom house, for example. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton: you do not have to be intelligent to work out what is a four-bedroom house; my seven year-old son could argue the case for what is a four-bedroom house. That will change at the end of the year, and all houses will fall under the regulation. All rental property, social housing and businesses will be included.
We should not underestimate the Government’s achievement in EPCs. They will save millions of tonnes of carbon. Because this has become a heated debate, I take issue with missives that we receive from lobbying organisations. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is a lobbying organisation, as far as I am concerned, when it sends me unsolicited e-mails—which made me rather annoyed—as if I agreed with every line and iota that it came up with. Members of that organisation are calling for an emergency general meeting to question whether the judicial review is in the interest of all their members. I know that the Minister will talk about the state of the judicial review, but the RICS has some internal issues that it will have to address.
If I were an energy assessor and had paid the RICS to take the qualification, but it then launched a judicial review that meant that I was probably out of a job for the next three or four months, I would be very unhappy.
I have one more issue to raise with the Government. Under EPCs, you can change two things that will change the energy rating of your house: the insulation in your loft and your boiler. Of course, changing a boiler is a major expense. However, the Government could use EPCs to indicate how inefficient a boiler is. If they then state that the boiler is inefficient, energy efficiency credits, which are issued by suppliers, could be used to reduce the amount of gas used by domestic suppliers, which is an obligation on the suppliers. That means that EPCs could be used to reduce the cost of replacing an inefficient boiler with an efficient one. That would be a massive step forward. I am sure that many noble Lords throughout the House, hand on heart, realise that they have tried to eke out the life of a boiler for five or six years past its real date of demise. If those boilers were changed in enough houses around the country, vast amounts of carbon could be saved.
I very much hope that the Minister will consult boiler manufacturers and other organisations to make that happen. It could happen without regulation and would be a real benefit of EPCs. Notwithstanding the real concerns advanced by my noble friend, which we have all shared, about how the measure has been implemented by the Government—I am not blaming the noble Baroness on this, but it has been a long and arduous process—I ask the House to consider that in the vote we are seeing whether we think EPCs are important. Climate change is an issue. One way to address it is through EPCs.
My Lords, I am very grateful indeed for this measured and thoughtful debate on such an important topic. I want to take the House through the changes that we have made since we last debated the issue, in response to the points raised and to the consultation and conversations that we have had with stakeholders. I shall try to reassure the noble Baroness that we have done everything that we can to make the introduction of HIPs on 1 August as smooth, robust and certain as possible. That is what we intend to do. I hope that at best I can persuade her not to press her Motion to a vote because arguments have been made for that, but I certainly want to give noble Lords as much information as I think is tolerable to reassure them about what the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, rightly described as an arduous process, but one that is now in a good and strong position.
It is worth saying that the Prime Minister made clear last week that housing is one of the Government’s top three priorities. An essential part of that process is to ensure that people are able to buy and sell their homes in as open, modern, transparent and, we hope, stress-free a way as possible. On that I am indebted to the analysis given by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, both in the previous debate and today that makes clear how long we have been wrestling with this complex legal situation. We particularly want first-time buyers not to be unduly hindered from entering the market, and we believe that HIPs are an important first step in the process. They will help to end frustration and reduce costs. We remain committed to their introduction, alongside energy performance certificates.
As we have said many times, we believe that HIPs will improve the experience of home buying and selling for consumers by providing them with vital information collected at the start of the process, and for the first time provide them with important information about the energy efficiency of their home. First-time buyers will receive their packs free. It is also right to point out that we have already seen improvements. The price of searches has been driven down and processes are being speeded up. While I talk about it being a first step, we have already seen some changes in behaviour in the market.
The last time we debated HIPs was on 22 May and I updated noble Lords then on the agreement that we had made with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, brought about by its judicial review against the EPC. I shall come back to that point with an answer to the questions put to me. I also set out our decision to revoke and then lay revised regulations for Parliament to consider. I made clear our intention to roll out HIPs initially for properties of four bedrooms or more. That pragmatic approach was also in part a consequence of the judicial review by RICS and the uncertainty that that had caused among domestic energy assessors in training, who were very reluctant to come forward. Today, as we debate the issue again, I want to explain briefly why we remain committed to both HIPs and EPCs, to tell noble Lords about the progress we have made in meeting the targets we set to achieve a successful rollout, to look at our plans for monitoring and evaluation of quality following the introduction of HIPs, and to dispel a few myths that have been accumulating around the process. Lastly, I want to look at the longer term picture.
Noble Lords have once again expressed their opposition to HIPs in principle, described as cynicism by other noble Lords. All I say is that the whole motive behind this long journey has been to increase the transparency and predictability of the process by providing information early on and thus reduce the risk of problems that could be avoided surfacing later, at great cost in time and energy. HIPs will be of particular importance to first-time buyers.
The inclusion of energy performance certificates is an absolutely vital tool in our efforts to tackle climate change. Many noble Lords have argued that HIPs and EPCs can be separated, but anyone who believes that climate change is an urgent threat—the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, indicated that EPCs are extremely important—would surely support the Government in trying to introduce them as speedily and urgently as possible, and that is what the HIPs vehicle allows us to do.
I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, a birthday present today—I congratulate him anyway—but I will look at his suggestion in a very positive fashion. It is both logical and interesting. If he will leave it with me, I would be happy to take it away. My response to the argument that we are trying to gold-plate the arrangement is that it is not gold-plating to want to move urgently—by sending a signal to homeowners that they can be helped to do something to reduce their costs—to reduce our carbon use and lower the costs of energy. An EPC which is 10 years out of date is not going to influence behaviour and will not cut tomorrow’s costs, which is why we are where we are. I remind noble Lords that carbon from our homes accounts for 27 per cent of all emissions.
Noble Lords have been rightly concerned with the process and the need for the introduction to be as smooth and as predictable as possible. On 22 May we announced that we were committed to re-laying the regulations, carrying on work to increase domestic energy assessor numbers, rolling out a pilot to look at EPCs and social housing, consulting stakeholders and running a consultation with RICS. We have done all those things. We could not have listened harder. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said at one point that we had listened almost too hard.
We relaid the regulations on 11 June. We gave early notice to the industry to enable a full debate on the policy. The regulations were considered again by the Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments, which was supportive of the efforts made by the department in response to concerns both inside and outside Parliament in relation to HIPs, and of the opportunity given for further scrutiny. It welcomed the Government’s response to stakeholders in holding a consultation on the age of the EPC.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said we had insufficient domestic energy assessors, but we have made progress and, as I predicted, the numbers have taken off. On 11 July, there were 1,603 fully qualified and accredited domestic energy assessors ready for 1 August, which is more than enough to deal with four-bedroom properties from1 August. We are well on the way to rollout of three-bedroom properties. We have provided certainty to the industry by setting out on 11 June in our implementation statement the criteria we will use to rollout HIPs to all properties, and we are well on the way to the target of 2,000 assessors for the later stages.
We said that we would try to ensure additional opportunities for qualified inspectors to find work. We have done that. The social housing pilot announced on 22 May is progressing well. We have approved bids for more than 120,000 EPCs from more than 100 local authorities and registered social landlords. Successful bidders were informed earlier this week. We expect most EPCs to be undertaken over the summer. It is an excellent opportunity to test the process before it is introduced to all landlords in October 2008.
I promised my noble friend Lord Graham that we would engage constructively with stakeholders and critics of the scheme, and we have done so; we have had extensive discussions with stakeholders over the past two months, including RICS. There is no uncertainty; they know that what we are putting in place on 1 August is a measured process. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that they have expressed a willingness to work with us on the next stage of reforms in this area.
The judicial review has been stayed, of course, on terms which require the Government to undertake consultation on the maximum and minimum age of energy performance certificates. We agreed that we would consult on the maximum age when it is included in a HIP. We are planning to start informal consultations with RICS and other stakeholders ahead of launching a formal consultation over the summer. Pending the outcome of that consultation, we have amended the regulations to say that an EPC must be no more than a year old when a home is first marketed.
I know that what noble Lords really want to hear from me is a guarantee that when HIPs are introduced on 1 August they will be acceptable and as positive a benefit as possible. Let me explain what we have done. To ensure that they are implemented with as little disruption to the current system as possible, the new regulations make it possible for people to market their homes without a HIP for a limited and temporary period, which will last until 31 December. However, before an estate agent or other person marketing the property does so, they will have to provide written proof that they have commissioned a HIP—this could take the form of a letter to a pack provider company, for example, or a copy of the application form; a simple process—and to show that they have either paid for it or agreed to pay for it, again with written confirmation.
There are enough HIP providers in place to provide this service. There are standalone services or they can be found in solicitors’ offices, estate agents, search companies and e-conveyancing. If some sellers still have difficulty in finding some of the documents—we know that leases, in particular, are quite difficult to get hold of—all they will have to do is show that they have made all reasonable efforts to obtain the missing documents. Once sellers have received their EPC, they will have to produce a HIP. Since all these documents will be needed in any transaction before a sale can be agreed and completed, the HIP, rather than being an obstacle, should be a more focused and quicker way of bringing key information together. That is the process that we have put in place. We are pleased that it will work.
Moving to monitoring and evaluation, we are ready to launch on 1 August. How will we know if HIPs and EPCs are achieving the benefits that we expect? I will say a word about costs. The price of an EPC is about £97, according to our initial trials. In practice, many will be cheaper. The price of the HIP in the area trial has worked out at between £300 and £400. Many are being offered more cheaply. We will be keeping a close eye on the market following the introduction of HIPs, to ensure a smooth rollout. As part of our work leading to the launch, we have had a number of discussions with stakeholders, which have helped inform our decisions on monitoring and evaluation. That means obtaining data at first hand from what is going on on the ground. We are receiving feedback from all parts of the HIP system—estate agents, trading standards officers and so on—to ensure that things are running smoothly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked me about the pilots. Evidence from the area trials is continuing to inform the ongoing work, as it has already throughout the year. We expect this to continue as we receive more information. We will publish a report on the trials in the late autumn, when we have a sufficient and significant body of evidence.
Finally, I will deal with the myths around HIPs. Inevitably, new announcements and innovations generate their own mythologies. There are still a few that we have to deal with, the first being the four-bedroomed house. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said that his seven year-old could explain why you would not market a four-bedroomed house as a three-bedroomed house. It is very simple. Why would you want to put yourself at risk of losing £120,000, which is the average price difference? The property editor of the Times does not think you would. She said the other day:
“In a slowing market, with more properties for sale, being economical with the truth to save a few hundred pounds could mean that your ‘three bedrooms plus study’ property is not first on buyers' viewing lists ... in some locations, space is an especially valuable commodity: Hometrack's average prices for a three-bedroom and a four-bedroom house in Wandsworth, South London, are £460,000 and £620,000 respectively”.
That is a major difference.
There have also been suggestions of loopholes in the current arrangements. I assure noble Lords that there are no such loopholes. We have deliberately put in place a more flexible system from 1 August, which enables a property to be marketed without a HIP, as I explained, provided that all the required documents are in place. There have been concerns about enforcements. Our concern is that we should have a light-touch regime. We have worked this out with the local authority co-ordinators, regulatory services and the Trading Standards Institute. We all think that HIP duties should be operated with a light touch during the first stages of the scheme, while it beds down. I am sure that everyone will observe our situation with common sense. However, trading standards officers will act on complaints and will penalise people.
I was asked specifically by several noble Lords about security checks. The DEA checks will mean that anyone acting as an assessor will be a fit and proper person to practice. They will be CRB-checked at a basic level—all offences of 2.5 years or more, spent and unspent, any offence within the last five years and any habitual offending will be recorded. The home inspector checks will be the same, except that the CRB checks will concern all offences, spent and unspent. I should say that the Association of Chief Police Officers has been consulted and is content. These checks are far more rigorous than, for example, for CORGI inspectors. They are more effective, as we heard, than for estate agents or even chartered surveyors. Accreditation schemes will not rely solely on criminal record checks; references will be followed up and so on. Why is there this difference? It is simply practical. Home inspectors will spend far longer in the home. They will not be accompanied, in the way that energy inspectors are when they search for the boiler. We felt it was proportionate to build in that slight difference while maintaining the absolute security of people in their own homes. I hope noble Lords will be satisfied by that.
We move on to the wider reform of home buying and selling processes. Why do we need to do that? We believe that HIPs with EPCs will make positive differences to those processes. They are the first step, as I have said. The Housing Minister has already had a number of discussions with key stakeholders to consider ways to build on HIPs to achieve the change. She is chairing a stakeholder panel on buying and selling that is now going to consider broader issues. Stakeholders have already made a number of positive suggestions that will build on and complement what we have done; for example, the introduction of e-conveyancing and the provision of additional up-front information in the process to better inform consumers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, asked for clarity. The whole House asked us in May to listen, to make changes and to be secure in what we were doing. We have tried exceptionally hard to do what we were asked. We have adapted our plans to deal with issues and problems that have been raised, and we will continue to monitor their effective implementation. The time has come to move positively to welcome practical implementation. The market is geared up for delivery. We have enough inspectors in place, who are eager for employment. The industry has all the infrastructure for producing HIPs; it is ready and waiting. Consumers continue to press us for reform, and they are expecting this to happen. There is real urgency about tackling carbon emissions.
I urge the House to look forward. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, will see the importance of taking this first step; we have debated the issue across the Dispatch Box so many times over the past two years. I hope she will not press this to a vote, because I seriously believe that it will send a destabilising signal to everyone outside who wants and expects this to happen and is committed to making it happen. I urge the House to think seriously about its decision.
For all the reasons I have given, the Government remain committed to the commencement of HIP regulations on 1 August as planned and to the rollout to all properties shortly thereafter. Consumers, as well as all those who are committed to tackling change, are entitled to nothing less.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I note everything that she said about what has taken place since we discussed this issue last in May. However, the situation remains that HIPs are nothing without the energy performance certificate; the documentation required under a HIP is minimal and putting together that information does not take an enormous amount of time or effort. It is a survey that requires effort and brings comfort to the people who are buying property. As we have said all along—and nothing that the Minister has said will change this—a proper survey will have to be carried out by everyone who is buying a property. I have seen no information about the level of the home condition report on which mortgage companies will feel able to rely in order to lend money. The home condition report is now voluntary. We were perfectly happy with that—it would have been a perfectly acceptable situation—but it was never going to be what was required in the home-buying area.
We have not moved against the regulations for the introduction of energy performance certificates. They will give valuable information about how much it will cost to increase the energy efficiency of a property. However, the inclusion of EPCs in HIPs will not increase the speed with which houses are sold. In fact, as I have suggested, their inclusion will hold the process up. If they were a requirement on their own, they could be introduced much more quickly than if they were limited to the sale of houses. The fact that the EPC is being introduced in social housing shows that it has nothing to do with the HIP and nothing to do with the sale of property. We have all been saying that this ought to be done as a completely separate entity. Without the EPC, what does the HIP give you? Remarkably little. It does not produce anything much and, despite all the efforts of the Minister and the Government, it still has not improved an enormous amount on the way through the system.
There should be a complete rethink about the energy performance certificates. They should be introduced on their own. They should not be part of the HIP process, which does not look as if it will be of benefit to buyers. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked how much it will cost. I can assure noble Lords that the cost will be put on to the sale price. I cannot see that the seller will do anything other than make sure that he gets his money back. It is not going to be free to the buyer.
We have had many debates on this matter. It is our view that the HIPs are still flawed. I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.
Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007
rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the rules laid before the House on 13 June be annulled (SI 2007/1709).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am grateful for the opportunity that I have enjoyed to consult and discuss these matters with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who has been as helpful as ever, with the Minister of State, David Hanson, who is known for his fairness and objectivity, and with the Youth Justice Board. All have shown the utmost courtesy, for which I express much thanks.
I await with much interest the Minister’s response to the Motion. I hope that the Motion will demonstrate that, if not the power of prayer, then the power of a Prayer can save one from unintended and dreadful consequences. I hope that this will be one of those occasions when the procedures available in this House can be shown to be of use in achieving a consensus on issues as extremely important and very difficult as secure training centres.
I feel bound to say to the House that when Statutory Instrument 2007/1709, which we are now debating, appeared last month, it caused cavernous consternation among those of us who have an interest in and some knowledge of the use of physical restraints in secure training centres. We were shocked that there appeared to have been no, or almost no, consultation outside the Youth Justice Board and the Government before the statutory instrument was promulgated. The instrument appeared to reject in its entirety, and contrary to previous indications, the Howard League’s independent report of January 2006, which I had had the privilege of chairing. It appeared to reject the well informed opinions of individuals and groups, including the Children’s Commissioner for England, the Commission for Racial Equality, Inquest, the NSPCC, the Children’s Rights Alliance, the National Children’s Bureau and Justice.
The sheer bareness of the text of the statutory instrument offers the spectre of turning back the clock several years in relation to the use of restraint on young offenders in custody. The frankly awful and inadequate Explanatory Note increased that concern. I regard the term “Explanatory Note” in this context as almost an oxymoron. In general terms, the Government owe a duty to the many people interested in this kind of subject to produce better explanations than that arid Explanatory Note.
If that note was to be taken at face value, physical violence towards teenage prisoners is to be permitted where, in the subjective opinion of what may be a fairly junior person in temporary charge of a privately operated secure training centre, to use that violence is necessary,
“to ensure good order and discipline”.
The effect of this, on the face of the statutory instrument at least, is to make the use of physical restraint one of the items on the menu of first choices available in any secure training centre, whenever there is a sign of trouble. That is simply unacceptable.
The Explanatory Note was regrettably exacerbated by the Youth Justice Board’s so-called stakeholder briefing of 27 June this year. That stakeholder briefing deserved the fate that its title implies—to be burned, and quickly—because it was so misleading in several respects. I gave a number of examples of these to the interim chair of the Youth Justice Board when I had the welcome opportunity of seeing him recently. Given the cohort of young offenders we are discussing, the approach as it appears from the statutory instrument is an extremely bad idea.
Various experts on this subject, I believe without serious or informed demur, share some broad conclusions. I will cite five of these. First, some staff, albeit a tiny minority of a hugely dedicated cohort of professionals, are too ready to use violence. Unfortunately, rogue staff are persistent, devious and difficult to root out. Secondly, being restrained is seen as a mere right of passage by some detainees. I was told this on numerous occasions when conducting the Howard League inquiry. If I may be forgiven a mixture of metaphors, when staff rise to the bait, more violence is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Thirdly—and this is very important—a large number of detainees have suffered physical and sexual abuse already in their young lives. They need to be taught by and find from the examples of adults that there are other ways in which to deal with tension and that it is possible to break the cycle of violence to which they are accustomed; they do not need to suffer yet more at the hands of rogue staff in secure training centres. Fourthly—and unfortunately there is empirical evidence for this—the use of even authorised violence can prove dangerous and even fatal.
The fifth of what I believe are the shared conclusions is that, whereas in a generally unsuitable youth custody estate such facilities as exist for organised physical activity, if used fully, would lower the general level of violence, physical restraint does the opposite. In that context, I make a plea to the Minister and to his right honourable friend David Hanson to look at the physical estates of secure training centres. They are far too small, have practically no playing fields and hold groups of young men who need outdoor activity but are not receiving it.
I turn for a moment to the statistics, which speak for themselves. The use of restraint in the four privately run secure training centres in England is an unpleasant secret of our overstuffed custody estate. There are only 250 or so children currently housed in the STCs, yet those children—some as young as 12—are subject to an extraordinary level of restraint. The STCs were originally designed for those children who were too young or vulnerable to be in Prison Service-run young offender institutions. Yet in the STCs physical restraint—using what are called distraction techniques, which involve up to 10 staff restraining children and inflicting pain by bending the thumb forwards or down, hitting the nose from underneath and using the knuckles to hit into children’s ribs—is used disproportionately and often against the same children several times a day.
Last December, I asked a Parliamentary Question that revealed that in the space of a year physical restraint had been used 3,036 times on a population of around 240. Of those incidents in which restraint was used, 1,245 involved girls, which meant that 41 per cent of all restraint usage was perpetrated on girls, who represent only about one-third of the STC population. Furthermore, the Commission for Racial Equality has highlighted a disproportionate use on young black males, with evidence of discrimination. We should sit up and take notice of those findings.
The STC rules are clear that restraint should be used only when children are attempting to escape custody, injure themselves or others, damage property or incite other children to a violent act. A quick glance at the figures that I have given—and there are many other figures available—immediately suggests that, if these rules were being adhered to, the number of restraint incidents could be reduced dramatically.
Recently there have been inquests into the death of Gareth Myatt while being restrained and the suicide of 14 year-old Adam Rickwood, who hanged himself with his shoelaces after being restrained by staff at an STC. It became clear in the inquest that restraint was being used routinely to secure compliance—in Gareth’s case because he refused to clean a sandwich toaster and in Adam Rickwood’s case because staff wanted him to go to his room. Once the lawyers for Adam Rickwood’s mother raised this clear breach of the STC rules, the Youth Justice Board signalled that the rules would shortly be clarified. Yet what we got in response to those inquests was this statutory instrument. I am afraid that the impression has been left that this statutory instrument was introduced not to meet the criticisms of those inquests, but to evade them. I hope that the Minister will confirm today that the evasion is now over.
The inquest into the death of Adam Rickwood concluded in May of this year. He was found hanging in his room in Hassockfield STC at around midnight on 8 April 2004. In the hours preceding his death, he was subjected to restraint by four male officers, including a technique designed to inflict pain known as “nose distraction”. This was said to have caused Adam to have a nosebleed that lasted for an hour. There was no suggestion that any of the criteria set out in the STC rules that could have justified Adam’s restraint had been met.
It became clear at the inquest that the circumstances in which Adam had been restrained were commonplace and that children were regularly being restrained as a punishment and to secure compliance outside the rules, which had been in existence for some years. Safeguards put in place to protect vulnerable children were not affording them the protection that they should have under the law, nor had the monitoring of the Youth Justice Board identified and acted on these unlawful practices. The inquest heard that, in the year leading up to Adam Rickwood’s death, restraint was used in Hassockfield, which has a capacity of only 42 children, on 972 occasions. Gareth Myatt died while being restrained and in wholly unacceptable circumstances.
Such events must not be repeated and loose rules should not permit such events. I hope, therefore, that the Minister, in a spirit that I know he will follow of trying to assist this House, will be able to provide clear ministerial guidance of the kind that will clarify in a Pepper-v-Hart-usable way—in other words, usable in administrative judicial review proceedings—that this new statutory instrument is not intended to dilute the rules at all. I hope that the Minister will tell this House loud and clear that the use of physical restraint remains a last resort and that what appears in these rules and the arid Explanatory Note are not to be taken at face value.
