House of Lords
Tuesday, 16 October 2007.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.
British Library Centre for Conservation
My Lords, the Government have supported the conservation centre from the outset, providing more than £5 million of capital funding and significant and sustained grant allocations to support the library’s ongoing activity. The library’s board, which operates at arm’s length, apportions that funding according to its priorities. I am sure that the board will see it as a priority throughout 2008-11 to build on the early achievements of this impressive new centre.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Many of us, through the Turning the Pages programme in particular, will have had the privilege of seeing the British Library’s work on matters such as digitisation. However, the Minister has not been very explicit about the CSR settlement, which is being discussed with the British Library today. What priorities for conservation are the Government laying down under the CSR for the British Library, and what support are they giving to the British Library itself?
My Lords, the decisions on that are being taken today. However, the noble Lord will derive the utmost satisfaction from the fact that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport came out of the spending review exceedingly well and healthily and is therefore in a position to meet its significant commitments to sports, heritage and the arts. The British Library fits firmly within that framework, in circumstances which help it to make an excellent case for some of the resources that the department has won.
My Lords, will my noble friend congratulate the British Library on the way in which it combines the most ancient with the most modern of conservation techniques and on its commitment to ensuring that other professionals and members of the public who wish to do so have the opportunity to learn from it? Will he advise the House on how, following the spending review, the Government plan to carry forward some of the recommendations on science and conservation of the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee of this House, in particular the recommendation that the DCMS should appoint a chief scientific adviser?
Certainly, my Lords. My noble friend, who chairs the UK Literary Heritage Working Group, speaks with great knowledge and interest in this area and I am pleased to reply to him that of course we intend to support the British Library as fully as possible. We also take a great interest in the work of this House’s committee, which has produced some interesting proposals. The one which he identified with regard to the chief scientist is still being deliberated on and no decision has yet been reached, but the Government look upon the committee’s report with favour.
My Lords, further to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, are Her Majesty's Government fully seized of the unique value of the dual role of the conservation centre both in conserving fragile books and in conserving fragile skills which are in more demand as the years go by? I declare an interest as a trustee of the Wolfson Foundation, which helped to build the centre in the first place.
My Lords, the noble Lord has identified a significant area. We are anxious about the decline in the number of people with the relevant skills and some of our key people are reaching retirement age. That is why we have concentrated on the establishment of two new courses on book conservation. I am pleased to say that enrolment on these courses and support for students are healthy. We are therefore addressing this question of the potential skills deficit that could have opened up if we had not taken such action.
My Lords, when I visited our archives as a member of the Information Committee, I saw that there was a special programme of bookbinding and preserving antique ways of doing things. Is there any connection between the British Library and our archives?
My Lords, the British Library acts as a resource of help and support, as well as looking after its prime responsibility, which are the books in its ownership and control. The noble Baroness will recognise that this level of expertise is in relatively short supply, so it is important that we can respond where requests are made. I think that the House will rest assured that the position of our own records is reasonably satisfactory.
My Lords, I declare an interest as having chaired the Science and Technology Committee inquiry on science and heritage. I would like to push the Minister a little further on the appointment of a chief scientist. When will the department release the report of Dr Michael Dixon? Do we have any idea when the appointment will be made?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to press me on this issue, as the report has been extant for a substantial number of months. We are working on this matter, but it is not simple. The issue is not delay of resources, which is the usual charge against the Government—people say that the Government are being dilatory because they are not prepared to allocate the resources. The delay is over the specification of the role, which is still the subject of considerable dispute. At this stage, I am not able to be any more affirmative than that.
My Lords, the Government are aware of that because they get the reports from the various bodies about their needs. My department is not exactly overflowing with milk and honey as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review, but nevertheless it got a good settlement, which enables us to meet most of the legitimate demands on the budget. Where needs are accurately identified in such areas, as by the noble Lord, they will be addressed.
Education: Marshall Scholarships
My Lords, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers have not yet taken any decisions about the allocation of FCO programme funds following the announcement of the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. However, I assure the noble Lord that the FCO places a high value on the scheme and will do all that it can to ensure that it is adequately funded.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that not entirely reassuring reply, which was rather obscure, but will she please confirm that the number of scholarships given this year under the Marshall scheme has actually reduced and that there is a risk that there will be a further reduction next year? Does she not agree that these scholarship schemes—the Marshall, the Commonwealth and the Chevening—are an excellent way for Britain to exert influence in the world, using what is called soft power? Therefore, cutting such schemes is a false economy and is particularly anomalous when the Comprehensive Spending Review is providing for increased spending overseas.
My Lords, it is true that, in the current year, pressure on the FCO programme has meant that the budget has been slightly reduced. However, there are still 43 scholars this year and the number has not diminished due to donations from third parties. I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Lord what the number will be next year. As I said in my Answer, the Government place enormous value on the scheme. They recognise how successful it has been and must continue to be.
My Lords, do the Government agree that the value of these schemes is incalculable and that, in particular in the case of the Commonwealth fund, other Commonwealth countries from Canada to Ghana have matched funds to encourage scholars to go to their countries, including scholars from this country? Will the noble Baroness therefore suggest to the Foreign Office that it should value these schemes as they should be valued in terms of the very high standing that United Kingdom attachment may bring, and, if the worst comes to the worst, will she consider whether DfID might conceivably help with the funds that go to members of the Commonwealth?
