House of Lords
Monday, 23 July 2007.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Sheffield.
Death of a Member
Prisoners: Voting Rights
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
When the results of the consultations about voting rights for those serving custodial sentences, and the Government’s response to those consultations, will be made known; and when any necessary legislation will be introduced.
My Lords, the Government are considering how to take forward the implementation of the Hirst judgment in light of the first-stage consultation on this issue. The results of that stage will be published with the second consultation document, which will look at the practical issues of any possible enfranchisement of convicted prisoners.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I notice that he did not give a timetable, so perhaps he will be able to enlarge a little in that respect. While I recognise that he has inherited this policy, does he agree that a consultation which excludes general enfranchisement and includes blanket disfranchisement—the former is the option most often chosen by other countries; the latter has been declared unlawful—and on which there has been quite a long delay, might send a signal to those whom we would least like to receive it that we take time over obedience to the law and choose what we want to follow and what we do not?
My Lords, I understand that the right reverend Prelate is shortly to retire from your Lordships’ House, and I am sure that all noble Lords join me in thanking him for his tremendous contribution to this House. However, for once I do not really agree with him. The consultative paper setting out a number of options was sent out towards the end of last year. I do not think it unreasonable not to include a general enfranchisement of all prisoners. The options that have been put forward are perfectly reasonable for discussion, and Ministers are considering the outcome of the consultation on them.
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that this disfranchisement dates back to the Forfeiture Act 1870? Given this Government’s relentless thirst for change, most of which I welcome, is it not rather bizarre that British citizens registered as overseas electors who are in foreign jails are entitled to vote while their mates over here cannot do so? What about a bit of change there?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to suggest that the current position of convicted prisoners in this country goes back many years. He is also right to point out certain inconsistencies. However, giving enfranchisement to convicted prisoners still serving sentences in this country is a complex issue and we will come to a conclusion on it only after very careful consideration.
My Lords, do the Government support this issue or not? I was not clear on that from the Minister’s answer. Does he not agree that there are more important issues surrounding voting? It must be important to restore integrity to our voting system, particularly following the recent disasters of postal voting.
My Lords, that is a little wide of the question of where the Government stand in relation to whether serving prisoners should receive voting rights. Until now, the Government have always considered that the right to vote is part of a social contract between individuals and the state. The loss of the right to vote, reflected in the current law, was thought by the Government to be a proper and proportionate punishment for breaches of that social contract which resulted in people’s imprisonment. But we have received a judgment from the European Court and it is right that we consider its implications; that is why there is a consultation. I can assure noble Lords that the Government will not come to a decision without very careful thought indeed.
My Lords, is it not right that the Government lost in the European Court of Human Rights, where it was found that blanket disfranchisement was clearly against Article 3 of Protocol 1 of the convention? Has not the Court of Session in Scotland followed that judgment? Surely the answer is an immediate remedial order by the fast-track procedure. At the moment we are in line with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lichtenstein and Moldova, among others, in denying rights to vote to prisoners.
My Lords, a considerable number of countries in the Council of Europe certainly take the same view as this country has always taken. I do not think an immediate remedial order is the right way forward. The Government made it clear that we would have a two-stage consultation process. We are looking at the conclusions of the first stage of consultation, and this will be followed by a further consultation. I do not think haste is required; very careful thought is needed.
My Lords, when they come to their conclusion, will the Government bear in mind that the aim of end-to-end offender management is rehabilitation? Surely one of the most important ways in which this can be stressed is that offenders retain citizenship—which they will be expected to use in a constructive way in future—while in prison.
My Lords, an emergency proxy system has been introduced recently whereby, up to 24 hours before the election, a person in that situation would be entitled to a proxy vote after making an application, or an application being made on their behalf, to the electoral registration officer. There has been some movement there.
My Lords, it is the turn of the noble Lord, Lord Low.
My Lords, can the Minister explain why he thinks it is not unreasonable to exclude the option of general enfranchisement when it is already being operated, evidently successfully, in 18 Council of Europe countries and is being extended as we speak to others, including Ireland?
My Lords, the Department of Health recommends that TB services follow the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guideline on the prevention, treatment and control of tuberculosis. It contains specific guidance on the follow-up of new entrants. The advice is also emphasised in the toolkit recently published by the department to help NHS trusts plan, procure and deliver TB services relevant to the local demography and incidence of TB.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Having had TB in my teens, I know how infectious it is. Does she agree with me that everyone coming into this country for more than six months, specifically from the 22 burden countries that suffer very much from the disease, should be tested?
My Lords, we currently have a pilot project with the seven countries in which TB is most prevalent, in which we test people before they receive their visas to come to the UK. That scheme is now being evaluated, and we will probably roll it out to more countries such as China and India on the basis of that evaluation.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the case of the American gentleman who recently travelled to Europe knowing that he had TB. Does that not assist the case of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, that, although TB has a higher incidence in some countries, it happens in most? How soon will that pilot project be rolled out and on what basis will it be extended to different countries, such as the USA?
My Lords, the project is being evaluated. I do not know the timescale of the rollout, but I will inform noble Lords. It is true that tuberculosis is an infectious disease, but it is not very infectious. The incidence of TB in this country is grossly exaggerated in the press from time to time. I understand that at the beginning of this century there were about 100,000 people in this country with TB. That figure now stands at somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000.
My Lords, is the Minister aware—well, she is obviously not aware—that her statement about TB not being highly infectious is quite wrong? When I was a chairman of a local public health body, we had one contact who infected 40 people within one week. It is a highly infectious condition. Does she not think that, although you can do a certain amount in terms of immigration, it is very important to see that children are immunised against TB and protected in that way?
My Lords, I respect the views expressed by noble Lords. However, I have been informed by the Department of Health that TB is quite difficult to catch and usually requires prolonged or repeated contact with a person with infectious TB, such as living in the same household. It is important that children who are going to be subjected to contact with people with TB are immunised, and for that very reason the Government now have a targeted approach to immunisation. All new-born babies who are living in areas where TB is prevalent will now be immunised.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that many incidents of virulent TB are coming into our prisons with foreign national prisoners. Is she satisfied that all primary care trusts are enabling all prisons that receive such prisoners to carry out the necessary tests on arrival and subsequent treatment?
My Lords, I will check Hansard, but I hope that I said that the rollout would be on the basis of the evaluation. First, we want to evaluate the pilot projects; thereafter, provided that the evaluation shows that the schemes should be rolled out, we will seek to do so.
My Lords, the Office for National Statistics is still considering the inclusion of a question on carers in the 2011 census. The ONS recognises the importance of the topic and the value of the data. The question’s inclusion is dependent on space available on the questionnaire and the user requirement for competing questions. The final decision on the content of the 2011 census will ultimately be for Parliament to make.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what I think was a hopeful Answer. Does he agree that the data provided by the 2001 census have been invaluable in gaining better recognition for carers? Does he also agree that at a time when the Government are trying to plan 10 years ahead for carers, with the review of the national strategy and so on, it is particularly important to have continuity and fullness of data, especially when we think about hard-to-reach groups, such as young carers and those from black and minority-ethnic communities?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend; I merely bring to the attention of the House the fact that the question on carers is competing for inclusion against questions on second residence, citizenship, year of entry, qualifications, industry, income and language. They are all important questions, too, but my noble friend is right that the Government are developing their policy on carers and that the best possible information is required to that end.
My Lords, that is an important factor. It is because of the ageing population and the increased numbers of carers that the question was included on the 2001 census. However, there are many competing demands for the important document that the census represents; decisions are still to be taken on the final nature of the question sheet, which is put before Parliament.
My Lords, in response to a Parliamentary Question in another place last week, the National Statistician said that one of the principal determinants of which and how many questions would be asked in the census was cost. Can the Minister assure the House that questions on carers will not be excluded from the next census on the basis of cost constraints?
My Lords, the census is subject to an evaluation of cost-benefit analysis, like any other aspect of government. In fact, if a fourth page had to be introduced into the census, the rise in costs would be significant. There are many competing demands for the places on the three pages already identified. We cannot pretend that this issue does not have a cost dimension—it has. Nevertheless, as I said, the final decision on priorities rests with Parliament.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the very welcome improvement in the pension rights for carers that the Labour Government have introduced in the current Pensions Bill was based on information from the 2001 census data? I doubt whether, without it, we could have been so sure of our facts and the costs, and the improvement might not have happened. Will my noble friend take the opinion of the House and do his best to ensure that this question has the priority that it rightly deserves?
My Lords, I recognise my noble friend’s representation on this matter. Of course, accurate statistics always aid policy. She will recognise that before the 2001 census the Government had already begun to develop their National Carers Strategy, giving priority to this area. She is right that accurate information assisted the development of the policy.
My Lords, I suppose that I should declare an interest as a carer myself. Will the noble Lord encourage those responsible for taking this decision to look at which of the other competing questions could be answered more easily by other methods of opinion survey? Much of the information that we have gathered about the role and number of carers could not have been discovered in any other way. Taking that into account, surely we should look at putting that question on the census form as a priority.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a most valuable contribution and that is a very important point. He will appreciate that we are increasingly concerned that we identify the number of carers and the necessary support for them in the very valuable work that they do. The other potential questions for the census—indeed, all questions—are examined with regard to whether the information could be gathered in any other way. I give one element of encouragement to the House, and a constructive response. The three departments for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are in favour of a question on carers being on the census.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are a number of unknown carers such as grandparents? Does he further agree that children’s services at a local level and collaboration between those services could be put at jeopardy by not knowing who those carers for children are?
My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great authority on this point and reinforces the importance of our having the maximum amount of information on carers. I merely emphasise again that such representations can be made on other priorities, too, which is why the Government are still evaluating the position as a whole. When they have done so, they will produce a White Paper and eventually an order, which will be put before both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, without wishing to labour this question more than necessary, perhaps I may follow up a point alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. The Minister will know that, in the 2001 census, 175,000 young carers in the UK were identified, but it turns out that only 30,000 of those are currently known to carers support services. Will he bear in mind the usefulness of including a suitably worded question in the census to identify these young carers with a view to supporting them as appropriate?
My Lords, I accept the point that the noble Earl has made. The whole House is aware that we needed to develop a much greater understanding of the role and needs of carers than we had a decade ago. That is why the Government have made strenuous efforts in that regard. We are looking at whether other strategies and organisations can provide the requisite information for us, but I accept the point made on all sides this afternoon that the census could play a very important role in this respect.
My Lords, food labelling is an area of EU competence. The European Commission is conducting a review of food labelling, and country of origin requirements are being considered as part of this. The UK has already indicated to the Commission that in principle it is in favour of an extension to the rules, subject to satisfactory cost-benefit analysis.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a British farmer and grower. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree with me that British shoppers would prefer to buy food from British farms. At the moment, it is possible for all the constituent parts of a processed product to be produced abroad and for it still to be labelled as British if it is processed or packed here. What does the Minister propose to do to close that loophole?
My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree that we all prefer to buy British produce from British farmers and producers whenever possible. The FSA produces assisting guidance, as the noble Lord may be aware. It advises, for example, that bacon produced from imported pork should be labelled “Made from Danish pork cured in Britain” or something similar. FSA guidance is extremely important. All the issues raised by the noble Lord will be taken into account in the context of the European Commission review, because we want to ensure that more people buy British whenever possible.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, whatever legal requirements come from Brussels, many people in this country would like not only that producers label their products as being of British origin, but to know how local they are to the point of purchase. The success of farmers’ markets indicates that people want to buy not just British but as local as they can. Will the Government encourage supermarkets and producers voluntarily to label in such a way that we know just how local a product is?
My Lords, producers are at liberty to put that information on their products now. As the noble Lord suggests, it is a voluntary scheme. As I shop in many farmers’ markets and in supermarkets I note that more and more products indeed have labels going into great detail about the locality in which they are produced. I, for one, always buy those products.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I introduced country of origin markings legislation in 1980 but subsequently it had to be withdrawn because the EU described it as a non-tariff barrier? I am delighted to hear that it appears to be changing its mind. I hope, too, that it will change its mind about the ridiculous E numbers in foods, which cover up a number of toxic substances and are incomprehensible to the public.
My Lords, we shall have two Statements repeated today, after the debate on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. The first, on flooding, will be repeated by my noble friend Lord Rooker, and the second, on housing, by my noble friend Lady Andrews.
Private Security Industry Act 2001 (Amendments to Schedule 2) Order 2007
Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Investigation of Protected Electronic Information, Code of Practice) Order 2007
Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data, Code of Practice) Order 2007
Railway Pensions (Transfer of Pension Schemes) Order 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the four Motions standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 4, 7 and 11 June be approved. 19th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 17 July.—(Lord Grocott.)
On Question, Motions agreed to.
Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Act 2006 (Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2007
Regulatory Reform (Deer) (England and Wales) Order 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 28 June and 5 July be approved. 22nd Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 12th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 17 July.—(Lord Rooker.)
On Question, Motions agreed to.
Companies Act 2006 (Commencement No. 3, Consequential Amendments, Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2007
Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2007
Scottish Parliament (Elections etc.) (Amendment) Order 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 20 June and 2 and 9 July be approved. 21st and 23rd Reports from the Statutory Instruments Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 17 July.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)
On Question, Motions agreed to.
European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Stabilisation and Association Agreement) (Republic of Albania) Order 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20 June be approved. 21st Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 17 July.—(Baroness Royall of Blaisdon.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Housing Benefit (Loss of Benefit) (Pilot Scheme) Regulations 2007
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 20 June be approved. 21st Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee, considered in Grand Committee on 17 July.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill [HL]
Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.
Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to HL Bill 19 as first printed for the Lords.]
10R: Page 2, line 29, at end insert-
“(d) a duty owed to a person who, by reason of being a person within subsection (1A), is someone for whose safety the organisation is responsible.(1A) A person is within this subsection if-
(a) he is detained at a custodial institution or in a custody area at a court or police station; (b) he is detained at a removal centre or short-term holding facility;(c) he is being transported in a vehicle, or being held in any premises, in pursuance of prison escort arrangements or immigration escort arrangements;(d) he is living in secure accommodation in which he has been placed;(e) he is a detained patient.”
10S: Page 3, line 12, at end insert-
““custodial institution” means a prison, a young offender institution, a secure training centre, a young offenders institution, a young offenders centre, a juvenile justice centre or a remand centre;“detained patient” means-(a) a person who is detained in any premises under-
(i)Part 2 or 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (c. 20) (“the 1983 Act”), or
(ii)Part 2 or 3 of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 (S.I. 1986/595 (N.I. 4)) (“the 1986 Order”);
(b) a person who (otherwise than by reason of being detained as mentioned in paragraph (a)) is deemed to be in legal custody by-
(i)section 137 of the 1983 Act,
(ii)Article 131 of the 1986 Order, or
(iii)article 11 of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/2078);
(c) a person who is detained in any premises, or is otherwise in custody, under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 (asp 13) or Part 6 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 46) or who is detained in a hospital under section 200 of that Act of 1995;
“immigration escort arrangements” means arrangements made under section 156 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33);”
10T: Page 3leave out line 25
10U: Page 3, line 25, at end insert-
““prison escort arrangements” means arrangements made under section 80 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (c.53) or under section 102 or 118 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (c. 33);“removal centre” and “short-term holding facility” have the meaning given by section 147 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33);“secure accommodation” means accommodation, not consisting of or forming part of a custodial institution, provided for the purpose of restricting the liberty of persons under the age of 18.”
10V: Page 3, line 37, leave out “or (b)” and insert ”, (b) or (d)”
10W: Page 5, line 8, leave out “or (b)” and insert ”, (b) or (d)”
10X: Page 6, line 43, leave out “or (b)” and insert ”, (b) or (d)”
10Y: Page 13, line 3, at end insert the following new Clause:-
“Power to extend section 2(1A)(1) The Secretary of State may by order amend section 2(1A) to make it include any category of person (not already included) who-
(a) is required by virtue of a statutory provision to remain or reside on particular premises, or(b) is otherwise subject to a restriction of his liberty.(2) An order under this section may make any amendment to this Act that is incidental or supplemental to, or consequential on, an amendment made by virtue of subsection (1).
(3) An order under this section is subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”
10Z: Page 13, line 20, at end insert-
“( ) An order bringing into force paragraph (d) of section 2(1) is subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”
10AA: As an amendment to the Clause inserted into the Bill after Clause 19 by Lords Amendment No. 33:-
Line 30, at end insert-
““premises” includes land, buildings and moveable structures;"
My Lords, I beg to move Motion A, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10, or on its Amendments Nos. 10P and 10Q proposed in lieu of Commons Amendments Nos. 10K to 10N, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10R, 10S, 10T, 10U, 10V, 10X, 10Y, 10Z and 10AA in lieu of Lords Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 10P and 10Q.
We turn to the discussion of fresh amendments sent to us from another place. It might be helpful if I say a few words about the deadline for considering the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and other noble Lords raised the question of the deadline in our previous discussions and noble Lords will be aware from previous debates that, under the procedures of the other place, proceedings on a Bill that has been carried over from the last Session—as was the case for this Bill—must be completed within 12 months of the Bill being introduced unless that period is extended. That period has been extended, by a week, to provide the other place and your Lordships’ House with further time to consider the very significant further amendments that the Government have brought forward.
The nub of concern with the Government’s amendments so far has been that they would leave a discretion whether to extend the offence to custody. The further amendments tabled by the Government remove that doubt by extending the relevant duties of care in the Bill to include duties owed to those in custody. In a nutshell, the amendments make custody an integral part of the offence. I hope that noble Lords will agree that that is a very significant change. This is achieved by Amendment No. 10R, which also sets out a wide definition of custodial environments that will be covered. This comprehensively addresses the forms of custody identified in the amendments proposed in your Lordships’ House.
There is also a power, subject to the affirmative procedure, to amend the definition to include further forms of detention. This does not allow the definition as currently set out to be restricted or for exceptions to that definition to be made—I think that your Lordships will agree that those are important points—but it provides some flexibility to add further forms of custody or analogous circumstances if required.
I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, as chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, was concerned to know what this power might be used to cover. I am grateful that he spent a few minutes with me earlier to explain his concerns. Examples might be facilities used for custody by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or detention in penal military establishments. There might be a case for extending to premises such as approved probation or bail hostels. However, there is no intention to extend this to areas that do not involve any forms of custody or detention in premises designed for holding people. That, at least in part, addresses his concerns, and I have already indicated that the Government will write to him in his capacity as chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee to ensure that all his concerns are covered.
The commencement of the new offence in respect of custody will be subject to an affirmative order. That is provided by Amendment No. 10Z. I will return to the question of timing in a moment. However, there has been widespread recognition of the need to provide some delay before this aspect of the legislation is commenced. Providing for commencement by affirmative order explicitly recognises that intention.
These amendments bridge a gap that has troubled many in this House by moving from a discretion to extend the offence to custody to making this an integral part of the offence. That is a significant movement by the Government and I very much hope that these amendments will receive support from your Lordships’ House. I welcome the fact that the amendment to my Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, does not seek to disagree with the amendments.
I turn now to the question of timing. In providing for custody to be an integral part of the Bill, the Government are starting a clear process towards extending the offence to custody. However, as I and other noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Rosser and Lord Lea, have explained on previous occasions, there are complexities in extending the new offence to custody. It is important that this process is managed properly in consultation with the services that will be affected. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice explained in the other place last week that:
“There are anxieties in the police and the Prison Service that unless they have time to understand fully the extent of these obligations and take steps to implement them, the services—not at a senior level, but at a lower level—will start to become risk averse, and that could have many serious consequences”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/07; col. 333.]
Against that background, the Secretary of State went on to suggest that he considered that a reasonable delay would be between five and seven years.
Concerns have been raised that that sort of timetable does not provide the necessary impetus to take matters forward, and the Government are prepared to recognise and to respond to those concerns. For that reason, I give noble Lords an assurance that the sort of timetable that the Government will aim for will be the three-year period from commencement that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, suggests in his amendment to the Motion.
However, I say that on the basis that noble Lords should not underestimate the difficulties facing the Prison Service and the police. There is very considerable pressure on the capacity of the Prison Service, as noble Lords know. Now is not the time to debate why that is the case and the measures the Government are taking to address those pressures. However, it must be recognised that there are serious pressures and demands imposed on staff, and that the Prison Service has a difficult responsibility for managing those pressures in a way that is safe for staff and inmates. We should also not underestimate the considerable challenges the police face day to day in managing people coming into police custody. Noble Lords will be aware that because of the condition and demeanour of many of these people, this is a dynamic and occasionally volatile environment in which it is difficult to entirely eliminate risk. I know that the Prison Service, through the custody improvement programme and the publication of guidance on safer detention last year, is taking its responsibilities for those in its custody very seriously.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice said that there would be annual reports on progress towards commencing this part of the Bill, and there will be significant developments between now and when a report is produced next year. The review that the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, is undertaking on the supply and demand of prison places will have reported, and assessments will be available of the progress that police forces are making towards complying with the safer detention guidance issued in February last year.
The exact timetable must be subject to further evaluation in light of these developments. It may therefore look more like the five years that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice referred to. However, I give the assurance that the Government will start out on this process with a timetable of three years in mind. In doing so, we will give careful consideration to the possibility of staged implementation. I very much hope that earlier progress could be made on some of the various forms of custody listed in Amendment No. 10R. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to support the Bill as it now stands.