I trust that the Minister will tell the House that physical restraint should be available only where it is necessary and when no alternative method is available to prevent escape, injury or serious damage to property by the person restrained or another. Within the past few days, an inquiry was announced into the use of restraint in STCs, although, I fear, without as much clarity as one would have wished. I first discovered it on the Youth Justice Board website in a press release that welcomed the inquiry, but without details. I hope that the Minister will clarify the scope and nature of the inquiry.
I have conducted one independent inquiry into this subject and I suppose that I should be the first to welcome one more inquiry—but perhaps only one more. This inquiry should not be seen as a major delaying tactic. The evidence, including the Howard League report, is sitting there, waiting to be acted on. To be of value, the inquiry announced this week must have a chair truly independent of government, of the Youth Justice Board and of the Ministry of Justice. To meet need, the inquiry should report quickly. It should truly involve the new Department for Children, Schools and Families. One of the thrusts of the Howard League report is that we are dealing with children and that this group of children fit more comfortably with a government department dealing with children than with one dealing with criminal justice. At the very least, there should be a clear partnership between the two departments in dealing with that question.
The inquiry should look at medical issues. In my view, serious issues about the medical safety of restraint techniques need to be addressed. Above all, the inquiry should be prepared to consult widely, albeit over a short period, to call for papers and to consider the views of everybody who wishes to make submissions to it. In that, I include consultation with members of the client group—I have done it and it is possible—while they sit in custody in these places. They have a lot to offer; some of them are very bright but have a long way to go to put their ability to good use.
Given the level of support that our Howard League report found, it is a disappointment that the report remains largely unacted on after 18 months. However, there are much more important things than my personal disappointment because I chaired that review. Much more important is that we ask for reassurance today that the statutory instrument means rather more, in a positive sense, than it appears to say, and that we ask for a commitment from the Minister that the Government will look in an enlightened way at this most important question of public policy.
Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the rules laid before the House on 13 June be annulled (SI 2007/1709). 25th Report from the Merits Committee.—(Lord Carlile of Berriew.)
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I can understand the need for physical restraint when young people are likely to harm themselves or others, or to damage property, or are at risk of absconding. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, amply demonstrated, the number of incidents compared with the number in our secure training centres is deeply worrying: 10 incidents a year for every young person in a security training centre. As we heard in Adam Rickwood’s case, there were 20 incidents for every person at Hassockfield.
What strikes me is that these are meant to be secure training centres, and what troubles me is that that very term may be undermined by the extensive use of physical restraint. I am not sure how training and physical restraint go together. While physical restraint may be necessary sometimes, it is quite as likely to breed resentment, bitterness and further violence as much as it is compliance. It certainly does not provide a very adequate vehicle of training, which makes me fear that the purpose of these centres is being undermined, since it is to open up these most vulnerable offenders to education and training.
If it is now impossible to maintain good order and discipline in secure training centres without more frequent use of physical restraint, the last thing we need is more permissive regulation, which is what we are faced with, allowing even more extensive use of physical restraint. What we need instead is a fuller inquiry—and I hope it will be the last—into that aspect of our youth justice system. I add my voice to that of the noble Lord in pleading that this may be the very last inquiry but that it is one that considerably amends the so-called amended regulation.
My Lords, it is a sad occasion, and I am sorry that the Minister has to deal with such a distressing matter so soon after taking up his new position, in which I wish him well. I know that his appointment has been welcomed by all those who are active on justice matters in this House.
I would have wished that, in only his second week in the post, he was not required to take on the task of defending the indefensible and supporting the insupportable. Anyone in the House who doubts my use of those words should, I suggest, read the Adjournment debate in another place on 12 July in the name of the Minister’s honourable friend Sally Keeble. She said that the events of Gareth Myatt’s death were “harrowing”. Noble Lords may agree that reading that debate is itself harrowing. Sally Keeble has been tireless in exposing what she calls the “tragedy” of the individual death and the scandal of the stonewalling when people tried to get improvements in the regime. She quotes one of the staff who apparently told the inquest:
“I should never have PCC’ed”—
that term is used to refer to restraint—
“he was half my size. It was rather like having run over a cat and then thinking ... if I hadn’t gone down that street, it wouldn’t have happened”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/07; col. 1715.]
We have been talking in this House for some time now about the regimes in secure training centres but we have been limited in what we could say by the sub judice rule, because the inquests of the two children who died in those centres were pending. The two inquests have just concluded with key verdicts that are very critical of current arrangements. We must recognise that, had these two children been living in Scotland, they would in all probability be alive today. If they had been placed in a local authority secure children’s home, they would in all probability still be alive today. Since the inquest ended, there has been considerable concern, and even anger, about a system of youth justice that puts vulnerable children into such a regime. There has also been great concern about the Youth Justice Board and the arrangements that it makes.
That concern has been shared by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member; it has raised questions many times about the compatibility of our system of detaining children with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Last year, the committee requested information on a three-monthly basis from the Government on staffing levels, the use of restraint, injury arising from self-harm and other non-accidental injury. No information has been provided for 2007, although it has now been requested. Information from April to December last year showed a truly disturbing picture. The minimum—I stress that word—staffing level was not met at Oakhill Secure Training Centre in any one of those three quarters. There were, in those three quarters, nearly 2,000 incidents of restraint and 500 incidents of self-harm. No one looking at the data would be surprised at the announcement made last week that the Youth Justice Board has taken a quarter of the children out of Oakhill Secure Training Centre. The Youth Justice Board must have been very concerned indeed about Oakhill, since the inspectors went in in May 2005 and found such low staffing levels that:
“Between 28 March and 24 April, there was not a single day when the STC was anywhere near reaching the minimum staffing levels”.
The information provided to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, although skeletal, gives a picture of the sort of children locked up in secure training centres. That can be deduced from the figures showing injuries resulting from self-harm—more than 500. These are the most vulnerable children. In the Adjournment debate, Mark Fisher MP, who was the MP for Gareth Myatt, said of him:
“He was so small that he hardly existed”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/07; col. 1717.]
We do not have good information on the vulnerability of these children because a report commissioned by the Youth Justice Board on former abuse of the children held in STCs has been suppressed. I cannot imagine why that was done because what it contains is common knowledge to anyone with a basic grounding in social work or psychology.
When the statutory instrument appeared, the Joint Committee on Human Rights wrote to the Minister questioning the need for it and asking why the Government felt they had to take this step. The Minister replied to the Joint Committee, setting out the arguments. I imagine that the Minister today might well have been advised to deploy some of them. They were: that the Government had to clarify the law; that this is, after all, only what is done in schools; that there is a training manual which is in the public domain, apart from the section that describes the holds, which is suppressed; that it will be used only as a last resort anyway—so what is the problem?—and that it will not be used simply when there is a refusal to comply with an instruction because Section 9 of the 1994 Act, which is the key provision, specifies that “reasonable force” may be used to,
“ensure good order and discipline … where necessary”.
There is strong reliance on “where necessary”.
I would like to briefly comment on each of those arguments. The Government certainly had to clarify the law. It is astounding that, in the wake of the inquests of two such small vulnerable children, the Government decided to allow a wider use of restraint, rather than tightening it up and bringing it into line with local authorities’ secure children’s homes to prevent serious harm to the child or others. The Joint Committee was told that this is what is done in schools. There is no comparison with schools; they are not locked institutions, children can go home, parents can be called and teachers are trained for longer than seven weeks.
The suppression of the part of the training manual that describes holds is bizarre and inexplicable. One can only imagine that the Minister foresees children in secure training centres reading the manual and conspiring with each other to thwart what the staff might do to them. I do not find that a credible interpretation.
Finally, the Joint Committee on Human Rights was told that restraint will be used only as a last resort and that it will not be used just to ensure compliance, but only when necessary. Whose “where necessary”? Will it be the “where necessary” of the staff member who told the inquest into the death of 14 year-old Adam Rickwood—this was the staff member who hurt Adam by grabbing his nose—that:
“There is no way I would hurt a child in our care, that is why I warned him twice. The manual says we are supposed to warn them once, but I did it twice”?
Will it be the “where necessary” of the pressured staff at Oakhill, which is understaffed, with no trained social workers there at all some of the time and a population of children who keep cutting or injuring themselves? Whose “where necessary” will it be?
The Minister may tell us—I hope that he will—that he is setting up a review. He can do no less after two such tragic deaths and so much information in the public domain that raises questions about the role of the Youth Justice Board, the effectiveness of its supervision and its monitoring of secure training centres, which were all raised in the inquests regarding these two children.
I hope that the Minister will accept all the requirements for such a review, which were set out by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for raising this Prayer and look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I am deeply sympathetic to many of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and I greatly respect the commitment that he has shown over much of his working life to the needs and concerns of young people in an institutional setting. I pay tribute to that. However, I take a slightly different view from him on this set of changes to the statutory rules. We need to dissect the problem a little more carefully, but I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, that we need more transparency in the systems used in order to create better public understanding and improved accountability. I shall say a bit more about that.
I speak on this issue as someone who led the work on setting up the Youth Justice Board, which I chaired between October 1998 and June 2003. As an aside, when I left, the custody rates for children were falling, and I do not disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that that sometimes changes the climate in some institutions. I was also a director of social services for six years and I have worked with, and seen at very close quarters, many of the troubled and troublesome young people in secure children’s homes, secure training centres and young offender institutions. The death of, or serious injury to, a child in any of these institutions is to be deeply regretted and is deeply saddening. We have to acknowledge that it is very saddening to many of the staff. It is easy to portray staff as callous in these circumstances, and I want to say a little more about the job that they do.
I have talked to many children in these facilities and have seen their care close up. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that, if we have a review, it is very important that we hear what they have to say and that we consult them about their day-to-day experiences of the regimes. Only in that way will we improve the regimes in these institutions. However, we must recognise that most young people in secure training centres have deeply disturbing histories and very often were out of control in the settings in which they were living before they entered the STCs. Some—perhaps as many as 20 per cent—have a long history of violence towards others and, indeed, towards themselves through self-harm.
In my experience, the staff are usually dedicated but, of course, they are not saints. I acknowledge that there are some rogue staff, but the same is true in police custody suites, secure children’s homes and YOIs. Some rogue staff will be found in many of these settings. I do not say that with any satisfaction, but it is the reality that we face. In my experience, most staff are usually dedicated, but they can be provoked by the children. Equally, I acknowledge that a minority of staff provoke the children, just as some prison officers provoke prisoners. In a closed institution, it is not unusual to see that kind of behaviour on occasion. That is why we have staff rules and staff disciplinary procedures, and we have to be robust in applying them. Some of us have had to sack people who abuse the duty of trust that they bear when they take on these jobs.
This does not mean that we do not need this change. I shall not try to defend the process by which we have reached this statutory instrument; I do not know enough about it and I am perfectly prepared to accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that it could have been done a lot better. However, I do not accept that we do not need to clarify the legal responsibilities of staff working in these institutions, and that is what this measure does. It does it in response to the inquest into the sad death of Adam Rickwood.
In considering the merits of this rule change, we need to go back a little in history. When the Youth Justice Board was set up in 1998, it was given responsibility for commissioning places for young people who needed to be detained in secure children’s homes, STCs and young offender institutions. It was not given responsibility for running these facilities, but it did set standards. One of the most difficult issues it certainly wrestled with when I was involved with it is this area of physical control and constraint. One of the long-standing problems has been that there are different systems in operation in the three establishments where the Youth Justice Board commissions places, but the board has no legal responsibility for physical control and constraint. The Home Office and the Home Secretary have continued to retain responsibility for PCC in secure training centres.
Rule 38 of the Secure Training Centre Rules, made in 1998, makes clear that young people can be restrained only in circumstances and using methods approved by the Home Secretary, not the Youth Justice Board. In practice, the Prison Service training college has continued to fulfil the Secretary of State’s function of training STC staff in methods of constraint approved by the Home Secretary on advice from the Home Office juvenile offender unit. We need to be clear where responsibility has lain in this area.
However, the STC rules do not explicitly permit STC staff to use reasonable force to maintain good order and discipline in STCs; nor do they allow the YJB to intervene in this area. This statutory instrument will allow the staff of STCs to use physical intervention as a last resort to maintain good order and keep staff and residents safe and secure. I believe it is reasonable to put that point beyond legal doubt so that STC staff can use physical restraint as a last resort to maintain order in establishments which, we have to recognise, have a substantial number of residents with a potential to engage in disorder that is dangerous to themselves and others. That is, after all, what the coroner presiding at the inquest into the tragic death of Adam Rickwood was seeking.
The question then for consideration is whether there are sufficient safeguards in place to deal with the potential misuse of that clarification of legal authority for staff. Here I take a different view from some people in the debate, although I have some continuing concerns that I wish to leave with my noble friend about the position in which the Youth Justice Board is left. Nothing in this specific change in this order makes it more or less likely that STC staff will abuse young people in STCs. Unjustified use of force by staff remains an assault. The evidence suggests that the use of restraint in STCs is, if anything, a little lower than in secure children’s homes.
In my view, nobody associated with the Youth Justice Board supports the use of force simply to secure compliance with instructions such as bedtimes. The YJB's own code of practice makes explicit that restraint should always be used as a last resort and never as punishment. Physical control and constraint has been developed specifically to avoid relying on pain to manage the behaviour of young people. However, there are extreme circumstances where staff are permitted to use a sharp burst of pain to the nose, thumb or rib where all other attempts to control a young person have failed and a serious situation is developing, or has developed, that has a material impact on the running of a centre.
I acknowledge that judging in particular instances whether reasonable force has been used can be difficult, but the central proposition under which staff are operating does not seem unreasonable. Sometimes staff are dealing with volatile situations where they could easily lose control if matters are allowed to escalate. Clarifying legally their ability to retain control is essential.
Let us reflect on the alternative, which is to allow the situation to get out of control and to have to call in the police or the Prison Service to put down a riot. That is the alternative unless we allow staff legally to use judgment in handling particular situations. I do not think that the alternative is a road down which any of us want to go, in the best interests of children.
However, I have some concerns that I ask my noble friend to consider with some urgency and report back on to Parliament. They relate to the legal accountability in the area of physical control and constraint. As I have said, the Youth Justice Board has no legal responsibility, but people seem to assume that it has. There are different arrangements for PCC in different establishments for which the Youth Justice Board contracts the services—secure children's homes, STCs and young offender institutions. The YJB has no clear legal responsibility in relation to PCC in those areas. It has used its general duty of care—wisely, in my view—as the legal basis on which to issue a code of practice.
However, its ability to ensure that staff are trained in what it regards as good practice is constrained by its legal position. That is not satisfactory and led to legal confusion in the tragic death of Gareth Myatt in April 2004 in an STC. The coroner’s inquest seems to have been wrongly informed by lawyers acting for the Government that responsibility for advising on physical constraint had been transferred to the Youth Justice Board. It has not. It has remained with the Home Secretary and is now still with the Secretary of State for Justice. It is a Minister and a department, not the arm’s length Youth Justice Board, who make the rules in this area. It is not a shared legal responsibility. It is my view that the Youth Justice Board has always been in an unenviable position in this area. That is why it has expressed its concern about that in the past.
I feel that I ought to say that in this House, because it is jolly difficult for the Youth Justice Board to say so itself. An urgent review by the Ministry of Justice is required to put the accountability for physical control and restraint, including methods and training of staff, in the three areas for which the YJB has contractual responsibilities, on a much clearer legal basis. Personally, I have some reservations about the nose technique, which has been mentioned. There are certainly issues about the variable systems of training for staff working in those three different types of facilities, but we should not just concentrate on STCs if we want to improve training of staff looking after many vulnerable children.
I ask my noble friend to consider an urgent review with his ministerial colleagues. Subject to that consideration, I support the order as a proper way to protect staff in STCs in the difficult job that they do on behalf of us all.
My Lords, I shall make a one-minute speech. When the inquiry takes place, will it look into the whole principle of the use of distraction techniques as something that a civilised society uses on our young people? I understand the need for restraint, but deliberately inflicting pain and suffering is an issue of principle that an inquiry should consider.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his Prayer to annul. Much of what I would have said has already been set out splendidly by him, my noble friend Lady Stern and others, so I will confine myself to one or two points.
The amount of restraint used in secure training centres is quite astonishing. If, as the Government hope, the techniques of restraint are used only as a last resort, it seems extraordinary that they are used so often. It is most people’s experience when dealing with children of this kind that they are indeed the most troubled and troublesome, and that almost all of them have profound long-term mental difficulties. Many, as we know, will go on to self-harm for several years and many will remain in institutions for the rest of their lives. They form a profoundly disturbed group.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, we have stakeholder comments in the briefing from the Youth Justice Board about when such techniques might be used. He did not give us an example, but I hope that he will allow me to quote one provided for us in its notes on 27 June:
“For example, if a young person on a house unit refuses to go to bed, a number of staff members may need to sit with him or her. If this means there are insufficient staff on hand in the unit to carry out duties such as monitoring other young people who may be at risk of self-harm, other young people may be at risk. PCC”—
“may have to be used if all other avenues fail. Similarly if all young people on a house unit refuse to go to bed, there would be a breakdown of the safe operation of the unit”.
So we progress ineluctably from a simple refusal to go to bed to a violent act, albeit sanctioned, in the name of prevention when clearly there are a number of other ways in which someone might be able to intervene in such a situation. That strikes me as one of the worst circumstances in which to use techniques of this kind.
If we look at the figures for the use of restraint in the four centres, there is a threefold difference between the use of restraint in one centre and its use in another. There are three possible reasons for this. The first is that incidents are being recorded in different ways. However, the guidance on how to record incidents suggests that that is unlikely. The second possibility is that there may be a different range of children with different problems in each of the four units. That is a real issue and the Minister may be able to tell me whether that is the case. However, I suspect, of course, that one unit is better staffed than another, has better training and leadership from its managers, and has staff who have learnt how to use their personal resources to control situations by spotting a potentially difficult one coming up and defusing it, thereby diverting the potential energy elsewhere.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that I do not want to diminish the difficulties faced by the staff in these units, or the challenges that these children pose for them. None of us knows how to deal adequately with these children. We have maintained a pretty old-fashioned approach. There has been no real shift in our understanding of what are the best techniques to handle difficult and violent children from what it was 20 or 30 years ago. We know that the more use of violence there is, the more it will be perpetrated in further acts of violence as the child grows up. As was said by the right reverend Prelate, violence begets violence. Too many of these young people will go on to live lives where their only relationship with other people is exercised through further violent exchanges.
I hope that we will look seriously at reviewing the use of these techniques, and consider the point made by my noble friend Lord Dearing about the totally unacceptable and dangerous acts which are both difficult and dangerous for the person perpetrating them but far worse for the children on the receiving end, who are at serious risk of death from asphyxia or cardiac arrest, particularly when they are taking mental health medication. Further, we should look rather more closely at what research there is into how to manage these children. I suspect that we are putting them into secure training centres of the kind we have at the moment, into our criminal justice system youth offending institutions, and even local authority homes because we really do not know what to do with them. Let us take a closer look at this.
My Lords, since STCs were first created we have witnessed the resolute determination of the Government to expand child prisons, via the private sector, despite strong opposition from many quarters, including in your Lordships’ House. Even by the crudest measurement of results, they have failed to deliver—reoffending is over 80 per cent—but it is the day-to-day management of the children which is the chief cause of our deep concern today. Before 1997 there were no STCs, but these children were contained, managed, treated and helped in secure children’s homes, psychiatric units and other facilities in the community. Yet, with a similar clientele, Scotland has found it neither necessary nor desirable to go down this route—thank God.
It was confirmed in a technical amendment during the Offender Management Bill that STCs are indeed classified as prisons, something that has been unclear in many minds when the YJB commissions places at both STCs and secure children’s homes for young offenders; of course, the latter are emphatically not prisons. The Bill also clarifies government policy that imprisonment is indeed the proper punishment for even our youngest, most difficult and troubled children, with a regime that will physically restrain them in the disturbing ways we are discussing. I take the view, along with most of the distinguished groups and organisations cited by my noble friend Lord Carlile, that penal custody is inappropriate and wrong for children.
The profile of the children themselves, who are as young as 12, is very important. The most telling phrase which has been used to describe this group is that they have a “disproportionate experience of loss”. This includes, literally, loss through bereavement or loss of family ties, loss of education, loss of mental health and well-being, loss of any place in the world, and loss of love. To have lost or never to have had such things in life is a terrible thing. There is overwhelming evidence that these children have a disproportionate experience of abuse—physical, emotional, sexual—and neglect.
What flows from this, inevitably, is that such children are extremely difficult, challenging and disturbed. Some are capable of terrible things and displaying truly awful behaviour, sometimes to themselves and sometimes to others. Skill and experience in the management of these children—a hugely difficult task—is essential; it is important that that skill and experience is present. They are crucially and centrally still children—with all the needs and vulnerabilities, as well as the rights, of children—to whom we have a particular duty of care, both legal and moral.
Yet we have managed to create regimes in which not only are they being forcibly restrained but where the process for restraint can and does damage them, not only emotionally—as we have heard, one child, Adam Rickwood, committed suicide following restraint—but also physically, including broken bones. On one occasion, tragically, a death resulted from a restraint called the double-seated embrace. I agree with Ms Sally Keeble in the other place, who was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, when she referred to a lack of sense of horror on the part of officialdom at the gruesome death of a boy and the catalogue of systemic failures on the part of various bodies, such as the YJB and the Home Office, which have taken years to come to light in an official inquiry.
Tonight we are looking at the use of restraint and the extension of its permitted use from the specifically defined purposes of preventing harm, either to the child or to others, escaping, damaging property or inciting others to do the same, to include good order and discipline. PCC—physical control in care—includes restraints called distraction techniques, involving the nose, wrist or thumb, which can cause pain, sometimes bruising and nose bleeds. My noble friend Lord Carlile was absolutely right to say in his important report on restraint, segregation and strip-searching of children in STCs that such techniques should never be used to enforce compliance or as punishment. The fact that such techniques have been used over 3,000 times in one year demonstrates that they are commonplace and used in ways specifically ruled out by my noble friend Lord Carlile. A culture of restraint has developed. To allow the vague criterion of “good order and discipline”—swearing or refusing to go to class are examples that have been given—would be to condone and endorse restraint unacceptably.
I have visited three of the four STCs, where I was welcomed and met staff whose commitment and good intentions were clear. I have even had the double-seated embrace—the one which killed Gareth Myatt—demonstrated to me. These are indeed places of imprisonment and, as the figures show, places of punishment—not only by virtue of being in prison but because of the way in which the children are managed when they misbehave. I have learnt only recently that metal handcuffs are used in STCs although they are not used in prisons.
It is the underlying ethos, the management styles—starting with the language of “trainees” and “custody officers”—and the perception of roles and duties that demonstrate a failure to understand the extremes of damage and need of the children in this care. I have mentioned before in the House that there was once a chance to earn a teddy bear for good behaviour—itself a graphic little detail—but that has since been withdrawn at Medway. The minimal training is totally inadequate to meet the huge challenges of dealing with incidents in these STCs except, as so often, through force and inflicting pain. There is the lack of opportunity properly to review an incident with the child, the failure of the monitoring process or proper reporting and, finally, even the inspection process is through CSCI, which knows all about children’s homes but not so much about prisons.