My Lords, I agree that the value of the scheme is incalculable. The noble Baroness’s idea in relation to DfID is interesting and I shall certainly take it back. The timing of this Question is extremely important because it is a matter to which the Foreign Secretary is giving thought at the moment, so I shall certainly take back the views of all noble Lords.
My Lords, I offer my wholehearted support to the concern that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just put before noble Lords. Following my happy years as a Minister in the Foreign Office, I can stress to the noble Baroness the enormous importance of both Marshall and Commonwealth scholarships. They brought to this country some exceptional students who, when they grew up, often went into high positions in their country. That created a warm glow for Britain, which could be very useful at times. Will the Minister reflect to the Foreign Secretary that it would be a tragedy if, because of a tight budget at present, the Foreign Office sacked programmes rather than people? The latter can be restored; the former cannot.
My Lords, I shall certainly take back the views expressed by the noble Lord, but I stress that we are certainly not looking at axing the programme in any shape or form. We truly value it. As our ambassador to the US has rightly said, it is a hugely successful brand in the US. It was established by Act of Parliament and has generated a self-replenishing stock of good will among its many alumni in very influential positions. That is the Government’s position.
My Lords, I speak as a former Marshall commissioner. Does the Minister agree that the Marshall scheme reflects a debt of honour? It was set up as a thank-offering from Britain to the people of the United States for the Marshall plan. Does that not create a special obligation to maintain the scheme?
My Lords, it is a debt of honour and there is a special obligation. However, there are many special obligations in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across government. This scheme is one of many, but I assure noble Lords that we take it extremely seriously.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, rightly said, this scheme is a bit more than one of many. It was set up in 1953 by Parliament as what is called a “living thank you” to the United States, both for the Marshall plan and for saving us from a worse fate in Europe, so it is a very serious programme and I hope that no doubt is being expressed about it. The number of scholarships has reduced from 93 in 2004 to 43 now, which is quite a big drop.
My Lords, I believe that that is the figure, and it is important that the scheme is supported. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, also mentioned the Commonwealth scholarships and those, too, are vital. They are part of a soft power on which we should be concentrating, rather than some rather more lavish and ineffective schemes that are currently being pursued in our international policy.
My Lords, I hope that my Answer did not portray the value of the scheme as being underestimated. It is special and the Government as a whole recognise that. The noble Lord is not quite correct about the numbers. The figure is 43 this year, but the 93 to which he alludes is for two years. The numbers are 43 this year and 40-odd last year, so the figure of 93 covers two years. I shall certainly put that in writing to him and shall place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, since the end of the Cold War, the German and French Governments have invested significant extra resources in scholarships for people from the United States and its research centres because of their conviction that we need to explain to the American population why their European allies still matter? Are the British Government not a little too complacent in thinking that the upcoming generation of Americans will naturally understand Britain without putting in the necessary effort through scholarships such as these?
My Lords, the Government are not at all complacent about this. I know exactly what the noble Lord is saying about France and Germany. We value the importance of the Marshall scheme. Indeed, there are other schemes now—not as special as the Marshall scheme—such as the GATE scheme. The Government are also exploring with the Marshall commissioners extending partnerships so that universities and private companies can work in partnership to extend the Marshall scheme.
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether there has been a recent increase in the number of hornets coming into the south of England from Europe, either as a result of climate change or in imported wood; and whether the sting of such hornets is a significant risk to health and safety.
My Lords, information on hornets is not kept by the Government. I am advised by the Department of Health that anaphylaxis can occur after an insect sting. Most people do not experience an allergic reaction to insect stings. The incidence of anaphylaxis due to insect stings in the general population has been estimated at 0.3 to 3 per cent. The Anaphylaxis Campaign estimates that every year in the UK anaphylaxis from insect stings results in between two and nine deaths.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that the son-in-law of a very great friend of mine was killed this July in Sussex due to a single sting in his foot when he got out of his bath and stood on a hornet? The figures that I have had from the Library go only to 2005, when there was a huge rise in the number of people with stings going into hospital. Is the Minister aware that there is an increase in hornets in the south of England, as people have told me?
My Lords, I sympathise greatly because of the individual tragedy that the noble Baroness has brought to the attention of the House. I learnt more about hornets listening to the “Today” programme today than I did from Defra. Basically, they are not part of the food production chain. In my first sentence I said that no information on hornets is kept by the Government, and I am in some difficulty. I understand from the expert on the “Today” programme that these are English hornets and not French hornets, so we must not be cruel to the French. It is a serious issue. I understand that the UK fatal anaphylaxis register has attempted to record every fatal acute allergic reaction in the UK since 1992. It has found 124: 55 of those were due to medical treatment, 37 related to food and 32 related to insect venom. Of course, it can be serious, but an incredibly small number of people are affected.
My Lords, can the Minister say which department or agency does record the rise in numbers in species such as hornets? As we have seen with bluetongue, which has been brought in by the midge population, the spread of different insect populations can cause massive economic hardship.
My Lords, I cannot fudge this; I am definitely the bluetongue and the foot-and-mouth Minister. There is no Minister for hornets. The Government simply do not have any information. I have asked the National Bee Unit—we have a bee unit, as bees are part of the food production chain—but there is no hornet unit and there is no Minister for the hornet; I have no idea. The noble Baroness has, of course, asked about a human health issue. Defra is responsible for the health of the planet and the health of animals, and others deal with human health.