Writing a timetable into a Bill will set this in stone. I hope I have made it clear that there are significant issues about the extension of the offence, and that we are at the start of a process of applying the offence to custody. I have provided what I hope is real reassurance, setting an ambitious timetable that the Government will work towards. But, as noble Lords will recognise, we must be able to assess progress against that and see where things stand, and the annual report will enable noble Lords to see progress to date. I therefore hope that noble Lords will not seek to act further and fix the timetable in legislation.
I very much hope that we are today at the end of our debates on this legislation. I am now in a position to put the Bill on the statute book. The Government have offered considerable further movement, and custody will now appear as an integral part of the offence. I have offered assurances about the timetable for commencing that part of the legislation. I hope your Lordships’ House will accept these commitments and not send the Bill back to another place.
Moved, Motion A, That the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10, or on its Amendments Nos. 10P and 10Q proposed in lieu of Commons Amendments Nos. 10K to 10N, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 10R, 10S, 10T, 10U, 10V, 10X, 10Y, 10Z and 10AA in lieu of Lords Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 10P and 10Q.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
10AB: Line 3, at end insert-
“( ) If no order is made under subsection (1) bringing into force paragraph (d) of section 2(1), that paragraph shall come into force following the expiry of a period of three years following the commencement of the other provisions of this Act.””
The noble Lord said: My Lords, like every other Member of this House, I am sure, I am immensely reassured by what the Minister has just told us. On many occasions in previous debates on this subject, Members of your Lordships’ House have paid tribute to her, not just for her willingness to engage in discussion with us but for the way she has represented the case in this House and, more importantly, within government and behind the scenes, as it were. I am sure she must have played a considerable part in enabling this satisfactory conclusion to be reached. I am sure we all pay great tribute to her.
I also pay great tribute to the Secretary of State in another place, because he has changed his position considerably over the last four weeks, influenced, I am sure, by the noble Baroness. Nevertheless we have been given his assurance as well as hers, so it would be churlish to press for more. My reason for tabling this amendment was my concern that seven years was too long. It represented more than the life of this Parliament and probably the life of the next Parliament as well. As an ex-soldier, I could not help remembering that D-day was planned and executed in one-quarter of that time. I suspect that the complexities of the Bill are nothing compared with that operation.
The noble Baroness rightly mentioned that there are things to be done and issues to consider with the police and prisons. Like me, my noble friend Lord Dear was delighted to hear what has happened. If possible, he will want to be involved in any discussions in which he can help to take the matter forward.
It is right to recognise that this has been a long time in coming. When we last debated it, the noble Baroness said that she hoped that this would not be the way in which business was conducted and that discussion about such matters before they reached the Floor of the House was much more satisfactory. I agree, but it has been very interesting that this House has consistently stuck to this line without wavering. I am sure that victims up and down the country will be very glad of the outcome.
I must admit that as a novice I am not sure of the procedure involved. Other Members may wish to speak. I think that it would perhaps be courteous and sensible to bid to withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his robust stand on this issue. To an extent, he has achieved considerable progress. The House Magazine nominated the noble Lord for Peer of the Year and the votes in your Lordships’ House confirmed him as that. He deserves all the congratulations he has received because of the stand that he has taken on this matter.
I am disappointed for a number of reasons. When I last looked at the figures, we had, on average, two deaths in custody per week. I am disappointed about the timescale—that it will take another three years before we come to a conclusion on this matter. I am disappointed that in the mean time there will be this exemption; I will explain that. I am also disappointed for those who lost their dear ones through deaths in prison; with future deaths, others will have to wait even longer to reach a conclusion.
Our stand has been clear from day one. A law that distinguishes between the private and public sectors—or between the private sector and the private sector working in the public sector, as is the case with prisons—is a bad law. There should be uniform application, but that is lacking. We thank the Minister for her assurance that the Government hope to put the situation right at the end of three years.
I am also concerned about the prison population; that was one of the Minister’s arguments. The prison population is increasing day by day in this country and I cannot see that in three years’ time we will be any better off than we are now. The problem will still be there. I also believe that, with the increase in terrorism in this country, accidents will happen, and there may be shootings. There should be some accountability about such deaths.
I am disappointed by the long timescale involved. What are the interim plans within the three-year period? It would be helpful if the Minister explained that. We have gone as far as we can on this matter. If the noble Lord presses the amendment there will be further ping-pong, but I understand that he now intends to call it a day; we respect his wishes. If he had called a Division, we on this side would certainly have supported him. However, I promise that the matter will not end when this debate finishes. We will take every available opportunity, in Questions and short debates, to raise this issue until such time as it is on the statute books. Let common sense prevail: our shortcomings and rising prison population should not hinder progress in this very important matter.
In conclusion, I thank the Leader of the House for her courtesy and kindness in keeping us informed at every stage. She has truly acted as the Leader of the whole House and we are very grateful to her.
My Lords, I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about the role of the Leader of the House. I add the thanks of these Benches for the way in which she has persuaded her ministerial colleagues. She will downplay the extent to which she has persuaded them, but we all know the extent to which she has put forward views from all sides of this House.
Today we have before your Lordships’ House virtually 99 per cent of the package of amendments put forward in the other place. These are a close replica—with some welcome enhancements—of the package of amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and repeatedly supported by noble Lords in a series of extraordinary and profound debates. It is a moment for congratulating noble Lords on the way in which they have upheld the rule of law. The principle that all are equal in the eyes of the law should apply.
Noble Lords are also to be congratulated on upholding the rights of those in custody and in the hands of the state. Often the most vulnerable in our society, they must be owed a duty of care. This is a partial victory, but by no means a Pyrrhic victory. We have ensured, through proper pursuit of a vital point of principle, that ours is a system that will ultimately submit itself to the same tests of competence and decency that it imposes on others.
I share the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, at Amendment No. 10AA, in the Government’s name, which still separates the implementation of different strands of the Bill. Whereas the Secretary of State confirmed in the other place that the various measures in the Bill will be implemented on 6 April next year, the application of the offence to deaths in custody remains out on a limb. Its introduction is not legally binding; it is not committed to in word or law. We have, however, had a number of key concessions. Mr Straw said:
“We have shifted; there is no question about that”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/07; col. 337.]
Well, good on you, your Lordships. He went on to say that he very much hoped to implement these key provisions in less than the period of five to seven years.
I thank the Minister for coming forward today and saying that the Government will work to a timescale of three years. However, this is still only an enabling power on the face of the Bill. I would be wrong not to express my disquiet about that. There are just under 100 provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that remain neither enacted nor repealed, wholly or partially. It is sad but true that this Government have form on omitting to enact provisions in legislation. The Minister has persuaded us that she means business. It is her personal undertaking on this that I hold most dear and most valuable.
It has been a difficult time. I can imagine the pressures that have been put on the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He is a Cross-Bencher. Often in this House the Cross-Benchers take a key lead in putting forward a point of principle, and I congratulate him on the way in which he has taken forward this very important issue. He has constantly stressed the importance of recognising that, in enacting this legislation, the families of those who have been bereaved in these terrible circumstances are just as important as the families of those who have been bereaved in other circumstances.
I am ever mindful of the wise words of my honourable friend in the other place, Dominic Grieve, who observed that the Government’s response to private institutions that have found it difficult to convert to health and safety legislation in the past has been quite simply, “Tough”. Tough is exactly what I hope the Government will be: tough in the test that they set themselves and those for whose shortcomings they are ultimately responsible, and tough on any institutions that, through grossly negligent senior management, fail to prevent unnecessary loss of life among their inmates.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and to the other noble Lords who have supported him. Appropriately and deservedly, last week he was named and celebrated as Peer of the Year. Thanks to his vision, persistence and unflagging energy, justice will be done—sadly, not today or tomorrow, but perhaps one day.
My Lords, I would not wish to find myself against the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and I am not at all surprised that his persistence has borne fruit in the way that it has.
I am very grateful to the Lord President for the way in which she has spoken. If we are at the end of a process, that itself must be a good thing. However, she said one thing about which I should like to voice a word of concern. If I understood correctly, she said that one reason why it was important that we did not put a timetable into the Bill was that the service or services might have difficulty adjusting to what the Bill requires. If I heard her correctly, she went on to say that the concern was about not the senior levels of the service but the junior levels. When I heard her say that, I thought, “Yes, I know what you mean, and it is what we often say, but it is an argument about which we should be extremely cautious”. If, in some meeting of bishops, I catch myself saying that of course I agree with something but I could not possibly expect people back home to go along with it, I always know that I am on a difficult wicket.
The task of legislation and, if I may say so, of government and senior levels in the service is to set an ethos that is absolutely clear. If that happens, it enables change, but change does not happen if people at the lower levels of institutions suspect that secretly the people at the higher levels are not very committed to the change. Time and again, I have seen people of great vulnerability cared for in places only because a very clear policy has been set by the people in charge. I only hope that this possibility of delay is not wrongly attributed to people at a lower level but that we who have the opportunity to form an opinion about this matter make the ethos that we require absolutely clear. I am sure that that is true of the Lord President, but that form of argument needs to be noticed when it is brought into play.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the spirit in which noble Lords have taken forward our debates on these amendments put down by the Government in another place. I have already congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on his award, which he rightly deserved. I was up against him for it but I am very pleased that he won it. It is also fair to say that we have been at great pains, in all our deliberations, to ensure that noble Lords who have quite reasonably believed that this is a point of great principle have not felt that either the Government or I, representing the Government, have seen it as anything else. I make it clear that those who feel strongly that the Bill is important were well represented by noble Lords who felt equally strongly. I think particularly of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, but also of noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House.
I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said that we had reached a very satisfactory conclusion, for I hope that today will mark the end of this part of the process and the beginning of what we need to do next. The noble Lord’s disappointment about the timetable was echoed in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I know that it was felt that, although my right honourable friend the Secretary of State had put a timetable on this, that was some considerable time away. I hope that my words about an ambitious timetable of three years, which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave me to use today, will be well recognised as being what the Government seek to reach.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, also talked about discussion outside your Lordships’ House. I want to reiterate that one ambition of mine, as Leader of the House, is that we deal with many of these matters away from the Floor of the House, so that when they come to your Lordships we have had the benefit of such debate and discussion as can take us through some difficulties and, I hope, to some kind of conclusion. That will not always happen, but in my experience it has been a good way to conduct our business. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have given me their time in order for me to understand fully their concerns and to enable me and others to reflect them in discussion with my right honourable friend and others.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is disappointed, but he will agree that the issue of deaths in custody will not be addressed by this legislation alone. Indeed, our debates during the passage of this Bill and on other legislation have shown the importance of trying to tackle effectively situations that may be about suicide or worse. The way to approach this legislation is to see it as part of a jigsaw puzzle, not the answer in itself.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned interim plans. We have talked already about the annual report to your Lordships’ House and to another place. Discussions will begin, and I am mindful that noble Lords may wish to participate in those, at least initially; it is up to your Lordships how far to take that forward. I expect noble Lords to continue to debate this through questions in your Lordships’ House and in the other place and to represent the views of this House through making contact with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, not least through my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to whom the implementation of this will now fall in his capacity as a Minister. We could not do any better than to rest with him on that. We have put this in the Bill in this way partly to enable us, as I indicated, to stage implementation so that, as we are ready, we can come in even more quickly than my right honourable friend has indicated. I hope that noble Lords will see that as a useful way to address, at least in part, their disappointment and concern.
I say to the right reverend Prelate that we have discussed the issue of being risk-averse many times in my dealings with this legislation. The second time that this legislation was received in your Lordships’ House—in ping-pong, as we call it—we discussed those feelings on health and safety questions. I will not go into those again; suffice it to say that I was not trying to suggest that the people on the ground floor, if I may put it like that, within the Prison Service or the police would be less likely to wish to see this legislation or, indeed, to participate in what will happen. We simply have to be mindful of the impact that any new legislation has on those on the front line who must implement it, and to be sure that we have set it out correctly and properly. Noble Lords will know that that applies in a whole range of areas, not least here. That was really the point that I was seeking to make, but clearly I did not make very well.
I hope that we are done with the Bill. There will be a great deal of support for this piece of legislation to make it on to the statute book. I am grateful to noble Lords, today and on other occasions, as well as outside the Chamber. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Motion so that we may now put this on to the statute book and move forward to the next phase.
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for her kind remarks and for the gravity with which she has summed up not only this debate, but the many others that we have had, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said. An enormous amount of humanity and good sense has come out of these debates. When the matter was in the other place, I was heartened by a remark made by the Secretary of State. He said:
“I am happy to provide regular reports … at least once a year and, if there is a demand for it, more often than that”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/07; col. 335.]
I can assure him that there will be a demand. Now that we have, as the noble Baroness said, launched the initiative, there are those who will want to make certain that the momentum is maintained, which is a good military principle.
I take the opportunity of thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in the various debates on these amendments and who have voted. In particular, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Dholakia, not only for their kind and generous remarks but also for their tremendous support. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, who is not in his place. It has been a fascinating experience to discuss all the nuances of the Bill as we have proceeded through the various stages.
This morning I was in Wormwood Scrubs and was reminded of one complexity that may need to be ironed out. The complaint is that prisoners arrive so late that it is often difficult to sort out who should go into which cell. They arrive late because the drivers of the vans are also court officials. They cannot start driving until the court has closed, which means that prisoners are delivered too late. That is because resources do now allow for two separate people to do two separate jobs. If that sort of complexity is going to be ironed out to make a better Prison Service and a better prison system, the stimulus of the Bill will have had another valuable purpose. But, in the spirit of all that has been said and, as I say, thanking all those who have taken part, in particular the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion A1, by leave, withdrawn.
On Question, Motion A agreed to.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement currently being made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the serious flooding that occurred over the weekend.
“A band of rain swept across central and southern England on Friday, developing into intense rainstorms. In 24 hours, up to 160 millimetres—six and a half inches—of rain fell. With already saturated ground, this rapidly entered rivers and drainage systems, overwhelming them.
“Transport was severely disrupted, with the M5 and M50 affected and train services unable to run. Many local roads in flood-hit areas remain closed and the public are advised not to travel in the worst hit areas.
“The most serious flooding has been experienced across central England, and in particular in Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. I must emphasise that this emergency is far from over and further flooding is very likely as the Thames and the Severn fill with flood waters from within their catchments.
“There are currently eight severe flood warnings in place, covering the Severn, the Thames and the Great Ouse in Bedford. Fifty other flood warnings are in place across England and Wales.
“We believe that up to 10,000 homes have been or could be flooded. Our thoughts are, of course, with all those whose lives have been so badly affected by the floods. In addition, up to 150,000 properties in the area including Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Cheltenham have lost, or risk losing, mains water following flooding of the Mythe water treatment works at Tewkesbury. This loss of water supply is serious and we do not expect houses to have service restored for some days. Severn Trent, the water company, is making provision for some 900 bowsers to be deployed and refilled by tankers, for those people without mains water. The company reports that about 240 bowsers are already in place and priority is being given to hospitals and vulnerable customers.
“Precautionary notices to boil water have also been issued in Sutton, Surrey, following rain water getting into treated water storage. Electricity supply is also a concern. A number of electricity sub-stations have been affected by flood water, and about 45,000 properties have lost power, including at Castle Mead and Tewkesbury. A major National Grid switching station at Walham, Gloucester, remains under threat, which could result in 200,000 additional properties or more losing their supply. This would have a knock-on effect on water supplies.
“Yesterday evening, Armed Forces personnel were drafted in to help fire service and Environment Agency staff to erect a kilometre-long temporary barrier around the site and to start pumping out 18 inches of flood water behind the barrier. So far, these defences are holding but the water is still rising, so it is touch and go. If it does flood, the National Grid will be used as far as possible, but properties in the affected area will lose power. Contingency planning is under way to ensure continuity of essential services and supplies.
“Last night, the Prime Minister chaired a meeting of COBRA and today he visited Gloucester. Other ministerial colleagues and I have also been to see the problems first hand, in my case visiting Worcester, Evesham and Gloucester yesterday.
“I am sure the whole House will wish to thank the emergency services, the Armed Forces, staff from the Environment Agency, local councils and the utilities, and others for the way in which they have worked together in implementing the emergency plans. I would also like to thank local communities for their huge effort in helping each other.
“Because this emergency continues, I would ask the public to listen out for flood warnings, particularly on local radio stations; to contact the Environment Agency floodline on 0845 9881188; to respond to advice about evacuation; and to look out for neighbours and anyone who may be vulnerable as a result of flooding, or loss of power and/or the water supply. People should not go into flood water and children should certainly not play in it. Even six inches of fast moving water can knock people off their feet, and the water will often be polluted or hide dangers.
“As the waters recede, the clear-up will begin. The revised Bellwin rules will assist local authorities in the areas affected to cover the immediate costs of dealing with the flooding and its aftermath, and the Government will now look at the support required for these areas. We will also increase funding for flood defences to £800 million by 2010-11, as I informed the House on 2 July.
“Finally, the review which I have set up to learn the lessons from the floods of this summer will, of course, look at what has happened over the past three days. I have decided that I will ask an independent person to oversee the review. I will keep the House informed of developments”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and join him in thanking all those who help to try to sort the problem out; the professionals in whatever capacity, or the volunteers trying to help others in dreadful circumstances. It is awful to have one’s own home invaded, but of course a lot of businesses have been affected as well.
We welcome the Prime Minister’s review but there are some questions that I would like to ask. The Statement is brief. I do not mean that in a derogatory manner; it is as it is because it comes fairly soon after the emergency. The Statement clearly says that the Armed Forces were asked to help “yesterday evening”, which was Sunday. Why were they were not called out earlier? It seems strange that it has taken so long to do that.
Secondly, of the money which is being put forward under the Bellwin rules to help flood defences in the future—some £800 million by 2010-11—how much will be allocated immediately up front? I suspect that most of us hope that a lot of that money will be moved early, rather than waiting to be updated in later years. I presume that the money will go directly to local authorities, but what happens to individual households? Some will have insurance cover, but I am sure the noble Lord will accept that many have not. Again, I should like some clarification of the position because there is nothing in the report on it.
I want to reflect on the position of the Environment Agency. It was featured in a National Audit Office report published in June which noted that only 57 per cent of all flood risk asset systems and 46 per cent of other high-risk systems, such as those protecting urban areas, had achieved their target condition by March of this year, with the potential risk that a flood could occur. What is the Government’s reaction to that, and what pressure have they put on the Environment Agency to put its house in order? I also understand that because of Defra’s financial difficulties earlier in the year, cuts were made to the Environment Agency’s budget. Perhaps the Minister can clarify how much those cuts were worth, and when or if they have been restored. I turn to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who said that the upgrading programme requires £1 billion each year. Can the Minister tell the House where this leaves us currently?
Our deepest sympathy goes to all the affected businesses, individuals and families, many of whom are not in their own homes and will not be for many months. It is a dreadful situation. Floodwater is bad enough, but foul water is quite something else. My heart bleeds for those families because it is not a happy situation. Given that a Defra Minister is repeating the Statement, can he tell us what is the anticipated strategy for providing help to farmers in the affected areas? Many farms have been totally flooded with loss of livestock in addition to ruined crops. Has any thought been given to this issue? Within that, I want to mention the work of the Farming Help Partnership, a voluntary body offering help and support for families in need as quickly as it can.
I come from the East Midlands region, which has not been quite as badly affected as the area around Tewkesbury and the West Midlands, but it has also been hit, particularly in Horncastle and Louth. When the earlier flooding occurred in Hull and north Yorkshire, why did Lincolnshire not receive any financial help when the other two areas did? I hope that in the allocation of moneys to local authorities, it will not be the case that some will be given money while others will get nothing. If no financial help is given to Lincolnshire this time, it will have been hit twice.
Finally, I turn to the whole question of insurance cover. Many households have insurance cover for flooding, but a good number do not. Is the Minister in a position to tell the House how individual householders should go about seeking help? Will it come only from the Bellwin scheme or will the Government be making emergency money available to help them in the short term?
I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for pointing out that unfortunately the situation is ongoing. Two aspects of it are particularly worrying: first, dirty water is all around and there are shortages of fresh water, which should be made available to all households; secondly, I understand that part of the electricity supply has already been lost and more may well be disrupted if the water cannot be pumped out of one of the substations. Those are my specific concerns.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in another place, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her remarks and questions. I agree with virtually everything she has said, and would particularly like to register from these Benches our profound sympathy for the families, companies, individuals and farmers who are suffering from this flooding. Everyone is going through an awful time in those localities. If we are spared this flooding disaster personally, it is easy just to read about it in the papers and leave it at that, but it is a horrendous personal problem for people and we feel very deeply about the situation. This is the fourth Statement in recent times on flooding problems. It is the first time that it has been repeated in the Lords and we particularly welcome that. This will inevitably be an ongoing matter.
Obviously it sounds trite if one starts to criticise the Government for weather conditions—that would be most unfair; it is easier to criticise them for many of their domestic policies on a proper basis—but in this case we have to register our great concern about the ongoing problems which seem to be arising. The obvious climatic differences from previous occasions need to be looked at, but of real concern here is the way in which the Government have dealt with these things on past occasions. It gives me no pleasure to say this but it has to be said: is the Minister ready to deal seriously with these problems and what are the Government going to do in their review?