It need not be like this. At a secure children’s home in Scotland, St Mary’s Kenmure, whose clientele is exactly the same as those in the STCs, the ethos, management styles, skills and philosophy are very different. A crucial difference is the belief that the size of the place is important and should not be more than around 30 to 40 at most—half that of most of the STCs. All the large secure homes in Scotland are now closed. This is closely linked to the belief in the necessity of all the staff to really know and have a strong professional relationship with the children. For this, the whole environment must be small. To have a large place split into separate units is not the same and does not achieve the same thing.
Part of the aim of the regime and the relationships is to bring the children to the point where they can start to control their own behaviour. The development of self-belief in the children grows from the understanding that the staff actually believe in them. From that comes the possibility of change and the child wanting to change. This is not just good thoughts and thinking, but in that place a reality. It is a different world from that of the STC. The idea of restraining children using painful techniques is anathema. That is not to deny that there are sometimes challenging and alarming incidents which the staff have to deal with, chiefly using TCI—therapeutic crisis intervention—techniques, a process of de-escalation, talking wherever possible through the event and always, after any incident, a restorative process of discussion. Importantly, the debriefing is also there for the staff. Training is a pre-condition with care staff, as you might expect. Care staff have a minimum of an SVQ or an HNC, the teachers have degrees and all staff have twice-yearly training and refresher courses. This is an acknowledgement of the challenging nature of the task of working with these children and of the skills required. By 2010 St Mary’s Kenmure will be registered with the Care Commission, which also requires all staff to be properly qualified.
If we believe in our duties to children and in the possibilities for change and if we believe that it is wrong to harm any child—even our most difficult—while we work towards change, then it is imperative that we support my noble friend Lord Carlile against the unacceptable move to make it easier to do more harm under the pretext of good order and discipline. I would definitely welcome a review.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will not be embarrassed by an excess of prelatical support. There is something very attractive to Bishops about a Lord temporal proposing a Prayer, but that is not my reason for standing up.
First, I reassure the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that this is not a debate between people who think that looking after disturbed young people is easy and those who think it difficult. This is not a debate involving people who think that they could do it better. I am among those in this House who realise that such a task would be very defeating and would provoke emotions in myself that might well lead to the unacceptable use of violence, were I not myself restrained by a regime over which Parliament ultimately has jurisdiction. Secondly, the House should acknowledge an enormous debt to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for his consistency and measured raising of the issues. His report was probably the most difficult read I ever had while bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons. I could not manage it at a sitting, frankly finding it too distressing. However, if that was one of the most difficult things to happen at that time, one of the most hopeful was the restructuring of Ministries, and the appointment of the Minister who will answer this evening, as real opportunities for opening up a different direction and a view of justice that is fundamentally hopeful.
Also, in the context of this debate, the use of “clarification” about these rules is positively Orwellian. I do not wish clarification—which is certainly necessary—to be used as a cover. Like all noble Lords, I will be listening with great care to what the Minister says about what further clarification—real clarification of boundaries—he will offer as reassurance to the House. I understand that it will be for the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to decide whether those government responses are adequate to the Prayer that he is proposing, or whether he needs to press the matter. However, I am pretty disquieted even by the thought that these rules will be on the statute book, because one of the things that statutory frameworks do is to create ethos, climates of opinion or cultures. While it may be true that you can clarify those rules, say what you really meant and produce boundaries around them, the fact is that we shall have in this country rules that say this kind of thing about the possibility of using physical restraint where necessary for the purpose of restoring order. That not only introduces an element of subjectivity into the lives of these young people, but opens the way for “rogue officers” to feel that there is a sneaking level of public support for them doing what we believe to be unacceptable.
The report of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, gives us ample information. His speech this evening and those of other noble Lords and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, give us ample evidence. I am not sure what a further review can be expected to unearth—I would be happiest if these rules were annulled. If that is not to be, I hope that the reassurances offered by the Minister will be sufficiently strong really to reassure.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I had the privilege of being a member of his review. I remember with interest that some of the recommendations that we made about restraint were subsequently rejected by the Government, and here we are again. Therefore, I have to declare that I very much share the sentiment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester in wishing that we were here to discuss the annulment of this statute, when in fact as I understood it we are discussing it rather in the context of the offering of a review. All I add, because many noble Lords have put all the things that I would like to have said, are the words that I have seen today for the first time of his honour Judge Pollard, sitting as assistant deputy coroner for the county of Northampton. He was responsible for the inquest into Gareth Myatt. He has used his power under the Coroners Rules 1984 to report to those who have the power to take action to prevent a recurrence of similar fatalities. He has written a 17-page letter to the Secretary of State, particularly stressing the absolute need, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, to
“listen to the voice of the child”.
I would like to quote from two paragraphs. The first states:
“I understand that there is now to be a ‘joint review’ on restraint, involving Young Offender Institutions, STCs and Local Authority secure units, namely LASUs and LASCHs”,
which are local authority secure units and local authority secure children’s homes. Judge Pollard continues:
“I trust that no-one will lose sight of the particular and very immediate problems of PCC and the STCs”—
physical control in care and secure training centres. He goes on:
“Earlier quests for a uniform solution as between STCs, YOIs and Local Authority units resulted in very serious issues being completely overlooked by the”,
Youth Justice Board,
“the need for a review of PCC being the prime example”.
Judge Pollard then says that, at the inquest:
“The Jury concluded that one of the factors that caused or contributed to Gareth’s death was the failure by the YJB and the Home Office (as it then was) to undertake a review of the medical safety of PCC. It would be a wholly unforgivable and a double tragedy, would it not, if the holding of this ‘joint review’ was to obscure the clear and urgent issues raised by Gareth Myatt’s death, or was to lead to any delay in learning from and acting on the lessons that result from his death”.
That is why I am concerned that we have yet another review. As the Minister will find, an absolute torrent of evidence is available now to justify a firm decision that, as the coroner said, the methods that have been used are being overused for all the wrong reasons. That is something it is our duty to prevent.
My Lords, I offer my support to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and join in paying tribute to the officers working in these settings with these vulnerable and most challenging young people.
I have a specific question for the Minister. Will the review look at the professional framework within which officers in these settings work, which has been mentioned by several colleagues today? Before entering this work, many of them will have had no experience of working with children. After eight weeks of training, which will emphasise mostly physical restraint, they will be expected to work with, as my noble friend has said, some of our most vulnerable children and young people.
We can move so far forward with this. In Denmark, 84 per cent of the staff in settings such as children’s homes have degree qualifications for that work, while in Germany the figure is 50 per cent. In this country, only one-fifth of such staff have those qualifications; the others are less well qualified than those in these other settings, but they are working with far less vulnerable young people. I am sure that we accept that many of these incidents could be avoided if staff were given the right professional framework. It is to do with managing relationships with the young people, the expertise of the staff and the way in which they are supported.
We also know that, historically, the turnover of staff in secure training centres has been high. I hope that that is now beginning to improve, but what my noble friend Lady Stern said about Oakhill suggests that that is not the case. When there is a high turnover in those settings, expertise and experience cannot accrue and be passed on to enable officers to respond in the most constructive way.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the welcome proposals in the White Paper, Care Matters: Time for Change, including those on residential care, which emphasise a more pedagogic approach and contain some thinking that would be relevant to any consideration of how the situation might be improved. For instance, will the Minister look at the supported supervision of officers in secure training centres, where they are given time on a regular basis to reflect on the work with their supervisor? He might wish to contact the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care, based at the National Children’s Bureau, where there is a great deal of expertise in terms of best practice in residential work with young people. I hope that we can move towards a far better professional framework for officers in these settings.
My Lords, as has been said, the material that we have had sent to us has been frankly horrendous to read. The evidence is so considerable that we must all be waiting to hear reassurance from the Minister in his new role, to which we welcome him. I hope that he will consider that these methods of restraining children can be done away with. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, that that aspect needs looking at very closely.
We have heard again and again that there is far too much use of this kind of restraint. It cannot be justified, even as a last resort. Whether it is justified at all is highly doubtful. As a chairman of a juvenile court for over 20 years, I know just how vulnerable so many of these children are. This is clearly not the right way to treat them. It is interesting, too, that so many girls have shown up as being subjected to this form of treatment. One wonders what sort of upbringing they have had and how vulnerable their whole background has been.
Some of the new ideas that we have heard about smaller centres, where a completely new approach is taken, must surely be the right direction to go in. One thinks again of the Corston report, which talked about smaller units nearer children’s homes when dealing with women prisoners. I wish that we had had time to discuss that in the recent end-to-end offender Bill.
I am not going to say any more. I hope that the Minister will be reassuring. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, with all the work that he has done in this field, deserves to be given a very clear answer about a new way forward.
My Lords, a while ago in Grand Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I were talking about the impact of Section 9 on the children of destitute asylum seekers. Now here we are in the main Chamber, talking about the impact of some of the measures affecting children in our secure training centres.
I listened carefully to the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I shall put my side and explain what I think are the problems. There are two central issues regarding the statutory instrument. The first is whether physical restraint should be used against children to reinforce staff instructions in circumstances that do not involve the risk of harm to people, damage to property or escape. The statutory instrument would allow the use of physical restraint when none of those issues applied, for reasons of “good order and discipline”.
The second issue is whether techniques involving the deliberate infliction of pain to the nose, ribs or thumb should be used in circumstances where none of those risks applies. The statutory instrument would also allow that to happen. The Government argue that staff should be able to use physical restraint as a last resort to enforce staff instructions in some circumstances. To reassure their critics, they point to the Youth Justice Board’s code of practice, which says at paragraph 10.4:
“Restrictive physical interventions must not be used as a punishment or merely to secure compliance with staff instructions”.
However, the code of practice does not have statutory force. The statutory instrument does, and its phrasing would allow the use of restraint merely to secure compliance with staff instructions. It would legalise the use of restraint to ensure “good order and discipline” without any further definition or restriction of the scope of that phrase.
In a Written Ministerial Statement in another place, Bridget Prentice MP stated:
“We would not anticipate that a refusal to comply with an instruction alone would constitute a breach of good order and discipline. However, where the circumstances of the refusal are such that the refusal to comply with an instruction has wider implications for the safe running of the centre, undermining the general authority of the staff or putting safety or security at risk in some other way, then a genuine concern about good order and discipline may arise”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/6/07; col. 113WS.]
However, none of that is spelled out in the statutory instrument, which simply legitimises the use of restraint to ensure good order and discipline. Even if the Government’s view as reflected in that Statement were incorporated into the statutory instrument, it includes the phrase,
“undermining the general authority of the staff”,
which could be used to justify the use of force in just about any situation in which a young person refused to obey an instruction.
In a stakeholder briefing on 27 June 2007 entitled “Restraint in Secure Training Centres”, the Youth Justice Board argued that in such circumstances a refusal to comply with staff instructions could put other young people at risk of physical harm. But those circumstances are already covered by the present law, which allows restraint to prevent injury to the young person or other people.
The briefing then goes on to argue that restraint could be justified if a young person refused to stop swearing at a teacher because of the disruption caused to the education of other young people. This is an astonishing proposition. Pupils in urban comprehensive schools not infrequently disrupt the class by swearing at teachers, but their staff are not empowered to use physical restraint techniques against them as a way of preventing disruptions.
Why does the Government’s stance on this matter cause such acute concern to so many practitioner organisations, including Nacro, of which I am the president? The first reason is that dealing with young people in ways that involve the use of force in situations where they do not pose a risk to people or property seems a disproportionate response, as spelled out by many noble Lords. Secondly, it sets an example that force is the way to resolve situations, which runs counter to the messages that we should be imparting to young offenders. Thirdly, a high proportion of young people in secure training centres have suffered physical or sexual abuse from adults in the past. Manhandling them through physical restraint can cause them extreme distress, bringing back memories of what they have suffered at abusive adults’ hands.
Let us turn to the specific issue of painful methods of restraint. The Youth Justice Board’s stakeholder briefing appears to agree with its critics that painful distraction techniques should not be used where there is no risk of harm to the young people or others. The briefing says:
“Distraction techniques in particular may only be used when a person is at risk of harm”.
However, there is nothing in the statutory instrument to restrict the use of painful techniques to these circumstances. If the Government’s stance is the same as that of the Youth Justice Board as stated in the stakeholder briefing, why do they not amend the statutory instrument to make it clear that distraction techniques cannot be used unless there is risk of harm to a person? It cannot be right to frame restraint powers in such a manner that they would legally allow practices of which the Youth Justice Board rightly says it does not approve.
A number of noble Lords have talked about Adam Rickwood. His suicide followed a few hours after he was instructed, not because he was threatening to assault someone or injure himself, but because he was refusing to go to his room. Unless the statutory instrument is withdrawn or amended, it will enshrine in law the right of staff of secure training centres to behave in the same way to other vulnerable young people with predictable and potentially tragic results.
My Lords, I support everything that the noble Lord has just said and the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.
The rules are defective in that they refer to “good order and discipline”. That phrase should be totally rejected because it gives the wrong impression and sends out the wrong statement about what the ethos of a training centre should be. I may be assisted by other Members of the House on this matter, but I am not aware of any criminal statute that refers to good order and discipline as such, or of any classic judgment that refers to it. I believe that the phrase laces the Queen’s regulations for all the armed services—it is none the worse for that—but it is a catch-all provision, dealing with a plethora of offences, some of them very minor indeed.
The idea that you should be allowed to use substantial force and pain as an instrument is quite wrong. Would you use pain to train a dog or horse? Why should you use pain to train a child? There will of course be circumstances when force has to be used. I accept that. But the bar should be set very high and the rules should be made absolutely clear, possibly by defining the circumstances or by giving illustrations of the sort of circumstances where such force would be justified and where one could act ejusdem generis with that list. Such a list would make it obvious that force could be used only where there was imminent danger of violent disorder or of substantial injury and so on. If we are talking about cases of minor infractions of good order and discipline—nothing more than an institutionalised system of disobedience—then most certainly this should be changed. That cannot be done in this debate tonight, but I suspect that the Minister will be able to say that, if the evidence convinces him—and I agree with noble Lords who say that the evidence is totally overwhelming—he will be prepared to replace the rules with something more humane and civilised.
My Lords, not for the first time the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, at the end of a debate and before the winding-up process is completed, has made a devastating point. The fact of the matter is that the real implication of those words is that the rule of law will not apply in these institutions. It is quite impossible, given those words, for a court to know whether an individual applying physical restraint is acting within or outside the rule of law. That is an additional matter to which I hope that the noble Lord—to whom I, too, express the sympathy that has been extended by so many of your Lordships when making their interventions today—will address his considerable intellect.
In the context of the tragic circumstances of recent individual deaths in STCs, the text of this statutory instrument is, on the face of it, inexplicable. Of course there will be occasions when restraint will be necessary. But they should be, as so many of your Lordships have stated today, only a matter of last resort; and then only if we are clear about what the consequences of any technique used are likely to be.
In the case of Gareth Myatt, the jury expressly found that there had been an inadequate assessment of the safety of physical controls generally, and in particular an inadequate assessment of the technique of the seated double embrace used on him. They went on to say that that inadequate assessment caused or contributed to Gareth’s death. What steps have the Government taken to make such an assessment of the existing techniques used; and have such assessments been made of the techniques foreshadowed in the statutory instrument?
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, referred to a number of officers who were too ready to use violence. No doubt there will always be individuals like that. They do not belong in the secure training centre service. But most members of the service are fundamentally decent people who use certain physical restraint techniques out of ignorance. That ignorance flows partly from a lack of training and partly from the absence of a clear set of procedures that permit physical restraint only when all other options are exhausted. I turn again to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for I believe that that is fundamentally encapsulated in the remarks that he made.
There is powerful evidence that there is a woeful lack of proper training in the service. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, a high percentage of the children inclined to violence were themselves the victims of violence as young people. This is, as your Lordships are so well aware, an exceedingly complex matter, which needs managing by individuals who are well versed in the origins of child violence. What steps are the Government taking to improve the quantity and quality of training? I should also be interested to learn from the noble Lord what non-physical control techniques are being taught to handle the behaviour of individuals who are potentially capable of violence.
I must confess that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, I am uneasy about these children being in institutions run by the private sector, where the conduct of the supervisory staff is determined by the law of contract, not by the ethos of public service. STCs ought to be about making young people fit to return to society to play a constructive role. Their management ought not simply to be required to fulfil a series of contractual obligations as a response to levels of violence. I hope that the Minister can reassure your Lordships that the private sector is capable of playing the constructive role to which I refer.
More transparency—again, a matter underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile—would have exposed these deep-seated problems much earlier. As it turns out, it is tragedy that has uncovered them. The Government must now develop a strategy that will transform this sombre scene so that these harrowing losses of life will not have been in vain.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for the opportunity he has given us, by praying against the statutory instrument, to have a serious and sober debate on these very important issues. I am very grateful to him for his constructive approach and for the discussions that have taken place in the past week between him, my right honourable friend Mr Hanson and officials in my department. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this wide-ranging and important debate.
We all have in mind the tragic deaths of Adam Rickwood and Gareth Myatt. I reassure all noble Lords that the safety of young people in custody—and custody for young people should, in my view, always be a last resort—is a priority for my department and the Youth Justice Board. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, described a lack of horror at these cases. I have not discovered that in my very preliminary dealings with the department and the service generally.
I visited Rainsbrook secure training centre last week, where I talked to young people and the staff. I found it very informative and, indeed, moving. I have also read the noble Lord’s report, which was very well written and clearly expressed. The right reverend Prelate talked about the essential requirement for training in the training centre. I was impressed with the education centre there and the outcomes that I hope it will produce for those young people.
I understand fully the concerns that noble Lords have expressed but I do not believe that this statutory instrument will turn back the clock. I know that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester did not like the word “clarification” and thought that it had an Orwellian aspect, but the amendment to Rule 38 is being introduced because, in terms of the inquest, there is a lack of clarity. That is what the SI is designed to do—nothing more. It is not an attempt to put back the clock or open the door to the inappropriate use of restraint.
The primary legislation governing the establishment and running of secure training centres is the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. I was rather surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, referred to the use of the private sector, and I shall come back to that in a moment. He will recall that the Act provides for the centres to be run by either the public or the private sector and makes special provision for any centres that are contracted out. All four of the centres that have so far been established are contracted out.
Section 9 of the Act is headed:
“Powers and duties of custody officers employed at contracted out secure training centres”.
Subsections (1) and (2) deal with officers’ powers to search offenders or other persons at the centre. Subsection (3) lists the duties of officers as respects offenders detained in the centre. These are: to prevent their escape from lawful custody; to prevent, or detect and report on, the commission or attempted commission by them of other unlawful acts; to ensure good order and discipline on their part; and to attend to their well-being. So the phrase,
“to ensure good order and discipline”
is already on the statute book and was placed there in relation to this aspect in the 1994 Act.
However, the question of clarification arises because in the Secure Training Centre Rules 1998, in their original form, Rule 38, which deals with the use of physical constraint, does not include ensuring good order and discipline as one of the purposes for which physical restraint may be used.
My Lords, the words appear in the statute; I was quite wrong in saying that I could not think of any such use previously, but it follows two other matters in a list of three. Is it the Minister’s view that, as a matter of law, that third category of good order and discipline is then ejusdem generis—in other words, to be construed as being of the same family as the other two categories, which are, let us face it, rather serious in any event? It is a very important matter.
My Lords, it appears in the list, as the noble Lord says, and, as far as I know, there is no prioritisation in that list. My understanding is that “good order and discipline” is also to be found in the young offender institution rules and the prison rules. I also understand the phrase is of long standing. I have not come across, nor been advised of, suggestions that a court would not be properly able to interpret it.
Rule 38 of the Secure Training Centre Rules 1998 deals with the use of physical restraint. It does not include ensuring good order and discipline as one of the purposes for which physical restraint may be used. The purposes listed in those rules are to prevent a trainee escaping from custody, injuring himself or others, damaging property or inciting another trainee to injure himself or others or to damage property. Clarification is required on how Rule 38 relates to Section 9 of the 1994 Act. It has clearly been the subject of some confusion. That became apparent at the recent inquest into the tragic death of Adam Rickwood. The coroner highlighted the need urgently to clarify the interrelationship. That is why this statutory instrument has been laid. It adds to the purposes for which physical restraint may be used, set out in Rule 38, that of ensuring good order and discipline. It does the same to Rule 36, which concerns removal from association. Before this change, we consulted the Youth Justice Board and the directors of secure training centres. They were firmly of the view that those powers are essential if centres are to be run safely. I shall come back to that point in a moment.
I clearly understand the concerns raised here and in representations that my department and, I understand, the Youth Justice Board have received that “good order and discipline” is a catch-all expression that will enable custody officers to use physical restraint techniques on any young person who refuses to follow an instruction by a member of staff. While I completely understand why noble Lords are concerned, that is not the case. A threat to good order and discipline is more than a simple refusal to follow an instruction from a member of staff. It must involve behaviour which puts the safe running of the wider establishment at risk. I emphasise to the right reverend Prelate that the power relating to good order and discipline is not catch-all. The right reverend Prelate said also, as did my noble friend Lord Warner, that some of the young people who are resident in secure training centres are very troubled and can sometimes be a danger to themselves and others. I do not think that there is any disagreement among noble Lords about that; nor is there any disagreement, I suspect, that it is critical that staff maintain effective control so that everyone in the establishment is kept safe. We have already heard about the duty of care, and I echo those remarks. I fully accept also that, in managing young people’s behaviour in custody, members of staff must seek to influence them through their own example and leadership, and enlist their willing co-operation. That is stated in Rule 31. Equally, however, if good order and discipline are threatened, physical restraint may on occasion be necessary as a last resort.
My noble friend Lord Warner said that many staff do an excellent job. It is right that we acknowledge that. It is important to understand, as I always do, that these are challenging situations in which to work. We must acknowledge also that many of the staff who work in those institutions are incredibly dedicated. Equally, however, none of us must be naive. My noble friend Lord Warner made it clear that there will be rogues, and we have to have safeguards in place to ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, they are contained and removed.
I again make it clear to noble Lords that Section 9 of the 1994 Act states that reasonable force may be used, but only where necessary. That qualification is very important. Equally important is the stipulation in Rule 38 that physical restraint may be used only where no alternative method is available. It is clear in both the Act and the rules, therefore, that physical restraint must be used only as a last resort, when there is no alternative available or other options have been exhausted.
In discussions with me in the past few days, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, suggested that it might be helpful if the actual words “as a last resort” were included in the rules. Ministers have asked for advice on that. The advice that we have received is that the current wording,
“only where no alternative method … is available”,
carries the same meaning as “as a last resort”.