My Lords, I declare an interest, having chaired the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into allergy, and I want to follow up the points made. Do the Government recognise that the lack of specialist allergy centres in this country means that we do not have complete disease registers, so that estimates of anaphylaxis may vastly underestimate the size of the problem? Do they recognise that the hornet, being more vicious than the wasp, is associated with anaphylaxis and that the tragedy is that young people die? Those dying of anaphylaxis are not older people but those in their prime. Death is extremely rapid and without warning. The lack of specialist centres often means that people have not been adequately diagnosed and therefore do not know that they should be carrying an EpiPen.
My Lords, the Government pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee, which has recently reported under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness. I am very conscious of some of the statistics, particularly those in paragraph 4.48 of the report. I assure the noble Baroness that the Department of Health officials who have briefed me on this issue take the report extremely seriously.
There is a serious issue: knowing whether you are susceptible to such a reaction. If you find that you are, you can carry the necessary antidotes. Nevertheless, where it occurs, if it is sufficiently severe to be fatal, death can occur very soon. Collapse from shock is usually 10 to 15 minutes after an insect sting; with food reactions, after 30 to 35 minutes; with medicines, death can occur most commonly after five minutes. Knowing whether you are going to react to a sting, or constant stings, is important. This report is being considered very seriously by the Government.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are an enormous number of hornets in south-west France, both in houses and woods, and that they are dealt with instantly by the amateur fire brigade, known as the pompiers? This may help the Minister, rather than having to go to the Cabinet.
My Lords, I appreciate the issue in France; it is a serious issue. I understand from listening to the experts on the “Today” programme that these were English hornets, not French ones. Nevertheless, I looked at the website myself: there was an article in the Telegraph on 22 February of this year about the severe destruction of beehives in France by hornets, and how that was being dealt with. It is obviously a serious issue because, as a result, France has had to import 25,000 tonnes of honey annually. I would like to think that they are getting it from this country, but that would be the wrong reason for them to do so.
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether the levels of spending on flood defences and controls over the next three years are sufficient to provide the insurance industry with the confidence to maintain the necessary provision of insurance cover for homes most at risk of flooding.
My Lords, yes. As part of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government have announced that funding for flood and coastal defence will rise to £800 million in 2010-11. We will continue to work with the insurance industry and other stakeholders to ensure that the outcomes delivered from this funding are maximised.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the alarm caused last week when the Association of British Insurers issued a press statement saying that the amount that the Government were putting into flood defence and prevention was not enough, and that this could result in the future withdrawal of insurance cover? Does he agree that it is crucial that, in areas subject to high flooding risk, insurance cover is maintained? According to the British Insurance Brokers’ Association, up to 40 per cent of people in these areas may not have adequate insurance cover for contents. The important thing is to get everybody in those areas insured and to maintain an affordable supply of insurance for them. Does the Minister therefore agree that it is crucial that the Government work closely with the insurance industry to alleviate the alarm and ensure that cover is maintained?
My Lords, the Treasury is actively working with the insurance industry on cover for people who cannot afford insurance. Defra is honouring all the commitments in respect of money given to the Association of British Insurers in the statement of principles. In 2008-09, the amount of spending will be £650 million; in 2009-10 it will be £700 million; and it will reach £800 million by 2010-11. Those figures are more than was originally requested. They are the minimum available, but I am assured that they are the maximum that can be spent at present.
My Lords, first, he did not and, secondly, the money was not cut from the flood defence budget. It was done by Defra. The grant to the Environment Agency was reduced by £15 million in 2006-07 from £428 million to £413 million. The reduction applied to non-capital spend only. Funding for the agency’s capital flood risk improvement programme was not reduced—as I have repeatedly said in this House. The cuts were in staff costs, operational spend and some maintenance of defences; the flood defence programme was not affected. That money has since been replaced.
My Lords, there are plans for looking at the future of the Thames barrier. Most, if not all, of the building in the Thames Gateway programme is in normal urban areas. They are all on the flood plain and can be adequately defended. Compared to the situation five years ago, the Environment Agency is now a statutory consultee and is therefore in at the beginning. The water companies and others involved in the massive enterprise of building a new city along the banks of the Thames are fully aware of the situation.
My Lords, is it possible to persuade the Environment Agency to change some of its policies and allow landowners to drain ditches and clear streams that are overgrown with weeds so that they can carry the excess water that comes with flooding? I declare an interest in that we lost a number of sheep in the recent floods in Worcestershire.
My Lords, an independent review of the lessons to be learnt from the recent flood is going on, chaired by Sir Michael Pitt. Information from the internal drainage boards, landowners and others will be put to that committee. The issue of clearing ditches was raised with me when I was looking at the flood areas during the floods and subsequently. The Environment Agency has a view about biodiversity as well as about flood defences. The faster the ditches are cleared, the higher the rivers will be and the more risk there will be to the towns, so there is a balance to be struck. These issues will be fully dealt with in the independent review of what happened this summer.