It took the Government a long time to react to previous warnings, statements made by other people and ecological and weather experts in this country and elsewhere, and we can see the effects now in this country of the dire budget cuts that have taken place and the difficulties that they are causing to people. I have to say, again with regret, that the Government have failed to provide adequately for flood prevention, despite warnings. They were warned on a number of occasions that there would be serious flood risks in the north, particularly, and maybe elsewhere. This time the floods seem to be more in central and southern England. Our fellow citizens in the north suffered very grievously on an earlier occasion and are still suffering from it. Why did not the Government therefore make proper efforts to tackle these matters and to liaise with all the various agencies, including the Environment Agency, to ensure that there was proper co-ordination?
We pay tribute to the community, voluntary and other organisations, and the Armed Forces, particularly, for what they have done in this recent emergency; it has been a magnificent effort. But the Government need to have forethought about these matters, and that was somewhat lacking on previous occasions. Despite the Government’s promises two years ago to give the strategic overview of all flood risks to the Environment Agency, nothing has happened effectively. The responsibility for prevention and protection against continued flooding remains split between councils, water companies and the Environment Agency, all of which operate on different scientific and quasi-scientific assessments of risk.
I am sorry to say that the new Prime Minister must take some responsibility for the Government’s flood failures as he cut the flood defence budget by £14 million last summer; and it was only last month that his previous department asked the agency and the local flood boards to plan for real effective cuts for the next three years. Even after the Yorkshire floods, the Treasury only reluctantly conceded that the defence budget for flooding should be boosted by 2010 while saying very little about the next two years of the spending plans. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked a Private Notice Question on 27 June about the flooding, and that was the catalyst that caused the Government to respond.
While we on these Benches feel disappointed, we thank the Government for the emergency measures they are taking now. We need further drastic action and much more reassurance from the Government in general. I should like a further update, if possible, from the Minister on the Ulley reservoir. What does he intend to do to provide immediate remedial action to help people, particularly those in danger of electricity cuts, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred, and the danger of repeat flooding, about which experts have warned, in these areas during the coming days and weeks?
My Lords, I am grateful for the supportive comments from noble colleagues for the work of the emergency services and others; they are reflected by everyone. I shall do my best to answer the questions but let us get this clear: it is said in the Statement that the situation will get worse today and tomorrow as the rivers rise; anything I say could be overturned within an hour so it is not possible to be specific. There are thousands of people out there working their socks off trying to protect the power stations and the transmission stations, and trying to pump out and get the water treatment plant working as soon as possible. Obviously that is vital. But, at the same time, the weather forecast is not good, the surge has not completely diminished and there are severe flood warnings on the Thames. So things can change dramatically. But I will give a commitment that Parliament will be updated. This is an awkward week, as it is the last one before Recess, but we will do our best to update.
So far as the request for troops is concerned, the noble Baroness must appreciate that the Gold Command structure was set up long ago, and it was at Gold Command’s request that the troops were called in. One has to leave it to the police, who are in overall charge of emergency services. The military liaison officers were present in Gold Command from the beginning, and obviously reacted when a request was made. I cannot be specific about the discussions that took place before that because I do not know, but that system is tried and tested and it works.
I have to knock on the head again the allegations about the Environment Agency budget. The £14 million, out of the roughly £500 million budget, was nothing to do with defence work. That was last year’s budget, and it was replaced in this year’s budget with even more money. That was not a capital programme. No flood defence work was stopped for it. The capital programme—£600 million, from memory—is more than what it was eight or nine years ago, when it was £200 million or so. We have said we will put it up to £800 million. The noble Baroness put that in with the Bellwin rules, but it is nothing to do with those figures; it is the capital flood defence programme that we have already announced for Environment Agency work.
The Bellwin rules were that 85 per cent of the extra expenditure necessary for local authorities is provided. That has been changed to 100 per cent, as the Prime Minister said over the weekend. I cannot be specific about the money that local authorities will get, but clearly we have to review their funding, as was said following the floods in the north when extra money, over and above Bellwin, was made available. The reduction in the Environment Agency budget was for some repair work, but I emphasise that it was £14 million. It would not have made the slightest difference to the current situation, and it was not part of the capital programme for flood defences, which was not cut; indeed, it has been increased over the period of this Government.
Last week, on a visit, the Secretary of State said that he would relax the cross-compliance rules for farmers on request for those who needed to use, for example, set-aside land. We will be actively looking at considering that in relation to the whole of England and will consider how the regulations work and whether there should be any other necessary relaxations to assist farmers. One cannot tell at present what is needed. We know what crops were in the fields and it is true that many will be devastated, some more than others. We will do our best to help farmers, who are very practical people in any event.
I was asked about the co-ordination of flood emergencies. They are co-ordinated, as are other emergencies, by Gold and Silver Commands, led by the police. That system works well. The Government have set out a strategic overview role for the Environment Agency. We have the stated procedures, which we will be reviewing. There is no doubt that there are lessons to be learnt from the past three days, as from three weeks ago.
I regret that I cannot say anything about families and insurance. It is far too early for me to say anything about what has happened in the past three days in that respect. I understand that, in the area that has been flooded in central England, fewer properties have been affected than in the north a few weeks ago and that there is a greater propensity for properties to be insured in that part of the world. I do not have specific figures. I saw some graphs and charts early this morning, but it is too early to say at present.
The floods in central England are, by current calculations, worse than those in 1947. What is more, in 1947 they came in winter when one expects flooding, with the rain and the snow off the hills. Here we are in the middle of summer, when one cannot reasonably expect all this. This was not rain coming off the Welsh hills down into the Severn; it was six and a half inches of rain dropping across central England. London got a taste of it on Friday, but that was nothing like what fell on the rest of the country.
As for warnings, I fully accept what the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, said, but I can remember standing at this Dispatch Box a few months ago, giving a report about the fact that we had had no rain in April. I was assuring the House that the reservoirs and aquifers were full and that we did not foresee having standpipes. I was got at in the Corridor outside by noble Lords saying, “You’ve really put your head on the block there, sonny. Are you really sure we’ll have enough water?”. Some of the forecasts were of a long, dry, hot summer. With no rain in April, we were thinking there would be serious trouble—and then we end up with the wettest June on record. I fully admit that all kinds of warnings have been given, but with what happened on Friday, no warnings and no amount of work following them would have assisted. I understand that the barrier at Upton upon Severn could not get there; if it had been there, it would have been overwhelmed this time, unlike the last time it was used. I appreciate that that is no comfort to the people in Upton upon Severn.
I mentioned Lincolnshire in the list of counties and we accept that it has been affected. It would be unfair if a county was caught twice and missed out twice; we will take that factor into account.
I am not in a position to go into detail about the National Audit Office report. It was a follow up to the one in 2001; it was checking, and the Public Accounts Committee took advice from the noble Baroness and others. I think that it has yet to report.
The key aspects of the emergency are supplies of clean water and electricity. Your house being flooded is one thing, but no water—in the taps, for the toilets, to wash with—and no electricity is serious. This is of the utmost importance. In the mean time, the companies are supplying water to locations which everyone will know.
I reinforce what was said in the Statement. People should first contact the Environment Agency’s floodline and, above all, they should listen to their local radio station. National radio stations are no use for local information. I was caught on Friday, like a lot of others, and Radio Oxford and Radio Gloucestershire gave me, and all the thousands I was stuck with, massive amounts of good, practical information. That is used by the police to feed information to people so that they can react. People should look in on neighbours they may not have seen, help out with the water situation and give comfort. If the electricity is off, they should make sure that before it is switched on again, things are safe.
There is an emergency out there as I speak, and I regret that I cannot be more informative.
My Lords, I intervene as a former chairman of the National Rivers Authority, the predecessor body to the Environment Agency. As there are photographs of Tewkesbury in practically every newspaper today, I might add that I was married in Tewkesbury Abbey to a Tewkesbury girl.
I join those who have expressed sympathy for everyone who has suffered the appalling disaster of having their homes flooded. But in my view, it is very unwise, even for—perhaps especially for—Members of Parliament rushing to score brownie points with their constituents to criticise public bodies such as the Environment Agency without knowing all the facts. Having had to deal with situations during my time, although not quite as bad as this, I offer my congratulations to the Environment Agency on the sometimes heroic work that it has carried out and the conscientious way in which it has done so. While we may, when we examine its record, find that some mistakes were made, I think its overall performance has been entirely to its credit.
My noble friend Lady Byford spoke about the condition of assets and asked what pressure had been put on the Environment Agency to put its house in order. I am afraid that I would put the question rather differently: what pressure has been put on the Government to put their house in order in funding the Environment Agency, not on the capital budget, to which the noble Lord referred in some detail, but on the maintenance budget? My understanding is that the Environment Agency pressed hard for additional funding for the maintenance of existing facilities.
When people look at the performance of the Environment Agency, they are understandably unaware of the many areas where flooding has been avoided because of the work that has been carried out in constructing schemes. I cite, for example, the Thames, where flooding would have been much worse but for the construction of the project there.
Probably the most important single lesson to come out of this is that you must build neither housing nor infrastructure in the flood plain. That is primarily what we suffer from; we will have more flooding of this kind until that lesson is learnt. As I am being urged to sit down at this point, I may rise to press that point again when we come to the housing Statement that will follow.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, because I can remember when he left the other place to chair the National Rivers Authority. He is quite right that it is unwise to hurry criticism. Plenty of people can be subject to criticism in due course, after we have had a mature look at what has happened. I reinforce his tribute to the water engineers and the electrical engineers, who have worked their socks off anyway, particularly in emergencies. They are the people on whom we rely and they are doing a very good job.
The noble Lord mentioned the maintenance budget. To the best of my knowledge, flooding in less than 1 per cent of areas is as a result of a structural failure of flood defences. Even the NAO found that the flood defences that are in place are maintained to a very high level. There has been structural failure in only about 1 per cent of flooded areas. Those defences in place have worked extremely well, although I accept that there are not enough of them.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his Statement. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who is sitting beside me, and I are between us responsible for a fair amount of the flooding, so some people would like to think. However, they happen in our patch. I therefore pay tribute particularly to the others who are not often named. If it were not for volunteers, our society would collapse at times like this. I think of St John Ambulance, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and so on. It is important that tribute be paid to them, who are helping at this very moment. I have just come from the headquarters of the St John Ambulance and there is hardly anybody there, because they have all shot off to do what they can.
Perhaps I may make a point from three weeks’ experience of the flooding. We are beginning to pick up some of the pieces in Sheffield and look towards what might happen in the future. On Friday evening of this week, it will be the Forfeit Feast in Sheffield, where the Master Cutler hosts a reception and a great feast for the Lord Mayor of London and others. The Master Cutler has a small business, built in the flood plain, but several feet above the record level of any flood damage in the history of Sheffield. He has lost in his small business all his 150 motors, which have to be dismantled and dried out. He does not know when he will get back in business; the likelihood is that he will not. Therefore, his small business and many others will go under. Sheffield Forgemasters has lost £20 million already through lost business. Coupled with the strength of the pound many manufacturers in our part of the world will perhaps be permanently damaged by what has happened in the past few weeks. It is my hope that, in these emergencies, the Government will think well enough in advance about what might happen.
My Lords, before we go any further, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the Companion tells us:
“Ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief comments and questions from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate”.
I make that point because I think that a considerable number of Peers would like to make a contribution.
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for emphasising the work of the third sector and others who are not part of the third sector but are just good neighbours. Half of Gloucestershire turned up on Friday night, well past midnight, at the school—I cannot remember its name—at Junction 9 of the M5. It had all its doors open and people were bringing clothes and bedding; there were not many chairs but the place was warm and dry. The motorway was jammed and it was dark, so you could not see what was happening. But there has been a massive contribution from the sectors. I cannot comment on businesses. Some of them are insured and some are not; some will be covered and some will not; some of them have past experience and some have not. These issues must be reviewed and we must learn the lessons.
My Lords, I shall follow the injunction of my noble friend Lord Evans of Temple Guiting. I declare an interest as a resident of the city of Worcester and a member of Worcestershire County Cricket Club, which will sadly not be playing again at Worcester this season.
I have two points. First, will the Minister extend his very welcome comments about the devotion of the emergency services to those public servants such as the employees of county councils, who have worked almost without break for the whole weekend? I have heard accounts this afternoon of county council employees working for 36 hours continuously to deal with the crisis in Worcestershire and of the staff of a special school who stayed with their pupils through the night because there was no other way in which to look after them.
When we come to review the lessons from this awful weekend, could somebody please look at the flood defences on the River Severn, particularly upstream? This is not the first time that the Severn has flooded and it is certainly not the first time that Worcestershire cricket ground has flooded, but it is the first time that we have had anything on the scale that we have seen over this weekend. Could some form of permanent barrier be put in place to deal with this sort of situation in future?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for emphasising the work of local government staff. It is true that local government probably knows more about its areas than any other body—although, when one flies over those areas or looks at the pictures in the papers, one cannot quite see the boundaries of one authority and another because it is all covered in water. But it is true—people did not go home but stayed at their posts over the weekend to do their public duty. If there is an interest to be declared in this regard, I should say that I pay my council tax to Tewkesbury Borough Council.
My Lords, has anything been done to get huge supplies of bottled water to the area? That was not mentioned in the Statement, but there was a report on the radio this morning that none of the supermarkets or the other shops in the area had any supplies of bottled water and that all their supplies had been, if not purloined, then taken up. I thought it very ironic, when I walked past Westminster Tube station and alongside Tesco, to see that there were whole windows of bottled water. Has something been done about transferring supplies to that area?
My Lords, I shall check on this for the noble Baroness, but nobody has indicated any shortage of supply of bottled water. Shops may have run out, but I refer to water authorities getting water to the areas. What is in the supermarkets is a different issue. The bowsers will be filled by the tankers, and there are supplies from the water authorities, as I understand it.
My Lords, I am just hoping that the barrier will work, as it is the one flood defence that we have. It is old and it is sinking and it does more work than was planned, so we must look at that for the future. The noble Viscount is quite right: the Thames is going to rise. The surge of the Thames at various locations is yet to come.
Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Allenby of Megiddo) in the Chair.]
Clause 222 [Health services and social services: local involvement networks]:
238KBA: Clause 222, page 154, line 29, leave out from beginning to “specified” and insert “, establishing and supporting Local Involvement Networks to perform the functions”
The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 238KBB, 238KCA and 238LF.The Minister may be glad to have reached Part 14 of the Bill, if only because the end of her marathon stint in Committee is in sight. I would also not be surprised if she were to view the change of subject matter as a welcome shift of focus. From these Benches, we look forward to a constructive debate on patient and public involvement, although these matters arouse considerable concerns and difficulties in the minds of many of us. I am sure that she will, in her customarily helpful way, do her best to try to reassure us, but I suspect that in some cases that will not be easy or straightforward.
I start with a group of amendments designed to pose a simple question. The Minister will know from our debate at Second Reading that, in the eyes of many of us, the over-riding defect of this part of the Bill is that it appears to have been put together by a cryptologist. From reading it, it is impossible to decipher what on Earth it all means. The Minister clearly knows what it means and we may think we know as a result of all the background material and Explanatory Notes.
As a starting point, it is worth asking this very simple question: should not part of the aim of all legislation, including this Bill, be to be comprehensible in its own right? We understand that, arising from the Bill, there will be new bodies called local involvement networks or LINks. It is understood that the function of LINks will be analogous to that of patient forums, except that the LINks will extend to social care. Certain members of LINks will be authorised to perform certain functions. While the exact form and membership of LINks will be up to local determination and, therefore, are not to be laid down in the Bill, we can safely say that LINks will, at least, have members.
But when we read the Bill, what do we find? We find that we are led around in a kind of dance, the aim of which is to go to fantastic lengths to avoid making any sort of descriptive reference to local involvement networks, to avoid any mention of their functions or powers and to omit all reference whatever to the fact that they are supposed to have members. Instead, in Clause 222 we have “arrangements”, along with “activities”. We do not have members of LINks; we have people. LINks are not even given any powers. The powers of LINks are only visible, as it were, in the mirror because they take the form of other people having duties in relation to LINks. Indeed, LINks are not bodies at all. The only clue as to what a LINk is comes in Clause 223(2), where we are told:
“In this section, a reference to a ‘local involvement network’ is to a person”.
That reference to a person is the nearest we ever get to a definition of a LINk in the Bill. But who on Earth refers to a network as a person? A “person” is not a word that makes any sense in this context at all; it may make sense to a lawyer, but who in the ordinary world can understand it? I do not think that any of this language is helpful. I ask the Minister why we have this rigmarole. Why can we not have, as the amendments propose, a definition of a LINk, however loose, on the face of the Bill, together with clear statements about its functions?
There is a serious point here about accountability. Many of us will have seen the press report last week telling us that the Government intend to reduce the number of central targets for the health service and to make local bodies responsible for setting their own targets. That is fine, but what follows is more local accountability, and patient and public involvement in the planning and delivery of healthcare is a terribly important part of what we mean by local accountability.
What are the mechanisms for delivering it? As far as I can make out, it is not even going to be a contract. The arrangements referred to in Clause 222 are arrangements not with a LINk but with somebody else—namely, a host organisation. If the mechanisms for delivering patient and public involvement do not include having independent statutory bodies with defined functions, and if LINks themselves are not subject to a contract, how can we truly say that we are setting up a system that delivers robust local accountability? I believe that it is very difficult.
In her letter of 9 July, the Minister confirmed that we cannot prejudge what LINks will look like. As with a creature from Lewis Carroll, we may know a LINk when we see it, but we cannot, for the moment, define one. Whatever LINks seem to be, we see from the Bill that they will not have functions. If we cannot define a LINk and it does not have functions, the obvious questions arise. How will it be able to enforce its rights in law and, from the opposite perspective, how will people be able to enforce a complaint against a LINk about what it is or is not doing, and on what legal basis?
I do not know whether the Minister can give us any satisfactory answers to all that. The point is not just that the Bill is vague but that it does not appear to deliver a sound basis for what most of us think patient and public involvement should truly be. I beg to move.
I support very strongly the words of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Since I think that we agree on everything, I just want to add a little more weight to what he has said. Perhaps it is good for the Minister to hear that, across the Cross Benches, the Conservative Benches, the Lib Dem Benches and some of the Labour Benches, we are united in some of our concerns about this part of the Bill.
When we first saw the Bill, many of us were deeply concerned because we could not find any clarity in it; we could not work out what it really meant. However, as the weeks have passed, we have learnt more about, for instance, what the early adopters of the LINk model were doing. I was truly shocked that they were given a set of objectives that asked them to focus on particular aspects—this is from evidence that was given by Meredith Vivian to the Health Select Committee—without a clear list of duties.
So much of it, in everything that we could find, was process driven. It was all about,
“how we can make sure we reach as many people as possible and are as engaged as possible with voluntary community sectors, how we can make sure that what we do is well-known in terms of communication and visibility”.
But what the objectives are remains, to most of us, singularly unclear.
It is not just me saying that. The Health Select Committee, in its report, said:
“The ‘early adopter’ projects appear less an objective trial than a discussion with stakeholders, and a key point—what can be expected from Hosts—is not being addressed”.
It went on to recommend full trials of LINks to assess the practical requirements for running them. Indeed, it listed evidence from Elizabeth Manero of Health Link, suggesting that a model for LINks would be the best practices of the patient forums, where a core group will perhaps run the LINk,
“make decisions about the LINks activities, can sit in on trusts’ boards and meetings, and undertake surveys or visits. They produce reports and challenge trusts if they are unhappy with the response”.
“They would also do everything they could to connect with local groups and find out a wider public view”.
Her worry about LINks, as presently imagined, was that,
“the proposal is to have a very, very large, ‘perhaps thousands of people’, involved in the Health Service”.
She continued that she was worried that this focused on a process rather than on refining an outcome.
I already had real concerns about all this, as did many members of forums who have contacted me separately and together in the past few weeks. But my concerns have been strengthened considerably during the past week. The Minister kindly sent all of us involved in the Second Reading debate the drafts of two guidance documents for the establishment of LINks. The first was the model contract specification and the second was a document that sets out,
“what we expect an effective LINk would look like, based on what we have learned so far from the work of the Early Adopter Project sites, as well as from other networks in the community”.
I am grateful to the Minister for sending us this material, but the second document made me almost lose the will to live. It is, indeed, all about process—what it will be like—including a rather offensive list of what it will not be like. The document states:
“A LINk is not … a group of volunteers who are solely responsible for inspecting NHS and social care premises and services … a method of performance managing health and social care services … a method of dealing with individual complaints about local care services … a network that duplicates other networks and initiatives”,
and so on. That list is, rather, a suggestion that forums have not lived up to expectations and that they are somewhat like these theoretical groups that LINks are not to be.
The real clue lies in the statement that the detail of the powers of LINks will be provided in the future regulations that the Government intend to consult on in the autumn. There is no clarity, just the suggestion that,
“LINks have a role in … promoting and supporting the involvement of people in the commissioning, provision and scrutiny of local health and social care services … obtaining the views of people about their need for, and experiences of, local health and social care services … enabling people to monitor and review the commissioning and provision of care services … making their views known to the people responsible for commissioning, providing, managing and scrutinising those services”.