The code of practice is very important. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, expressed doubts about whether a contractual relationship between a public body and a private sector provider is appropriate and sufficient. He will know that I come from the healthcare field. It is not an unusual phenomenon for there to be a contract between a public sector commissioner and a private sector provider. Provided that the law is clear and understood, that the private sector provider is capable of providing the services that are required, and that the contractual process is properly in place and adequate monitoring takes place, there is no reason why that cannot be a suitable arrangement. Clearly, the code of practice that informs the contracting process, developed by the Youth Justice Board, is very important. The code was introduced last year after extensive consultation. It outlines very clearly the Government’s and the Youth Justice Board’s policy on the use of restraint. I make it absolutely clear that an unjustifiable use of force in any environment is an assault, as the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said. The Government and the Youth Justice Board have never accepted that force may be used simply to gain compliance with staff instructions, and we never will.
Important questions were asked about the monitoring of the centres. I am the first to acknowledge that criticism was made in the inquest about the Youth Justice Board’s monitoring policy. Some noble Lords will know that the Youth Justice Board expressed regret that, for example, PCC was not reviewed before 2004. My understanding is that the board has been very active since then in promoting improvements in behaviour management. Its 2006 code of practice emphasises the strict limits on when restraint may be used.
A number of noble Lords asked what the alternatives are and how they are being developed. A range of other actions is being planned by the Youth Justice Board. They include trial and evaluation of a modified version of a control and restraint system used by the Prison Service, which emphasises de-escalation techniques, a new assessment of compliance with a code of practice, and a review of research literature on behaviour management approaches in different parts of the world. I fully understand the need for us to observe, understand and learn from methods that have been developed in other countries. The Youth Justice Board is also supporting the British Institute of Learning Disabilities to create a tool to assess the safety, effectiveness and social validity of restraint techniques. It is piloting therapeutic crisis intervention methods, which are clearly very important. Early indications from the evaluation of a pilot at Hassockfield secure training centre are that TCI has had a positive effect and that levels of restraint have been reduced. The board is also planning to convene a panel comprised of experts from the relevant medical fields to review the medical safety of PCC techniques and, as was mentioned in our debate, it is piloting restorative justice approaches to managing difficult behaviour.
I acknowledge what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said about consultation. The Explanatory Note is short. However, I would refer noble Lords also to the Explanatory Memorandum. I pay tribute to the work of the Merits Committee. Following its request to the Government, Explanatory Memoranda are now produced for all statutory instruments, not just affirmative ones. It is fair to say that the Explanatory Memorandum gives more clues to what the statutory instrument is all about.
I know that there is concern about the number of times that distraction techniques are used routinely on young people in secure training centres. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, referred to the 3,036 occasions when physical restraint was used in secure training centres between November 2005 and October 2006. That figure includes both restrictive holds and distraction techniques. The latter were used 169 times from February 2006 to March 2007. We want to see a reduction in their use, and that is why we have put in place the code of practice for behaviour management. Yet the level of restraint also reflects the scale of the challenge posed by some of these vulnerable young people and the problems faced by staff in dealing with them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, asked about the difference in figures between centres and also between secure training centres, secure homes and young offender institutions. Clearly it is important that these differences are monitored to understand what lies behind them. I am happy to write to noble Lords about our analysis of the monitoring, but my understanding is that monitoring shows that the level of restraint rises when particularly challenging children who are seriously disturbed are placed there, wherever the setting. I also understand, and the noble Baroness hinted at this, that secure training centres have not used the same counting rules for restraint. The Youth Justice Board has recently clarified the counting rules. I will write to noble Lords about that.
Noble Lords asked about the training of custody officers. I accept that it is important. There is an initial training programme, there are refresher programmes, and staff required to use physical restraint or to instruct others in its use are trained by accredited instructors, approved by the authority during the initial training programme. In response to the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Dholakia, the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, there can be no complacency about the training programmes. We must continually look at and refresh them. I accept the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the supervision and structure, because training and the work of individual custody officers does not happen within a vacuum. In the end, we must come back to leadership, which is so critical in all these areas.
I understand the comments about specific centres. The inspection reports are of course very detailed in that respect. It is important that we build on them. On the comments about Oakhill made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, she will know that a new director has moved into that centre in the last couple of weeks. We will be monitoring the situation there carefully.
We have heard some negative remarks about secure training centres, and that is fair comment; yet there are also some good outcomes, and we must acknowledge that for the sake both of the young people there and of the staff. I met a young man at the centre I visited last week who had been through custody a number of times. As a result of the fantastic education he had been given, he was now going back to his community and a school place had been allocated. It is important that I acknowledge the good work that has been undertaken, particularly the emphasis on education and the record in raising the levels of literacy and numeracy, often from a low base.
On the power of a Prayer, this has been a wide-ranging and important debate. There are clearly issues much wider than this statutory instrument, relating to restraint and extending beyond secure training centres to young offender institutions and secure children’s homes. I fully accept that we have to look at policy and practice across the board. It was announced in another place last week that we intend to set up a joint review of restraint issues with the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We took this decision after discussions with the Youth Justice Board, and we will use the review to build upon the extensive programme of work that the board has undertaken around both the specific issue of restraint and the wider issue of how best to manage the challenging behaviour of this group of young people.
This review will certainly need to look at the operational efficacy and safety of restraint methods in juvenile secure settings, including physical control in care—the system of restraint used only in secure training centres. It is likely to encompass the medical safety of the individual techniques, and it will also consider how we can ensure that there is cross-departmental knowledge-sharing on use of restraint across a range of secure settings. The details of the review will need to be worked out with other government departments and with the Youth Justice Board. Of course I will ensure that the comments of noble Lords tonight will be fed into that process of working through the detail of the review, and into the review itself.
I confirm that the review will consult widely and that it will have an independent chair. I understand that noble Lords do not wish a review to be seen as simply a way of postponing decisions and responses for a long time. It is our hope that the report can be completed within about six months of the appointment of the independent chair. I hope that noble Lords will accept in good faith that we are keen to get on with this work.
On the specific question that the noble Lord raised about cross-government working and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, that department now has a joint role in relation to policy and funding for youth offending and the Youth Justice Board. How this will be discharged in practice is being worked out at the moment, since we are all new to these particular roles. Given that restraint techniques are used in secure children’s homes as well as secure training centres and young offender institutions, and that there are risks in all three settings, the involvement of the new department and my department in this particularly complex area provides an opportunity for us to look at these issues afresh.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is here. He does not seem to be, so I should not really respond to what he said. I understand that we have received the coroner’s letter, and of course any recommendations that the coroner makes will form part of the consideration of the review.
I understand the issues that my noble friend Lord Warner raised about accountability. They are important issues, and he is right that the Secretary of State is legally accountable for approving systems of restraint for use in secure training centres. That is probably one of the answers to the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, about the arrangements regarding the use of the private sector. I suspect that that was one reason why it was placed back in the original legislation. I understand the issues raised by my noble friend and will ensure that that issue is considered within the scope of the review.
I apologise for speaking perhaps too long tonight, but I thought it important to respond in detail to this extensive and important debate.
My Lords, I had hoped that, by saying that the review would look at issues of policy and practice across the board and the operational efficacy and safety of restraint methods for juveniles, I had met the noble Lord’s point.
I have spoken for too long. I hope that noble Lords will accept that there is absolutely no complacency on my department’s part; we think that clarification is necessary. I hope that this statutory instrument will be allowed to follow its course, but the review is very important. I am grateful to noble Lords for the way in which they have approached this debate.
My Lords, I hope that I will be permitted the opportunity of a short reply to this debate. I should have congratulated the Minister earlier on his new role and I do so very genuinely. I also congratulate Sally Keeble, his honourable friend, on her contribution to the debate in another place.
The Minister should not apologise for one moment for the length of his reply. His reply has dignified this debate by being so full and addressing the concerns of all Members of the House. This has been a detailed, informed, sombre and instructive debate that should be required reading for all those involved in the management of secure training centres. This was the House of Lords at its best, with contributions from the church, the law, psychiatry, the criminal justice system and the youth justice system, as well as experts in social policy, children’s issues, the penal system, senior judicial experience, the voluntary sector and even Scotland.
We have heard the contribution of two right reverend Prelates. I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich will forgive me if I focus for one moment on his noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who is retiring shortly. We had a typical contribution from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester tonight, and we shall miss in this House what I hope I shall be forgiven for calling his combination of a Socratic style and Aquinian principle. He can make what he wishes of that.
A number of very important issues have been raised about staffing levels. That was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner. On these issues, I would never start from the same starting gate as the noble Lord, but I was very grateful for his contribution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, made a very powerful point that must be repeated again and again. We are talking about children—and maybe we can learn something about how children who commit crime are dealt with in Scotland in a rather more constructive way.
We heard brief and eloquent arguments from the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich about keeping the numbers down, the importance of recording events and always presuming that there should be no violence. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, rightly emphasised the importance of the views of His Honour Judge Pollard, which were given today and should heavily inform the debate.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, whose contributions on children’s matters we always regard as important in this House, along with the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, emphasised the need for proper professional qualifications, experience and expertise among those working in secure training centres—which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, emphasised, should be smaller.
As to the Minister’s response, I am very grateful for that. However, I do not resile from my point about the Explanatory Note, because I took the trouble today to look on the Government’s excellent new statute law website. The Explanatory Note appears on the website but not the Explanatory Memorandum. If people are to understand what is meant by the legislation, please can the Government extend the website so that the manager of a secure training centre can see the Explanatory Memorandum as well as the Explanatory Note?
The Minister obviously listened with great care to all that was said during the debate, but he did not quite answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, perhaps because he couched it in a fine Welsh-Latin phrase, ejusdem generis. But it is important that we all realise that good order and discipline is not a phrase with a separate meaning and it is not a “safety valve”, to adopt the language used about another statute. It is simply part of the whole definition, which does not in any way dilute the last-resort principle. I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that point.
The Minister has made considerable and generous concessions to the concern expressed in the debate, which I have expressed to him and his right honourable friend in the past few days. He has placed an emphasis on de-escalation techniques, which are of the essence of this argument. He has provided a clarity of statement, which I can tell him will be pored over and used by all those who deal with legal cases involving violence used in secure training centres. I welcome his confirmation that the scope of the inquiry will be wide, its timescale short and that it will have a fully independent chair. I take it on trust that that inquiry will be appointed very soon indeed.
The Minister knows that I and others will return to this subject assiduously. I was reluctant not to divide the House on this subject but, having considered what the Minister said and how he said it, I have concluded that we should take his statement in its full constructive spirit and that in the circumstances—and just—it would be wrong to ask for the opinion of the House on this matter. I know that he is now the Minister responsible for legal aid and I hope that he will show the same constructive spirit when soon he is invited, as he will be, to the Old Bailey Bar Mess, to talk to barristers about recent unilateral changes made by the Government in the legal aid fee system. I hope that it will not be regarded by him merely as an initiation rite but as an opportunity for the sort of constructive dialogue that we have had tonight.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Children Act 2004 Information Database (England) Regulations 2007
rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4 July be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations make provision in respect of the establishment and operation of a database, ContactPoint, under Section 12 of the Children Act 2004. The regulations place a requirement on local authorities to participate in the operation of the database. They specify what information will be held, who must or can provide these data, how long they can be retained, who can be granted access and how accuracy will be maintained.
ContactPoint is essentially an electronic directory of practitioners providing services to children and young people. It will enable all practitioners working with children to find out who else is supporting a particular child to deliver better co-ordinated support. Our Every Child Matters programme aims to improve outcomes for all children. ContactPoint will help facilitate this by supporting effective prevention and swift intervention when problems arise, ensuring that children and their families gain the support of the services that they need as early as possible.
These regulations have been considered by the House’s Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, and we are grateful to it for its thorough report, whose findings will inform our implementation policy. In the course of the committee’s deliberations, concerns were raised about the rationale for the scheme and about security, accuracy, data management, cost and universality. I will address each issue in turn.
First, why is this database necessary? Practitioners have told us that the process of identifying and contacting other professionals working with any one child is frustrating, time consuming and very costly. A recent survey of nearly 3,000 practitioners revealed that, on average, practitioners need to make contact with other services 107 times a year and it takes an average of four hours each time to do so. ContactPoint will significantly improve on this situation, freeing up an estimated 5 million hours per year of time currently spent by professionals in pursuing information, rather than delivering expert services. This time saving alone is equivalent to at least £88 million annually.
On security, there has been a good deal of inaccurate comment on the amount of information that will be held on a child’s record. I stress that ContactPoint will hold only basic information: name, address, date of birth, gender and a unique identifying number on children on England until their 18th birthday, together with contact details of their parents or carers, GP practice, those providing education and specialist or targeted services to a child. ContactPoint holds no case data, no clinical data, no subjective assessments and no judgmental statements about a child, their carer or parents. Details of practitioners providing sensitive services, which, for the purposes of ContactPoint, are defined as services relating to sexual health, mental health and substance abuse, may be added to ContactPoint only with the informed and explicit consent of the young person concerned or, where appropriate, their parents.
Furthermore, these sensitive practitioner contact details will be hidden from view, except for the very small number of local ContactPoint management teams who will be responsible for brokering contact between practitioners. Let me also state categorically that ContactPoint will not hold information about a child’s school record or attendance, nor—as was described in one extraordinary press report—about how many portions of fruit and vegetables they may eat. Indeed, Section 12 of the Children Act 2004 specifically precludes such information being held. Nor will information be held about their parents’ circumstances, such as whether they have a drug or alcohol problem. Regarding parents, ContactPoint will hold only the name and contact details of any person responsible for the care of a child—nothing else.
On data accuracy, each local authority in England will be responsible for the records of children in its area. Each will have a dedicated resource funded by my department to ensure that the data is accurate. We anticipate that when the system is operational, 300 people will be working specifically to ensure accuracy within local authorities. In line with the Data Protection Act, all organisations and local authorities must take reasonable steps to ensure that information supplied to, or held on, ContactPoint is accurate and up to date. Children and young people or, where appropriate, their parents or carers will have the right to see what is being held on their record and, where inaccuracies are found, to have them corrected. There will be a clear process enabling people to exercise that right, and fair processing notices will explain how the data may be used—which is also a basic right under the Data Protection Act.
I now turn to safeguards to ensure the protection of the information collected—the issue raised in the Motion tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton. The security of ContactPoint is of the utmost importance. The design and operation will adhere to ISO 27001, the new international standard for information security management systems. This addresses physical, environmental and personnel security, communications and operations management. ContactPoint will conform to relevant government security standard, and will be subject to review by independent security experts. Unauthorised access will be prevented by using a combination of methods.
First, we are insisting on strong user authentication—not merely a user name and a password, but four system checks: a user name, a password, a PIN number and a physical token. Secondly, all users will be trained in the importance of security and good security practice. Users will receive mandatory training and their use of ContactPoint will be audited at every stage. Their activity on ContactPoint will be subject to continuous monitoring. Any suspected misuse will be investigated and could lead to disciplinary procedures within their organisation. Where appropriate, an investigation may lead to prosecution that could result in a fine or even imprisonment.
A range of existing legislation includes penalties for the improper use of data. The Computer Misuse Act 1990 states that unauthorised access or attempted unauthorised access to a programme or data held on a computer may be punishable by imprisonment or a fine. The Data Protection Act provides that personal data unlawfully obtained or disclosed without the consent of the data controller is a serious offence, with a penalty or fine up to the statutory maximum, or an unlimited fine if the case goes to the higher courts. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill provides for these penalties to be increased to include imprisonment for up to two years on indictment, and up to 12 months on summary conviction. These increased penalties would apply to misuse of ContactPoint.
Controlling access to ContactPoint is an important part of ensuring that the information within it remains secure. Access to ContactPoint will be restricted to those who can demonstrate a genuine need for it to facilitate their work. User numbers are estimated at about 330,000, and will include practitioners from education, health, social care, Connexions, the voluntary sector, youth justice and the police. Before being granted access to ContactPoint, users will need a current, enhanced Criminal Records Bureau disclosure and must also have been trained in the safe and secure use of the system, in compliance with the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and the Data Protection Act 1998.
These regulations require users to renew the enhanced CRB disclosure every three years. Any conviction for offences against children, or for offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 or the Data Protection Act 1998, are likely to preclude access. I also note that the Information Commissioner’s Office has offered valuable advice and comment throughout the development of this project. The commissioner’s memorandum to the Merits Committee concludes,
“we are satisfied with the overall design of ContactPoint”.
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that subject, can he give an assurance that those who must have access to the system in order to maintain it—there will be technical inputs in that respect—will be governed by exactly the same rules that he has adduced?
Yes, my Lords; that will be the case.
The issues of cost and universality were raised in the Motion tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Why should ContactPoint hold records for every child? First, a universal system has no stigma attached; since every child is included, no judgment will be made about a child merely because they are on the database.
Secondly, the system principally supports early intervention for children who, at some point in their lives, need additional services. This is not a small proportion. It is estimated that it will comprise about 30 per cent of children at any one time and 50 per cent during their lives. However, children move in and out of that spectrum of need, and it is not possible to predict who will need these services or when. Without a universal system, practitioners would have to make decisions about the needs or vulnerability of a child without all other available information. We would be faced with a continuation of the current system, where practitioners are often able to contact only those other practitioners whom they can easily track down. Holding records only for children judged at risk or to have a need for specialist or targeted services would prove very difficult. Judgments about whether a child meets the threshold for inclusion on the database would be subjective and inconsistent.
Thirdly, the cost was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in her Motion. We are advised that it would be more expensive to try to filter out records for different categories of children. It is proportionate to hold a small amount of information on all children rather than continually making threshold decisions, each of which would have to be input into the system, about which children should be put on it and which to take off.
Our conservative estimate is that from 2009 ContactPoint will free up about 5 million hours a year for practitioners, which, as I said earlier, is the equivalent of investing an additional £88 million a year in children’s services. ContactPoint is expected to cost an initial £224 million to set up and to have annual operating costs of £41 million. Less than a fifth of the £224 million is to set up the infrastructure itself. Almost half of the funding, £103 million, is earmarked for local implementation, including workforce training, and the remaining investment is to fund project activity during the set-up period.
The Motion tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asserts that investment in ContactPoint would be better spent on front-line staff. However, in an important sense it is being spent on front-line staff: it will free up their time to do their job and it will enrich their knowledge of relevant practitioners also working with a child. Furthermore, improving children’s services is not simply a matter of increasing staff numbers. Practitioners must also be able to work better together, and ContactPoint will support that much more effectively than under the status quo.
In developing ContactPoint, we have worked closely with all relevant partners to ensure that the system meets their needs. All 150 local authorities in England are preparing to start using ContactPoint during 2008. An advisory group has been set up, with membership drawn from professional and representative bodies and national voluntary organisations. The group meets regularly to provide input into the development of the project. We are also glad that a number of national charities—Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, NCH, the Children’s Society and Kids—together with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, are working with us as national partners in implementing ContactPoint. When the system is in operation, they will be granting access and managing users within their respective organisations.
Let me also stress that there is strong support for our proposals from children’s welfare organisations, which I believe should not be lightly set aside in the debate. The Merits Committee hearing report includes, for example, written evidence from Barnardo’s, which describes ContactPoint as,
“a challenging project, but worthwhile in that it harnesses the technologies of the 21st century in support of those who work with children in the interests of the children themselves”.
The National Children’s Bureau submission to the committee also acknowledged ContactPoint’s potential,
“to underpin effective information sharing and joint working”.
Consultation and engagement with children, young people and parents has also been invaluable. Using questionnaires, workshops and online consultation, and engaging organisations such as the former Commission for Social Care Inspection and the British Youth Council, we have consulted more than 1,100 children and young people. At least 183,000 parents and carers have been provided with information by the trailblazer authorities, and we value greatly the feedback we have received from all these groups. With the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Children’s Rights Director at Ofsted and the Children’s Commissioner we are developing communication materials aimed at children, young people and families. These will describe what ContactPoint is, what data are to be held on it and how they can exercise their right to see their own data and, where necessary, to have them corrected. They will be developed nationally to ensure consistency and will be disseminated to local authorities so that local information can be added.
To conclude, these regulations, in providing for the operation of ContactPoint, will significantly improve the safeguarding of vulnerable children and enhance the provision of information and support for the children’s workforce in carrying out its vital responsibilities to our children and young people. I commend them to the House and I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4 July be approved. 23rd report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 27th report from the Merits Committee.—(Lord Adonis.)
rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert “but this House regrets that adequate safeguards are not in place to ensure the protection of the information collected”.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thorough explanation of the regulations. While the debate will and must focus on the safeguards of information-sharing and the safeguarding of young children, it is also important to discuss how to ensure more effective support for the professionals who work to improve the welfare of children. Whatever aspect of government policy we talk about in whatever department we must ensure that the resources of time and money are focused and used effectively to support those who need them most.
The Motion I have tabled goes straight to the heart of my deep concerns about these regulations, which set up a database to store the intimate details of millions of children. Doctors’ details, contact with practitioners dealing with sexual and mental health and substance abuse and contact details of parents are just some of the information fields that will be included. The legislative web surrounding these regulations renders them far wider-reaching and threatening than has been made clear. Even though the Department for Children, Schools and Families has claimed that the ContactPoint database will not contain information on cases, since 2000 under the e-Government Interoperability Framework, otherwise known as e-GIF, it has been mandatory for all public sector databases to facilitate the sharing of data across systems. Currently, a range of databases holding detailed information about children already exist in education, social care and youth justice. Can the Minister give a guarantee that ContactPoint will be exempt from the requirements of e-GIF? What steps will be taken to ensure that the child in question may not be identified by other associations in the information provided? Indeed, what protection will be provided for the list of names behind the numbers?
My first and deepest concern is for the children whose personal information is stored on the database and, if accessed by fair means or foul, could result in them being placed in great danger and in deeply vulnerable situations. It will be extremely difficult to secure such large quantities of sensitive information. Eleven million children will have their details stored on the database, and upwards of 330,000 people will have legitimate access to it. While I hope that those 330,000 people will be trustworthy, function creep develops at an alarming rate in data systems, which is all the more disquieting given the wider context of online fraud, growing at 300 per cent a year. It raises serious questions about whether we can, in reality, trust in the assurances that we are given, even though they are given in good faith at the time.
I am grateful to the Minister for confirming what training those handling the information will have and what checks they will undergo, including enhanced CRB checks. However, noble Lords will know that CRB checks only cover known criminals and fail to cover overseas workers, who now comprise a large part of the health and social care workforce. Has the Minister considered the danger of exposing such sensitive information to the extremely wide range of users, including many subgroups. Is the Minister at all concerned that employees of contracted-out services—often temporary staff—might be given access to the database?