My Lords, my noble friend is right; there has been a substantial increase in flood defence expenditure. Since 1996-97, some £4.5 billion has been spent across England. That is a substantial increase on what was spent before. Nevertheless, with climate change and other unforeseen circumstances, we need to keep our defences up. There will therefore be more expenditure. I do not think the insurance industry is threatening anyone. We intend to work in partnership with it to see that everybody gets the necessary insurance cover.
My Lords, has the money that was due to go to the local authorities following the two dreadful flooding episodes, first in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire and then in Gloucestershire, been allocated to them? Secondly, how many private dwellings that were troubled by flooding had personal coverage for insurance purposes?
My Lords, £57 million was made available during the summer to the regions affected. I am not certain if that includes both the local authority Bellwin money and the money that went to the regional development agencies. Obviously money went to the RDAs, which I know has been taken up by only a few farmers in some of the areas. More work is being done on that to make sure people are aware of it. We expect 100,000 households to benefit from the improved protection.
I cannot give an estimate of those who were not insured. I understand that the number of people without individual dwelling cover was fairly high in parts of South Yorkshire. That is where most of the floods affected dwellings. The flooding in Gloucester and Worcestershire affected land rather than dwellings. Obviously it was serious for the crops. I do not have the exact figure on who was and who was not insured. As I have said, the Treasury is concerned about this and is having discussions with the insurance industry to ensure that people who could not afford insurance are able to get access to it.
Greater London Authority Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to HL Bill 46, the Bill as first printed for the Lords.]
1: Before Clause 3, insert the following new Clause- “Mayor: limit on number of terms
In section 21(1) of the GLA Act 1999 (disqualification from being the Mayor or an Assembly member) before paragraph (a) insert- “(za) he has previously been elected or been the Mayor twice;”.”
1A: The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 1 for the following reason- Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate that a person should be disqualified from being elected or being Mayor of London or a member of the London Assembly on the basis of the number of times he has previously been elected or been Mayor of London.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.
It was the overwhelming view of the other place that it would be wrong to impose term limits on the office of London Mayor. This country has no tradition of term limits. The principle that sits at the heart of elected public office at all levels in this country is that it should be the electorate who decides who represents them.
In the GLA elections next May, Londoners are looking forward to a robust contest between Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and whoever the Liberal Democrats choose as their candidate. But the current Mayor would be disqualified from standing were this amendment to stand part of the Bill. It is obviously right for the London electorate to choose who should be London’s Mayor. Term limits have no place in the vibrancy of British political life.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 1A.—(Baroness Andrews.)
My Lords, I can understand that noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench do not want to speak on this issue because they got into an embarrassing position with their colleagues in another place. Not for the first time, noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench in this House showed rather more good sense than their colleagues down the Corridor.
Before I start, perhaps I may present the apologies of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who cannot be here this afternoon at this final stage having followed the Bill through so far. Sadly, she has to attend a funeral of a very close and long-standing colleague. Secondly, I should again declare my interest as a Member of the London Assembly.
I want to make two points because we have debated this issue long and hard in this House—in Committee, on Report and at Third Reading. First, those who tabled this amendment, and I include myself as one of those, do not raise this issue out of some motivation to defeat Ken Livingstone because we cannot do it in the ballot box. We have made clear throughout that that is absolutely wrong. In evidence of that statement I remind the House that when the original Bill was going through eight years ago we moved a similar amendment on term limits. At that time Mr Livingstone agreed with the amendment. At some point during the past eight years he has come to a different view; so be it.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, moved an amendment in this House, we made it clear that it would be wrong to introduce term limits applicable at the next election so close to that election. There is no argument about that. It would be wrong and we have been clear about that from the start. The amendment that we proposed—similar in intention but a little different in wording—made it very clear that implementation of this clause would apply only to the elections after 2008. Let us get that one out of the way first of all.
The second point, to which the Minister referred again this afternoon, is that it would be contrary to the British tradition of political life. When we introduced an elected executive Mayor of London, that was contrary to the British tradition of political life. Traditionally in this country, the British system has been a parliamentary system. Local government in this country is modelled on a parliamentary system. The devolved Assemblies—Parliament in Scotland and Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland—are parliamentary systems. Whatever one's opinions on the rights and wrongs of it, vesting power in one executive mayor is, in effect, a move to a presidential system, away from a parliamentary system.
There are different views about that system. One may well support it, but it is without question contrary to the British tradition of political life. When making such a change, it must be right that we properly consider the checks and balances on the power vested in one person. Limiting the number of terms is, legitimately, one of those checks.
I understand that there will be different views—indeed, that is why we are here today—but let us be clear about what we are debating. We are not debating some manoeuvre to get rid of the current incumbent, nor are we trying to subvert in some way a British tradition. We are dealing with a wholly new system that the Government seem intent on pursuing in local government. It is therefore right that we should at least consider what is done in other countries that have a longer tradition, experience and history of presidential systems—and not only the United States, where the system is not universal. That is why we have proposed and still support the idea of term limits. Clearly, it is not appropriate to pursue it any further today and we will not do so.