We are then told:
“This will be achieved by establishing a flexible framework, which can be tailored in each area”,
according to local circumstances. There follows a series of diagrams from early adopters—Kensington and Chelsea, and Durham. While I could understand Kensington and Chelsea’s simple membership diagram and begin to comprehend its more complicated model of how it would work with no central hub membership, the Durham model left me wholly baffled. In each case, the text tells us that the models are under development. I am not surprised. This way of thinking is absurd. The first decision must be about the objectives, powers and duties of LINks. What are they to do? What must they do? What can they do? Only then should this discussion of process even begin.
This has seemed to me to show that the Department of Health is more concerned with process in this area than outcome and is more concerned with breaking down the present structure of patient forums than developing them and creating a smooth transition into LINks. It is not concerned about creating a huge cadre of disaffected volunteers, who will look at all this and ask, quite sensibly, what it really means. For those reasons and many others, I strongly support this group of amendments.
I, too, support this group of amendments, particularly Amendment No. 238LF. I received an e-mail about the Bill at the weekend, which pointed out that as things stand, since local involvement networks have no independent legal personality, their members could be personally liable for their actions, even though they are discharging statutory functions. This contrasts sharply with the present position whereby patients’ forums are legal entities.
Amendment No. 238LF changes the definition of a LINk in Clause 223(2) from a person carrying on the activities specified in Clause 222(2) to,
“a body set up in pursuance of the arrangements specified in”,
Clause 222(1). The amendment, therefore, would change LINks from groups of persons coalescing around a particular function or set of functions to a corporate legal entity. I submit that this is a much more satisfactory situation for the members of these local involvement networks and I believe, therefore, that this constitutes an ungainsayable argument for inserting Amendment No. 238LF into the Bill.
I, too, would like to support the making of a LINk, if we are to have LINks in the way that has been suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and re-emphasised by my noble friend Lord Low. What really concerns us is that we have no real conception of what the future holds. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, has spelt it out extremely well.
I have to admit that I have another worry. It seems extraordinary that this Bill has been going on for so long now in the background without coming to Parliament. The Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health has been extended about nine times since it began. That is a fairly extraordinary figure. We have heard from some of the earlier doctors that very good work has been going on with more or less the same members as exist in the forum. I find it really rather upsetting that, even if the time has come to say goodbye finally to the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, nobody has thanked it for the work that it has done. Considering it was set up and abolished almost at once, it was a pretty disturbing commission to have been in charge of and to have been on the staff of. I would like the Minister to take this opportunity to say something rather more positive than we have heard so far.
There are obviously reasons for moving in this direction, particularly on the social care side, as I understand it, which cannot so easily be joined with the health side. I believe that the health side is rather bossy and dominant. It will take some persuading that we will have a sufficiently strong social care side for them to be on a par and in partnership; many other Bills put through by the Government rightly aimed to achieve partnerships at all social levels. I just wanted to say that, by way of a background to my concerns. I did not take part at Second Reading because of other commitments later in the day but I was there for most of the time and I have followed, as far as I can, what has been going on since.
The House of Commons Select Committee on Health called LINks woolly. What Members of this House have said today bears out what they felt. Members of health forums have been treated very badly. These are volunteers. They need support, not putting down. Will members of LINks be treated any better? We need good public involvement in health. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
I want to ask one or two questions. I apologise for not being able to take part on Second Reading. I, too, am bemused about this but could not have put the position more eruditely than did the noble Earl, Lord Howe; it is always a joy to listen to him but this afternoon was a particular joy.
My questions are about how ordinary people who will become part of LINks—or at least those whom the Government hope will become part of LINks—will understand what they are engaging in. I say that having talked to some ordinary folk who regretted the loss of their community health councils, but continued stalwartly to join patient forums—I declare an interest as a rather distant member of the St Thomas’s forum—and would like to continue to work in these areas. They do not understand two things, the first of which is about governance. How do these strange bodies, which are so ill defined, fit into the total governance structure of the health service? Do they have any power? Are they just sounding boards? What is their value? How will they be appreciated and understood? How will you get that message to ordinary people to maintain their interest?
Secondly, because of all this, I do not really understand what the objective is for the new groups. That may be my lack because I was not able to engage in Second Reading or listen to all of it, although I read a certain amount. I understood the community health councils; the Government may not have liked what some of those groups did in terms of challenging issues in the health service. I have begun to understand—just about—what the patient forums were doing. I cannot understand what LINks are going to do. I am afraid that, even after listening very carefully to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who usually illuminates me, I still do not understand—probably because he does not know either—what the organisations, bodies or people will do. I would be grateful for clarification from the Minister. A great deal depends on this in relation to local involvement, particularly, as my noble friend Lady Howe said, if we are to try to engage people in understanding LINks in relation to social care, with which I have a strong connection. It would be a great help if local communities could understand LINks. If they cannot understand the structures, they will never understand the services.
I am tempted to welcome this new cast to Part 14 of the Bill. We have had a splendid time so far but we have an even better time in prospect.
I am challenged by the “enigma code” version of the Bill proposed by the noble Earl. I am happy to do what I can to decrypt the Bill. I hope to inspire noble Lords to have confidence in where we are and why we are there. We give additional information in the hope of clarifying and supporting people’s understanding. Given what has been said, it might be useful if I give a bit of background about why we have come up with this formulation.
The amendments explore our changes and why we made them, the relation between the host and the LINk and the form and function of what is planned. Those issues go to the heart of what we are trying to do. I understand what noble Lords are saying about the absence of a statement of objectives at the front of the Bill. We have that debate over and over again in the House; we had it recently on mental health.
I refer noble Lords to the Minister’s foreword to Creating an Effective LINk, a draft document which has been circulated. It can be summed up very simply: the establishment of local involvement networks gives communities the chance to influence all health and social care services. Whether they are run by councils or the NHS, LINks will give citizens the chance to have their say in a much wider range of ways, which I will come to discuss later. It may be, for example, by investigation or commissioning reports that will be put together by a much wider range of participants than has ever been possible before, because of the extension to social care. It may be through the “enter and view” function, which is very clear in the Bill. It could be by gathering voices to exert greater influence on a particular decision in the local health service.
Part 14 is not a convenient afterthought; it is brought forward from a genuine conviction that there must be better and less exclusive and forbidding ways for people to exert influence over health and social care in all areas of communities and to become more involved in what matters most to them. The substance of Part 14 is to put forward those more extensive and inclusive ways of involving the widest range of people to influence and improve healthcare. This debate has a long history; noble Lords around the Chamber will have engaged in it.
I know that change is not comfortable; neither is acknowledging that what served once has been overtaken by different imperatives, but that is part of the debate that we are having. The first thing that I want to say, particularly to the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Howe, is that I thank those who have served on patients’ forums for their work. The Minister thanks them in the foreword to the document; they have been thanked in different ways. Without their expertise and commitment, which have been built up and demonstrated, we would have a far worse health service. They have performed an extremely important function, so much so that we are determined that that expertise will not be lost, devalued or wasted. As I explained, as we go through the amendments, we want passionately to build on the best of what has been achieved and, indeed, to extend it.
It is important to stress that these requirements are in this Bill because they belong here. First, their new role in local government will go far beyond the notion of a traditional delivery service, taking local authorities to the threshold of a new role in which they will shape the whole local environment—the place in which people live, work and thrive. In terms of health, that is expressed first in the new duty that we propose for local authorities to put in place an independent structure to empower local people. Secondly, the Bill will enable services to work together in ways that have eluded us so far, closing gaps between social care and health in the design and delivery of services. Thirdly, the Bill breaks new ground in healthcare by finding a way to involve local people in providing services that go far beyond the interrogation of institutions, which is what the patients’ forum specialised in. They therefore go beyond the expertise of a small and dedicated group. The Bill goes into the wider community, across the entire patient journey and the experiences people have as part of that long journey.
I know that noble Lords are asking, “Why this Bill?” and “Why now?”. In the past five years, the landscape of healthcare has changed, and it continues to change. The institutions have changed; foundation trusts and primary care trusts have changed; the configuration of PCTs and the patterns of provision have changed. Healthcare is offered in different ways and places. Priorities have changed; people have changed. Patients have become far more used to choice and far more used to being heard. System regulation has become more sophisticated. We have the wherewithal, capacity and vision to join up services. The health service role of overview and scrutiny committees has changed. I could go on.
Just as the system for health and social care has changed, the opportunities must change so that local people can shape the services that they experience. I am not saying that patients’ forums failed, but the context and demands on services changed and the remit of the patients’ forums was narrow: they covered only health; they focused on institutions; they were very inflexible; and they were inextricably linked in legislation with the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health. That was determined centrally, so what they did and how they were made up, supported and funded was all set out in legislation. That is why we have come forward with a proposal which, I believe, provides the security of a legal framework and guarantees that an independent organisation—a host—will have a way of collecting and amplifying the voices of people who might otherwise not be heard.
At all levels of the system we have built in accountability between the local authority and the host in terms of the contract—the host is the servant of LINks, much as officials serve Ministers—and between LINks themselves and the wider community. I am sure that we will explore that in due course.
For very good reason, we have not put in the Bill details about the form that a LINk might take, although its functions are set out clearly in Clause 222. We have not included those details because that ties in with the culture of the change that we are trying to make and because in the consultation that preceded the Bill it was made clear that local people wanted to decide the form of the organisation and to determine the scope of the network and its membership and governance arrangements.
Amendments Nos. 238KBB, 238KCA and 238LF would put a duty on the local authority to establish a LINk directly rather than through the procurement of a host. Having set out the context, I hope that the Committee will recognise that I appreciate the sentiment behind that aim and the fact that noble Lords are searching for an explanation of this structure. I also fully appreciate the difficulties that can be brought about by a lack of detail in the Bill. Many Bills are icebergs: all the interesting stuff is underneath and the legislation has to be interpreted in different ways. I can see the attraction of putting in a definition of an organisation with legal substance and form; apart from anything else, it would seem to give noble Lords a degree of security that a tangible organisation would emerge. However, I stress that, in not doing that, we are not being perverse; we propose that a LINk should be created as a result of a contractual arrangement not so as to weaken, lessen the impact of or sideline a LINk and not because we think that it is a better philosophical model. Above all, we are taking this approach because, given the new relationship between a local authority and a local area, we need a means of ensuring that the LINk is separate from the local authority.
A fundamental premise of patient and public involvement is that arrangements must be independent. I can understand the desire to simplify arrangements by cutting out the need for a host, but the host will perform a critical function: it will support independence. Without that arm’s-length body holding the budget, facilitating the early stages of forming the network—I shall come later to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth—and enabling LINk members to generate a common agenda and distinguish priorities, the LINk might become no more than a reflection of or extension of the local authority. These amendments would reverse that principle by creating a LINk which, I fear, could become a creature of a local authority. That is why we are trying to build in independence.
Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord, Lord Low, on his question about the limited liability company. That was an interesting point, but I cannot answer it from the Dispatch Box.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked why there was not more substance, with more detail about form and functions, in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, said that it is all about process. I hope that I have set out the reasons why the objectives are clear. The process is there to deliver objectives, and we are doing this to expand opportunities for people to have a greater say over their health and care. I was asked why, for example, we cannot substitute the word “functions” for “activities” in the Bill. They are described as activities because they allow a LINk to have some discretion, whereas “functions” suggests that they would be mandatory. We refer to people in the Bill, rather than to LINks themselves, because LINks are collections of people—collectives, in a way. A LINk has no set definition; we will talk about that in a moment. The legislation does not describe what LINks should do, because we want them to make their own judgments about what is more important for their areas.
In framing the legislation, we have tried to reflect the need for flexibility and autonomy. I understand the frustration, but this is a better way forward. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, referred to two of the three diagrams at the back of the report; one is definitely more complicated than the other, but that has been a local choice. Sometimes democracy is complicated and diverse; indeed, I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that it is sometimes very worrying. Yet if we give people the power to choose what to prioritise, they will come up with some hard choices that will challenge the local health and care services.
There are different models in development. One LINk could have a host that provides all the staffing and support that we could think of, while another may say, “No, just hold our funds. We want to employ our own staff”, and it will be able to do that. In either case, the network of participants will decide. One reason for this determination is that we did not want to repeat past mistakes. Over the past few years, officials at the DoH have received countless requests for clarification about the legislation surrounding PPI forums—whether they can do this or that. Usually, the answer has been no because the legislation has not allowed them to. We wanted to avoid that so, for now, abstract and enigmatic though it may be, we are providing the chance for LINks to be created in ways that are relevant to people and places.
I will briefly flesh out the bones before I finish. LINks will create coherent arrangements for governance, more likely comprising a small group of people and user organisations as their heart and soul. LINks will have a clear identity, with known contact points. Once it is contracted, the host will first map out who is liable to want to join in the area—some local authorities have already begun that process. As well as the usual organisations, such as self-help groups and so on, there could be youth organisations, for example, because there are issues regarding youth health. LINks will be able to relate directly to NHS and social care organisations and to enter and view premises. Noble Lords will see that in Clause 225. LINks will be able to request information, to make reports and recommendations, and to receive a response. Critically, they will be able to refer matters of concern to the relevant overview and scrutiny committee. These important powers and functions are clearly laid out, and we think that they score highly on those grounds.
I hope that I have been able to provide some reassurance. Clearly, it is a starting point for the rest of our debates on the detail. I hope that noble Lords will feel that the objectives are clear, that the process is necessary and that we have laid out as much as is possible of what we expect in the Bill.
The noble Baroness has made a brave attempt to respond to the points made in this extremely interesting debate, but I am afraid that I remain pretty unconvinced that we have anything comprehensible here. In these amendments, I was trying to pin down a sense of what legal identity, if any, LINks would have. I am puzzled by that because while the Bill tells us that a local involvement network is a person, we are told that it cannot be a statutory body. It seems an odd contradiction to state in the Bill that a LINk is a person while we are told that it has no legal identity. Can the Minister clarify that, before we go further?
As I understand it, the contractual legal arrangement is that exemplified in the contract held between the local authority and the host. The LINks themselves are networks, rather like local strategic partnerships; they are arrangements of local people taking part and coming together for different purposes, without having a formal or fixed legal structure.
I thank the noble Lord for that very interesting and illuminating observation. I will have to see how relevant it is to the Bill; I am not quick enough to know whether it is.
The vagueness in the wording of this part of the Bill is in danger of letting down the Government. Let us look at the word “activities”. It struck me on reading this that there may be nothing to prevent more than one LINk in a local authority area. It would be possible, for example, for a host to support several bodies calling themselves LINks in a particular area, rather than just one. I do not think that is what the Government have in mind. It would be extremely undesirable and confusing to have more than one LINk in a local authority area. The Bill appears to allow for it. Do the Government want to rule out that possibility? If so, why does the Bill not do so?
That is an interesting point. I am fairly certain that, by definition, we do not want to see more than one LINk because the area should be coterminous with the local area. We certainly will look at any element of drafting that we need to.
On the legal point, like all voluntary organisations it is possible for a LINk to form itself into a company limited by guarantee, and even in due course to set itself up as a charity. Therefore it can have a legal status, rather than just being a completely amorphous collection of people. That goes some way in identifying the legal profile.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, and, indeed, I picked up from her remarks that a LINk can have a legal identity in that sense. What I was trying to get closer to is whether it has a statutory identity.
I confess I was puzzled by some of the other things the noble Baroness said. She said that if we try to include functions in the Bill, the language of functions would mean that whatever we included in the Bill would be mandatory. I am not sure that that is a show-stopper. If we believe that these bodies should have functions then why should we not say so? We need to reflect carefully on that.
The point about accountability and powers is a key part of all this. If an organisation has no powers conferred on it in statute, and not even any direct contractual obligations, it is very difficult to see how it can be part of a chain of accountability for local public services. It will amount to being no more than a talking shop. That is what some of us suspect LINks may turn into. A suspicious mind before this debate might have believed that that is what the Government were hoping to set up by means of the Bill, but I take the noble Baroness’s word that it is not.
The Minister has indicated that the department has been in receipt of representations about the shortcomings of patients’ forums. I do not doubt that, but I am tempted to reflect on the question of whose legislation it was that set up the forums in the first place. I think that we all know the answer to that. It is time to move on after nearly 45 minutes, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 238KBB not moved.]
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now make a Statement about housing supply. The Statement is as follows:
“I start by supporting the Statement of my right honourable friend and joining the many Members of the House who have expressed their sympathy to the thousands of families whose lives have been turned upside down by the unprecedented flooding affecting wide parts of the country.
“The Government are publishing today their housing Green Paper, setting out proposals to deliver the homes Britain urgently needs today and for the future.
“The House should be proud of the huge steps this country has taken since 1997—a two-thirds cut in rough sleeping; £20 billion investment in social housing that has helped lift over a million children out of cold or poor conditions; and economic stability that has given over one million more people the opportunity to become homeowners. But we also need to respond to new challenges. Demand for homes to buy or rent is growing faster than supply, and homes are becoming less affordable as a result. Already many first-time buyers rely on the help of friends or family to get a foot on the ladder. It simply is not fair that your chance of owning your home should depend so much on whether your parents or grandparents did before you. Nor is it fair that children are growing up in overcrowded or temporary accommodation, waiting for a settled home. Without further action, housing could become one of the greatest sources of social inequality in the next 20 years.
“In addition, we need to respond to the challenge of climate change. Our homes account for more than a quarter of national carbon emissions. We must provide greener, better designed housing for the future. As recent events have highlighted, it is absolutely vital to take steps to protect all our communities from flooding, and from the consequences of climate change in future. In the face of these three challenges, we propose strong action.
“First, we will build more homes to meet growing demand. The level of house building is at its highest for 17 years, but it is not enough. Moreover, without firm action there is no guarantee that growth will continue, as short-term market pressures mean some developers have slowed starts this year.
“We believe that a total of 3 million new homes are needed by 2020, and we will deliver 2 million of these by 2016. This will include new homes in the north as well as the south, as every region is seeing demand outstrip supply. In more areas we need additional affordable homes alongside areas of housing market renewal.
“Already locations for 1.6 million homes are identified in current regional plans, with up to a further 200,000 emerging in the new regional spatial strategies and future revisions to them. This includes 650,000 homes in the growth areas such as the Thames Gateway and Milton Keynes.
“Forty-five towns and cities have already come forward with proposals for additional homes over the next 10 years in new growth points. We are today inviting more councils to come forward to be new growth points, including in the north of England. We are also inviting bids for councils and developers to come forward with proposals for at least five new eco towns. No one should be in any doubt about the historic scale of this vision; we are proposing the first new towns in 40 years.
“Further changes are needed to support the delivery of these homes. Providing enough land is vital and councils need to identify 15 years’ supply of appropriate land for housing, with the continuing priority for sustainable brownfield land. We will not change the rules on strong green-belt protection. We will introduce additional funding and incentives for councils and communities that are showing a lead in delivering growth—through a new housing and planning delivery grant, a new £300 million Community Infrastructure Fund, and additional funding dedicated for high-growth areas.
“We are consulting on proposals to deter developers from seeking planning permission and then sitting on land without bringing forward new homes. We will work across Government to bring forward more brownfield land. I can announce that the MoD has agreed to bring forward six sites with the potential for 7,000 homes, including at Aldershot and Chichester. The Department for Transport has also identified hundreds of potential sites.
“We will support local councils in setting up new local housing companies with partners to use their own land to build more homes. I can announce that 14 councils have already come forward. They estimate that in their areas alone they have the potential to deliver 35,000 homes on their land, with 17,500 of them affordable homes. Better use also needs to be made of empty homes, including those left empty long-term by investors and speculators. Councils already have powers to take action and we will look at the potential for additional incentives for them to do so.
“Secondly, building more homes is crucial, but they must be better and more sustainable homes. In the 1960s, quality was sacrificed in the name of speed. We must not make those mistakes again. Today, our new homes must be part of well designed and mixed communities with excellent local facilities. This means more family homes as well as parks and green spaces, and with the urgent challenge of climate change they must be greener homes, built to the highest environmental standards. I can confirm that from 2016, all new homes will need to be zero-carbon. We are the first country to set such an ambitious timetable, and I welcome the support of councils, green groups and developers across the country that are committed to working with us to make this happen.
“As well as helping to prevent climate change, we need to ensure that our homes are resilient to its consequences. Over the centuries, many homes have been built in high-risk flood areas, and my right honourable friend has set out immediate action to support the families suffering dreadfully from the extreme weather. Since 1997, we have progressively strengthened the rules on planning to protect homes from flooding, with much higher standards brought in last year. These new rules require councils to consult the Environment Agency. Where the agency says that the risk is too high and councils persist against that advice, we in the Government will be prepared to take over those decisions ourselves. We will also look further at what needs to be done to be ready for future challenges. Later this year we will publish a new planning policy statement that will require local councils to plan more widely for the consequences of climate change.