Above all, it is vital that we do not unwittingly provide a resource indicating children’s whereabouts to anyone who is not acting exclusively in the very best interests of the child or anyone who may, however unintentionally, fail to protect that information. The Information Commissioner’s Office report to Parliament, What Price Privacy?, shows how easy it has been for private investigators to gain access to personal data by paying employees of the target organisation. Dr Ian Brown of University College, London, recently brought to our attention a report from the inspector-general of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, who earlier this year found that the digitised medical records of 1.3 million individuals had been mislaid. That shows yet again how easy it is for security safeguards to be ignored and bypassed.
I draw attention to the 27th report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee and I pay tribute to the committee for its customary diligence and excellence. It was noted that while the DCFS may be acting with good intentions, the huge number of users of the database will,
“inevitably increase the risks of accidental or inadvertent breaches of security, and of deliberate misuse of the data … which would be likely to bring the whole scheme into disrepute”.
I am sure that the Minister will remember fondly the amendment that I tabled last year to the Childcare Bill which would have ensured that any information collected under Clause 99 would have to be destroyed within a year. It was my understanding then that the regulations were intended to provide safeguards against the collection and processing of disproportionate amounts of information and that they would include stringent security and safeguarding measures; yet only a year later, the regulations before us contain a contradiction on the vital point of safeguarding.
A particular concern is the drafting of Regulation 6. Regulation 6(2) places a duty on local authorities to ensure that no one can access sensitive service details, archives and ID numbers on other systems. However, Regulation 6(4) is so widely drafted that it appears to negate Regulation 6(2). In effect, when the two provisions are read together, they seem to say that a local authority must hide the details but can decide not to. To allow loopholes to rest in regulations of this importance and sensitivity is nothing less than unacceptable.
A survey of local authorities carried out by my honourable friend Tim Loughton MP shows the state of disarray on the ground. Authorities do not feel ready for the system. Moreover, in light of the appalling records around the country, as expressed in the Information Commissioner’s latest report, councillors have expressed,
“practical and moral concerns at the mammoth task ahead of them”.
The Government intend to use the system to improve the care of and provision for children. Their intentions are of the best kind and are shared in principle by all noble Lords. Yet it is the very system that they seek to rely on that risks stigmatising children and discouraging them from seeking help where necessary.
The Minister said that the regulations had the backing of many children’s welfare organisations. However, the majority of young people and parents consulted by the DCFS oppose the measures, and the major children’s charities—the NCB, the NSPCC, Action on Rights for Children and a coalition led by BAAF—have voiced serious objections. Noble Lords will have received the excellent briefing from the Independent Schools Council.
The ContactPoint system, we are told, is intended to prevent another Victoria Climbié situation. However, that is not quite accurate. The agenda for the collection of children’s data began with the programme originally called “identification, referral and tracing”, which predates the Laming inquiry and does not mention child protection in its original criteria. Moreover, the child protection specialist Chris Mills has already ascertained that the system would not have applied to Victoria Climbié, given her temporary residency in this country.
We all wish to see an end to the horrors that befell Victoria Climbié and others. Inasmuch as the system will create a culture of over-reliance on what will always be a flawed database, it would divert attention from the children who most need protection from those who profess to care for them. It appears that the children of the rich and famous may be exempted if there is a risk of kidnap. While I fully understand why that should be the case, it strikes me as the most damning admission of the inability of the system to protect the details of children, not to mention the injustice of treating one set of children differently from the rest.
The Government’s financial estimates for ContactPoint leave much to be desired, as we shall hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The chief information officer and group director of programme and systems delivery at the Department for Work and Pensions estimated in May that only 30 per cent of government IT projects succeed. Given the huge complexity of the system—150 little databases wired into one national database—the system, as much as any other, risks becoming yet another hugely over budget IT white elephant, and a very dangerous elephant at that.
It is imperative that the regulations are not passed until much greater thought has been given to their information. Once the regulations are enacted, there will be no further opportunity to prevent the slackening of security around those precious and vital personal details. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert “but this House regrets that adequate safeguards are not in place to ensure the protection of the information collected”.—(Baroness Morris of Bolton.)
My Lords, before addressing the substance of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and referring to my amendment, I make it plain that those on these Benches, in this House and another place, are at one with the Government and the Official Opposition in wanting a strong and secure system of child protection, early identification of every child’s special needs and early intervention to provide the services that they need to allow them to thrive and fulfil their full potential.
We all agree about the desirability of multi-agency working and the best possible communication between the professionals involved with every child in the best interests of that child. We differ only in our view of how that can be best achieved. While we are delighted that the Government are prepared to invest additional funds in securing these ends, we question whether this very welcome money is being spent most effectively in the interests of the nation’s 11 million children by setting up a gargantuan and dangerous database, at least half of which, by the Government’s own admission, is unnecessary, since the children do not need any special services at any time up to the age of 18.
I have expressed on many occasions my concerns about the overall safety and value for money of the scheme. I did so most recently in the debate on large government IT projects on 21 June. I therefore thank the Minister for the letter that I received from him yesterday, following a little prompting from the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which asked whether he had written to me about the concerns that I had raised when it looked at the merits of the regulations on 10 July. I think that the Minister thought that by writing his letter he had pre-empted the issues that I might raise. In fact, he has really given me the skeleton of my speech, although I am reassured by a couple of his points, such as the fact that information about parents will not be put on the database. Many of the other points raise further questions.
Perhaps I could turn to the excellent 27th report from the Merits Committee. It would be an understatement to say that the committee was not best impressed by these regulations. The introduction to the report says that,
“the Government have not in our view conclusively demonstrated that a universal database is a proportionate response to the problem being addressed. While the Government have taken the need for security seriously, the scale and importance of the scheme increase the risk that any accidental or inadvertent breach of security, or any deliberate misuse of the data, would be likely to bring the whole scheme into disrepute”.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has just ably demonstrated, the regulations are shot through with loopholes. The committee added in paragraph 23 that it is not convinced that,
“the additional benefits of a universal approach justify the additional costs and risks, as compared with a selective approach which would not include a child in the database unless or until the child’s needs for specialist or targeted services became apparent”.
That is why my amendment expressing regret—in contrast with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, which I support—covers the system’s cost benefit as well as its safety.
We supported the 2006 regulations on data-matching trials, as it was only fair and reasonable to conduct trials. However, we have much greater concerns now that we have reached this stage. We are not convinced that the trailblazers’ results have been sufficiently analysed or that they provide an adequate basis for going ahead with this immense national project—the biggest government database yet.
My worry is that the Government found it more convenient to set up a universal database, rather than investing in extra professional health visitors, social workers and the like who can focus on children in need, because they intend, at some time in the future, to use this information to feed into the national identity database. The Government propose to keep the data for six years after the child has reached 18 and is therefore ineligible for any children’s services. Despite the Minister’s assurances in his letter that there are no plans for data sharing or bulk transfer of data, it would be awfully convenient to plan for that and do it at some time in the future. When it happens, as I still fear it will, I will remind him of his reassurances at this time.
The unnecessary attack on the privacy of at least half of the nation’s children is another matter that concerns many of us. We are assured that the system will comply with the data protection legislation, but many of us consider that that is not enough. It is one thing for professionals to share information about a child where it is necessary to do so in the best interests of that child, but quite another to share information about all the other children in the country for no better reason than that it is more convenient to do it universally.
I simply do not accept the Government’s response, either to the Merits Committee or to me, that a universal database is better because it removes the need for thresholds and has less stigma and because it is not known when a child will need a service anyway. If we spent all this money on more professional staff, we would know earlier when children need help and would be able to provide it much sooner.
Every child has to go through some sort of assessment and reach some sort of threshold anyway in order to qualify for any service. If there is any point at which stigma might be attached, although I hope not, it is at that point, and not at the point at which their private details are being entered on to an electronic database in the privacy of someone’s office. Therefore, that argument does not wash.
The committee expressed concern that the system will be used by 330,000 users. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and I are both concerned about the security of a system that is open to so many users. I am worried about the screening of the people inputting the information on the database, as is the noble Baroness. For example, the contract, I believe, is with Capgemini, which is expanding its operations offshore, in particular to India. Will the Minister give an undertaking that a clause will be written into the contract expressly forbidding the processing of any ContactPoint data outside the UK, since it is impossible properly to screen the people involved?
I am also very much concerned—this was pointed out by the committee in paragraph 11—about the lack of support for this scheme from children, young people and their parents. The committee said that, during the consultations,
“approximately one third of the formal responses came directly from young people and parents. The majority of responses from this group expressed their opposition to the establishment of ContactPoint, raising concerns about the impact on their privacy”.
A number of children’s organisations have called on the Government to establish a major national communications campaign to inform children and their parents about the facts and their rights in this matter. I am most concerned that this should be effective, in particular the right to be asked for explicit consent to the inclusion of the fact that they are receiving sensitive services, such as contact with sexual health professionals. Frankly, I cannot imagine any child feeling inclined to give such consent. I am worried that children will not come forward for such services if they think that the information may go on the system without their consent, with the horrific consequences that that could have on sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy rates.
I understand that there is best practice about this in organisations such as Barnardo’s. Will the Minister assure me that the strongest guidance will be given to everyone inputting data into the system, to be absolutely sure that the child, not just their parents, has given consent to matters of this sensitivity? Will he say how this aspect of the system will be monitored? Will Parliament be told how many children have been asked for their consent and how many have refused it?
The British Association for Adoption and Fostering and its partners expressed concerns that the scheme might even deter families who mistrust officialdom from coming forward for services because they do not want their details on a universal database. What evidence is there that this in an unfounded fear and how will this matter be monitored?
There is also the matter of the system’s enormous cost, which, as the Minister has said, is £224 million for set-up and £41 million annually to operate it. In his letter and this evening, the Minister claims that this money would support up to 13 additional front-line staff in every local authority in the country. I can imagine the celebrations all across the land if local authorities were told that they could have 13 more fully trained professionals to work in their children’s services. Yet the Minister tells me that the trailblazers demonstrated that ContactPoint will free up between 16 and 24 staff per authority by reducing administration time. Therefore, why are local authorities not celebrating? Are these front-line staff child experts or are they administrators? The committee asked how this projected annual benefit would be translated into service delivery. I echo its question. Perhaps the Minister would tell us today.
Surely it would be better to use these millions to reduce the social workers’ caseloads, thereby improving retention by providing more colleagues so that they have the time to communicate meaningfully with other professionals working with their clients and therefore do their job better. I would rather put the money into trained people than into hardware and software when we are talking about services involving one-to-one human contact.
The Government claim that ContactPoint will reduce duplicated effort. However, they are only guessing and have shown us no evidence whatsoever. The system’s security has to be a major concern. The fact that the Government plan to allow just the location of high-profile children or those in danger of kidnap or domestic violence to be screened out from most users is a clear indication that they are not fully confident of its security.
The Merits Committee is not, either. Hackers are clever and creative. That is why all anti-virus software is produced reactively not proactively. It plugs the holes once breaches have demonstrated their existence. Breaches of the security of ContactPoint will bring the whole system into disrepute and people will not use it. Parents will want their children out of it and the Government will have to think again. Is that what the Minister wants?
Both the Merits Committee and I, in the Minister’s letter, have received assurances about the systems in place to monitor usage. Every access will be recorded and patterns of usage scanned. Will that be by computer or by a human being? Potentially suspicious patterns of access are to be reported to the manager. The managers will also be monitored to ensure that they are doing all this. But do we have a monitor to monitor the monitors who are monitoring the monitors? I joke, but this is serious and it is getting ridiculous and expensive. If such a cumbersome system of safeguards is necessary, that makes it clear to me that the dangers are immense. Could not all this money have been better spent or is the hidden agenda that the Government really want a universal database because of its potential for other purposes? We should be told.
My Lords, I rise somewhat timorously to create something of an innovation this afternoon—a Back-Bench contribution in support of government regulations.
I want to comment briefly on what is happening in the House in general. I see in this House an increasing interest in secondary legislation, and that is good. It is good for Parliament, it is good for the secondary legislation, it is good for departments—it does not feel like it at times, but we get better performance from them—it is good for the Government and, in this case, it is good for the children.
I declare my involvement in this matter as a member of the Merits Committee. Indeed, the committee is so enthusiastic tonight that four of our 11 members are here. It is great to get lots of praise—I thank noble Lords for that—but it is extremely important to realise how limited we are. We 11 sad souls plod through 1,200 statutory instruments a year. Our terms of reference require us to make only two decisions. To quote our terms of reference, we have to make a decision about whether we should bring the instrument to the special attention of the House and we have to decide the reason for doing so. There are four such reasons: it imperfectly achieves the policy objectives; it inappropriately implements European Union legislation; the circumstances have changed since enactment of the parent Act; or, most generally of all—it is under this circumstance that we brought this measure to the attention of the House—it is politically and legally important or gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House. I think that we have that right, and those are the two things that we do.
We then try to help the House by writing reports that will illustrate and help the subsequent debate. To be honest, we cannot spend too much time on them because of the sheer volume involved. Very occasionally, we call witnesses and publish their evidence, which we hope will also illuminate the debate.
Because of that process, I have been exposed to this discussion at length and I have also been exposed to, and have been able to probe, the witnesses. I conclude that ContactPoint, the information database, will bring real benefit and will be safe. The whole range of new scrutiny means that the Government have had to up their act. I should like to speak briefly to the two amendments tonight and to share with the House my conclusions about the two issues raised.
Noble Lords will know that, despite our wonderful reports, the Merits Committee is not as unanimous as it sometimes appears from our work. I am a dissenting voice. I failed to persuade my colleagues, and the report reflects very much the views of the majority. However, I took away these two areas and I should like to speak, first, to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, concerning the whole issue of security.
If I have any professional skills left these days, they relate to an involvement in safety management systems. Those systems and security systems have very typical common characteristics. Broadly speaking, you cannot make anything safe. Ultimately, you reduce risk to as low a level as is reasonably practical and you get to that extremely low level by having multiple layers. I think that we should look at the five layers that I took from the witnesses, and I should be grateful if the Minister could either agree with me or write to me on some of the details. I believe that these five levels reduce the security risk to an acceptably and infinitesimally low level.
First—this cannot be said often enough—the data held on the system are sparse. They include an identifier and details of who is in contact with the children. They say nothing whatever about the children other than the simple identifier and who they are in contact with. Because the details are so sparse, for most children the database will contain, other than the identifier, only details of the school and who is providing them with medical services.
Secondly, access to the system is not through a typical PC terminal in a connected system. We are talking about a dedicated terminal that is degraded with encrypted software so that it behaves as a dumb terminal. You can access the system only through a whole series of security measures and, when the terminal gives up its information, it cannot be used to store or manipulate the information. They are special dumb terminals and they exist only as necessary for the users.
Thirdly, use of the database and every activity on the system will be tracked and monitored. Noble Lords may ask who monitors the monitors but, ultimately, all security systems are about layers of tracking and watching how people behave.
Fourthly, every time a practitioner uses a system, he has to explain and record on the system why he needs the information, so that the intentions of the users can be tracked and monitored.
Finally, you have to look at who will be using the system. It sounds as though a large number of people will be involved. However, not only will the users be screened in connection with its use but they will be the very people who have already been screened because they are the practitioners to whom we presently entrust involvement with vulnerable people, such as the children whom this is designed to help.
I believe that those layers of protection will create the appropriate level of security. I hope that the Minister will be able to agree with me and reinforce that this will be a safe and protected system.
The second amendment, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, concerns proportionality. There is no word that I like more in legislation or regulation than “proportionality”. It is an absolutely key concept and we do not discuss it enough. The benefits must outweigh the costs. If only we applied that test with every piece of legislation and every regulation, we would be a better run nation. It is the key idea.
Let us go into the question of how the measure is disproportional. At any point, 30 per cent of all children and, during their lives, 50 per cent of all children require some intervention and help from the caring services. I hope that there is universal acceptance that such intervention should be integrated. There is universal acceptance that the people providing those services should talk to one another and communicate. The only people to whom this system does not add value are the 50 per cent of all children for whom the only data that will be recorded, other than the identifier, will be their school or educational institution or how they are proceeding in their primary healthcare. The cost of holding that data is infinitesimal. It will be merely the overall cost of ensuring that the system is secure, so the disproportional cost will, in fact, be trivial.
Then we should look at the supporting evidence of the benefits. The department claims—because we probed it on this, I believe it to be true—that it will create £88 million-worth of practitioner benefit. It will cost £41 million a year to run and £224 million to set up. That £88 million-worth of benefit will relate to practitioners’ time. Practitioners who presently waste their time ringing up various agencies to try to find out who else is involved with a particular child will not have to do that in future. Instead, they can bend their efforts to supporting the child, which is what they are there for.
The database’s other value is that it will facilitate very early intervention. Everyone who talks about this area of activity says that early integrated intervention is key, and the database facilitates that. Therefore, I do not believe that it is disproportional; I believe that it is sensible and proportional.
Finally, we probed the whole area of consultation. The original evidence that we heard contained some of the concerns that people have mentioned. Paragraph 7 of the memorandum from the department, on page 14 of our report, sets out how specifically it has gone out of its way to probe children’s and young people’s concerns after informed debate about what it is doing. When protections were explained, the children ended up in support of the system. They felt that it was valuable. For example, in the Sheffield experiment, only two out of 100,000 people refused to have their details on the database for the purposes of the trial. The children and young people asked for assurances, but they believed in the assurances that they received.
I believe that these regulations are safe. They will add real value, bring forward integrated intervention and be welcomed by the young people whom they are designed to help.
My Lords, I too declare my interest as a member of the Merits Committee. Indeed, for this inquiry—hearing the evidence and preparing the report—I was in the chair because our proper chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, had very honourably decided not to take part in the committee’s deliberations, because of his position as an adviser to the company which has been awarded the contract to design and build the technical solution for the contact point database.
The matters which were of concern to the committee have been thoroughly ventilated in the evidence which we took, in our report and in the speeches in this debate. I do not need to rehearse them again.
I had the impression that those who came to give evidence to us were so steeped in—I might almost say dazzled by—the beauty and complexity of the universal database of children which they sought to create that they were losing sight of whether the universality of the scheme was proportionate to the needs of the children whom it was intended to benefit, and to the costs and risks inherent in it. For the sake of catching as quickly as possible the 3.5 million to 5 million children who may be in need of specialist and targeted services, they will include in the database 5 million to 7.5 million children who have no such need.
The sheer size of the database, and the large number of practitioners who will have access to it, will maximise the costs and the potential risks of breaches of security which could be damaging to children as well as to the scheme, and the threat to privacy not only of the children who need the additional services, but also of those who do not. It is all in a good cause, no doubt, but I think that it is fair to say that the members of the committee were not convinced whether we really needed this universal sledgehammer to crack this partial, even if sizeable, nut.
The committee was told that it would be useful to include in the database the children who have no need of additional services, because it would enable the department to check whether they were getting the universal services to which they were entitled. Is that a good enough reason for a universal database in this case?
We were told that the universal database would be useful if a child became in need of specialist or targeted services, as the database would help the services concerned to make contact with the child’s situation more quickly than would be possible without it. It would no doubt take longer to establish a child’s situation and needs and provide practitioners with the information they need if the entry on the database had to be built up when the child’s need for additional services came to be known. Is that delay a good enough reason for establishing a universal database? Is the elimination of that delay, perhaps of no more than a few days, worth all the additional costs and risks inherent in a universal database?
As I say, the members of the Merits Committee were, for the most part, not convinced. I do not mean to say that they were against it; I intend to say no more than they were not convinced of the need to go ahead with the universal database. I hope that the Minister will reconsider that decision, which I think, with some experience of bureaucracy, is a bureaucratic dream that could easily turn into a bureaucratic and political nightmare. In the light of the reservations expressed by the committee and by so many bodies in their evidence to us and in other submissions, I hope that he will re-examine the advantages of establishing a system more narrowly tailored to children in need of specialist and targeted services.
My Lords, I too must declare an interest as a member of the Merits Committee. I very strongly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, and what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said earlier about the reaction of the Merits Committee to this scheme. It was called “unenthusiastic” or “not convinced”. Most of us—I do not associate the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, with this—were very much less than convinced indeed about the merits of a scheme of this sort.
I find it very difficult to understand why there has to be 100 per cent inclusion of all 11 million children. I have listened to what the Minister said, and he had the benefit, I imagine, of reading the evidence of his officials who appeared before the committee. Really, he did not seem to have very much more to say tonight than they had to say when they appeared in front of us, which amounted to, as I heard it and as I heard him this evening, that it had to be 100 per cent because they did not want to hurt the feelings of those who were down because they had special needs, so you had to bring in the other 70 per cent, or 50 per cent, whichever way you look at it. I am not sure to what extent children would know whether they were on or off the register. If you have a partial register, I should have thought that it was not immediately apparent to them. It would be much less apparent, for example, than knowing in schools who had free school meals and who did not. But that is another matter.
I can see no sense, and a great deal of harm, in invading the privacy of 50 per cent, or even 70 per cent, of families in the country. The consultation has shown that there is no approximation to a broad consent from families and children for a scheme of this sort. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, in the hearing and tonight used the phase “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”. I can only agree with that.
I am particularly concerned about the problem of computer access. I have heard from the Minister about the various provisions—the layers which the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, talked about—but if a computer hacker can get into the computers of the Pentagon in Washington, it seems almost certain that hackers and those with malice in their minds would find little difficulty in getting into this computer system. As well as the abilities of hackers, there is also the possibility of using corrupt people—and there will be corrupt people among the 330,000 people who will have access to this system. When we held our evidence session, I cited a piece of evidence put before us by an organisation called Young NCB, which said—I think properly:
“Computer systems are never ever completely safe. The threat of hacking is always there. Plus there is always the danger that a professional might use the system to gain personal details about a child or children”.
Those who gave evidence to us in the hearing did not reject that evidence. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, who, to his credit, acknowledged that no system was entirely safe. I did not exactly hear that in the Minister's speech. He told us about hidden layers and all the rest of it, but I did not hear a clear acknowledgement that no system is entirely safe.
Paedophiles and terrorists, in particular, will have all the expertise to hack into systems of this sort or use their friends and collaborators to find ways to get into them. The point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, in her excellent speech, that the fact that there is a screening-out process for those at particular risk shows the vulnerability of the whole scheme. I see ominous signs in the way that the computer system is presented to us, which reminds me of the computer system that was set up—or that we were told was going to be set up—for the Child Support Agency, which has proved to be a total disaster.
I will not go on much longer but, because computer systems are not secure, I can only read out the conclusion of the evidence from the Independent Schools Council, which is typical of a lot of the evidence given to us. It states:
“If the system cannot be secured, it needs to be adapted to ensure that it can be. Otherwise, it will fail expensively, it will fail publicly, and, most importantly, it will fail the very children it was designed to protect”.
I very much hope that the Minister will agree in his summing up to take the regulations away to think more about them, and to take notice of the evidence that has been given to the Merits Committee and in speeches tonight, and that we shall not be burdened with this bureaucratic sledgehammer. Of course, some good would come out of it, but overall it is not value for money and will not properly tackle the problems that it is intended to tackle.