My Lords, it is interesting how opinions that are based on personalities change. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, tells us that this has nothing to do with the nature, stewardship, policies or personality of the present incumbent, but with great respect I must say that I think it has. If anyone other than Ken Livingstone were involved as the Mayor, the issue would not have been floated again—this is the fourth time that each House has had an opportunity to look at this matter.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why. The alternative to the amendment proposed is to allow the people of London, when the election takes place, to make a choice between the candidates from all three main parties. That is a well tried system. I have yet to hear any argument other than that of principle, but based on experience, that the present situation needs to be changed.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made a side reference to the behaviour of the Conservative Party in the other place. It is a fact that the Conservatives in the Commons did not oppose the rule of this House. I would be very surprised if the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, rose and spoke contrary to the view of her party. I do not think that she will do that. As far as I am concerned, this is a throwback. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, told us that long ago it was his view that there should be limits and that as long as there is no limit he will persist in trying to get the limit. All we can do in this House is try to make sure that he does not have it. We have had opportunities in this House and in the other place—not once or twice, but three times. It is an issue well worth airing and a debate to be had, but not one that this House should accept.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
2: Before Clause 12, insert the following new Clause- “Budget
(1) Schedule 6 to the GLA Act 1999 (procedure for determining the Authority’s consolidated budget requirement) is amended as follows.
(2) Omit paragraph 8(4).”
The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 2 for the following reason- 2A Because the Commons do not consider it appropriate that the Mayor of London’s final draft budget for a financial year should be capable of being amended by the London Assembly without the broad consensus of agreement required to obtain a two-thirds majority.
My Lords, I beg to move That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 2A. The other place again made clear its strong opposition to this amendment. It cuts across the fundamental principle of the GLA model—a strong executive Mayor and an Assembly holding him to account through effective scrutiny. We have had many debates on aspects of that principle during the passage of this Bill.
The two-thirds principle—whereby the Assembly may amend the Mayor’s final draft GLA consolidated budget and the component budgets it comprises by a two-thirds majority—allows the Mayor to propose a budget in order to implement his policies and proposals which the Assembly can amend only if a broad consensus of Assembly Members are minded to do so. That is the right approach. The alternative—allowing the Assembly to amend the Mayor’s budget by a simple majority—would mean the Assembly routinely setting the GLA budget, which would mean confusion, deadlock and a complete disconnect between the budget and the Mayor’s priorities.
At Third Reading, I tried to be helpful. I explained how the Assembly could approach its role differently in order to secure a two-thirds majority for amending the budget. I suggested that there was momentum in forging coalitions of common interest and in taking a fresh look at the customs and practices that have become established at City Hall. That is the right way forward: it is not making fundamental changes to the GLA model; not blurring the currently clear division between executive and scrutiny functions; and not, in effect, allowing the Assembly to set the budget.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 2 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 2A.—(Baroness Andrews.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
UK Borders Bill
32: Clause 34, page 19, line 17, leave out “at a time chosen by the Secretary of State” and insert “as soon as possible following commencement of the person’s period of imprisonment and in any event within three months of that date”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Grand Committee I drew attention to the dangers of prolonged post-sentence immigration detention, which is potentially in breach of the right to liberty as laid down in Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. My concern, reflecting that of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, is that a number of foreign nationals have been held in prison and immigration removal centres at taxpayers’ not inconsiderable expense for periods of time far past their sentence expiry date, awaiting a decision on whether they will be deported. In Grand Committee my noble friend said that he was,
“entirely at one with the intention behind the amendment”.—[Official Report, 23/7/07; col. GC 147.]
I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for putting it this way, but he then went on with his characteristic Home Office brief, rationalising why the amendment was itself unacceptable. In responding to that debate, I challenged my noble friend: if he really agreed with the intention of the amendment, he should use all the expertise of the Home Office at his disposal to find a better formula for fulfilling it than the amendment I had proposed. By resubmitting my proposal, I am giving my noble friend the opportunity to meet that challenge.
To say that the numbers are small is never a satisfactory position. A human rights abuse can be a 100 per cent injustice for the individual concerned. That is obviously not acceptable, and a 100 per cent injustice for one person can be fomented into a useful political tool by extremist manipulators of the impressionable. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is absolutely right to raise this matter yet again because there is evidence coming to light that the foreign prisoners who are being held in detention following the expiry of their sentences are clogging up the system and creating at least the possibility of serious unrest in detention centres. This matter was referred to in the Sunday Telegraph a couple of days ago under the headline “Asylum crisis getting worse, say officials”. This is the opinion not of the Opposition or of Back-Benchers such as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who is always assiduous in raising any matters to do with immigration and detention, but comes from within the department itself, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is aware.
In one paragraph, the writer of the article states:
“Since last year’s crisis, when it emerged that foreign prisoners had been released without being considered for deportation, many detention places have been occupied by former prisoners, adding to the unrest in the centres”.
Can the Minister tell the House the proportion of foreign prisoners to other kinds of detainees, and whether that has increased since the crisis of last year as the Sunday Telegraph alleges? It is important that we have these figures and know whether the Government have any plans for dealing with the matter. As we have said before—we will come on to the issue again, no doubt—there is great anxiety about the numbers of former criminals kept in some kind of detention well after the expiry of the sentence awarded by the court. If, as the article states, one of the consequences of that is to clog up the places needed for the effective administration of the ordinary asylum system, then your Lordships should know about it before it is too late to deal with the matter in the Bill.
My Lords, my name is on the amendment and I should like to say a word or two in support of it. I agree with the points made by my noble friend Lord Judd. I, too, am a member of the JCHR and support the position of that committee on this issue.