“Thirdly, we believe that a decent home should be for the many, not the few. I can announce that we will invest £8 billion on increasing affordable housing over the next three years, an increase of £3 billion when compared with the previous spending review. This is on top of continuing investment in decent homes, including over £2 billion on the ALMO programme over the next three years. We have listened to the evidence from Shelter and the National Housing Federation. They have said that we need 70,000 affordable homes a year, of which 50,000 should be new social housing. I can announce that by 2010-11, we will deliver over 70,000 new affordable homes a year. By 2011 we will deliver 45,000 new social homes a year, with a goal of 50,000 in the next spending review. We will also deliver 25,000 new shared ownership homes through expanding existing programmes. Further, we will look to support tens of thousands of additional shared ownership homes through public sector land and local housing companies. As rural areas face particular pressures, we will set a specific target for increasing affordable homes in rural areas later this year after consultation with the regional assemblies.
“We want to see more work by local councils, housing associations and the private sector to increase affordable housing, both to buy and to rent. We are announcing today the first 10 ALMOs and local authority special venture vehicles approved to bid for social housing grant in order to build council homes. We are also consulting on changes to the rules on the treatment of rents and receipts from new homes which will give councils more flexibility to build on their land within responsible public finance rules.
“We believe that first-time buyers need more flexible and competitive products today. The Treasury is consulting on new ways to support more affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages. We have also commissioned further work, led by Bryan Pomeroy, on expanding private sector shared equity products, and will launch new shared equity products next year. In the mean time, we will offer a new 17.5 per cent government equity loan for key workers and other priority first-time buyers.
“Taken together, these proposals represent not just the most significant programme of house building for decades, but an ambitious and positive response to the growing challenges that many people face in their day-to-day lives. To deliver it, we will need an expanded, skilled workforce. The new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will lead work to expand construction apprenticeships and work with partners in the sector to raise skills. We know that there is no quick fix for the issues we face. Building more houses takes time, so this must be a shared endeavour. Central government are today setting a bolder framework for the future, but we will achieve our goals only if those at regional and local levels in the public, private and third sectors and in local communities all play their part in supporting the homes we need.
“Building the sustainable homes needed by young people today and future generations is a test of our commitment to supporting people’s aspirations and to achieving social justice. I commend these proposals to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend in another place. I add my sympathy to all the home owners and owners of commercial premises who are caught up in the present disastrous flooding situation, and, indeed, to those who may yet be caught.
I declare an interest in that I own land in Essex. It is always possible that some of that land may become eligible for development and it is right that the House should know that.
The background to the Statement is perhaps not quite as rosy as the Minister stated because the Government have seen annual construction fall to a level below that in the 1920s. There has, of course, been some improvement since then, which is a great relief, but the annual housing construction rate is only a little over 50 per cent of what it was when I first entered local government. We cannot be easy about the present situation and, in the circumstances, I did not find it odd that the Prime Minister, in his programme statement last week, focused on housing and planning.
Among other things, he referred to brownfield sites. I recall that that was included in an early policy statement by the Labour Government after the 1997 election. The former Deputy Prime Minister made much of what was going to be done—and I acknowledge that it has been very successful with brownfield sites—but there is nothing particularly new about that. There is going to be a review of government and publicly owned properties and the same comments apply; these were early adoptions of policy by the Labour Government. They have shown success but restating that does not take us forward.
The Prime Minister referred to some 550 central government-owned sites with a capacity for 100,000 new homes and local government-owned sites for another 60,000 homes. The Statement refers, quite rightly, to the existing 1.8 million sites that are already planned and that the Government would like to have supplied 3 million new homes by 2020. If my arithmetic is somewhere near correct, that merely leaves us with 1,040,000 sites to find over the next decade and a half.
I accept that this is the inevitable result of the planning system which, at the moment, is operating to rather too short a timescale, but the real question is: what steps are the Government taking to discuss and get the agreement of local authorities to these new figures, which I am prepared to accept are valid? There has been no resolution of the difference between local government and central government on this matter so far. In my view, the Government’s handling of the issue has been somewhat inept but, without a degree of consensus, there is not much hope of achieving the Government’s target.
The Government’s social housing programme is also welcome. Extra funding for 30,000 plus houses will be extremely useful and I acknowledge that it will do a great deal to expand construction in this field. However, social housing, by definition, needs to be where it is wanted; it needs to be in town centres and so on. Looking at sites such as old hospital park sites in green belts, brownfield sites such as redundant airfields, or the Government’s suggested publicly owned sites, will not help on the social housing front. Social housing needs to have easy access to the work places of the people who occupy them. Again, the question is: what work is being done to arrive at agreement with local government on this issue?
Finally, I turn to the difficult issue of building on flood plains. I accept that it has a long historical background. Towns were inevitably built next to river crossings because that was where people gathered, and they have grown from that. There has always been a risk of flooding. Things can be done to ameliorate that but in the end, if the good Lord treats us in a hard way, there will be floods.
What is being done to deal with additional flood protection? Much more could be done using artificial flood plains and better construction techniques. More could be done to protect the essential services in particular, such as electricity, gas, water and food, so that their sites were not affected by floods and those services would continue to be available. Part of the difficulty with the present situation is the breakdown of services because of the inability to protect those aspects of supply.
That is quite enough from me. I hope the Minister will be able to answer these points, because it is an essential facet of resolving this problem that there has to be a high degree of agreement.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the important Statement on housing. I join with others in sympathising with all those who are suffering the terrible flooding in many parts of the country. I declare an interest as a member of Berwick Borough Council, which is a housing authority.
The Statement seemed to gloss over the past 10 years. The housing situation has not suddenly come upon us, nor has it crept up on us; it has been obvious to quite a few of us during that time. It started when the present Prime Minister became Chancellor and, for the first two years, stuck to the Conservative spending plans on housing. Indeed, as time went on, the amount he spent became less than the money spent by the Conservatives in the last years of the John Major Government. I found that extraordinary, because the huge increases in house prices meant that the Chancellor was getting hefty sums of money in stamp duty that he had had no idea he would get. He missed a trick there, but I have said that many times before in this House.
For most of those 10 years, it has been obvious to most people that household formation was outstripping housing supply at quite a rate. The Statement says that house building is at its highest for 17 years. That may be so, but we know that most of the houses are not affordable to anyone any more, and they are certainly not the right type of houses in the right places. We applaud efforts to build more affordable homes, but what steps will the Government take to keep them affordable? I commend to the Minister a system in south Shropshire, which Liberal Democrat councillors came up with and which I suspect civil servants know about, called “golden shares”, to ensure that houses are kept affordable for local people in the future. I suggest that where homes are built on surplus public sector land—I think that about 550 sites are currently owned by the Government—community land trusts are set up. That means that when the houses are sold on for the first time, they remain affordable. I would like the Minister to reply to that, because it is important. Otherwise we will end up in exactly this position, with houses not being affordable.
The Statement also highlighted the role of empty properties. Again, many of us have been working on that issue for years, and we had to drag the Government kicking and screaming to change the council tax regime on empty properties. Then what did they do? They gave the money to the county councils, which are not housing authorities. In our authority we do not get it all back to spend on local housing. Another issue that I have raised many times is VAT on repairs. Many empty properties need repairs and refurbishment, and whereas there is no VAT on new build, there is 17.5 per cent tax on repairs.
I welcome the Government’s recognition at last that local authorities best understand the housing needs in their area. But I am a bit confused about the accountability for the spatial strategy. When, some years ago, we dealt in this House with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill that gave the regional assemblies the power to deal with the spatial strategies, I did not expect the regional assemblies to disappear, which I now understand will happen by 2010. However, the Government will now consult them on the new spatial strategies.
I hope that the Government are clearer in their mind than I am, given all the things that have happened. One of the references to rural areas is to consult the regional assemblies. In my part of the country, north Northumberland, we are allowed to build about 80 houses a year. We need more than that to keep our communities sustainable, yet the power to influence the spatial strategy has been virtually nil. I hope that the Government will take note of this. In some areas, 50 per cent of houses are second homes. I do not know what the Government are planning to do about that—there was nothing about it in the Statement. Everybody recognises that where 50 per cent of homes are second homes, a lot of facilities, such as post offices and schools, disappear.
Over the past 10 years, social housing has been a Cinderella area, not in terms of refurbishment but of new build. I welcome the fact that the Government are trying to do something about it. Again, this situation has not crept up on us—we have lost lots of social housing because of the right to buy and the inability of local authorities to replace those houses. The Government again came late to that.
On green homes, Scandinavia and northern Europe have for years been building far more environmentally friendly houses than we have. I welcome the Government’s conversion but, by golly, it has taken a long time. But there is no mention in the Statement of the existing homes, many of which are very energy-inefficient. I know that the Government have put money towards that. In another place, my Private Member’s Bill tried to do more about it—but that was 12 years ago and we still need to do something. Again, the VAT is important in this regard.
Will the Minister really look at some of the things that the Government are setting up? I have just returned to local government after about 14 years, and what strikes me is the bureaucratic systems that the Government are setting up. I notice at least four more in this Statement—the community infrastructure fund, the housing and planning delivery grant, new local housing companies and authority special venture vehicles. The Government are consulting on the rules on the treatment of rents and receipts from new homes. I can remember the days when local authorities had a lot more freedom; they knew what the people in their areas wanted and they built some very good homes. I hope that the Government will listen to local authorities—please, please do not make the situation more bureaucratic than it already is.
My Lords, I think that I detected in those responses a welcome for some of the things that the Government are doing, although in some cases it appears to be a question of too little, too late. Nevertheless, I think that there is a consensus across the House of how important it is to meet the needs of young people who are falling off the property ladder or not even being able to get on it, and to address the very serious problem of housing.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, criticised the fact that we may have glossed over the history of this problem. It is not recent; over the past 30 years, there has been a 30 per cent increase in household formation and a 50 per cent drop in housebuilding. The problem is not 10 years old; it goes back much further. But in the past 10 years patterns of family change and formation have been accelerated and different. The major pressure is coming from single people choosing to live alone, and many of those are now part of our ageing population, so we have new pressures and patterns in the system to which we must respond.
There has been a significant increase in housebuilding in the past year, with a net addition of 185,000 homes. It is therefore important that we look seriously at the history, but also acknowledge the significance and scope of what we are trying to do. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for listing some of our efforts on brownfield sites and in bringing forward public land. Not only do we have a good record on brownfield development, but surplus land now goes much further. We are looking for new approaches to toughen up the register of surplus land, which will have to be much more reflective of housing policy. In planning policy statement 3, we made clear to local authorities the need to bring forward land for five and 15 years’ supply, so that they can predict and plan much more robustly. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, described the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit and some other organisations as bureaucratic, but they are about delivery. The Community Infrastructure Fund has delivered just over £1 billion to the new growth areas in this country for infrastructure. We have these vehicles for a purpose. I can assure noble Lords that we are not in the business of inventing new bureaucracies.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked what steps we are taking to ensure a reconciliation of ambitions between local authorities and national government. That is an important question. The final part of my Statement was about the need for a partnership between everybody who is concerned about housing supply. It is entirely proper that the Government should set ambitious targets for housing, because it is their responsibility to enable people to live in a decent home. That is where the buck stops. The process of deciding with local authorities and regional organisations where, and what sort of, houses should be built is tested in public and by examination, and negotiated through the regional spatial strategies. It is a robust process over which local authorities have great influence.
We said in the announcement on the sub-national review last week that planning would move to the regional development agencies—the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, made a point on this—because we need a regional economic strategy that brings everything together, including housing, planning and skills. That has implications for the regional assemblies, but it has implications also for local authorities being able to play a much more robust role in the beginning. That is what the Local Government Association wanted.
On social housing, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that, wherever we build, we have to have a proportion of affordable housing. No developer is going to get away with not building affordable housing. Social housing is as much needed in rural areas as it is in inner cities.
We take the risk of flooding very seriously, as the previous Statement made clear. We must prevent it. Our new flooding statement, PPS 25 of last December, pointed to the need to ensure that flood risk from all sources—not just from rivers but also, particularly in today’s instances, from surface water—is taken into account at all stages of the planning process. Inappropriate development must be avoided; development must be directed away from high-risk areas. We have announced a review of the lessons learnt from the 2007 floods and will see whether there are implications from its findings. Yes, we need to make space for water as well as to deal with floods, just as the noble Lord described. Our building in the Thames Gateway and other growth areas is tested against that.
I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, drew innovative schemes to our attention. Throughout what we have said about local authorities’ capacity to build more in different ways with different partners, we are looking for and at innovation.
I was asked about equity sharing. We aim to help 120,000 people through equity-sharing arrangements by 2010. In addition, we have come forward with a new product, which involves a government equity loan of 17.5 per cent, which will make matters even easier.
I have spoken about the accountability of the spatial strategy. I was asked about green homes. Our ambition for new homes is simply for them to be carbon free by 2016. The homes in which we live now can be hugely improved, which is why we have brought forward energy performance certificates and why we are advocating better ways of conserving water in different systems. In addition, schemes such as Warm Front will help people not only to reduce their bills but also to be safer and warmer through the winter.
I hope that I have addressed most of the questions raised by noble Lords. I shall certainly make sure that I do so in writing if I have not.
My Lords, does not this initiative give us the opportunity of dealing with the scandal of the abuse of affordable housing targets, particularly in London? Now that the GLA Bill is nearly through, will my noble friend reconsider my proposal in Committee on the GLA Bill, which was based on detailed research of this abuse in London, for footage percentage, and not unit percentage, calculations to be used in affordable housing decisions in London, because we are simply not getting the number of units that we need?
My Lords, my noble friend made a powerful contribution in Committee. I am still not completely convinced that it is the solution, but I can assure him that we have read his contribution seriously, particularly the cases that he brought to our attention. I will get back to him on that.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the Rural Development Commission, along with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and as the owner of a farm and houses in Suffolk. Has the Minister had the opportunity of reading an important article by Sir Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times of 15 July and, if so, does she agree with any of the substantive points that he made? Given that the Government have an obligation to try to ensure that the people of this country are decently housed, does she recognise that this really should mean increasing the supply of rented housing, where the occupant rather than the house is subsidised? Does she recognise that there can be no obligation, if only because it is unachievable, to ensure that everyone who wants to own their home can do so regardless of their means, because to offer to do so will lead only to disappointment? Lastly, has the MoD included RAF Northolt in its six sites on offer for brownfield development?
My Lords, owing to the courtesy of the noble Lord, I am familiar with a little of the article by Simon Jenkins, who has been a consistent critic of government housebuilding policies. On reading it quickly, I do not think that there is much in it with which I agree, but, if the noble Lord will allow, I will come back to him with a proper response. The article states:
“The reality is that Britons squander their limited living space more than any country in Europe”.
I do not agree with that, having seen how other countries in Europe build with enormous profligacy across enormous spaces. I am sure that I will find other things to disagree with as I read on. If we do not do anything more than we are doing at the moment in this country, by 2016—it may be 2026, but I will have to check—the ratio of house prices to earnings will be 10 to one. We cannot afford not to do anything about it. The noble Lord’s point about the importance of rented housing was absolutely correct. We need all sorts of different forms of housing. We must look seriously at that sector as well. I cannot give an answer to his question about RAF Northolt. I shall write to him and give him an idea of the identified sites of which we are aware.
My Lords, the Statement mentions building council homes. Why is it therefore necessary to create local authority special venture vehicles to do so, rather than allow local authorities to build local authority homes? Secondly, will the Minister say something about the infrastructure that will be required to enable the development of large sites such as those belonging to the Ministry of Defence? I do not mean just transport; I mean everything that is required to make a community function, including schools, health centres and so on. Thirdly—and this is also an infrastructure point—noble Lords have mentioned flooding and building on flood plains. Does the Minister accept that the intensification in town centres will have an impact on drainage and sewerage and that everywhere with a Victorian sewerage system must therefore be high risk?
My Lords, on why we need special ventures and do not simply tell local authorities to go ahead and build, we have taken the decision over some time now that the better role for local authorities is a strategic one, in determining needs and provision rather than building. Other people build and develop better, not least the housing associations, which can borrow money on the open market. That is why, for example, we have been able to raise £19 billion for the decent homes strategy, which uses the local authorities.
The special venture vehicles, along with the new local housing partnerships, are new ways in which to raise capacity and increase the role of local authorities in innovative ways. Some local authorities have been very open with us about the lack of capacity. This is what will make sense with regard to deliverability.
As for infrastructure, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The sort of infrastructure necessary to be planned into the new growth areas is why, for example, more than £1 billion in growth area funds and £200 million from the Community Infrastructure Fund have been awarded so far. Those sorts of infrastructure are accompanied by massive investment in education, schools, new health centres, transport and so on. This is very much a coherent programme and we are very well aware of the implications. The Treasury cross-cutting review on infrastructure is looking at how to pull all this together.
Building communities is about more than building physical infrastructure. It is about community building: building memory in and building activity for young people, with safe green spaces, and creating spacious places to live, which you can do even in dense communities. That is what people want. Throughout this Green Paper and planning policy statement 3, we make it absolutely clear that we are not in the business of building homes or estates. We are building communities, which need lungs and space to thrive. That is important, as is the question of quality, which runs through this Green Paper.
The noble Baroness asked about flood plains and town centres. There is an issue here about intensification of use, but it is not confined to town centres. One reason why the water companies are addressing the issue of repair to such an extent is the real need in that regard. Drainage and sewerage systems are as important as, if not more important than, providing fresh water supplies.
On the figure that I gave about the income ratios, the ratio between prices and earnings will be 10 to one by 2026.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement made by my honourable friend the Minister for Housing in another place. We should be generous in extending our welcome to an additional £3 billion investment in the next spending period on social housing, and £8 billion in the period to 2016.
I draw attention to two aspects of the Statement that are extremely welcome. We are unusual but not unique in this country in not having a single mechanism for wholesaling public sector assets and land. Many other countries do that before they decide whether public assets are surplus. The Statement moves us a long way forward in giving the Register of Surplus Public Sector Land some teeth. It is excellent news that we are putting an end to the practice of selling public sector land and assets with no regard to housing policy. That is extremely welcome.
I also welcome the return of local councils sponsoring developments in their local areas. Will my noble friend reassure us that we are talking about not a return to wholesale mono-tenure council housing of the type that we saw in the 1950s and 1960s but rather a return to local authorities sponsoring mixed developments in their areas, with a whole range of tenures and houses for sale in communities?
We should remember that over the past 40 to 50 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, rightly pointed out, there was a decrease in construction. But over that long-running trend the private housebuilders have held up the numbers; the withdrawal from publicly sponsored housing almost entirely accounts for that decrease in housing numbers. So it is very welcome that after 20 years the Government have decided to do this. I thank my noble friend again for the Statement.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for raising those issues. I take the opportunity to thank her on behalf not only of the Government but of everyone who wants a decent home for the sort of work that English Partnerships has done for the near and long-term future in bringing land forward and being so proactive and supportive of these ambitions. She is right in saying that we have not had a very toothy register so far, but we will have one now and it will make a big difference.
I can certainly give her the reassurance that we are not in the business of building housing estates. One thing that the Green Paper makes clear is that we very much want local authorities to build mixed developments. We do not want ghettos or just flats being built; we want family homes, large family homes and mixed developments, so that people of all incomes and tenures can coexist harmoniously together. That is very much a clear steer for future building. Some of the new settlements—in the eco-towns, for example—will be extremely broad in terms of their tenure arrangements.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the information that I have is correct and that overseas or non-British citizens who invest in property in this country do not have to pay stamp duty or capital gains when they sell their property? Can she confirm, too, that British citizens resident overseas who sell their property before returning do not have to pay capital gains tax? If that is correct, it obviously has implications for housing.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that often it is simply the lack of infrastructure funding, particularly for transport, not the issue of targets, that has held back the delivery? Today we are completing some 40 per cent fewer houses a year than we were in the 1970s. To give an example of why targets are not the problem, in my own local authority area in Kent we have a nine-year land bank available now of housing land allocated in local plans, but it is not being built on simply because of the lack of transport infrastructure. Eighteen months ago, the IPPR report said that transport infrastructure today was less than it was in the early 1990s. Furthermore, does the Minister agree that the much more devolved system enjoyed by European countries in relation to transport infrastructure, economic development and housing powers has been shown to deliver more houses and to keep supply in much better balance with demand?
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord has a case there. Building in transport infrastructure, when one is trying to get release of land, is nearly always very complicated. You can see that across the growth areas. However, the highways agencies are working very successfully and more effectively now than they have been. The noble Lord will know that we have looked at different ways in which to strengthen these sorts of arrangements through the sub-national review.
I must correct something that I said earlier. The figure of £1 billion that I gave for communities infrastructure is the amount for our own funding from CLG from 2003 to 2008. I may have given the impression that that was an annual figure.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government, the Minister and her ministerial colleagues on the range of policies that are contained in the Green Paper. She ought not to be put off by the critics who say, with hindsight, what has not been achieved. In my view, the Government are wise to acknowledge that much more could be done, but, at the same time, the House should recognise that a great deal has been done and that what has been said promises even more, especially on affordable housing. Will the Minister look at that situation?
When the right-to-buy policy came in in 1979, it was very popular, not least because those who already had the largesse of a tenancy from a local authority had the additional bonus, if they sold the property¸ of receiving large cash sums. In Edmonton, where I was Member of Parliament, we found over the years that properties that were bought for £7,000 or £8,000 were changing hands for over £100,000 in a very short space of time. The greatest boon that the Government can give, through agencies and directly, is tenancies to those who are desperate for a house. That ought not to include a hidden bonus that, at some time in the future, they will be able to sell it and get hundreds of thousands of pounds. Is the Minister aware of that aggravation and can she say something about readjustments to the present policy? It was a bribe then and it is a bribe now.