My Lords, a couple of years ago, I was talking to a lady who had been adopted. One day, as an adult, she rang the hospital where she was born and asked what time of day her mother gave birth to her. She was told that she could not have that information because it was third-party information. She put the phone down and rang back about 10 minutes later, asked the same person whether they could tell her when she was born, and she was given the time of day.
I mention that to draw attention to a key point that lies at the heart of the debate. The way in which professionals decide to use information and the parameters within which they share information have never been fully clear. In debates on the primary legislation from which the regulations arise, we talked time and again to the Government about the need to recognise that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in his inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié was not that there should be a large database but that professionals should have a clear understanding of the Data Protection Act and their rights and responsibilities under it.
As someone who sat through that inquiry, I think that the database is a way around trying to deal with those issues, which are ultimately those that make a difference to children. It will be no surprise to the Minister that I speak as someone who has an interest in records about children. I have an ongoing interest in the way in which adults formerly in care suffer because of incomplete records and their inability to access their records.
It would be tempting to go back into a Second Reading speech but, because we should not, I simply want to ask the Minister to answer four questions that I do not see answered in the regulations. First, is the right to challenge information that is wrong or out of date enshrined and clearly understood? Who can do that? Can subjects do it?
Secondly, what safeguards are there against the misinterpretation of information? That is a drawback of the system to which the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, alluded: the information is so sparse that it can be interpreted in a number of ways. The fact that a child has been to see their GP four times in a year can tell you something or nothing. One does not need to be a genius in databases or the Children Act to look at cases where professionals have pursued their own lines of inquiry and have drawn into their net hundreds of children who should never have been included in investigations into abuse.
My third question for the Minister concerns the responsibility of the organisations that hold the records. Social services departments regularly go out of business and new ones are created; so, too, in the health service. Very few elements of the health service other than GPs have been stable for a long time. What requirements will be placed on organisations that may go out of business because of legislation to ensure that those records continue to be kept and available for access?
Finally, what does the Minister think of the figure of 330,000 staff, taking into account the number of people who leave the caring professions? There is huge turnover and high rates of temporary employment in social services. From my limited knowledge of databases, I am aware that it is often extremely difficult to get people off systems once they have been allowed on to them. What will be the protocols for ensuring that that is done and that former staff no longer have access to the records when they do not need it?
My Lords, the Minister demonstrated his recognition of the almost instinctive, gut anxieties felt at the creation of what will be a very broad, indeed almost universal, database for all children up to age 18 when he said, “All use will be monitored by government experts in information technology”, or words to that effect. The only point I want to make centres on the dangers of breach of security, because I agree with so much that has already been said on this side of the argument that I need say no more. I acknowledge my indebtedness to a briefing prepared by the Independent Schools Council, which records that it is intended that retrospective tracking will enable local authorities to pinpoint abuse. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also attached great importance to this point in his interesting speech. The council goes on to point out that,
“evidence presented last year to the management board of the Leeds NHS Trust showed that in one month the 14,000 staff logged 70,000 incidents of inappropriate access”.
It concludes that,
“misuse of ContactPoint could run to 1,650,000 incidents a month; leaving the claim that such tracking will be effective incredible. It will simply not be possible to spot anywhere near all those who through commission or omission misuse the system”.
That is deeply worrying, and I hope that the Minister will be able to offer some reassurance on this. If not, it seems to me to be almost decisive.
My Lords, I should declare an interest as a member of the advisory board of the Information Systems Security Association. We have here a database which is supposed to provide proactive protection purporting to save time and therefore money and so on, and yet we have very sparse data on it. I do not understand how such a sparse dataset is going to save a huge amount of time. The data should be sitting in files already that could easily be exchanged at the local level with quite small databases, which would probably be more secure and easily managed.
I have been thinking about this. If you have a big national database, how do you get it to work? There are some silly things in it. For example, when children go abroad for three or more years, they are taken off the system but archived for six years. But they may come back after eight or nine years, and then everything has to be found out about them and re-entered. There is some stuff in here that will go against its purposes.
The archive will be enormous, at least half as big again as the main database—although we do not think about that in the context of dealing with the whole problem. What use is the archive? It is to be restricted to only a few people, when actually CEOP, the child protection agency, probably should be the body with access to it because there could be some useful information for trying to find out about child abuse later on. Some things may not manifest themselves until later. I could not see why the agency was not included in the body of people allowed to look at it.
I turn to setting security standards. ISO 27001 is the industry standard, but I hope that the department has also consulted CESG, which sets much higher standards. A good point was raised earlier about the people working on the database having access to it. Unless the database scheme is encrypted so that the data cannot be accessed by the programmers working on it, there is a huge security problem. Some people will be able to get in through the back door. I was always able to do so in the days when I wrote software and designed systems. Further, if the security systems are too cautious, the same problems will arise as those in one of the hospitals—Nottingham or Northampton—used in the trial runs. It took so long to log on to the system that all that happened was that one person would log on at the beginning of the day and everyone else used that one point of access. In effect, the terminal was left open. Care must be taken to make sure that the security is not unworkable. I warn the Minister about that, just in case.
I am delighted to see that something will be done about increasing the penalties for leaking data and selling data. This has been long needed because something like 30 per cent of all lost data has nothing to do with hackers. That is not the problem these days; rather, the problem lies with people who are authorised to use the system. At the same time, we should look at the powers of the Information Commissioner to check that all the procedures and processes are correct and sensible. At the moment the commissioner has to wait until a complaint is filed and then pretty much has to be invited in by the data controller. Unless he has sufficient powers, he cannot find out what is going wrong.
The Minister may have underestimated the cost of keeping the database up to date. If there are around 11 million children—an average of 2.2 children in 5 million households—it should be noted that some 40 per cent of London households change address every year. That would translate to something between 0.5 and 1 million changes of address to record on the children’s database every year. If 300 people are monitoring the database for accuracy and a further 300 are trying to update it, I calculate that the 300 people in charge of updating it will have to handle something between 1,000 and 3,000 changes of address a day each, which will keep them quite busy. I am not sure that the Minister’s money estimates are quite right, even with 600 extra staff. The temptation will be to link the database to the proposed “Tell us once” database, where someone tells the Government once about a change of address and the information ripples over everything else. My challenge on that rests once again on the law of unintended consequences in the security world. If you are an abused partner and trying to hide your new address, or you are in a witness protection programme, it is likely that at some point someone could access your address through the back door of one of these other databases where people do not realise that the address is sensitive. I am worried about having yet another database where parents’ addresses are to be maintained. Quite a few addresses will have to be kept on the database.
The point about the number of people who will have access to the database is very valid. I have worked out that during a child’s life, it is theoretically possible that some 1.5 million people will have had access to that child’s database—although it is segmented into local authorities and so on. We have to remember that the turnover in social services is running at about 330,000 people a year. Lastly, some people will be needed to keep an eye on the project to see that it is going well and being run properly. The department should not fall into the same trap as HMRC did when it allowed the same company that provided the system to decide when the benchmarks were going to be run. The department should keep control of when the benchmarks will be run on the project.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I have been asked a huge number of questions and I cannot possibly answer all of them. However, I will write to noble Lords with responses to questions that I am not able to answer now. Perhaps I may deal with a number of questions to which I have answers before turning again to the two major themes encapsulated in the two amendments—one on the adequacy of the safeguards, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris; and one on the proportionality, benefits and cost-effectiveness of the scheme, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
I also thank all members of the Merits Committee for the consideration they have given to these regulations, both in the committee and in their contributions to the debate. I noticed that there were what is probably best described as a range of views expressed. I obviously agree with my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, who said that the scheme would bring real benefits and will be safe, more than I do with others, but I respect the views that have been expressed. I also note that all noble Lords who have spoken recognise the importance of child protection and seeing that information is available to practitioners where they deal with children who need additional services. They accept that this will be a very large proportion of children.
The response I make to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is that when you are reaching proportions as high as 40 and 50 per cent, which are the kinds of proportions we are talking about, unless one has a clairvoyance—which, alas, is rarely granted to bureaucrats, or even mortals—and a universal system, there will be the huge job of adding and subtracting names constantly to and from a register. That in itself will introduce a big element of additional bureaucracy and cost and make the scheme less effective. The information will not be available until it is registered, so, by definition, it will not be available to practitioners before a child is entered on the register.
Perhaps I may now deal with some of the questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, thought that there might be a loophole in the regulations, in that she detected an inconsistency between Regulation 6(2) and Regulation 6(4) in relation to access to data. I can reassure her that Regulation 6(4) provides only for those in ContactPoint management teams in local authorities to have access to the data set out in Regulation 6(3). It does not therefore negate Regulation 6(2), which was the concern that she had.
The noble Baroness also asked whether ContactPoint would be exempt from the e-GIF requirements on the mandatory sharing of information. I can assure her that ContactPoint information is limited by the Children Act 2004 to the purposes set out in Section 12. It will not be used for any other purpose.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about Capgemini, and whether the fact that it has contracts in other countries raises the possibility of information being disclosed abroad. I assure her that the Capgemini contract ensures that no data at all will be taken offshore.
The noble Baroness asked what was the point of keeping information in the archive for six years. It is to support investigations or complaints. That period balances the Data Protection Act requirement not to retain information for longer than is necessary with the need to support and facilitate investigations. We have discussed our archive policy with the Information Commissioner’s office, which is content that we have the balance right in this respect.
The noble Baroness also asked about scope creep. The purpose and scope of ContactPoint has already been made clear very precisely in the Children Act 2004. It has a clear purpose linked to the duty to co-operate and to safeguard and promote welfare as set out in Sections 10 and 11 of the 2004 Act. The data held on ContactPoint are kept to a minimum, as I described, and will not include case information. For example, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I say that they will not include details of visits to GPs. Those case data are not there. The only information that will be on the database is the identity of the GP; it will not include any of the data that she feared could lead to misinterpretation. Therefore, the data held on ContactPoint are in pursuit of the Children Act 2004.
There has been very little change to the proposed contact of ContactPoint since the passage of the Children Act 2004, so there has been no scope creep in its development. Any amendment to the regulations, which are in pursuit of the Children Act 2004, will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and therefore have the full scrutiny of Parliament. There could not be further scope creep without the consent of your Lordships and another place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also asked about guidance to ensure that children and young people will give consent to sensitive services being included on the database. I reassure her that the guidance will address this issue and that consent must be, as will be made clear under the guidance, freely given and explicit. ContactPoint will not hold details of consent on the system, which was another issue she raised.
The noble Baroness asked whether the audit records of ContactPoint usage would be monitored by computers or by human beings. I assure her that audit records will be monitored both by computers and by human beings, each complementing the other. She asked whether shielding the records of children meant that the system was not secure, a point also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. We do not believe that the fact that some records will be shielded indicates that ContactPoint will be insecure. It is simply an additional safeguard which is entirely consistent with the risk-based approach in the Data Protection Act, which requires security to be appropriate to the harm that may be suffered by the individual. The shielding mechanism is not unique to ContactPoint; it is already in place in a number of systems.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised the issue of the views of young people about ContactPoint and whether we took them seriously. I assure her that we take their views very seriously, which is why we have taken considerable time and effort directly seeking the views of over 1,100 children and young people from a wide range of backgrounds. We have also looked at a wide body of research about the views of children and young people and taken on board the experience of local authority trailblazers, which developed local pilot systems and, as part of such development, consulted children, young people and families. I should stress that this consultation, as part of the development of the trailblazer pilots, generally showed that children understood the benefits of information-sharing and of ContactPoint. Understandably they wanted reassurance that the system would be secure and accurate. That is precisely why we are developing the system as we are—to ensure those robust protections. We will continue to engage children and young people directly, particularly to inform the development of communications material. We are doing so in collaboration with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Children’s Rights Director.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, asked whether eliminating some delays—he thought that they would be short delays—when a child first exhibits a need for a service was not itself a justification for a universal database. The key issue, we believe, is that practitioners are not able to make good decisions in all cases about need when they do not have the full circumstances of the child available. It is not simply a question of the delay in making entries on a database, but the quality of the decisions that will be made by practitioners in the first place, whether or not they have this information available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked me a number of questions. Would children and families have the right to challenge information that is wrong or out of date on the database? Yes, they will. That right is enshrined in the Data Protection Act 1984. A child or their parent can ask to see their data and, if the data are incorrect, they must be corrected. She asked what safeguards were in place to prevent misinterpretation, such as children visiting GPs several times a year, but as I said, that kind of information will not be on the database. She also asked what processes would be followed to ensure that staff who left would have their access revoked—the 330,000 are staff in service, with a right to see the information on the database. I can assure her that the accounts of users will be cancelled immediately the user’s supervisor notifies ContactPoint. Staff debriefing will recover the access control token, so that the user will not be able to access the system thereafter.
The first broader theme raised was adequate safeguards. I reaffirm the importance of security as a priority in the development of ContactPoint. First, we will ensure that ContactPoint is built with robust and reliable software, which is configured to remove all known weaknesses. The system will then be tested before being put into use by licensed security testers approved by the Communication Electronics Security Group in Cheltenham, which is an arm of the Government. They will, in effect, try to hack into the system and will undertake software inspection. ContactPoint will not be put into live use until it has passed the security tests. The system will be actively monitored to detect attempted hacking or penetration, and any part of the system where such attacks are detected will be shut down.
Secondly, all data are secured by encryption or scrambling while moving between computer systems, so that anyone trying to monitor communications will not be able to see the information. Thirdly, it will only be possible to access ContactPoint from computers that are either known directly to ContactPoint or connected to corporate or local networks approved by ContactPoint. The biggest risk for hacking is through the internet and from public access into computer systems; we are countering this by ensuring that any attempt to access ContactPoint from any system other than those known to be legitimate systems for access is rejected. Furthermore, we are taking active steps to ensure secure use. Systems that use passwords alone are vulnerable to misuse. ContactPoint users will therefore need to have an identifier, a password, a PIN and a physical token. We are restricting the user numbers, as I described in my opening speech. Finally, the ContactPoint system will monitor every user activity and record that securely in an audit log. The audit log will look for patterns of unusual or potentially suspicious behaviour, which will be reported to the user’s manager.
I also refer directly to the submission made to the Merits Committee by the Information Commissioner, in which he reported that he had had considerable involvement with my department during the development of ContactPoint. For noble Lords who have not been so closely engaged in discussions about the development of the scheme, I quote from what the Office of the Information Commissioner said:
“It is the case that we had reservations about certain aspects of early proposals for creating an index of Children ... However, we have enjoyed very constructive relations with those responsible for implementing ContactPoint. We are pleased that our suggestions concerning the privacy, transparency and security aspects of running ContactPoint have been taken on board ... we are satisfied with the overall design of ContactPoint … We are pleased that the ‘ContactPoint Guidance’, which we have worked closely with DFES on, sets out a practical set of rules and procedures for those using ContactPoint. This guidance will provide a sound basis for developing the training that DFES will be carrying out, and which the Information Commissioner will participate in. It is also encouraging”—
this takes up the point of the noble Earl—
“that sanctions have been put in place to deter those having access to ContactPoint from abusing their access”.
The Information Commissioner concludes:
“We will, of course, continue to keep close contact with DFES, and with ContactPoint end-users … We are prepared to devote the resource necessary to make sure that ContactPoint is operated properly and that the privacy interests of the individuals included on the database are safeguarded properly”.
On balance, our arguments in favour of the security of the scheme are justified. That is not to say that there is no risk whatever, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. No Minister could stand here and say that. However, we have taken all reasonable precautions against it. The Information Commissioner looked objectively at the safeguards we have put in place, and they are of the most robust kind. We must set aside the continuing risk that there may be on that front against the huge gain to be had from the database. The judgment of Parliament should lead us to want the gain that could be had from making the information on children available to practitioners to help those who may, at some point in their young life, be at risk.
I dealt with most of the arguments about proportionality and cost in my opening remarks so, rather than rehearsing all those points again, I shall deal with some of the specific issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, to show that her concerns are substantially either unfounded or exaggerated. She queried the £88 million annual saving, but a robust case for that saving is set out in the memorandum—whose methodology she did not seek to undermine—which my department submitted to the committee.
The noble Baroness specifically asked, and this was a key point, whether the £88 million and all the hours of practitioner time that would be saved would predominantly affect front-line practitioners. I assure her that it will. At the moment those practitioners’ time is often used or wasted in having to get in touch with other practitioners or in making duplicate referrals, which would not be necessary if the database was available and access could be gained much more quickly.
My Lords, the £88 million is only a gain if the figure of £41 million is accurate, and the noble Earl has raised severe concerns that those are perhaps very optimistic figures for both the set-up and the annual running costs. You only have a gain if the figures for the running costs are correct.
My Lords, that is not the case. Even if the running cost figure is higher than £41 million, that does not of itself undermine the £88 million saving. Page 17 of the committee’s report, which prints the relevant memorandum, identifies the practitioner groups whose time will be saved by the availability of the database. I shall read out the list: school nurses, health visitors, social workers, educational administrators, Connexions workers and youth offending teams. Those are front-line practitioners; we are not just dealing with back-office staff and functions.
The alternative before the House is not no scheme at all but a partial scheme, a register for those at risk, which the noble Baroness supports. If it is not to be a national scheme, local schemes will need to be maintained for identifying those at risk. All our advice is that the cost of a partial scheme simply identifying those at risk would be higher than that of having a universal scheme. The cost in terms of time of having to make constant decisions about the addition and subtraction of names on the list would be great, and we would need to support systems and staff engaged in the filtering of data input case by case to decide what was appropriate in respect of individuals. That is not the case with the universal scheme. The result would be a substantial increase in the implementation cost, adding £20 million to the existing £240 million cost, and a significant increase in the per capita cost of ContactPoint.
The point made about Victoria Climbié was quite telling. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, quoted somebody who said that Victoria Climbié would not have been identified on the universal register, as she had been presented to some services as being in England only on a temporary basis. I am advised that she would have been on the register. It is important that we understand that, as a good deal of the concern that has motivated the development of this database was precisely that very harrowing case and what could happen in future if we did not safeguard against it. The aunt of Victoria Climbié was claiming child benefit and had registered Victoria with two GPs, so she would have been on the database if it had been available. In weighing up the costs, benefits and fine judgments that noble Lords have to make this evening, that is a factor to be considered.
I conclude by quoting the memorandum submitted to the Merits Committee by Barnardo’s, an organisation respected in all parts of the House. Its final conclusion was as follows:
“Having ready access to the wider network of care around a child will mean that all practitioners are better informed about the range of services being provided, and any gaps that there might be, such that an early intervention can be effected if needed, rather than costly remediation once something has gone wrong. The system”—
that is the system that we are proposing—
“will support integrated delivery of services, help prevent duplication, and help practitioners in the wider ECM reforms”.
Barnardo’s concluding judgement on the scheme that we are putting before the House was:
“This is a challenging project, but worthwhile in that it harnesses the technologies of the 21st century to the support of those who work with children in the interests of the children themselves”.
That is the case that we put before the House this evening. I invite the House to approve the regulations.
My Lords, I appreciate the contribution of all noble Lords, who with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, have all expressed great anxiety. I especially thank noble Lords from the Merits Committee, who I understand are nominated for an award at tonight’s House Magazine ceremony; I wish them well.
The speech of my noble friend Lord Jopling summed up perfectly our objections to the regulations. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her support. I agreed with every word of her powerful speech, and we support her amendment.
The Minister was, as always, thorough and courteous in his reply and I accept that his undertakings are made in all good faith. However, I am not reassured and remain deeply troubled both by the principle of this database and by its operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said that the system was safe—or as safe as it could be—because it had five layers, but my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew pointed out the terrifying statistics from the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. It referred to,
“wholesale sharing and passing on of system log-in identifications and passwords”.
I am afraid that that is human nature.
I was incredibly moved by the words of the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on the Children Act 2004, where it said that,
“if the justification for the information-sharing about children is that it … is always proportionate where the purpose is to identify children who need welfare services, there is no meaningful content left to a child’s Article 8 right to privacy”.
For the sake of our children’s privacy, for the sake of their sense of self and for the sake of those children who most need our protection, I urge the Government to think again to avoid the nightmare of which the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, spoke. Even though the hour is late and many noble Lords are at the House Magazine awards, we feel so strongly about this that I wish to test the opinion of the House.
rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion in the name of Lord Adonis, at end to insert “but this House regrets that the cost is likely to be disproportionate to the benefit and could have been more effectively and safely spent on professional staff”.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, although I regret having to keep you from your House Magazine dinner, I shall have to trouble you for another opinion. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert “but this House regrets that the cost is likely to be disproportionate to the benefit and could have been more effectively and safely spent on professional staff”.—(Baroness Walmsley.)
[*The Tellers for the Contents reported 38 votes; the Clerks recorded 39 names.]
On Question, Motion agreed to.
rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will clarify their policy towards the Commonwealth ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda in November 2007.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to have this opportunity—at long last, I might say—to explore the Government’s approach to the Commonwealth and to test whether this Government and this Administration will be more positive than previous Administrations on this subject. I am delighted at the number of noble Lords taking part and I regret that, due to this hour and other commitments, a number of those who put their names down have had to withdraw. It is a great pleasure to welcome to the debate the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, the new Minister responsible for development matters, who will be making her maiden speech. She could not be better qualified to speak on the Commonwealth, because she was born in Uganda, educated partly in India and, after the age of 15, has lived and worked in this country as a British citizen.
Within my 10 minutes, I wish to focus on the strategy that should be adopted for the Commonwealth. In the past 60 years, we have seen the most remarkable transformation from the British Empire to the Commonwealth of equal nations. Throughout this period, the Queen has provided a common link in her capacity as head of the Commonwealth. Coupled with this change has been a substantial migration of people within the Commonwealth, thus contributing to today’s multi-cultural and multi-faith community in the United Kingdom. All this is essential history for any schoolchild to understand today’s British society.
What of today’s Commonwealth? What is its composition? It is a total cross-representation of the world—the world through a microscope—with 53 nations making up a quarter of the government of the world, a third or 2 billion of the world’s population and a fifth of the world’s trade. The Commonwealth ranges from the smallest nations—some 32 of them—to the largest. It ranges from the poorest—a third of its people live on less than a dollar a day—to the wealthiest, and it has fast-emerging states, such as India, which is the fourth largest economy in the world today. It represents almost all faiths and cultures in the world. For example, there are 500 million Muslims living in the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth faces all the problems that the world as a whole faces: international terrorism; illicit migration; drugs and crime; climate change; multi-faith and multi-cultural issues; fragile democracies; poverty; and education and health issues. We share common aspirations and values, as well as the commitment that we have made at summit meetings to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of the press and expression and the important role of civil society. We share a common language in English and we have many common institutions, legal systems and business practices.