There are two or three other reasons that I would like to mention briefly. First, I am not in favour of extending the discretionary powers of Secretaries of State when they can perfectly easily be constrained, as they should be in this case. Secondly, the Home Office is not known for its expedition in dealing with these types of cases, and some kind of statutory requirement to move quickly in the terms set out in our amendment is a good incentive from within the administration of these processes. Thirdly, from the point of view of the person to be deported, surely it must be better if you are in that position to have some sense of the time limit on the kind of limbo that you are in, so that you can at least make some adjustment to the new situation that you are going to face.
For those additional reasons, as well as the ones spelt out with great power by my noble friend Lord Judd—I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—I fully support the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the purpose of which is to prevent injustices to those who have already served their full sentence, and to avoid prisons and detention centres being clogged up by these people while the Secretary of State considers their cases and goes through the other motions connected with deportation. I can see, however, that the Government may object to the last line of the amendment, which says,
“and in any event within three months of that date”.
Their objection may be founded on the fact that a minority of such prisoners will have appeals still pending against either conviction or sentence, but surely the way to deal with that situation is to provide that those prisoners shall be released unless there is an appeal of the kind I have described. Even then it should be possible for most of them to be granted bail.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Anelay supported this amendment in Committee and I am glad to continue to do so. One has to ask the Minister what possible reason there can be for delay. There is clearly nothing automatic about the Government’s proposals for automatic deportation in this situation. In Committee the Minister was in agreement on principle, but had objections that the amendment would create a loophole where criminals would not be able to leave as soon as possible due to outstanding asylum claims and so would escape the provisions. He might like to comment on that again today, as well as on the other matters that have been raised by noble Lords relating to the speed at which deportation seems not to happen.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for raising the issue again. He will be somewhat disappointed at my response, but I feel I ought to go through some of our reasoning behind this. As I did in Committee, I sympathise with some of the intent behind the amendment.
In essence the amendment would take away the Secretary of State’s discretion to make a deportation order at the time of her choosing; instead, she would be obliged to make it within three months of the foreign national’s prison sentence commencing. It has to be understood that this would create some straitjacketing difficulties, though I understand the intention behind the amendment. There are many reasons why the Government should make a decision on deportation at the earliest point legally and practically possible, such as fairness to the individual and the need to minimise the use of the prison and detention estates, as well as the need to ensure that foreign criminals who qualify are deported as quickly as possible. However, making a deportation order just three months into every offender’s sentence would be inappropriate in practice.
If the offender was to be sentenced for a lengthy period of imprisonment, their circumstances could change significantly between the start and the end of the sentence. Where a foreign criminal has been sentenced to a long period of imprisonment, it is highly likely that their personal circumstances—or even the political situation in that prisoner’s home country—could change over time. Where that is the case, the Government could find themselves in a position where they have made a deportation order only to have to withdraw it at a later date. That practical reason militates against some of the logic of the amendment.
As a matter of routine, any deportation decision would have to be reviewed at the end of the offender’s sentence to ensure that it remained compatible with our international obligations. That places another constraint on our flexibility. As that review would need to take full account of personal circumstances many years on from the original decision, it would be a completely new decision, rendering the original decision completely irrelevant. For those reasons, although the amendment seems on the face of it to be practical and to apply pressure on authorities to consider how best to deal with the situation, it presents operational difficulties.
I understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Plant. The pressure point exists and it is understood. However, flexibility is important.
Some other questions were asked during this short debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said that it must be possible for foreign national prisoners to be granted bail. Bail may be granted in appropriate cases where foreign national prisoners are not to be removed imminently, and where there are no risks to the public and no risk that the person would abscond. In those circumstances, bail would make a lot of sense, because it would mean less pressure on the detention estate.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked what proportion of detainees is made up of foreign prisoners. The answer is approximately 50 per cent across the detention estate. There has been an increase because it is necessary to move former prisoners into immigration detention to ensure that prison places are not taken up while proper consideration is given to whether to deport foreign national prisoners in the public interest.
I think that I have answered most of the points that have been raised, but if I have missed some, I have no doubt that noble Lords will press me further on them. We need flexibility; practical problems militate against our adopting the understandable approach proposed by the amendment. For those reasons, we cannot find agreement with it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his observations. I thank also noble Lords in all parts of the House who have contributed to this short but important debate. I ask my noble friend to reflect carefully on what he said and, when he lies in bed tonight, thinking about the wisdom that he shared with the House, to consider whether he really produced a convincing argument to refute the proposal that, on the one hand, liberty is being thwarted and, on the other, ammunition is being given to extremists, who will say, “There you are. Society claims to be based on human rights and all the rest, and see what they do”. I see my noble friend screw up his face.
My Lords, then my noble friend has my full sympathy.
As I have said on previous amendments, we are living in volatile times. Disaffection leads to alienation; alienation can be exploited. It is an accumulation of small experiences that are very real for the people and families involved which leads to the spread of a feeling of being aggrieved. It is in the smaller things that we really could do something to make sure that things are happening as they should and make a substantial contribution, in aggregate, to the battle for hearts and minds. I am always very despondent about the negation of human rights, for instance, but I find that as I deal with these issues I personally become more frustrated by what I see as the rule of bureaucratic counter-productivity—of inertia and refusing to act—which is in danger of accentuating the problems that we confront.