My Lords, I shall have to disappoint my noble friend. For very good reasons, we remain committed to home ownership as an aspiration. We have supported the principle of the right to buy, although, over the years, we have changed the conditions. We do not have any plans for changing the terms of the right-to-buy policy, but I know that he will be very pleased by our commitment to new affordable housing: at least 70,000 by 2010; 45,000 new homes each year, or 50 per cent more than this year; and £8 billion over three years. It is a very significant investment, which will help the kind of people about whom he has always been concerned throughout his long political career.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the Minister’s subsequent remarks about the importance of quality in building and of building for communities, not just housing for its own sake. Does she agree that in the dash for housing it is important not to neglect quality and to remember the importance of the human scale of development? From what she has said, I am sure that she does agree with that, but I invite her to recognise that, if we are to live up to the aspirations of which she has spoken in the Green Paper, a change of policy will be required in certain areas. I am certainly aware of proposed developments in the area of London in which I live where those principles will not be adhered to unless we see a change of heart among those who sponsor them.
I know from travelling around the world, as I do, that it is possible to build high-rise buildings on a substantial scale and yet imaginatively, in a way that is congenial for communities to live in. I have just been to New York where there are in busy streets wonderful refuges of small open spaces with water features and so forth, which make living in those areas a delight, compared with some of the developments of which I have spoken and which are proposed. I invite the Minister to recognise that if we proceed with faceless tower-block buildings, we are likely to have the sort of problems that have been experienced in the Paris banlieues on our hands in a generation to come.
My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord. As we said in the Green Paper, we have to ensure that we are as conscious of quality as we are of quantity. We shall certainly expand our partnership with CABE, which we have had over many years, and which has been invaluable in terms of articulating what we think of as good design and quality. I am sure that that will be very successful. The noble Lord is absolutely right about small open spaces. In recent years, one achievement has been the renaissance of our parks. In building new communities, whether in airfield sites or eco-towns, we will have a wonderful opportunity to pioneer new ways of living and new types of community living. I hope that in due course Scandinavians may come here, rather than us going to Scandinavia, to see what can be achieved on sustainability and beauty.
Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill
House again in Committee on Clause 222.
238KC: Clause 222, page 154, line 30, after “on” insert “effectively”
The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 238KDA, 238KF, 238KH, 238L and 238LE. One thing that makes people like me suspicious about what is to emerge from the Bill is the phraseology of Clause 222(2). To put it at its simplest, the activities that are described in the subsection are all about process; they are not about outcomes. That pertinent point was raised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. It is as if all that matters is that someone observes the carrying on of health and social care commissioning and provision and obtains people’s views. What is the point of that activity? The point is to improve the quality of local services. Why do we not say that that is what LINks are there to do? Equally, why do we not say, in terms, that it is not enough for the contract with the host to specify that the activities mentioned are carried on; the contract needs to have as its aim that those activities should be undertaken effectively.
There is a very sterile and neutral feel about the wording in this part of the clause. Surprisingly, there is not even any mention of one of the main aims of patient and public involvement, which is to try to promote the interests of those people in the community whose voice is less often heard, or who, for one reason or another, are the victims of health inequalities. A good LINk will tackle social exclusion head-on and try to remedy it.
Perhaps I can illustrate that idea briefly. The Minister will be well aware that life expectancy varies depending on the area of the country where one lives, Manchester being the worst area for both men and women. If those with the shortest life expectancy do not have equal influence on services, the potential of those services to deal with these issues will be lost. A good example might be stop-smoking services, which need to be offered at the times of day and in the locations when those of working age in manual groups, which have higher rates of smoking, may access them easily. If they are involved in the design of services, those kinds of issues could be raised. Similarly, smoking in pregnancy is more than four times higher in social class 5 than in social class 1. The involvement of women from deprived areas in designing antenatal services could improve the success of those services. We know that the rate of perinatal mortality is twice as high among mothers living in the most deprived areas. It is essential for these groups to be involved in services so that they are designed effectively. There are any number of other examples, not least—it is fresh in my mind—the need to involve black and ethnic-minority patients in the design of psychiatric services.
I hope the Minister will accept that that is a real issue. If LINks are able to make reports and recommendations to those with the appropriate power to change things in the health service or social care, then there should not be an artificial restriction on to whom they can report. The wording does not make it entirely clear and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that the persons responsible for commissioning, providing, managing or scrutinising local care services could include, for example, the Healthcare Commission and CSCI.
What are we to understand by the definition of “care services” in Clause 222(5)? We see here that,
“‘care services’ means—
(a) services provided as part of the health service in England”.
That might seem perfectly all right until we remember that not everything that a patients’ forum is currently able to report on relates to health services as commonly understood. For example, concerns may be expressed about car-parking charges, waiting areas for hospital visitors or transport arrangements. These are matters that contribute to the patient experience in the broad sense but they are not directly to do with care. Can the Minister confirm that such matters will not be excluded from the purview of LINks? I beg to move.
I support the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in everything he has said. I will also add a few words to what he said about Amendments Nos. 238KD and 238KE.
The clause states that it is to enable “people” to monitor the local health activities. Instead, we have inserted,
“members of the local involvement network”.
If we are moving to LINks, and it seems fairly clear that—with all the queries that we have—we are, then it is right that we should say so and say what we mean about membership of those LINks. I am enormously grateful to the involvement network, which is a network of hosts, for the information it has submitted. It suggested that we must move to a system where LINks are sufficiently flexible,
“to allow members to respond at least as quickly and effectively, in the interests of those seeking or receiving service, as the Forums can do now”.
About forums, it said that they,
“generally have developed small, trained and experienced teams made up of members”,
and other participants,
“who are able to respond and take action faster and with a different perspective than other scrutiny or regulatory bodies”.
It added that,
“they are often more effective at eliciting a response because they are more down-to-earth, can work more simply and directly, including with staff at all levels”,
“remain focused on what matters to patients and their families”.
That is exactly what we want LINks to be. The involvement network has suggested that we need to create “classes of membership” for LINks, and that might mean having a variety of memberships for groups and for individuals and at many different levels. Whatever it is, we need people to be members of that entity. The incredibly loose network that the Minister described before the Statement seems to be too loose to be bearable.
However the model works, there must be some sense in which LINks have members. Anna Coote, a former colleague at the King’s Fund who was on the group that looked at the new structure and who is now at the Healthcare Commission, suggested in her evidence to the Health Select Committee that the original idea was a “true network”—something very loose indeed—but that it was shifting somewhat. The Health Select Committee argued that the Department of Health was reluctant to talk about membership of a LINk, but we argue that if LINks are to do anything and gather views properly they will need members and some clarity of what kind of entity they are. It is essential, however loose they are or how many classes of membership there may be, that they know who their members are and who they can charge with taking on various functions, duties, activities or whatever it is they will be called.
In lending my support to these amendments, I will speak briefly to Amendment No. 238KL.
Before that, I should explain to my noble friend why I have added my name to a number of the amendments being debated today. My noble friend will remember that I was critical of the Government’s decision to abolish community health councils in 2002, feeling that they should be strengthened and reformed instead. Their successor, the patients’ forums—I prefer to say fora—are now to be abolished in turn instead of being strengthened, perhaps with their structure and functions revised in light of experience and developments in the National Health Service and other social institutions.
Just over a week ago, my noble friend Lord Layard wrote an article in the Guardian entitled, “No change for change’s sake”. I will quote a small part:
“Reorganisation is much less important than some think. In fact, many different organisational structures can be made to work equally well. What cannot work is constant reorganisation, where nobody understands what is happening, institutional memory is lost, and everybody worries about their future rather than the job in hand”.
Exactly. However, the Government have gone so far down the road to establish LINks, instead of patient participation fora, that our job today is to probe the Government’s arrangements for setting them up and ensuring that they work smoothly rather than seeking to attack the whole concept. In fact, the concept of LINks is admirable in many ways, particularly in that it covers the area of local authorities, rather than individual trusts. It also includes primary care and—better than anything—social services in its remit. It is potentially an extremely valuable reorganisation, although its remit could have been included in those of existing bodies. The Government have said that, by leaving some of the wording of the Bill non-specific, they will allow for flexibility in operation, but we feel that inserting certain words will make it easier for those setting up and working in LINks to carry out their tasks and to know what those tasks are.
The main purpose of the amendments, as noble Lords have said, is exploratory. It is appropriate for me, as a government Back-Bencher, to join the cross-party group that has tabled these amendments given that many Labour Party members and supporters—not least on the Health Select Committee of another place—are very concerned and have misgivings about the Bill.
I want to talk a bit about Amendment No. 238KL. Its purpose is to expand how LINks are to obtain the views of the population in their areas. Clause 222, at page 154, line 36, talks about local authorities,
“obtaining the views of people”.
That is extremely non-specific. That means that they can just go into the street and ask the views of a selection of passers-by. The amendment inserts, instead of “obtaining”,
“supporting members of local involvement networks to obtain”,
this information, thus delineating more clearly how the LINk is to work. This is one of a series of amendments to clarify the structure and function of LINks.
I am in exactly the same position as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, on these amendments. Will the Minister give us examples of who may be the hosts for LINks and what happens if they suddenly move or go broke—especially if they are housed in a voluntary organisation?
I want to speak to these amendments to probe further a question which I remain unclear about, although I had hoped it to be clarified in the previous group of amendments. I was somewhat disappointed when the Minister gave us the impression that some of us, by probing these issues, might not be in favour of change. I think that change is often extremely positive but, to take change forward, we have to understand how we harness the energy of those involved in existing services and do not demoralise them. The management of change is around gathering people with you and taking you forward with their energy. If we are to take these changes forward, we have to conceptualise what this is about—and I am struggling to do that, particularly when I read in Clause 222 that the activities include,
“enabling people to monitor, and review, the commissioning and provision of local care services”.
The commissioning of local care services is a highly complex process. What kind of organisation will we have? I continue to use that phrase, “What kind of organisation?”, because I do not know the terminology with which to describe the matrix it appears that the LINks will be. I agree with these amendments—we have to have some sort of form and structure, some sort of membership and some sort of understanding of the host. I agree with my noble friend who asked who the hosts will be. I do not understand that and have very little idea of what their governance relationship is with the local authority or the primary healthcare trust—or, indeed, how those two relate to the LINks in terms of governance.
I am sorry if this is losing some thread in our discussion and the nature of the documents that have been sent out. I have tried to follow it, but, as the noble Baroness will know, I spend a lot of my time in governance and trying to sort out some of the difficulties of change that the Government have created, which have not been too easy. I ask these probing questions simply because I am keen that we do not again create an animal that is unmanageable and something that we will have to unpick. This is a crucial change for the future.
As “host” has been mentioned, can the Minister say whether it is appropriate now or at a later stage to consider why we need hosts, how they will work, how much money they will have and whether they will be voluntary organisations that do not get involved in the work that was going on? Those will be very important points to explore later and I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said, because he put some of our concerns very effectively.
I add my support to this group of amendments, particularly Amendment No. 238KG, on,
“supporting members of local involvement networks to obtain”,
their experiences. I wish to add to my noble friend Lord Howe’s search for clarity on the purpose of LINks.
Perhaps I may use an example from my local authority in Kent. Three years ago it wanted to support the patient forums by establishing an independent focal point to allow patients and residents to report their experiences of the NHS. We have, like many local authorities, a 200-seat, 24-hour-a-day call centre. We were simply suggesting that people could phone in, because one of the problems of patient forums is—and one of the problems of LINks will be—the large amount of anecdotal evidence. What they need is a professional organisation to take widespread opinion, to analyse that and produce hard evidence of patient experiences. This seemed a good idea. We called it Kent Health Watch, but at the time it was opposed by the NHS health authority. However, such an idea would be immensely valuable. Amendment No. 238KG and the clause bring that out. Will the Minister support the establishment of that kind of patient information base, which is very important both for information and choice?
This has been a thorough debate on some complex issues. I much admire the noble Earl’s struggle with language. Sometimes we seem to exist in a virtual universe when we consider the language of parliamentary draftsmen. That is not unique to this Bill, but it is, perhaps, perplexing here. The noble Earl also did the House a service by emphasising how important it was for the LINks networks to be as wide as possible. The examples he gave, not least regarding the relationships of black and ethnic minorities with mental health services, were absolutely right. All I would say is that that is precisely why we have not listed organisations in the Bill or defined the scope and extent of a LINk, simply because we have made it clear in everything that we have written and sent out that the test of a LINk will be how far it reaches into the community.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that I certainly did not mean to denigrate people who manage change and who have had successfully to manage a great deal of change in recent years. I understand why she pushed me on clarity and I will do my best to conceptualise this and to answer some of the question that arise.
Amendment No. 238KC seeks to insert “effectively” in relation to the means by which LINks arrangements can be delivered. What we mean by “effective” is, essentially, that LINks will be organisations with sufficient scope, as I have said, to bring in the widest and most effective range of influences for different purposes. Those influences may be very specific to an interest group made up, for example, of people clustered around the independent living agenda. The influences may be broad in relation to changes proposed whereby this alliance, this network, will have a collective view of the impact it will have or some of the changes that it wants to see. Some of those changes may run across interests and conditions but will affect a particular age group, such as the elderly or the young. So there will be, I am afraid, infinite variety. It is that sort of inference.
The test of effectiveness is that there will be governance arrangements which are clear about the relative role of the host. The LINk will take decisions on priorities and activities and the host will provide the necessary support for them to carry it out. In all the documentation we have put out, that distinction and the need to be clear about that is vital. There will be clear and responsible partnerships with stakeholders, such as overview and scrutiny committees. Local partnerships will establish the role in relation to commissioning, at what point the LINk organisation and in what form—a group, a small sub-committee—would have a role in looking at the commissioning of particular services, maybe specialist services. Those sorts of things can be determined as the structure evolves.
There are clear accountabilities in the system. Local authorities have a duty to make arrangements to establish a LINk. The host will be accountable for the delivery of the contract and provide appropriate support, advice and infrastructure. The LINk is accountable to the community. It will reflect the range of organisations and interest groups which have an interest in the whole range of services and working with them to obtain the voices, it will determine priorities for work programmes in accordance with the issues which matter to local people.
We sought at the outset to establish a means of informing ourselves and local authorities on what will work best, and that was the point of the early adopter projects. They are not pilots; they are early adopter projects, attempting to show how different models of activity may work, how people can be engaged in different ways, how LINks can be governed, and, in short how they can be as effective as possible. We have just completed nine regional events at which we asked all stakeholders interested in LINks for their views on how the arrangements should be set up. The responses indicate that people were really keen for options to be set out in guidance on how best to deliver LINks’ functions and structures, how best to engage, how to reach the seldom-heard groups, how to make model policies on areas such as codes of conduct. No one has asked for that to be put in legislation. They have asked for help and guidance on how to formulate it. It seems to me that that is the responsibility of Government.
We have consulted many voluntary and community organisations and there is a huge range of experience among them for obtaining responses and voices. The model contract specification was drawn up with their input to make sure that it set out the key features, which may well have been things that LINks are not as well as things that LINks should be.
On contracting, local authorities are very accustomed to contracting local service providers and performance-managing those contracts. We explored the great variety of innovative arrangements at an early stage of this Bill. Local authorities are increasingly confident about new types of arrangements. By giving them a clear duty to make the arrangements necessary to establish the support LINks, we have chosen the right organisation to fulfil the role.
I return to the notion of effectiveness. No, I will not return to the notion of effectiveness; I shall go on with the logic of what I was saying.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 238KG, KE and KG. They seek to articulate the notion of members of LINks. My noble friend asked how one obtains the views of people and I would say to him that there is a huge range of options. I take the point he is making. I am not sure that I agree with him but I listened hard to what he said. The point is that there is an enormous range of experience on how to obtain voices, not just through existing organisations, which are often membership-based and therefore have responsibility to reflect their members’ views, but also through the new range of technologies which make it very easy indeed—not least e-gov with its direct relationship with local government—for people to text or e-mail what they feel about things. So we have ways of doing this which we did not have before. The example given by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, in relation to this was very interesting and I would like to think about what he said.
This batch of amendments is generally about giving identity to LINKs; giving members individual or collective identity or responsibility. I come back to where I started on the previous amendment, to the need to allow for flexibility and self-design; the need people themselves to say that this is the sort of organisation they want and that it is what will work for them. Obviously there will be participants in LINks who want to take on a more active role than others, who want to form the steering committee, and they will be enabled to come forward. The host’s first task is to identify who in the local area is active, involved and committed and who among those committed organisations, as they come forward, might be willing to take on some of these responsibilities. It will be an open but negotiated process. We have not prescribed whether there should be a board or a steering committee but it is very unlikely that there would not be.
In terms of membership, the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, asked why certain people could not be members. The involvement network has come up with some interesting ideas but it would be difficult to put classes of membership in the Bill. A company limited by guarantee or a charity could be members. There is nothing to stop it being a membership organisation but this should be for local people to decide. I know it is not easy. We are wrestling with a bit of a miasma but that is in the nature of what we are trying to achieve.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked who the hosts are and what they do. Hosts are organisations made up of the same sort of people who supported the patients’ forums. They can be voluntary organisations or social enterprises. The acid test is: do they know the field? Will they be able to be inclusive, to know who is able to or wants to make a contribution? Are they organisations that understand health and care matters? They could be an organisation in the field or a care provider, or a voluntary organisation dealing with health. They could also be a citizens’ advice bureau. We will have to see what comes forward and what capacity they offer the local authority. This is the test the local authority will impose. Can they do what we want? Are they sufficiently familiar, confident, trustworthy, open and capable to host and provide the infrastructure for this new organisation? We have not said what organisations should come forward for that reason. What happens if they go bust? There will be a rigorous process in awarding a contract but if they go bust, it will have to be retendered.
Let me say something about commissioning. PCTs and local authorities have a duty to seek the views of local people, especially in commissioning decisions. LINks will be an ideal resource for commissioners to enable easy access to people who are interested and knowledgeable about that process. I think we have a natural synergy there.
I have dealt with the hosts; let me come back to the notion of people. We do not think it is right that people should be identified in the legislation as having specific power or responsibilities. The intention of the legislation is to define the LINk’s functions rather than how it should be managed or governed. As I have said, there will be different ways of doing that.
Amendment No. 238KF seeks to require that the activity of a LINk to monitor and review the commissioning and provision of services is for the purpose of securing and maintaining improvements to those services. I think the purpose is a good one. I can see the argument but I want to take this away and think about it, because getting something in the Bill about securing and maintaining improvements could be helpful. I have to consider how it could be applied to all of LINks’ powers rather than just one so there will be some implications to be teased out.
Amendment No. 238L seeks to ensure that the list of LINks’ activities given in Clause 222(2) includes that the LINks can make their reports and recommendations to the bodies responsible for services. As it is currently drafted, subsection (2)(d) states that LINks can make,
“reports and recommendations … to persons responsible for … services”.
It is not necessary to amend that to read “persons or bodies” because, in the legal context, “persons” includes a body of persons and therefore applies to institutions that are responsible for services.
The noble Earl asked whether LINks would be able to make reports—require responses, as it were—to the Healthcare Commission or CSCI. No; LINks will be able to make reports to regulators but they are not included in this list because they will not be under a duty to respond, as commissioners will be. There is a distinction. LINks reports are to be sent to local organisations that commission care services, not to national bodies, to emphasise the local LINk rather than the national commissioning body.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 238KD and 238KH. I absolutely agree that it would be important for LINks to promote involvement opportunities to encompass the views of the entire population, as I said, including those who are hard to reach. The activities for a LINk listed under Clause 222(2) already include promoting people’s involvement and obtaining views. The most reassuring thing that I can say to noble Lords is that we will be setting out in guidance the importance of doing that and collecting best practice about how it is already done.
I will have to write to noble Lords about Amendment No. 238LE; I do not have the answers to hand.
Finally, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked whether LINks will be able to consider transport or access to services. Yes, LINks will be able to hear many views on matters relating to healthcare; it will not be confined to the delivery of health services per se. It will cover all the things that make a difference to the way in which people access and perceive their health services.
I am sorry; I seem to have spoken for quite a long time. I hope that I have given some of the answers that noble Lords were looking for.
I do not think that they will be confusing. We are at the stage at which they look confusing because we do not have these animals operating in front of us. Once the host is contracted and the functions of the LINks networks are described, people will have a clear idea that across their local area there will be a network or alliance of people who know and care about health and who are expert in it; it will be their job to give the community’s views on health services. That can be described in a fairly straightforward way. I agree that some of the organograms that we have had defy that. I am sure that when you state what the objectives are, people will understand.
I am sure that Members of the Committee are most grateful to the Minister for having covered the amendments in such detail. This is a mixed bag of amendments so I suppose that it is not surprising that we should take comfort from some parts of the Minister’s answer and less comfort from other parts.
I was encouraged by what she said about Amendment No. 238KF, and I thank her for agreeing to take the idea away. I was sorry, however, that she confirmed my suspicions that a LINk would be unable to make reports and recommendations to national bodies. In some circumstances, a LINk might feel justified in reporting to that level. These are matters to which we can no doubt return if we wish at a later stage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 238KCA to 238L not moved.]