The Commonwealth is a vast network of contact—of Governments, people, professional bodies and non-government organisations. There are over 80 professional bodies of the Commonwealth, ranging from the universities and architects to magistrates, nurses and the press. The Commonwealth work is supported by a range of other bodies: the Secretariat; the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation; the Commonwealth Youth Fund; the Commonwealth Foundation, of which I had the privilege of being chairman for five years and which focuses on the non-government of the work of the Commonwealth civil society, culture and so on; the Commonwealth of Learning, which facilitates distance learning throughout the Commonwealth; and the Commonwealth Business Council, which deals with the private sector and economic development. I will also mention a new organisation, which I welcome: the Ramphal Centre for Commonwealth Policy Studies. All those and many other bodies are supplemented by other activities, not least the Commonwealth Games and the usual Government-to-Government contact.
What is the Government’s attitude to all that? Successive Governments in this country have paid lip service to the Commonwealth. We have tended to turn our backs on the Commonwealth. The result is a remarkable lack of interest and knowledge in the United Kingdom of the Commonwealth. We have concentrated, of course, on the European Union and NATO and relations with the United States.
There still lingers in this country a measure of guilt complex about the past and sometimes we still see things in rather colonial and patronising ways. Equally, other Commonwealth countries are still inclined to blame the United Kingdom, as their former colonial power, as a diversion from their own problems. I need only cite Mr Mugabe to make the point. Now is the time to make a psychological adjustment in our attitude to the Commonwealth. To get rid of these outdated concepts and cobwebs of the past, we must, of course, know our past, but we must also recognise that a gem has now emerged that can bring great benefits to all its members, including the United Kingdom.
This is the age of multilateralism and here is a unique forum for confronting and helping us all to solve international problems and for the United Kingdom to benefit from membership. The Commonwealth complements other groupings, such as the United Nations, the European Union and NATO, as well as bilateral relations with other countries. It is not a substitute; it simply complements. As Sir Shridath Ramphal, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, said once:
“The Commonwealth cannot negotiate for the world, but it can help the world to negotiate”.
It seems to me that policy has evolved over decades from the summit meetings in Singapore to the summit in Harare. The policy of the Commonwealth that has evolved reflects the view that democracy and good governance on the one hand and development on the other are interdependent—the two must develop hand in hand to help to create more prosperous and coherent societies.
Let us look for a moment at these two issues. First, on democracy, we have organisations now such as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which plays a vital role in monitoring persistent violation of democratic principles. It has looked at a number of countries, from Nigeria and Pakistan to Fiji.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Zimbabwe. It was suspended in 2003 by Mugabe—the decision was taken by him and not by the people of Zimbabwe. Others will no doubt speak about Zimbabwe in this debate but the test case here involves the credibility of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was active in trying to help to end apartheid in South Africa and return her to the Commonwealth, and the same must happen with Zimbabwe. The Royal Commonwealth Society, of which my noble friend Lady Prashar is chairman, has taken an admirable lead in discussing ways in which the Commonwealth can start to hold out hope for the people once Mugabe has gone.
The Commonwealth needs to establish links with civil society. The Commonwealth Foundation is a very good organisation for taking the lead on that. We need to work with moderate nations in Africa, such as South Africa, Botswana, Ghana and Tanzania, to help the people of Zimbabwe to move towards a better solution. The Commonwealth Heads of Government need to stand ready with contingency plans to rehabilitate that failed state. There are many other ways in which democracy is supported in the Commonwealth, not least through the admirable work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
The other aspect in this regard is development. It is interesting to note that trade within the Commonwealth has increased from US$2 trillion to $3 trillion in the past 10 years. Economic development is crucial to stability in these countries and the Commonwealth is equipped to promote favourable trade terms, to help small and developing nations and to help work for the liberalisation of trade. The Commonwealth provides an ideal forum to develop integrated and realistic approaches to economic expansion and wealth creation in each of those countries. I hope that the Minister will feel able to say something about the role of the Department for International Development in this area and the priority that it gives to the Commonwealth.
I conclude by saying that I would like Her Majesty’s Government to commit the United Kingdom to adopting a positive, imaginative and vigorous approach to the Commonwealth in a non-paternalistic spirit and as an equal partner. To achieve that, the Prime Minister needs to show personal leadership on this issue and secure the commitment of Ministers, supported by a proper Whitehall machinery, to implementing the Commonwealth’s multilateral policies. This would benefit the Commonwealth and serve Britain’s own interests.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this timely debate and for his thorough introduction.
I speak to you as a child of the British Commonwealth and as someone who has lived her adult life as a citizen of the Commonwealth. Many would say that that is not much of a difference, but appearances can be deceptive.
The transition in the title highlights the ever-changing nature of the institution as history has buffeted its boundaries, structure and procedures. Its status as successor to the British Empire similarly reflects a long historical process as conquered territories sought to assert their independence from the metropolitan hub. It is no secret that countries that were initially the most successful in this process contained a large settler class drawn from the metropolitan country. It was only after the Second World War that other imperial territories were able to seriously challenge the iron grip exerted from the centre on the conduct of their affairs. The relaxation of that grip was achieved after inhabitants of lands scattered throughout the globe struggled valiantly for the freedom to exert control over their destinies. Many did so after returning from battlefields where they had fought—some had died—to protect the freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of the metropolis.
The past 50 years have witnessed the arrival of a variety of settler classes into this country from the countries once conquered by it. This apparent historical inversion masks the wholly different nature of the relationship enjoyed by the outgoing settlers with those among whom they settled from that which greeted incoming settlers with those in this country. The role of the latter was to repair, invariably at a menial or minor level, the infrastructure, to man the often shattered remains of the country's industrial base and to oil the wheels of what we now call our service industries.
This they have done, and many look back in their retirement with pride at their achievement, against considerable odds, in assisting in Britain’s revival of its status in the world. However many also look with alarm, as Britain seeks to realign itself with other groups of nations, such as the European Union, at the effects that these associations will have on the Commonwealth.
I would like to draw noble Lords’ attention to that arc of islands which form the Caribbean membership of the Commonwealth, among which is the country of my birth, Grenada. As with so many Caribbean islands, many of its citizens are scattered among the populations of nations that dwarf them in both geographic and economic size. Those who are here, and their children, feel that their mother countries have become at best the home of hazy memories of golden beaches and eternal sunshine and at worst almost forgotten specks in a far distant ocean.
People do not starve in the Caribbean. Coups are not a feature of our recent memories. As we do not have large mineral resources, we are not subject to the mass excavation of our soil for what lies underneath it. However, we do have some real problems that deserve far more attention than they attract.
I realise that the clock has beaten me. I will end quickly by saying that I would like to enter a plea that Britain should not, in its rush to join new families of nations, forget its obligation to that family that ensured its economic pre-eminence for so long.
My Lords, I, too, thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this debate. Now that that has been done from both sides of the House, I suggest humbly that that should be enough because it will save everybody else doing it and thus save us time.
I too will talk about Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has done. If noble Lords have doubts about the propriety of doing so in a Commonwealth debate, because Zimbabwe is no longer in it, they can be reassured. All that they have to do is look at section B of the 1995 Millbrook declaration, made in New Zealand, when it was head of the Commonwealth. That will reassure them of the propriety of not only talking about Zimbabwe but doing things—but that is another question.
When South Africa was outside the Commonwealth, the member countries treated it in the same way because the Commonwealth did a great deal to help South Africa to get rid of apartheid. Conditions in Zimbabwe are appalling, so bad that I do not want to get into a discussion about them now. I think that all noble Lords know how indescribably awful it is.
After the savage attacks on a peaceful prayer meeting about three months ago, there was an urgent meeting of the SADC summit, which appointed President Mbeki to facilitate dialogue between the Government and the opposition in Zimbabwe. Almost all the SADC countries are members of the Commonwealth. Since that proposal for dialogue, about three and a bit months ago, no agenda has been fixed. Mugabe’s representatives failed to turn up to the latest meeting called. That shows us how President Mbeki is treating that proposal. Therefore, the world should not expect any good news from that direction.
What else could be done? I doubt whether linking the Zimbabwean dollar to the rand would be acceptable to South Africa. That has been suggested but it has not been discussed publicly. However, it is an idea that is floating about. The responsibility to protect is a subject that is being talked about more and more, largely in United Nations terms, but such action requires UN consent and tends to assume the use of troops, if only for peacekeeping; therefore, I doubt whether that is relevant to Zimbabwe.
My proposal that the G8 should use its influence with Africa resulting from its partnership for aid and debt relief in return for good governance has received no response, so at the moment I do not see a future for that.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is said to be thinking hard about what should be done. I hope that that is so, but I have one important point for the secretariat. At present, Zimbabwe is not on the agenda for the CHOGM in November this year in Kampala. Obviously, I am not calling for Zimbabwe’s presence under the current regime or anything like it, but I am sure that Zimbabwe is important enough to be discussed in Kampala.
My Lords, I shall obey the admonition of the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, but I want to add the best wishes of these Benches to the noble Baroness in her new position as a Minister and wish her well in all that she undertakes.
It was as long ago as the 1926 Imperial Conference that member countries were described as,
“autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs”.
The Statute of Westminster gave that some legal force, and it is in that spirit that the Commonwealth continues to exist. It is an extraordinary ideal to live up to, one that is not exactly easy when member states vary so much in economic power, resources and wealth. But the value of the Commonwealth is expressed not least in the equal dignity accorded to all members, whatever their size, wealth, culture or religion, and, in the time available, I want to refer to a single current threat to that.
I believe that the proposed economic partnership agreements will be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They are in the process of being negotiated between Europe and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, many of them members of the Commonwealth, and they should be completed by the end of the year. There is real anxiety in ACP countries—inevitably, as the EU is, overall, both the biggest trading partner and the biggest aid giver to many of them—and therefore, it is hard for this negotiating process to be even-handed when the odds are stacked so much on one side. The Cotonou agreement, on which all this is based, said that no ACP country should be worse off as a result of the process, but many Commonwealth countries fear that they will be, as EU aid will be dangled as a carrot and waved as a stick if African countries, in particular, do not open up their markets to European companies in the area of service provision and government procurement.
The African Union has recently pleaded for transitional measures to safeguard the continued entry of African exports to the EU market beyond the end of the year. I believe that our Government’s stated position is that ACP countries should have alternatives to these partnership agreements, and I want to know whether that is still the case. How does our part in this EU process reflect our Commonwealth aspiration that we and other countries should be,
“equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another”,
especially if the EPA negotiations demand the opening of African markets way beyond anything envisaged in the Cotonou agreement?
This is really an area where our commitment to the Commonwealth is a necessary counterbalance to any misuse of the economic power that we enjoy as part of the European Union. I know well that the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is that the poor are blessed, but we do not increase their blessing by making them poorer. A high doctrine of the Commonwealth may prevent us doing just that in this case.
My Lords, in joining in the welcome to my noble friend on the Front Bench, perhaps I may say how fortunate we are that her expertise and commitment will now benefit your Lordships’ House as well as the Department for International Development.
The Commonwealth is one of our best routes to global conversation. When I used to negotiate for the UK it was a pleasure, and often something of a relief, to find among the host of nations at the UN a group of friends who, crucially, spanned the rich and the poor worlds, and who understood each other better because of the common heritage so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Luce.
The Commonwealth has a particular contribution to make to development, because of its ease in sharing expertise through the secretariat and its myriad professional associations. This kind of partnership is all the more important now because development is changing. It has always needed more than aid, but now there is an urgent need for strategies to go wider, on climate change, on fair conditions for trade, on human rights and human security.
Aid is still the starting point for basic standards of health and education, so I would like to ask my noble friend first about the leading cause of death of children under five: pneumococcal disease. I declare an interest as vice-president of a new all-party parliamentary group to raise awareness of it. It kills nearly 1 million children, of whom 90 per cent are in developing countries. Those who do not die are often disabled.
There is a safe vaccine, but it needs to be developed. UNICEF—of which I am a UK trustee—and DfID are aware of the problem, and with the advance markets commitment system, an innovation which my noble friend has had a great deal to do with, DfID has undertaken to get results. Can she also arrange for this underknown dread disease to be given more prominence in DfID's public thinking on health? In the excellent document Working Together for Better Health, the goal of reducing child mortality mentions only measles immunisation, which would do this by two-thirds. Successful pneumococcal disease vaccination would probably achieve the millennium development goal on child mortality by itself. How will this be considered in DfID's biennial review of its health strategy?
In education, the UK has worked within the Commonwealth to ensure that more children, especially girls, go to primary school. In Tanzania, where I was last summer, abolishing school fees increased enrolment from 4.4 million to 8 million, about half of whom were girls. Now there is more need to support local capacity for training teachers; and it is in the area of training and professional education that we can work with the Commonwealth to most advantage.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, with particular pride and pleasure. A fellow Somervillian, she brings energy, commitment and wide experience to this House. We are also fortunate in having the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to open the debate. The Commonwealth needs advocates with stamina—he has certainly shown that tonight—as well as vision.
I speak in the context of the imminent collapse of Zimbabwe, only prevented so far by the extraordinary courage of its civil society. The UN has failed, despite the urgent representations of Anna Tibaijuka and Jan Egeland, in its responsibility to protect, both within the country where it was inhibited, and still is, from any intervention, and in New York, where it has allowed the African Union to prevent any discussion of Zimbabwe in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The African Union’s policy of peer scrutiny, because it is voluntary, has effectively inhibited any action, and we have chosen to respect this. There is, however, one potentially powerful and entirely legitimate source of support for Zimbabwe’s civil society, and that is civil society in the Commonwealth. The SADC countries, Zimbabwe’s neighbours, are members of that Commonwealth. Their economies are deeply vulnerable. We do not know the result of the economic report that they were mandated to make at the Tanzania conference in March.
We should be encouraging the lawyers, trade unionists, teachers, doctors and students within Zimbabwe by funding initiatives—some of which are already contemplated—to take them to Commonwealth countries for training. Those initiatives could be used to encourage Commonwealth leaders to move to the next, vital step of putting Zimbabwe on the agenda in Uganda in November. Nothing could send a clearer signal to the people of Zimbabwe, and to the world, that we believe that their country has a future. Our country and the US are generous givers to the many aid programmes inside Zimbabwe. Let us now give for the future of a country well able to restore its economy and its society by its own efforts, once it is free.
The Commonwealth, in words cited by Judith Todd, left the candle in the window for the people of South Africa when Verwoerd took his country, but not his people, out of the Commonwealth. As my noble friend Lord Blaker said, both the Harare declaration and the Millbrook agreement require us to do the same for Zimbabwe. Let us not forget that the Commonwealth countries united could do much to secure action in and by the UN, as they did at the time of the Falklands. I rejoice to hear that our Prime Minister has already sent one encouraging signal by telling the Portuguese Prime Minister that if President Mugabe is invited to the conference in November, he will not be there. Today, a country is being destroyed from within before our eyes. The Commonwealth must now set a bright light in the window for the people of Zimbabwe to see.
My Lords, I want to talk about the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in safeguarding the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth, which are democracy, development and diversity—the three Ds. Recently, there have been problems that seem to indicate that CMAG is becoming less effective. Many noble Lords have mentioned Zimbabwe, so I shall not, except only to say that I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said in his opening remarks about that country.
There was hope that President Obasanjo in Nigeria would consolidate democracy there and tackle corruption, but the recent national election showed serious problems in the Niger delta, which was considered too dangerous for the Commonwealth observer group to visit. Should not the action group of Ministers be automatically engaged when an observer group gives a negative report following an election?
The main thing that I want to talk about in this debate is the need for the Commonwealth to pay attention to Pakistan, which was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 2004. That country is walking a tightrope between its own extremists and the demands of America and is still under military rule, which we reluctantly condone. Its close neighbour is Afghanistan and the warlords. I was condemned by my party and many others in 2001 when I said that we should be dropping food and aid on famine-stricken Afghanistan, not bombs. It seemed to me then and now that bombs would make a poor country even poorer and more dangerous, and that bombs would scatter Osama bin Laden and his merry men all over the world, but especially to the northern territories of Pakistan. Of course, that has happened. Pakistan is now in great danger.
Economic development and aid are the way to win hearts and minds in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That should be the Commonwealth’s greatest task in Pakistan and it should be NATO’s greatest task in Afghanistan. Properly fed and educated people with hope for their children’s future are less likely to become extremists. A Taliban-controlled Pakistan with nuclear weapons is the alternative, and is one of my nightmares. Urgent economic development must go hand in hand with the steps towards democracy that we want Pakistan to take. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should make support for that country its priority.
My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to the House, because she is a true Commonwealth person. I am delighted that she will be responding to this debate and I greatly look forward to her speech. In making my contribution, I declare an interest. I am the chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Luce.
There is now increasing recognition that the modern Commonwealth is ideally suited to meeting some of the challenges of the 21st century. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, recently argued that the Commonwealth,
“should shed its past diffidence and prepare itself to take a lead in setting the global agenda”.
In a visionary speech on e-connectivity, the President of India said that, through the integrated evolution of the Commonwealth knowledge grid, we can address many common challenges of development. Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, in a debate in this House two years ago, said that we as a nation were in great danger of missing a great opportunity to continue “to champion the Commonwealth”. Champion the Commonwealth we must, but we must also be an active catalyst for change within the Commonwealth, because we are well placed to help to revitalise it, to rebuild its capacity to contribute to multilateral diplomacy and trade, and to develop new and imaginative ways of dealing with some development issues.
Change in the leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the forthcoming publication of the Sen commission report and the report on the new membership rules for the Commonwealth, and of course our new leadership in the UK under Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as well as the upcoming 60th anniversary in 2009 of the London declaration, all provide an excellent opportunity to consider the future role of the Commonwealth and that of the UK within it, particularly in the context of our own international priorities. This is an opportunity to make an unsentimental assessment of where the Commonwealth can make a difference. It is an opportunity to review the factors that may stand in the way of a better understanding of its benefits and potential, and its relevance to our internal, national concerns, because these overlap with our external concerns.
There are several areas in which the Commonwealth can make a difference. The first is as a consensus builder. As my noble friend Lord Luce said, this was very well put by the former Secretary-General, Shridath Ramphal, when he said:
“The Commonwealth cannot negotiate for the world, but it can help the world to negotiate”.
The Commonwealth’s diversity is an advantage. It provides energy and dynamism not just in the international context but also nationally, because it provides a healthy framework for complex societies grappling to work with difference. Its core values and attitudes provide the ability to develop consensus through dialogue and ideas rather than a quest for power politics.
The Commonwealth is unrivalled among international organisations because it can realistically aspire to be a Commonwealth of democracies. Time is running out. We have heard about the Commonwealth’s economic advantage in the sense that it has within it the 13 fastest-growing economies along with the poorest 14. It can make a difference in these areas, as it can in development. I would like to suggest that we in the UK should take steps to make a realistic assessment of the potential and develop an agenda for meaningful engagement with the Commonwealth. To that end, I should like to know whether Her Majesty’s Government would consider undertaking such an assessment through a process of wide consultation in preparation for the 60th anniversary in 2009.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for the debate. It is altogether good to see the Minister on the Front Bench. Previous Ministers have set a big challenge to meet with their powerful contributions. My noble friend brings with her great qualifications and very useful experience, not least—if I may say so as a former director—her effective role as a trustee of Oxfam.
The Government are firmly committed to multilateralism. The Commonwealth has considerable potential as a catalyst for building global consensus. It is globally representative and culturally and ethnically diverse, but its effectiveness depends on the will of its member Governments to use it and support it. It needs not only a strong secretary-general but one with a clear mandate to lead proactively and imaginatively.
To generate the international understanding and global solidarity that is so essential to security, education at all levels is vital. That includes informal education. On this, there has been a recent, very exciting development. It emerged at the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Malta in 2005, was taken up by the Commonwealth Education Ministers meeting in 2006 and is to be developed further at the next People’s Forum in Kampala, where it is hoped that it will cover inter-faith work. It is led by a new British inter-organisational NGO called BUILD. It promotes effective partnerships between schools, professional organisations, hospitals and medical schools, with great mutual support in both directions.
Recently, I was privileged to chair a BUILD meeting at Marlborough House at which Archbishop Tutu was a keen participant. It was deeply impressive, especially to hear the proven evidence of what is already being achieved. I hope that this and similar practical initiatives, not only at ministerial level but at grass-roots level, will attract all the priority and attention possible.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for the debate. There are some very positive cases of how the Commonwealth has among its membership some of the most influential countries in the world, such as Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand. These countries have sustained economic growth and have established long-standing democratic processes. While it is true that these are the success stories, unfortunately the cases of countries not succeeding should and must remain a worry to the United Kingdom.
Can the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to strengthen the voice of the Commonwealth? It is time that we considered aiding the poorest of our Commonwealth members by looking beyond monetary aid as the solution. It clearly is not working, as we are told that there are still over 660 million people in the Commonwealth who are living on less than a dollar a day. Life expectancy for the poorest of the world in the Commonwealth is in decline, and fewer than 35 per cent of children are receiving complete primary education. The millennium development goals are becoming distant dreams, as the targets for halving poverty and eliminating preventable infant deaths are unlikely to be met by 2015, as previously predicted.
The obsession with setting and meeting targets is failing. The restructuring and empowerment of these failing countries must be in local development by local organisations, supported fully with structures, leadership and accountable systems. Corruption is rife in many of the sub-Saharan Commonwealth countries, and we must act carefully and in a measured way when we offer assistance to our Commonwealth friends in helping them to overcome the challenges that they face.
Africa has suffered particularly from a lack of good governance and is continually subjected to corruption, with the people in power abusing the status that they hold and taking advantage of the weak and crumbling states that they govern. We need to ask how we assist Africa with aid programmes that reach its people and how we support the restructuring of the infrastructure and ensure that we do not tolerate dictators who take advantage of the poverty and chaos that is prevailing in these countries.
As mentioned, Zimbabwe presented a defining moment for the Commonwealth, as it was left grievously wounded and unable to deliver the principles on which it rests. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has sunk his country and its people into atrocious inflation and desperation. The aid that we provide needs to be tracked. Development and accountability are key factors that should be linked with aid. Capital flight should be curbed, and powerful individuals in Africa should be prevented from transferring money into foreign bank accounts. Keeping money in Africa is crucial in assisting funding with local investment and development and health and education programmes. As it stands, preventing capital flight is a key part of achieving some of the millennium development goals on reducing poverty.
The Commonwealth has a duty to ensure that measures are in place to prevent further debt and human loss in Africa. While there are obvious difficulties, would the Minister assure the House that the Commonwealth will be given greater recognition for the contribution that it makes and can make to the rest of the world?
My Lords, CHOGM has a lively website, which is already predicting the weather forecast for Uganda in November. What it cannot forecast is the precise agenda. I am one of those who would like to see a Commonwealth initiative on Zimbabwe.