I am very disappointed that the Government have not moved on this so far, not least because of what my noble friend so encouragingly said in Grand Committee. However, I never give up my hope that not least my noble friend, and others who have sense, will prevail—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested, there is an argument going on within the Home Office itself. In the hope that the voices of sanity will prevail in the Home Office at the right time, at this juncture I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 36 [Detention]:
33: Clause 36, leave out Clause 36
The noble Lord said: My Lords, before coming to the amendment, I shall briefly and I hope not too irregularly put to the Minister a question of which I have given him prior notice relating to one of the amendments that we dealt with last week on the points-based appeal system. The concern was that a person such as a student or work permit holder who was advised to make a fresh application when there had been an error on the form submitted in the first instance would be out of time and therefore ineligible for lodging the appeal. I am informed by the Minister’s department since our debate that there is an extra-statutory concession under which such a person may continue to submit an application for renewal of leave within 28 days. I would be most grateful if the Minister would put that on the record because those that we have consulted were unaware of it. It would be very useful to practitioners to know that their clients can do that and will not be prevented from continuing their studies or work in the United Kingdom.
As for Amendment No. 33, we discussed the clause on 23 July and, because we had some further doubts on consideration of the Minister’s reply on that occasion we seek this further opportunity for clarification. The clause gives the Secretary of State power to detain a person while she considers whether the automatic deportation provisions in Clause 32 apply. It may add to the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just expressed that we are giving the Secretary of State additional powers, contrary to the advice that we were given just now by the noble Lord, Lord Plant, which will increase the size of the detention estate, with all the consequences that that implies.
First, we seek confirmation that subsections (4) and (5) allow for electronic monitoring as an alternative to detention, by virtue of Section 36 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. The Minister said so in the letter that he wrote to us after the fifth sitting on 26 July, but again it would be helpful to have that in the Official Report, where it would be accessible to immigration practitioners. If the decision to apply electronic monitoring is nominally that of the Secretary of State, who will make the decision on her behalf and will there be published guidance on how the decision is to be made?
The Minister quite properly observed, in col. 150, that a deportation order should not be made before an assessment of the safety of return could be made, but it does not follow that consideration of automatic deportation needs to be deferred until right at the end of the sentence. The BIA should identify as soon as possible—that is, when the person is charged—whether the offence is covered by the second condition in Clause 31 or would potentially attract a sentence of 12 months or more so that the offender can be put on notice to get legal advice on whether he qualifies under one or other of the exceptions before the case is heard. As soon as the person is convicted, he becomes a ‘foreign criminal’, and is liable to automatic deportation, although an order cannot be made at least until after any appeal is heard or the person has notified the Secretary of State that he does not intend to appeal under Clause 34(2) and (3). In cases where an appeal is to be heard, or the time available for an appeal to be lodged has not been exhausted, existing powers have to be used to continue the detention. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State could reconsider whether it is safe to return him and prepare the deportation order, which could be served on the offender in court immediately if he loses the appeal, or in custody if he signs a Clause 34(3)(b) statement.
The Minister gave as an example where it was likely to be impossible to consider the safety of automatic deportation, the person who is given a long sentence during which his circumstances or the political situation in his country of origin would have changed. The answer to that is that the person is a “foreign criminal” within the meaning of Clause 32 immediately he is convicted, and the Secretary of State should make arrangements to remind himself—say, three months before the end of the sentence—whether any of the exceptions in Clause 33 apply. Since there are now personal case-holders keeping track of offenders all the way through the criminal justice system, they should be responsible for keeping up-to-date records of any changes in the situations of offenders to whom the exceptions may apply, and could be instructed to give the current entries to the Secretary of State, as I say, three months before the release date, and to inform her of any changes which may occur in the last three months. The Secretary of State could issue a “minded to decide” notice at that point. If the sentence is a long one it is extremely unlikely that there would be unexpected last-minute changes in the offender’s personal circumstances under one of the exceptions, and it would be rare for the situation in the country of origin to change so radically in those last few weeks as to justify reversing the decision by the Secretary of State on the safety of return. But during the few weeks that remain she still has power to revoke a deportation order if, out of the blue, a Clause 33 exception arises, or if there is a technical error in the decision to make the order, or the decision that Clause 32(5) applies. If no such change occurs, the notice of automatic deportation could be issued immediately the appeal rights have been exhausted.
Where the offender’s nationality or country of origin are in doubt, nothing in the exceptions or elsewhere in the Bill prevents the Secretary of State making the deportation order, although obviously implementation would have to be delayed, as it is now, and as now, detention would be under existing powers, pending deportation, and not in consequence of the provisions of this Bill.
In the case of a last minute asylum application, in the unlikely event that it is accepted, the consequence would be that the Secretary of State finds it unsafe to return the person and, by virtue of Clause 33(2), she refrains from making an order. But where the application is considered to be unfounded, as it generally would be, again there is nothing in the Bill to stop the deportation order being made, though obviously it would be held in abeyance until any appeal was disposed of.
Therefore, having considered the scenarios presented by the Minister in Grand Committee, we are still not convinced that Clause 36 is necessary. We are concerned, moreover, that it may not be compliant with Article 5(1) of the ECHR, which allows for detention,
“of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry into the country or of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition”,
whereas detention under Clause 36 is for the purpose of deciding whether the person is liable to be deported—a matter which has to be settled before the actual decision to deport can be taken. I beg to move.