238LZA: Clause 222, page 154, line 43, at end insert—
“( ) enabling people to monitor and review the provision of care services and local care services for persons moving their place of ordinary residence into the area.”
The noble Lord said: Never mind the opacity of parliamentary draftsmanship; the numbering of amendments that I have come back to from three weeks away in the States is mind-boggling enough. Noble Lords will see that Amendment No. 238LZA is grouped with Amendment No. 245B, which adds a new clause to Part 16, which deals with miscellaneous provisions. Both are probing amendments. Although they relate to distinct parts of the Bill, they are closely connected and, with the Committee’s agreement, I will speak to them together.
Hundreds—potentially thousands—of disabled people are being prevented from moving home or moving from residential care to independent living each year because of bureaucratic delays and disputes about who should pay for their care. The root cause of these problems is the definition of someone’s place of ordinary residence. This is a means by which local authorities and primary care trusts determine which authority has responsibility for personal support for disabled people who live in their area. Local authorities are responsible for assessing the needs of and providing social care to people who are ordinary residents within their area. However, it is quite common for one local authority to place someone in registered accommodation within another local authority’s area. Under these out-of-area placements, it is the placing local authority that pays for the personal support costs. If the individual then decides to move into more independent accommodation, their place of ordinary residence is deemed to have changed to where their new accommodation is. The local authority—where the new accommodation is located—should then take responsibility for their assessment and for funding personal support. However, there is no legal definition of ordinary residence and the guidance is unclear. The Department of Health said that it would update the guidance in 2004 but has not so far done so. Some local authorities are using this confusion to delay or avoid paying the costs of the care of those for whom they should be responsible.
Situations in which disputes about ordinary residence arise include the following: first, when someone is funded as an out-of-area placement in a care home that ceases to be registered as a care home; secondly, when someone funded out of area leaves a residential college but wishes to stay in the vicinity of the college; thirdly, when someone receiving support to live in the community wishes to move to another authority area, perhaps just a mile or two away; and, fourthly, when someone who is assessed by a local authority moves to a home in another area on a self-funding basis and within a few weeks or months approaches the original authority for help with funding. I have been personally made aware of another complication in my role as chairman of RNIB, in respect of which I of course declare an interest. RNIB’s Rushton School, which is now located near Coventry, receives numbers of children who are placed out of area from divers regions of the country. Their educational and social care costs are met by the placing authority but for some reason Coventry PCT is expected to pick up the bill for the healthcare costs of all the children from around the country. These situations have major implications for local authorities. The current system creates clear winners and losers. Some local authorities have very few residential care facilities and therefore make a lot of out-of-area placements. Others are well served by residential care facilities and therefore receive a lot of out-of-area placements.
There are perverse financial incentives for placing authorities to encourage disabled people living in registered care homes to move into the local community, or to encourage homes to de-register so that they no longer retain financial responsibility for their clients’ personal support costs. Those authorities in which large numbers of people have been placed face a significant increase in the numbers of disabled people needing support, with consequent budgetary implications. It is therefore essential that arrangements are put in place to ensure that these funding inequalities are resolved. Giving LINks the task of monitoring and reviewing provision in this area would help to give a voice to those stuck in the middle of these inter-authority disputes, many of whom are among those least able to make their voices heard. This is the purpose of Amendment No. 238LZA.
Amendment No. 245B seeks to put in place a mechanism for arriving at a more systematic approach to resolving these problems. The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, in a recent report entitled No Place Like Home, urges the Department of Health to take three urgent steps. First, to establish and enforce the principle that a person should receive appropriate social care and support from the authority where they are currently living or wish to live, regardless of circumstances. This would not deal with the Rushton problem, to which I referred, where the issue is one of disproportionate costs falling on a single authority because it happens to have within its boundaries a facility with a significant out-of-area—for example, national or regional—catchment. Perhaps a better way of putting it might be to say that it is a fundamental principle that the ability to change one’s place of ordinary residence should not be contingent on health or social care needs.
Secondly, guidance to social services and PCTs should be updated to ensure that they implement this principle in a person-centred way that removes barriers to choice and independence. Thirdly, a framework should be put in place for the transfer of funds between authorities so that the issue of ordinary residence can no longer be used as a basis for refusing to provide care and support.
I hope the Minister will be able to give us some indication of the Government’s approach to these matters, and how they propose to disentangle the intricacies to which they give rise. It cannot be doubted that there is a range of knotty problems overdue for solution here. If the Minister does not have an immediate answer, perhaps she would agree that it could be beneficial to meet with local authorities and the other bodies involved in providing social care and health services, with a view to finding a way forward that commands general assent. I beg to move.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Low, very strongly in all that he has said on these amendments. In doing so I declare a non-financial interest as president of the National Society for Epilepsy, a charity that regularly finds itself entangled in exactly the kind of sterile and time-consuming arguments to which the noble Lord has so correctly referred. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to the issue and will do all she can to expedite a satisfactory outcome.
I also support all the words of the noble Lord, Lord Low. I declare an interest as a former trustee of Jewish Care, where precisely these issues came up time and again. I very much hope that the noble Baroness will be able to do as much as she possibly can to resolve this issue, which has been going on, to my knowledge, for the past 30 years or more.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Low, and congratulate him on his ingenuity in bringing this extraordinarily long-standing difficulty to the House through this amendment. I doubt whether the noble Lord thinks that the Minister can solve this, but if she could move it forward in any way, she would help the lives of thousands of people.
When I was a director of social services, well over 20 years ago, this was a central problem. It is not the wish of the local authorities to continue, but they have a responsibility to make their money go as far as it can. The regulations are not clear. If there was clarity it would make an enormous difference. I declare an interest as the chair of Grooms-Shaftesbury. It was very involved in the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group’s report, which the noble Lord, Lord Low, outlined with such clarity that I do not need to go into further detail. The Minister could almost make her name—if she has not already—if she could take this forward.
In making my name, I should say that it is Baroness Morgan speaking; my noble friend Lady Andrews is taking her seat for a moment. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Low, on his ingenuity in bringing forward this amendment in this way and, perhaps more so, on speaking so eloquently and with great knowledge and depth of understanding about what is an extremely important issue, as he always does when he brings these issues to the attention of the House. I particularly congratulate the noble Lord on highlighting a potentially very positive role for the new LINks in a future where they could be responsible for championing this key issue.
I understand that Amendment No. 238LZA—these are amazing titles for amendments—seeks to ensure that LINks have an overview if, for example, a local authority wants to move someone to a care home outside the area, or indeed if someone wants to move from one local authority area to another. They should have the right to social mobility.
I can confirm that the activities of a LINk, as they are described in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of Clause 222(2), apply to care commissioned and provided to people moving their place of ordinary residence into the area. The definition of local care services given in Clause 222(5) relates to care services provided in the authority’s area and care services provided in any place for people from that area. Therefore, anyone living even temporarily within a given local authority area should be able to share their experiences of care services with the LINk for that area, even if the services they receive are from outside that area. Any healthcare commissioned by the PCT will fall under the remit of the corresponding LINk, even if it is provided in, for example, a prison. I know we are going to talk about that later.
Turning to Amendment No. 245B, I understand that this amendment is a means to secure social mobility, or to raise the issue of it. Local authorities should be under a duty to co-operate in, for example, the sharing of needs assessments to facilitate and speed up payments if people move from area to area. I thank noble Lords for highlighting these issues around the question of mobility for disabled people and local authorities’ responsibilities in this area. I agree that these are extremely complex and important issues and that they merit more detailed examination. I shall be pleased to take away the points raised by noble Lords today and will ask the Department of Health to discuss them with key organisations, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, has suggested. I know, for example, that the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group is particularly keen to meet to discuss these matters. I shall recommend that such a meeting takes place and shall be happy to bring pressure to bear in that regard or at least, for noble Lords who are discussing the issue here today, to press for significant progress to have been made before Report. With that in mind, I hope that the noble Lord will consider withdrawing his amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask her one question. If a LINk in a local area is so persuasive about certain provisions that need to be made that, in its wisdom, the local authority decides that more of its finances should go in that direction rather than in the direction that I would heartily support—as I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Low—would that mean that, with so many different priorities in each area, the situation would get worse rather than better?
The objective in agreeing to take away and consider these amendments is to promote an outcome that will result not in further complexity or in things getting worse but in a situation where local LINks—the matter before us now—will be able to champion the needs of the people in their area, particularly disabled people who want mobility. That is what we are talking about here. The noble Lord, Lord Low, has highlighted the complexity involved. We have to look at that carefully and come back with some practical, simple and straightforward suggestions.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for her very positive response to the points that I raised and to those endorsed by other noble Lords who have spoken, for whose support I am also grateful. I thank the Minister for making it clear to me who was responding to the debate, although, having sufficiently made her name already, that was hardly necessary.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that, essentially, I was drawing attention to the complexity of these issues, and no one would expect an instant solution this evening. I am most grateful that the Minister has recognised and taken full delivery of their importance, that she has undertaken to look at them with the department to see whether they can be unravelled and that she has agreed to meet the voluntary organisations, disability groups and others involved to see whether, as I suggested, a way forward can be found. For all that, I am most grateful to her and I happily beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
238LA: Clause 222, page 155, line 4, after “consult” insert “members of Patients’ Forums and”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group. The most distressing thing in all the discussions about the establishment of LINks has been that patients’ forums have not been consulted or involved in the change. They were not part of the original group that Harry Cayton set up and they have been sidelined. Even the doctor-patient partnerships, which are moving towards LINks, have not been listened to adequately over their concern that the pace of the change is too rapid.
In private meetings, the Minister has assured me that the Government are very grateful for all that patients’ forum members have done. I suggest that it would be a concrete sign of that recognition if those members, or at least some of them, were consulted when the regulations for the new LINks system are drawn up.
In Amendment No. 238LB, we suggest changing the wording to “such other persons” to be consulted about the regulations, because “such other” can include those who know how all this might work. It might, for example, include present patients’ forums, as well as special interest groups, the national association for patients’ forums and the local involvement network hosts. If that wide group is not consulted, huge doubt must remain as to whether full account has been taken of the implications of LINks and what they are to be asked to do. Our general concern about the lack of clarity of purpose, rather than about the process, has not yet been put to rest, and that is why we have put forward these amendments. I beg to move.
I shall address the issue of the regulations because it involves a slightly narrower interpretation than that made by the noble Baroness. I shall then say a few words about how we want the expertise and commitment to continue working. I understand the noble Baroness’s concerns and I hope that I can reassure her.
The power to make regulations set out in subsections (3) and (4) already requires the Secretary of State to consult such persons as he considers necessary. However, it is important to state that there is no intention of using these regulations in the near future. The power to make regulations has been taken simply to ensure that LINks activities can be kept up to date in the future. For example, if health and social care services change—perhaps with the announcement of major reforms—we want to ensure that LINks have enough flexibility so that the effectiveness of their activities is not restricted. We said that forums are now ill-suited to meet the changes because there needs to be a wider, more inclusive network, but what we have learnt from patients’ forums is very valuable and we certainly do not intend to lose that knowledge.
The regulation-making powers are unlikely to be used soon, and patients’ forums will no longer exist if and when regulations are made to add to the powers of LINks. Amendments Nos. 238VB and 238VC seek a similar end when regulations are made detailing the duties of service providers to respond to requests for information made by LINks. Again, the Secretary of State must consult the members of patients’ forums.
We shortly intend to make regulations on how service providers should respond to LINks, unlike the regulation-making power in Clause 222. We intend to draw up draft regulations and, in the next few months, will begin a full three-month consultation on the various powers, such as the power to review or to request information. It is absolutely our intention that that consultation should involve important stakeholders from many sectors. Many people who are interested in how LINks will work will have valuable opinions, and we do not wish to make patients’ forums a statutory consultee because we do not think that the consultation should be limited to that group. It would seem unwise to retain them as statutory consultees once they were abolished, but they obviously contain important expertise.
The transition to the new system will be evolutionary. It is a new system and that is part of the argument for the way that things are being done. It is a new system rather than an amendment of the old system. As we say in the document on making effective LINks, there is no reason at all why forum members, as part of LINks, cannot continue to build on the often positive relationships that they have formed with specific NHS trusts, which, in many instances, have been valued on both sides. Specifically, LINks members will be able to form specialist sub-groups focusing on areas that include hospital trusts, mental health trusts and so on, as well as focusing on LINk-wide commissioning issues at PCT or local authority levels. That will build on best practice.
I firmly believe that many people who have built up relationships and trust with those organisations will want, and need, to continue to be involved. Therefore, not only will they be consulted in respect of what the noble Baroness raised in her amendment but they will have a role in making LINks, and the flexibility in the system, work according to the good sense and interest of the institutions. I very much hope that patients’ forums will take that message in the spirit in which it is meant. We need the expertise and commitment to continue, and I very much hope that it will.
While I quite understand why the Minister does not necessarily want the present system of patient forums to be among the statutory consultees, will she assure the Committee that, where regulations are being consulted on in the next few months, she would expect patient forums to be consulted, even though they need not be statutory consultees?
I thank the Minister for that assurance, which is helpful. If that is the case, it will give members of patient forums considerable reassurance. I also thank her for the rest of her clarification, but we are not yet entirely on the same page here. There is still extreme concern among your Lordships about the transitional arrangements and how they will all work. Nevertheless, as the Minister has given me some assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 238LB not moved.]
238LC: Clause 222, page 155, line 4, at end insert—
“(4A) The Secretary of State shall make payments to each local authority that are, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, sufficient to cover the costs incurred by that local authority in making contractual arrangements specified under subsection (1).
(4B) Nothing in this section shall prevent a local authority making contractual arrangements under subsection (1) so as to ensure that the activities specified in subsection (2) are carried on to a greater extent than would be the case if the arrangements were to cost no more than the payments made available under subsection (4A).”
The noble Earl said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 238N. It was perhaps inevitable that, at some stage in these proceedings, we should come to the vexed subject of money. Through this amendment, I want to raise a number of questions for the Minister about the resourcing of LINks.
We understand that funding is to be made available to local authorities by the Department of Health to enable the host organisations to support LINks and their activities. If, as I imagine, that funding is not to be ring-fenced—though the Minister may correct me—the obvious question arises about whether the activities undertaken in a local authority area in the name of patient and public involvement will be adequate in any given case. If it is open to local authorities to apply money intended to support that involvement to other activities altogether, we have the prospect—or, at any rate, the possibility—of LINks being supported on a mere shoestring and, therefore, not being able to do their job properly.
We will be debating the role of the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health in later amendments, but one signal advantage of the commission is that the money that it distributes to forum support organisations cannot be used for purposes other than those for which forums were established. Under the arrangements in the Bill, however, there is no guarantee at all that money intended to support the activities listed in Clause 222 will actually reach the front line. It would be possible for a local authority to say that it was delivering the activities in the Bill when, in reality, those activities were so minimal that they were hardly worth the name of patient and public involvement. What steps could be taken, in those circumstances, to ensure that such involvement in health and social care is delivered properly? The answer is not clear from the Bill.
Another aspect to this issue is that, if LINks are going to assume different forms and guises in different localities, it is axiomatic that the level of activity that they undertake is going to vary from area to area. That will not only be because the activities themselves naturally give rise to a different burden of work in different parts of the country; it will also reflect the size and composition of the LINks, which may be large and diverse in one area and thin and perhaps weak in another. The amount of money directed toward PPI in any given area has to be based on a reasonably objective and dispassionate assessment of what that area needs in order for the job of PPI to be done properly and effectively. This is not to advocate the conscious overfunding of LINks that may be a bit thin and weak. My point is that the budget for the host contract has to be arrived at on the basis of what is, and what might be, needed to deliver desired outcomes.
How is that aim to be achieved? Again, the Bill is extremely vague and uninformative. What considerations will underpin the process whereby a local authority judges that funding of a host for a given year should, let us say, go up? If it reaches such a judgment, what factors will the Department of Health look to if it is to persuade the Treasury that additional funding should be provided? Whatever process is employed here needs to be transparent and fair, not least as between different parts of the country.
I would be grateful if the Minister could shed some illumination on those issues. Also, what total amount of funding has been earmarked by the Department of Health for patient and public involvement in 2008-09 and any subsequent years? Is it less or more than the amount currently granted to the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health, and how has the budgeted amount been arrived at? Does she believe that more funds will find their way to host organisations than currently goes to forum support organisations and, if she does, how much more money will there be?
I hope that the Minister will be able to give us at least a measure of reassurance that there will indeed be a budget comparable in size to the present one and that the effect of all these changes is that we will see worthwhile amounts of money released to the front line, as adumbrated in her letter to noble Lords of 9 July. I beg to move.
While I support everything that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has said, I will speak specifically to Amendment No. 238SA, which would insert a new clause about the employment duty for LINks. The reason for the amendment is that some 10 or so days ago the noble Earl and I went to see the Minister in another place, Ann Keen. It was a new innovation to be asked to see the Minister together, rather than our separate parties being seen separately. At that meeting, we raised the issue of employment—who decides whether a LINk will be able to employ people and at what point. As yet, I have not been fully satisfied on that point.
In discussion with Ministers, we have been assured time and again that a LINk will ultimately be able to employ people, even though the contracts may be held elsewhere. We have also been told that that will not be the case yet, because at the moment the host will do that at the setting-up stage. I would like the Minister to assure us that LINks will be able to employ people—she might already have said that—and perhaps when this will be so. Indeed, will contracts have to be held elsewhere, by the host, say, rather than by the LINk itself? That would be a considerable clarification, along with reassurance that there will be adequate money available to do it all.
I have added my name to two of these amendments. If I may say so, I thought that the questions asked by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, were absolutely spot on. I want to probe a tiny bit further on the point about ring-fencing, which is important. If we had assurances on that, we would have rather more confidence in what is being proposed. What will be the basis of the funding? Do the Government intend that there will be a careful look at the residents of a particular area, and their needs, quite apart from the needs that are being spelt out as the LINks get under way? It would be important to know that.
Another thing that worries me slightly is what happens if there is a fallout between the host and the LINk and they do not agree about what is being done—the host may not much want to endorse it and might get a bit critical that what it hoped for is not being achieved. Those are the sort of things that I hope are being looked at and thought about. These will be opinionated groups with all sorts of different priorities, which will not necessarily be acceptable either to the host or to the local authority. There are some problems, which, presumably, the Government are thinking through.
I have three simple questions. First, what advantage does the host have in carrying out this duty? Secondly, will it be able to levy a management charge? Thirdly, if so, how will that be controlled by the local authority so that as much money as possible goes to the front line? I have totally forgotten what the next question was, so I apologise. No, I know. It is about power sharing. Clearly, if a host is going to undertake this, it might be doing so for financial gain or for influence. Will the guidance ensure that there is a wide diversity of interest, rather than a narrowness of interest held by a particular host?
None of the questions that noble Lords ask is simple. I am sorry that the noble Baroness remembered the other question, although the first one was actually worse.
Perhaps I may briefly go over the process. We think that giving local authorities the duty to establish LINks for procurement of hosts fits very well into the whole notion of devolution of power to local authorities in the Bill. It is right that this provision should be at local level and not delivered from a central body, which is exactly what we do not want to do.
I have to resist for predictable reasons the proposal to put in the Bill a requirement on the Secretary of State to ensure that sufficient funds are available to cover the costs of a local authority and its work to put in place contractual arrangements to enable the establishment of LINk activities. As noble Lords know, the intention is that the Secretary of State will make a grant to each local authority to enable it to procure a host organisation to support the LINk and to fund its activities.
Although the exact amount of these grants is still subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review—a mantra that is being echoed across all government departments—we have said that the total amount available for the new system of LINks should be equal to what is currently spent on patient forums. The noble Earl asked whether the amount of money will be comparable. The answer is yes. That will initially take the form of a three-year grant. It is not ring-fenced. There is nothing perverse in that. It is not ring-fenced because we have moved away from the ideology of ring-fencing. Indeed, the whole notion of local area agreements, to which we are moving in the Bill, is to have flexible pots that can enable services to support each other and draw on a much more coherent and explicit form of support.
The funding will be explicitly targeted to ensure the purpose of making arrangements to establish a LINk. This will be visible; it will be discrete; and I am sure that it will be observed. In making the grant, the Secretary of State will assess what levels of funding will be necessary to cover the costs of each local authority. Obviously, this must be grounded in local realities. I hope that the noble Earl is reassured when I say that we are working with local authority representatives as well as with the Local Government Association to determine realistic budgets that will cover costs associated with administering and monitoring contracts. That will vary according to the nature of the area. Size is clearly a factor. Birmingham will have a very different set of requirements from those of a unitary authority such as Thurrock.
The amendment of the noble Earl seems to present an irresistible argument, but I must resist it because, if I were to give in, it would be customary from here on to have a passage in every piece of legislation stating that funding would be sufficient. That then raises the question of who would be the statutory judge of whether the funds were sufficient. We are entering a minefield here. The Secretary of State will consider how much each local authority needs and will make a judgment as to the level of funds necessary, informed, as I have said, in these different ways about how the local authority can comply with its duty. The factors will be demographic—the nature of the population and the size of the area. I hope that that will meet the criterion of fairness, because it will certainly be a transparent process. We want LINks to work. We are not setting them up to fail. We want them to be as effective as possible.