Today, I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in expressing the concerns of many ACP countries about the effects of the new EPAs under the revised Cotonou agreement. They fear unfair competition from globalisation, displacing local producers and capping industrial development. They expect a loss of revenue from the removal of import taxes, inevitably leading to cuts in public services. Article 1 of the Cotonou agreement stated:
“The partnership shall be centred on the objective of reducing and eventually eradicating poverty”.
It is an unequal partnership. The EU is not only the biggest trading partner but the biggest aid donor. That was recognised by DfID last time we debated this. As I recall, it was an uphill struggle for the UK to remind the Commission of its stated objectives. However, it may be that, since then, DfID has had to give way to other foreign policy considerations. I am therefore much looking forward to hearing in due course about the UK’s latest position. Meanwhile, I welcome the Minister to the House and to the debate, for which I also thank my noble friend Lord Luce.
According to the NGOs, the European Commission is negotiating the EPAs in a way that fundamentally breaks the letter and spirit of Cotonou. The Commission has dismissed pro-development proposals, forced the Singapore issues back on to the negotiating table and linked future development assistance to concessions made by the ACP, in direct contravention of the EC’s obligations to provide at least equivalent market access on 1 January 2008. These are serious charges, which show the degree of exasperation on both sides. These concerns have been voiced by ACP officials on numerous occasions; the Commonwealth Secretariat has provided legal advice in their favour. The African Union, in Accra on 29 June, urged the EC to consider putting in place transitional measures that would safeguard the continued entry of African exports beyond December 2007. Would the UK, therefore, in view of its previous support for the ACP, now support the latest appeal of the AU heads of state and put in place transitional measures? That would also be in line with the UK’s own position in 2005, which was that the ACP should have alternatives available if requested.
These are matters of great concern to Commonwealth countries, which include the least developed countries among their number. The CFTC, which my noble friend mentioned, is especially involved through its hubs-and-spokes project, its trade facilitation and its export development strategies. This is all likely to come up in Uganda in November.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to this House and to her ministerial job. We worked closely together in preparing the G8 summit at Gleneagles, particularly on poverty reduction in Africa and on development issues more generally, to which I know she is deeply committed. I welcome her to this House.
In my last appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, before I left the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I was rightly taken to task for agreeing an annual report of the FCO that made no mention of the Commonwealth. I pleaded guilty with genuine contrition, because I share others’ views that the Commonwealth has a crucial role to play and that its role is frequently and usually underestimated.
I want to make three short points, one political and two developmental. The political point echoes the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, about the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, CMAG. I was very struck, upon attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane in 2002, by the number of Commonwealth countries, often small and isolated, which showed huge appreciation of the peer group pressure put on them for good governance by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and by CMAG. Britain is a member of CMAG, and I share the hope of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that the Government, both in the run-up to and after the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda, will give real impetus to CMAG’s work.
The first of my two development points is as follows. Last week I was in South Africa and Zambia, two Commonwealth countries in which the positive effects of good governance, effective economic management and economic growth are clear to see. I would welcome the views of the Minister and of DfID on the importance they attach, as I do, to economic growth as a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for poverty reduction in the third world, and to the need for Government, business and civil society to work together to meet the millennium development goals. In that context I should declare an interest as chairman of the trustees of Merlin, the NGO that provides essential medical help to many of the poorest people in the world, including in Commonwealth countries.
My third and last point is on Zimbabwe. The contrast between South Africa and Zambia, which I saw last week, and the situation in Zimbabwe could not be more striking. Others have spoken about the politics of Zimbabwe. I hope that DfID will, albeit discreetly, be making the necessary preparations to work with others, particularly Commonwealth neighbours of Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth Secretariat, to ensure that, when the Mugabe regime finally ends, that country can realise its economic potential and we can end the wholly unjustified and unnecessary misery of its people.
My Lords, I also warmly welcome the Minister. I congratulate the noble Lord on his initiative, and thank him particularly for mentioning the sterling work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the UK branch of which I had the privilege to chair for four years.
Time permits only to mention some of the leftovers from the Valletta CHOGM two years ago and to ask what new initiatives Her Majesty’s Government propose for that. The consensus is that Valletta was very positive on the political agenda and on good governance and democracy, as well as in trade and development, but questions still arise from it. First, we think of the Commonwealth as a wonderfully informal organisation, yet at Valletta we had the longest communiqué ever: 103 clauses. Who bothers to read those? Is it worth the effort? I hope we can bear that in mind.
Secondly, the Commonwealth is not just about governance but about peoples. The 85 Commonwealth civil society organisations have already been mentioned. What further proposals do the Government have at Kampala to engage civil society, remembering that civil society has been increasingly mainstreamed? One of the excellent initiatives at Valletta was the valuable meeting between the Foreign Ministers and the business and civil society forums.
Three matters were leftovers for the Secretary-General. One was paragraph 26 of the communiqué, asking the Secretary-General to explore initiatives to provide mutual understanding and respect among all faiths. We look forward to the Sen commission report on that. Another of those matters was paragraph 101, on future membership. CMAG has been something of a disappointment. Do the Government now see that there should be limits on new members? Lastly, with regard to paragraph 17 of the Valletta statement strengthening intra-Commonwealth dialogue and networking collaboration on trade and economic issues, what progress has been made and what input has there been from the Government?
Brave promises were made about increasing the contributions to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-Operation by 6 per cent per annum in real terms over the next five years. Has anything happened further to those promises?
One postscript: at Kampala, the Commonwealth will be saying goodbye to Don McKinnon, the Secretary-General. Someone at least should pay tribute to the sterling work he has done in his term.
My Lords, while I was waiting rather impatiently for this great debate tonight I was having a pea and ham soup with Martha in the Bishop’s Bar and we were saying that it is funny that the Ethiopian flag and the Jamaican flag are the same. I got out my book of flags and I had a look. I then said that it is strange that military power is becoming less and less important in the world, absolute wealth is becoming less and less important, and the most important thing is influence—that strange, mystical, airy bit that no one knows how to put together. If you are too strong, you have enemies.
So I thought we would look at the Commonwealth again. I have always been brought up on the Statute of Westminster, I have roamed the world around the Commonwealth and I said let us see what we have got now. We have 53 countries, which represent roughly 25 per cent of the world; add to that 20 dependent or overseas territories and the odd island here or there and we are pretty important. We have 2 billion people, which is a very significant 30 per cent of the world. We have roughly 12 million square miles of land, and if you add to that the territorial rights of 12 miles out to sea and airspace we are again pretty influential. And of course we have Her Majesty the Queen, probably one of our greatest assets, who is head of state in 19 countries.
It does not stop there. We still control 90 per cent of the cricket in the world. While people may suggest that it was the Commonwealth that effectively brought South Africa to heel, I can tell you it was the Gleneagles agreement. I remember sitting with President Bush—he was not president then—in Jamaica, talking about boycotting Grenada, when suddenly Eddie Seaga turned to me and said, “Is it true that Boycott is going to play cricket in South Africa?” That was a momentous occasion.
Now we are losing out on the rugby side. We have only 70 per cent of the rugby in the world, but what have the Americans got besides baseball and American football? Hardly any sporting influence. If you look further, you realise that it was effectively Cuban music that helped develop the Caribbean and you see that rap and other music has spread right across the world to create that form of culture.
This adds up to the observation that the Commonwealth has greater value than any of us appreciate—and probably more than it appreciates itself. It is a remarkable collection of people who have taken over from when the sun never set on the British Empire. They are probably playing rugby in some of the Pacific Islands even at this minute.
We could then look at some of the strange joint ventures, including the joint claims on Antarctica, and involving Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and ourselves. It is how we put it together. I have always felt that the House of Lords should set out to represent the Commonwealth. No greater leader could we have than the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who was one of the best and most honourable Foreign Office Ministers that we have ever had. So I sit down saying: we have influence; let us use it.
My Lords, I remember well from my childhood in India the ambivalence that many felt towards the British Empire. As a recently independent former colony such feelings were of course completely understandable. However, through the Commonwealth, India chose to remain connected with Britain along with many other former colonial countries. The British Empire—the largest empire the world had ever known, larger than the ancient Persian, Greek or Roman empires—was no more. Yet the vast majority of the countries of the empire that demanded their independence also chose to retain their links with Britain and with each other. That is amazing. It speaks so much to the strength of the common ideals, values and principles that the diverse members of the Commonwealth share: the English language, respect for democracy, human rights, institutions, legal systems, the rule of law, dedication to trade and solid business practices. These qualities, which have often been referred to as the Commonwealth factor, are a major advantage in our globally competitive world.
As my noble friend Lord Luce mentioned in his superb speech, there is significant trade between Commonwealth members. However, this is happening in the absence of a major trade agreement like those behind the North American Free Trade Agreement, the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation and the Association of South-East Asian Nations. We could be doing so much more to encourage trade between member nations and the Commonwealth on top of, and supplementing, the existing regional trade blocs to which many members of the Commonwealth already belong, such as the EU, in Britain’s case. Questions are being asked around the globe about the effectiveness in today’s world of multilateral institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and the IMF. The WTO Doha development round is at a standstill.
I welcome our new Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera. I say to her and to the Government: would it not be wonderful if a Commonwealth trading bloc, with a free trade agreement, existed? The more nations trade, the more stable and peaceful their relations with other countries. I believe that if an effective Commonwealth FTA bloc existed, it would attract prospective new members, such as the former British territories in the Middle East. Just look at the European Union. Who would have thought 60 years ago that France and Germany would be the best of friends today?
The Commonwealth already has such a great role in development, but it can do so much more to aid its members, particularly those with smaller economies. Through economic liberalisation, we can also have economic empowerment. In developing this vast as yet untapped potential, we can accomplish so much in truly unleashing the common wealth in the Commonwealth.
My Lords, noble Lords will see that I am speaking from the Labour Benches for the first time. I take this opportunity to thank the Convenors of the Cross Benches, first the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and now the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and their colleagues for their kindness and support while I sat on their Benches.
I welcome the Minister, my noble friend Lady Vadera, and very much look forward to her maiden speech. I had the pleasure of working with her when we were both trustees of Oxfam. There I developed a great respect for her incisive intellect and the purposeful contribution she made, not only to Oxfam but, more importantly, in her years at the heart of the Treasury. She will surely make a significant contribution to this House and to DfID.
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an independent international NGO, reported in its spring newsletter that President Museveni’s Black Mamba Squad, which operates in secrecy at the behest of the president, raided the Uganda High Court in Kampala on 1 March this year. There they arrested five members of the opposition, who had just been released by the court on bail after being charged with treason and terrorism. In the process, they brutalised not only the suspects but their lawyers as well.
This is not an isolated incident and it seems increasingly clear that the Ugandan Government are using the police and military to crack down on political dissent and opposition. Bearing in mind the Commonwealth’s aim to promote democracy, good government, human rights and economic development, it is ironic that its Heads of Government meeting in November is to be held in Uganda, where the opposite of all these objectives appears to be taking place. It will be interesting to see whether the abuses of human rights in Uganda are raised at this meeting or whether they will be papered over. It will be a sad day for the Commonwealth if President Museveni follows in the path of Robert Mugabe and the Commonwealth ignores this because of pressure from some African leaders.
If I had the time, I would talk about education. As I do not, however, I simply ask my noble friend what her policy, and that of the Government, will be on education.
My Lords, I reiterate the thanks of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this subject. Here we are, compressing the mighty subject of the Commonwealth into three minutes. That might have depressed me until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, whose capacity to compress so much into three minutes is remarkable and a tribute to this House. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to the Front Bench. We are all looking forward to her maiden speech.
I declare an interest as chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies. One of that council’s tasks is to be involved in the organisation of the Commonwealth Day Observance service in the abbey just across the road from here in March each year. That service illustrates something extremely important about the Commonwealth: that it has a unique ability to create an inter-faith dialogue. Although the service is within the abbey, it is not Anglican; it is an inter-faith dialogue. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Sen commission report on respect and understanding will take us forward at CHOGM—that it will not just be a report, but that there will be action subsequent to it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, mentioned Nigeria, albeit briefly. The Commonwealth observer group report on the elections in Nigeria this year was gloomy reading. That report has gone to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, but will CMAG do anything about it? These reports on failures of democracy in the Commonwealth seem somehow to vanish into the air. Something has to happen as a consequence of them. I would be grateful for anything that the Minister could tell us about that.
The right reverend Prelate made a point about trade issues at CHOGM. I know that the agenda is not yet fixed, but there is great concern among the Africa group in the WTO that trade should be high on the agenda and not trailing down below. Important issues such as the EU partnership agreements need to be discussed. Will the Minister reassure us that trade will be at the top of the agenda? If we do not discuss trade, all that will be left for us to discuss is aid.
I raised with the Government a couple of weeks ago the unfortunate and ill judged closure of our embassy in Madagascar. We wait to see what will happen, but the idea that the best interests of this country and Madagascar can be looked after part-time from 1,000 miles away in Mauritius is frankly nonsense. Will the Minister assure us that the closure in Madagascar is not the beginning of a long list of others?
We need from the Government a statement of their commitment to the Commonwealth. Not only do we in this country have a great return on that vision, commitment and investment of imagination, but those things are also in the interests of global understanding, dialogue and a better future for us all.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this important debate. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, whose maiden speech I very much look forward to hearing. She has had a most distinguished career, well qualifying her for this new position. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Luce, she was born in Uganda and, having lived her early life in India, went on to read PPE at Oxford. She became a highly successful banker with SG Warburg before joining the Treasury in 1999 and becoming a trustee of Oxfam. I have no doubt that, with this formidable background, her maiden speech on this particularly relevant topic will be both informative and interesting. We look forward, too, to her future contributions to this House.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister identified the Commonwealth as one part of a new, three-pronged foreign policy, complementing our American alliance and our strong links with Europe. On these Benches, we have always supported such an approach, yet the latest Foreign and Commonwealth Office departmental annual report makes only one passing mention of the Commonwealth in more than 150 pages. Can the Minister explain that? The summit is a great opportunity for the Government to set out their proposals on how to support democracy and good governance throughout the Commonwealth. How are the Government helping Uganda to hold free and fair elections in December? What support are they giving the Ugandan Government in the peace talks in south Sudan and with the Lord’s Resistance Army?
There is great potential, too, for economic development. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development has proven how successful the use of informal international networks—in this case, “international” is merely Muslim communities—can be in setting up small businesses in the developing world. What encouragement are the Government giving to the business community to exploit similar networks between different Commonwealth members?
I fear that, in three minutes, I have barely covered this huge subject and do not expect the Minister in her short time to answer all the questions tonight. However, I look forward to her response and her maiden speech and hope that the Government will soon back up their enthusiastic words with meaningful proposals.
My Lords, I start by expressing my gratitude to Members from all parts of the House for the warmth of their welcome since I have joined and their kind words during this debate. Your Lordships’ advice and support has helped me immensely, as I continue to adjust to my new role in government. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this important debate. I will endeavour to reply to a few questions, given the time constraints. If noble Lords will permit, I shall write to them on the remainder that I have noted.
Today’s debate takes me back to my earliest memories at primary school in Jinja, Uganda. My mother tongue was Gujarati, and I struggled with English. I was about to leave for India because of the Idi Amin repression. The last place that I, a stateless child between Asia and Africa, could ever have expected to be was standing before your Lordships as the newest member of the House of Lords. The daughter of a Kenyan mother and Ugandan father, of Indian origin, educated in Jinja, Bangalore, Bombay and finally Britain, like my noble friend Lady Howells, I feel a true child of the Commonwealth. I am one of its most fortunate. The tolerance and generosity of British society and the ties that bind the Commonwealth together gave me my life chances, most recently to work eight years at the Treasury, arguing its case against the insistent and sometimes unreasonable pleadings of other departments, and now three weeks at DfID, arguing its case against the insistent and sometimes unreasonable parsimony of the Treasury.
As noble Lords from all sides of the House have said, the Commonwealth brings together countries not because of what they want but because of what they are. The Commonwealth’s unique and underestimated strength but also in part its limitation is the fact that it is not an exclusive club of the most powerful like the G8. Nor does it generate tension between developing and developed countries, as sometimes occurs in the IMF and World Bank. Nor, like the UN, does it have regional groups competing to advance their agendas. Its members speak for themselves with an equal voice, whether they are small island states or global players. I am intrigued by the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, that we should have an unsentimental assessment of the Commonwealth, and I will investigate that.
In response to the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I can say that the importance that we place on the use of this rare forum will be illustrated by the seriousness of the agenda and the breadth of our team attending CHOGM in November. My life will have come full circle as I join the British delegation going to my birthplace, Uganda. I welcome the theme of the meetings, transforming Commonwealth societies for political, economic and social development. There are new challenges facing this development, not least climate change, which we have helped to secure on the CHOGM agenda in the run-up to Bali in December. But the old challenges remain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, rightly emphasises economic development and business formation. The Commonwealth Business Council creates very similar networks to those that she mentioned. I view aid not as charity or welfare, nor as the creation of permanent dependency, but as an investment in equitable growth and the individual’s dignity of economic independence. With reference to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in most poor countries aid is necessary, but in no country is it a sufficient catalyst for development. Wealth creation, economic growth and good governance must be central to poverty eradication.
The Commonwealth has extremes of experience to learn from in this regard. Over the last 20 years, India has saved 100 million people from poverty, and within the next 20 is expected to become the fourth largest economy in the world. But while its GDP is growing at 8 per cent, it is creating jobs at only 3 per cent a year. That inequitable growth has meant nearly one-half of all Indian children are undernourished—a far higher level than in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, India’s ability to benefit from an international services market shows the importance of trade for growth and reducing poverty. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that trade will be right up there at CHOGM.
In response to the concerns expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I can say that the UK has argued its position on the flexibility of economic partnership agreements consistently since 2005, and that has not changed for any other strategic reason. We believe that the Commission has accepted many of our arguments and is showing more flexibility in order to conclude negotiations by the end of the year, but we continue to monitor these negotiations closely.
I am delighted to see present my noble friend Lord Joffe, who introduced me last week. In response to his question and that of my noble friend Lord Judd, I should say that education is going to be a central agenda going forward, both at CHOGM and generally for development. Across the Commonwealth, 26 million children—nearly two-thirds of them girls—do not go to school. Education is the best investment that the world can make and, together with health, the best way to break the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next. For every year of schooling in the poorest countries, incomes grow by more than 10 per cent. For every extra year that a mother went to school, the chances of her children dying fall by 8 per cent. In large parts of the world, poverty has a woman’s face; empowering women is both a means and an end for transforming societies.
The UK has committed £8.5 billion over 10 years to get every child, especially girls, into school. Our commitment was ground-breaking, not just in its magnitude, but in its understanding of the need for patient capital to get a generation into productive economic activity. The 10-year results-based commitment gives the certainty of funding that countries need to plan and develop sustainable education systems with the ability to train, as well as continue to pay teachers and to make education free, and therefore universal.
With respect to health, I wish to assure my noble friend Lady Whitaker that pneumococcal disease will be addressed in the reviews of our health strategy. There is a significant market failure in research and development for diseases that affect poor countries due to their weak purchasing power. Only 10 per cent of global health research is devoted to conditions that account for 90 per cent of the world’s disease burden. If successful, the advanced market commitment that we launched will result in a relevant strain of pneumococcal vaccine, which could save up to 5 million lives over the next 25 years.
It was disconcerting enough when the noble Baroness, Lady Park, used to question me as principal at Somerville College. I cannot begin to tell you how disconcerting it is to be questioned by her now, in your Lordships' House. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her contribution to my education and her graciously selective memory of my undergraduate years.
The noble Baroness raised the subject of Zimbabwe, as did many other noble Lords. My family’s experience of a ruthless dictator left me with no tolerance for those who abuse their citizens and destroy nations in the name of anti-colonialism. As will be discussed in another place tomorrow, we agree with noble Lords that Mugabe is not going to be a part of the solution for Zimbabwe’s future. This Government will continue to work with SADC and the Commonwealth to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe can exercise the right to determine that future. I agree with noble Lords that the Commonwealth has a duty of care to assist the people of Zimbabwe, as it assisted South Africans during apartheid. This Government stand prepared to assist in what tragically, but inevitably, will be an extremely fragile state, with its economic base and social fabric destroyed.
In the mean time, the people of Zimbabwe face a humanitarian crisis. A quarter of the population have fled to neighbouring countries and half those remaining need urgent food aid. More than 3,000 people die of HIV/AIDS every week. To help those immediately at risk, I am able to announce to the House today that DfID is committing £50 million to extend the protracted relief programme for the next five years. The programme will be delivered entirely through local and international NGOs and will provide seeds, fertilisers, livestock and access to HIV/AIDS care to assist 2 million of the country’s most vulnerable.
While the reconstruction of Zimbabwe and development in the Commonwealth are strategic concerns to us, in the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, there are no “moral strangers” in this world. I am conscious that many in this House share this view and have exercised much effort and expertise toward this end. I hope that in my position as Minister for International Development I can build on your Lordships’ strong platform. I was rather optimistically named Shriti, which means “knowledge” in Sanskrit. To borrow the words of Herman Hesse, more than knowledge, it is the wisdom of the distinguished Members of this House that I will seek to find, live, and be filled and sustained by in fulfilling my duty. Thank you.
My Lords, with the forbearance of the House, on behalf of your Lordships I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, on not only an excellent but a delightful maiden speech. Her speech and her experience show that she is highly suited to her new ministerial job in the Department for International Development and is very well placed to stand up for the Commonwealth.
The noble Baroness spoke most movingly about her earlier years in Uganda and later in India and made the point that she is devoted to the Commonwealth. She worked for 14 years with the City investment bank SG Warburg, later owned by UBS, and worked on many projects from banking to project finance. She has advised Governments of poor and emerging countries on issues such as external debt and public sector restructuring, and she has worked with many Commonwealth countries, from South Africa and Uganda to India, Nigeria and Kenya. Since 1999, as we all know, she has worked at Her Majesty’s Treasury as the personal adviser to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is now Prime Minister, and was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers as a policy expert on many issues, ranging from business and finance to international development. As we heard from another noble Lord, she has been a trustee of Oxfam for five years.
The noble Baroness has excellent experience of economic and developmental issues and of the Commonwealth. On behalf of your Lordships, I congratulate her most warmly on her maiden speech and on becoming a Minister. I wish her well in government, where I am quite sure she will make a positive contribution.
Parliament (Joint Departments) Bill [HL]
The Bill was returned from the Commons agreed to.
Statistics and Registration Service Bill
The Bill was returned from the Commons with their disagreement to certain Lords amendments insisted on, with amendments proposed to the words so restored to the Bill and with Commons amendments not insisted on. The amendments were ordered to be printed.
Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill
The Bill was returned from the Commons with their disagreement to certain Lords amendments insisted on and with Commons amendments in lieu not insisted on and with certain other amendments disagreed to but with amendments proposed in lieu thereof. The amendments were ordered to be printed.
House adjourned at 10.45 pm.