Proposed new subsection (4B) aims to allow local authorities to spend more on making contractual arrangements than the allocation provided for by the Secretary of State. That is a very important suggestion. Equally, it is very important that arrangements for LINks should allow for the possibility of additional funds being available from whatever sources exist. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent local authorities from making additional funds available for LINk activities. If, for example, they wanted to add to funding for LINks from their own engagement activities, I could see that there would be an argument. In the Bill, local authorities are under a duty to involve, inform and consult local people. If we can get some synergy, there may well be some possibilities.
Amendment No. 238N is difficult to understand. It seems to take away a fundamental plank in the process of establishing a LINk; that is, the power for a local authority to make payments to a host. I am not sure whether I have missed something very important or subtle, but I cannot see any benefit in removing that provision because, as I have said, we think that it is vital that a host is created.
Amendment No. 238QA seeks to ensure that the arrangements that the local authority makes with the host provide that the LINk has the necessary staff, premises and so on. This is a logical amendment in relation to the earlier one. I do not believe that it is necessary because I think that the whole point of the contractual arrangement, which we set out in the model contract, is precisely to state the types of support that the host is expected to give the LINk. It could be minimal, it could involve staff, support and premises, but it will vary. Every contract must reflect local realities. We are issuing a model contract specification. It is not mandatory but it is a guide to help tailoring in local circumstances. The local authority will be under a legal duty to make contractual arrangements with a host to ensure that LINks activities can be undertaken. The safeguard is there.
On Amendment No. 238SA, the noble Baroness asked whether it will be possible for LINks to employ their own staff and decide such issues as pay and so on. I can certainly give her an assurance that it will be possible, as the provisions already allow for a LINk to be any sort of body, including one that can employ its own staff. I am thinking of companies limited by guarantee or charities with employment status.
A more difficult question is when. It is difficult to say, because in some instances the contract could be held by the host immediately, but it would be explicit from the start that the LINks would want to do the employment. It would be in the nature of the contract. There will be LINks organisations that will grow in confidence and that may feel a year or two into the scheme that it is right for them to take over the employment functions. The provision has to be as flexible as that. I cannot see a problem with that. I do not think that we would want to prescribe this. I shall look at the matter again and come back to the noble Baroness if I think that there are ambiguities.
The noble Baroness has just suggested that a LINk might be able to employ staff immediately. Is she suggesting that a LINk might become a company limited by guarantee or a charity with employment status at the very beginning of its existence? It is important for us to know that for the rest of our discussion about LINks.
In the light of the answers that have been given, and the fact that this is a financial issue, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. She said the organisation could be a charity. If these LINks become charities, will they have the same status as other charities in their area and therefore be able to raise funds externally? Will they therefore be in competition with all the other charities, although they are delivering what has previously been a statutory function for things like the lottery? If this has not been thought through, can it be thought through before it becomes an issue?
If they are a charity, they will have the freedom to do that. In terms of the impact it would have on the pattern of local provision, in the voluntary sector we are nearly always in the situation of competing against our best friends. That is part of the negotiation procedure. I will think about what the noble Baroness has said.
With regard to the noble Baroness’s other question, we see no reason why this should not happen straightaway. But given the embryonic nature of the organisations, it is more likely that they will want to wait until they have established their raison d’être, until their scope is determined and their priorities, agendas and working programmes set up. But we will have to wait and see.
The noble Baroness asked what would happen if hosts and LINks fall out. I cannot imagine that that would ever happen, but LINks will have the opportunity to put their views and concerns directly to the local authority. The contract has got to be deliverable; if LINks finds that its host organisation is doing something that disables it in some way, it would be right and proper for it to go to the local authority and say, “Look, this contract is not being managed in the way it should be”. That is part of the performance management built into the situation.
I have answered most of the questions. It is worth reiterating that this legislation is very permissive and we need to preserve in the arrangements for LINks the duty of the local authority to take a view as to what is necessary. We are talking about minimal levels of support, or it may be a sophisticated arrangement that will either be designed in or will emerge over time.
I have a note asking whether local authorities will be able to produce some grants to pay for the costs. This refers to management costs. We have already discussed this with the Local Government Association and we trust that local authorities will take a fairly mature view of it. We will come back to this point and will look at the legal implications of that.
The point is that the local authorities will not hold the money; they will make the contract with the host, which will hold the money. It is that which guarantees the independence of LINks. The first amendment we discussed about why a host is needed clearly established the notion of independence, so that the sort of situation the noble Baroness describes simply could not happen.
Once again, the Committee will be grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. I am glad that work is currently going on with the Local Government Association on how a transparent and fair system of funding of LINks could be best established. That is good news. I am sorry that the noble Baroness could not go further and give the Committee some idea as to what levers might be pulled by Ministers or others to prevent a situation arising where the activities listed in Clause 222(2) are performed in only a minimal way as a result of inadequate funding in a given instance. Like the noble Baroness, I am no advocate of ring-fencing, but there are dangers when ring-fencing does not apply—the obvious one being that the activities in question are not safeguarded
Nevertheless, the noble Baroness has shed some useful light on this area. There are questions that remain open, the principal one being the quantum of money that will be directed to this area, which for obvious reasons she cannot be specific about at this juncture. But it was helpful to hear that it will be comparable to the sum currently directed towards patients’ forums and we can take comfort from that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
238LD: Clause 222, page 155, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) For the avoidance of doubt, arrangements under this part apply to the provision of care services and local care services in prisons, secure training centres and young offender institutions.”
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 238LD, I seek to see if LINks are going to operate in prisons and other penal establishments. The NHS now has responsibility for prison health. I quote from a statement made by my noble friend Lady Murphy:
“Prisons are like swamps providing the breeding grounds for the mosquitoes of disadvantage … the revolving prison gate feeds further public health problems back into localised communities. If we are serious about narrowing the health inequalities of our most disadvantaged communities, prisons are a very good place to start”.—[Official Report, 10/11/05; col. 802.]
Improving healthcare of prisoners can also have the positive effect of reducing and preventing reoffending—a key government target. Prisons have a cross-section of health issues and there is a vital need for good through-put in healthcare within prisons and good links with the communities they go out to if there are ongoing health problems. There must be suitable communication.
One of the most difficult problems in prisons is the dual diagnosis of mental health and addiction. There are also sometimes other problems, such as sickle cell disease. There is a huge drug and alcohol addiction problem in prisons. It must be treated within prisons and links with the communities are needed so that rehabilitation can continue. All adult prisons now have CARATS—counselling, assessment, referral, advice and through-care services. This is certainly an improvement, but health issues within prisons need more flexibility and working in co-operation with each other. Prisoners come into prisons very often and nearly always with no health records. Communication about their health needs improvement. Health facilities within prisons, such as the building of a treatment room, take a very long time to establish as the issue is surrounded by unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy. That frustrates prison staff when they know that there is money available.
The Minister has stated today that if LINks ever come into being, they will help with a wider range of needs. Will prisons and other penal establishments be included in these ranges? I beg to move.
I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness and take this opportunity to put some points on the record with regard to the inclusion of prisons in the function of LINks. To make it absolutely clear: the function of LINks will be to gather the views and experiences of people in their area. It will be one of the roles of the host organisation to ensure that the views of all parts of the community are sought, and therefore LINks will certainly want to seek the views of prisoners and, for example, asylum seekers in detention centres on the health and social care services they receive or might receive. We want to encourage everyone in the community to become involved in LINks and ensure that a wide range of views are proactively gathered and fed in to those who commission and provide care services.
On the specific amendment before us, I can confirm for the record that a LINk as described in Clause 222(2)(a) to (d) applies to healthcare commissioned and provided to prisoners. The definition of “local care services” is given in Clause 222(5) and relates to care services provided in the authority’s area and those provided in “any place” for people from that area. Therefore, anyone living even temporarily within a given local authority area will fall under the remit of the LINk and should be able to share their experiences of the care services they have received with the LINk for that area, even if the services they receive are from outside it. Any healthcare commissioned by the PCT will fall under the remit of a LINk, even if it is provided in a prison.
I hope, with that clear point on the record, that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for that encouraging answer. She will be aware that in prisons there has been an increase in infectious conditions such as drug-resistant tuberculosis, which is a very worrying development. There is therefore a need for these health issues to be considered within the community, and I am glad that she said that. However, she did not mention the vast number of people who visit prisons, such as prisoners’ families, prison visitors and so on. They are often left out, and they have problems such as timing their visits, travelling long distances and places to wait in when it is raining. There are many issues. But the Minister has been encouraging and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 238LE not moved.]
Clause 222 agreed to.
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (Northern Ireland Political Parties) Order 2007
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21 June be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, at the end of 2005, the Government carried out a full public consultation on the issue of political donations in Northern Ireland. Their response to the consultation exercise was published in January 2006. It outlined a number of measures that were later given legislative effect in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of the same year. The Act is, as I am sure noble Lords are aware, the parent Act of the order before us today. Since it received Royal Assent in July last year, we have had a series of discussions with the Irish Government and the Electoral Commission on the detail of how the new donations arrangements in Northern Ireland will work, and the order seeks to give effect to those discussions. I am fully aware—and indeed I am reminded of it as I read my notes—of the concerns that some expressed about these provisions during the passage of the 2006 Act, and in the recent debate on this order in the other place, and I know that those concerns are shared by some noble Lords here today. Given that, I should like to set out the detail of the order in context as clearly as possible.
Until now, the source of donations to political parties in Northern Ireland has been completely unregulated. The provisions of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 which banned foreign donations and introduced a system of public reporting of donations in the United Kingdom were disapplied from Northern Ireland. Donations have been permitted in Northern Ireland from anywhere in the world and the Electoral Commission has not been notified about who donates what. This exemption was for what we considered to be sound reasons—concerns relating to the possible intimidation of donors to political parties in the event of their identities being made public, and to allow Northern Ireland recipients to accept donations from Ireland in a manner consistent with the spirit of the Good Friday agreement.
However, in 2005 we concluded that the time was right to introduce effective regulation of donations in Northern Ireland in order to inject some transparency into the system. The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006 therefore made provision for political parties registered in the Northern Ireland register and regulated donees, known collectively as “Northern Ireland recipients”, to continue to be exempt from the provisions relating to the control of political donations which are set out in Part IV of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 for one final period. Under Section 11 of the 2006 Act, that period of disapplication expires on 31 October this year. From 1 November, all of Part 4 of the 2000 Act will apply to Northern Ireland for the first time, but with two significant modifications. First, Northern Ireland recipients will continue to be able to receive donations not only from all existing permissible donors under the 2000 Act, but also from Irish citizens and prescribed Irish bodies. Secondly, Northern Ireland donation reports will be held confidentially and checked privately by the Electoral Commission for an initial period of three years, or longer if extended by order of the Secretary of State.
It is worth repeating a point I made during the passage of the 2006 Act: these changes, whatever is said about them, represent a very considerable narrowing of the regime that exists at present. I should repeat that the present system allows Northern Ireland recipients to accept donations from anybody of any nationality resident anywhere on the planet. What is more, they do not have to report them to any regulatory body. Any move from that to introduce more transparency and a degree of regulation will represent a narrowing of the regime. The confidentiality arrangements in relation to Northern Ireland reports which are set out in the order are temporary. The Act provides that they will fall away in 2010, bringing Northern Ireland even further into line with Great Britain. Although the period is extended by order it is our firm hope that, when the time comes, we will not have to seek Parliament’s approval to do so.
The provisions enabling Northern Ireland recipients to continue to accept donations from Irish citizens and Irish bodies meeting prescribed conditions are contained in the 2006 Act and are, by contrast, permanent. This order simply puts flesh on the bones of Part 3 of last year’s Act by setting out precisely what the conditions are, how the Electoral Commission may verify the source of any donation, and what steps it can take if impermissible donations are found to have been accepted. The provisions of the 2006 Act are in line with the original recommendations of the Neill committee which gave rise to the 2000 Act in the first place: that because of the special role of Ireland in Northern Ireland’s political life, as set out in the Belfast agreement and elsewhere, it would not be right to ban contributions from there. In contrast to the position on confidentiality of donations, which as I have said we hope will no longer be relevant in 2010, we do not see any circumstances in which the recommendation in relation to Irish donations is going to lose its relevance at any point in the near future. For this reason, the measures in the 2006 Act and this order to meet this recommendation are not time-limited. But the order-making power in the 2006 Act allows us to vary widely, with the consent of Parliament, who should qualify as an Irish donor.
As I have indicated, the order puts flesh on the bones of the relevant provisions and I will briefly summarise them. Part 1 of the order specifies the conditions which an Irish citizen must meet in order to be able to donate to a Northern Ireland recipient. It also specifies the categories of Irish bodies which will be entitled to donate to Northern Ireland recipients from 1 November onwards.
Schedule 1 sets out the information which must be provided in relation to donations from Irish donors in donation reports from Northern Ireland recipients. The steps which the Electoral Commission must take in order to verify the information contained in the donation reports submitted by Northern Ireland recipients are set out in Part 2 of the order. The Electoral Commission must check 50 per cent of donations from individuals and 100 per cent of donations from bodies reported by Northern Ireland recipients. It may verify the information provided in the donation reports by, among other things, contacting the bodies listed in Article 11 to which it is able to disclose information. For example, the commission could contact the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission to verify information relating to payments made under the Financial Assistance for Political Parties Act (Northern Ireland) 2000 or could contact the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in relation to companies registered in Northern Ireland.
The commission is under a duty of confidentiality in relation to information contained in reports from Northern Ireland recipients during the prescribed period. However, the commission has the power under the 2000 Act, as modified by last year’s Act, to release information contained in a Northern Ireland donation report if it believes on reasonable grounds that the donation was from an impermissible or unidentifiable donor.
Article 10 sets out the requirements in relation to which such information must be released. The commission would release the amount of the donation and the party to which it was made but not the identity of the donor. This is in recognition of the fact there may be circumstances in which the publication of a donor’s personal details—their name and address—could lead to a threat to that individual’s life.
It was suggested in the debate in the other place that if this order was not passed the relevant measures in the miscellaneous provisions Act would fall away on 31 October. I stress that this is not the case. If this order fails to pass, the relevant sections of the 2006 Act would still take effect on 1 November this year; however, without the details of this order the new regime would not work effectively. For example, no provision would be made about the contents of donation reports which relate to Irish donations, and there would be no mechanism in place for the Electoral Commission to check both Irish and UK donations to Northern Ireland recipients during the prescribed period. This would mean that while Northern Ireland recipients would be required to submit donation reports in relation to donations from the UK and not those from Ireland, these reports would not be scrutinised properly. I am sure noble Lords agree that would be very undesirable.
I should also like to clear up any potential misunderstanding concerning the issue of Northern Ireland parties being able to pass on Irish donations to their counterpart parties in Great Britain. There are two separate registers of political parties—one each for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A party may be registered in both the Great Britain and the Northern Ireland registers, but in such a case it is treated as two separate registered parties. This was set out in the original legislation in 2000.
New Section 71C of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which was inserted by Section 12 of the 2006 Act, further prevents parties registered in Northern Ireland making donations to parties registered in Great Britain or to regulated donees in Great Britain. The effect of this is that Irish citizens and prescribed bodies meeting the prescribed conditions will be able to donate only to parties registered in the Northern Ireland register. This means that there is no back door by which Irish donations can legitimately reach parties registered in Great Britain. They would be classified as foreign donations—it is as simple as that—and would be ruled out. That was the position established by the 2000 Act and the 2006 Act maintains that situation.
I hope noble Lords agree that the order represents an important step towards aligning donation controls in Northern Ireland more fully with those for the rest of the UK and along the path to achieving full transparency. It does not duplicate what happens in Great Britain—I fully accept that—and that is made clear throughout. It represents the principles of the Good Friday agreement by allowing donations from Ireland. I shall do my best to answer any questions. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21 June be approved. 21st Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Rooker.)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for the characteristic and forceful way in which he has outlined the Government’s case on this matter. Throughout the difficult debates over the past two years he has never gilded the lily and he has presented the facts to us in a straightforward manner. None the less, what he is proposing today constitutes, as he has said, a double exemption of sorts for Northern Ireland—one temporary and one of longer-term significance—from the normal UK electoral law.
To deal first with the temporary exemption, which is perhaps of less deep significance, the Government had obviously hoped that by this point they would be in a position to remove confidentiality protection of the kind that exists in Northern Ireland electoral law and to have complete transparency along the lines of the United Kingdom. It is not the Government’s fault that we are not quite at that point. The violence at the weekend in Carrickfergus reminds us of the ways in which Northern Ireland still, despite the enormous progress made, does not have the degree of stability and peace that there is throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. None the less, although the Government’s position is understandable, the consequence of what has been said here today is that it is most likely that the next general election will be fought in a context in which confidentiality will apply to Northern Ireland electoral donations which will not apply in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is important to keep that in mind.
More significant, however, is the Government’s view on the question of allowing Irish citizens to contribute to Northern Irish political parties. This goes against the basic principle of exclusion of foreign donations in our mainstream UK legislation. Irish citizenship is defined in the Irish constitution extraterritorially; it can mean Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, but also in the United States of America. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was honest enough to say to the Grand Committee in June 2006, there are a lot of Irish citizens around the world. This is opening a very wide door.
I was quite surprised to see in another place—and to a degree repeated today by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—the argument from the Government that opposition to or concern on this matter reflects a failure to grasp the core principles of the Good Friday agreement. The Good Friday agreement is quite correct; it gives a legitimacy to people who consider themselves British or Irish or both. However, this provision gives a legitimacy to those who consider themselves American or Irish or both. It is not quite in line with the Good Friday agreement; it creates in principle a new privileged type of donor. That argument surprised me when I first heard it, but the more I reflected upon it the more it surprised me.
Since 1994 I have been a vigorous advocate of the principles of the Good Friday agreement. These principles today are accepted by all the parties in this House; they are accepted—with a degree of reservation by some perhaps—by 108 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly; and they are accepted by both the British and Irish Governments. In 1994 this was far from being the case. Those of us who argued for them found ourselves often in a lonely place and often opposed, it would appear, by the majority in both communities in Northern Ireland, and certainly by the majority of the parties which currently dominate the Northern Ireland Executive. Now things have changed and I am very grateful for that.
However, it is also worth remembering that in 1994 the Labour Party found itself in an ambiguous position on some of these questions, as indeed did the Irish Government. The argument for this legislation cannot be found in the Good Friday agreement, although it can be found in the broader logic of the peace process more generally. I am prepared to accept that. The Government would have been more honest with us if they had expressed themselves in those terms.
In certain respects, though, the argument as presented today actually constitutes a regression from the key principles of the Good Friday agreement. One of the things the agreement does is remove the difficulties that arose from the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement, which created an unhappy marriage between British and Irish constitutional thinking in which it emerged that, for example, a common-or-garden phrase like “the status of Northern Ireland” meant an entirely different thing in Irish constitutional theory from what it meant in British constitutional theory. It was not until 1998, thanks in part to the labour of noble Lords in this House today—I refer to the noble Lords, Lord Trimble, Lord Laird, Lord Kilclooney and Lord Maginnis, and others—that eventually this matter was sorted out by the Good Friday agreement, the referendum that led to a change in Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution and the victory of the principle of consent, the guiding principle now accepted by all which governs the politics and the future of Northern Ireland.
The key point is that we are now regressing. On one hand we have a formula in the Irish constitution, extra-territorially defined citizenship, which is extremely broad and is something the British Government have no right to expect to be able to define. We are returning to the uneasy world of 1985 to 1998, when the British Government found themselves locked in to meanings that were defined by the constitutional text of another state. I almost said that we were returning to the dark days of Thatcherism in that respect. It would have been better if the argument had been made on a different ground; that is, on the ground of the broader logic of the peace process.
I also think that the House has found it easier to accept the provisions because the party that is expected to benefit the most, Sinn Fein, does not appear in the House of Commons. We cannot assume that that will continue for ever. Such is the pace of ideological revisionism within Sinn Fein’s political leadership that it is quite conceivable that it will appear in the Commons within the next few years, and should it do so, it would be a step that I would welcome. However, a consequence would be that, possibly in the context of a hung Parliament, a key group of MPs—which might decide the colour of the next Government, on the polls as they existed a month ago, if not today—would be elected in the context of an electoral law totally different from that governing the other Members of that House.
It is not enough to say that we can prevent transfers of money from Northern Irish parties to British parties. The consequence of this legislation goes further: it will create a different type of Member. So far that type of Member does not appear, but they may appear soon and that might affect how Governments operate. It is important to say that, because many of the concerns about Sinn Fein in politics and its financing have disappeared or been greatly reduced because of its relatively weak performance in the recent Irish general election. But although many noble Lords might devoutly wish it, the affairs and representatives of Northern Ireland cannot be kept in Northern Ireland.
A Pandora’s box has been opened here. I understand the reasons why the Government have decided to do it. There are justifications in terms of the peace process and of the process that has persuaded the Sinn Fein leadership to give up violence and endorse politics, which are overriding considerations, and the greatest justification of all is the saving of human life that has occurred as a result of that policy. In that respect the Government are on firm ground, but they should not hide from themselves that there is a downside and an ambiguity to what is taking place, to which we will have to pay attention over the years that follow.