My Lords, earlier on Report, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester reminded us that a high proportion of former foreign criminals are being held in detention and removal centres. The result is that people with convictions have been mixed in with people who are completely innocent of any crime. This has caused serious problems for the staff of the centres, and has generated considerable fears among the innocent detainees. The Home Office appears to have generally disregarded the advice that was offered to concentrate the former criminals in one or two particular centres, which might have avoided quite a lot of problems.
Therefore, I am asking the Minister to tell us what progress has been made on the subject since last summer. I know—because I read it—that there is a letter from a Minister in the Library, which sets out some positive news. Can the Minister go a little further and tell us what impact the very large increase of staff devoted to the question of who should be detained, whether they are due for deportation and related subjects is having on the situation?
My Lords, before I respond to the amendment, since the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, had the great courtesy to advise me in advance of his point about the points-based appeal system, I ought to respond to that. It was a very helpful question, which enables me to provide further elucidation.
A 28-day grace period will be included in the Immigration Rules as part of the tier 1 process in March 2008. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome that. This will allow those who send their applications within 28 days of their leave expiring to continue with their application. That is a very helpful approach on our part, which will probably be welcomed, not least by immigration law practitioners.
On the amendment, the principal purpose of automatic deportation is to protect the United Kingdom public from harm by deporting foreign criminals. Our view is that the amendment would undermine that aim. I am not saying that that is the purpose behind the amendment, but it would have that effect. It would remove the Secretary of State’s power to detain foreign criminals while she considers whether automatic deportation applies and pending the making of a deportation order under that power. I fully realise that noble Lords feel queasy about what they view as an open-ended power to detain. Who would not? It is an understandable reaction, and I am no different in that regard. I can provide some reassurance that the provision is not designed to allow the Secretary of State to detain people indefinitely; that is not its objective. Deportation action will, whenever possible, be commenced while the criminal sentence is being served. In those circumstances, it will not be necessary to use these powers.
My guess is that that will cover the majority of circumstances. However, there will be cases where, for example, a person who appears to meet the criteria for automatic deportation is eligible for immediate release by the sentencing court because he has already served the sentence while on remand. That happens from time to time. In such circumstances, it is vital to have a power to detain while the Secretary of State considers whether automatic deportation applies. I am sure that noble Lords will understand why that might be the case. This will help to remove the risk of the offender absconding, thereby affording an extra level of public protection from potential harm. I am sure that we can imagine the sorts of cases where that would be especially important. Noble Lords might also note that Clause 36 applies the existing provisions on bail, arrest and restriction orders to automatic deportation cases. As such, it will be open to foreign nationals detained under these powers to apply for bail should they wish to.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was, as ever, assiduous in asking about how other matters impact upon this issue. He asked whether electronic monitoring was an option for those detained under Clause 36. Yes, that is possible and officials will exercise these powers on behalf of the Secretary of State; existing guidance will be updated. The noble Lord asked whether Clause 36 was compliant with Article 5 of the ECHR. We are satisfied that Clause 36 is compliant with Article 5. A decision on whether a person may be liable to automatic deportation is action taken for the purposes of deportation and, therefore, is within the remit of Article 5.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, returned to the impact of foreign national prisoners on the deportation estate and asked about the impact of bringing in large numbers of staff to decide who should be deported and who should be detained. The Border and Immigration Agency’s Criminal Casework Directorate is now considering most foreign national prisoner cases 10 months from the end of their sentences. The Border and Immigration Agency expects to deport some 4,000 foreign national prisoners in 2007 as a result of the increase in staff and improved caseworking. Detention is based on a risk assessment and, as I have said on a number of occasions, primary consideration is related to ensuring the utmost protection of the public. I am sure that we can all subscribe to that principle.
We cannot accept the amendment for those reasons. I hope that some of the information that was asked for adds extra clarity, and I am happy to have answered the question on the points-based appeal system to the satisfaction of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord most sincerely for giving the information on appeals under the points-based system and for his undertaking that, when guidance is published in March next year, it will indicate that a person applying for an extension of leave will have a 28-day grace period following the expiry of the previous leave. As the Minister said, having that knowledge in advance will be extremely helpful to practitioners; otherwise, as we have said all along, a person who failed to lodge the application in time or who made a mistake on the application and had to resubmit it would no longer have been eligible for consideration to extend his leave. That would put an end to the careers of, for example, students in higher education and work permit holders who had hoped to continue their work or studies in the UK. It is also useful to have on record the Minister’s confirmation that electronic monitoring could be considered in such cases, as in others.
I asked the Minister a further question, which he did not have time to deal with. I am not going to pursue it here, but perhaps he will pick it up and write to noble Lords following these proceedings. The question was who, given that the decision to apply electronic monitoring is nominally that of the Secretary of State, will take it on her behalf and whether that person will have published guidance, which will be available to immigration practitioners.
I thought that I had carefully gone through the reasons why the noble Lord said that he could not accept our amendment, but perhaps I did not thoroughly deal with the case that he mentioned today, in which the person had already served the sentence and was eligible for immediate release on conviction by the court. It was implicitly to deal with that case that I suggested that the decision on whether the person was liable to these provisions should be made when they are being charged rather than, as the noble Lord suggested, waiting until 10 months before the expiry of the sentence.
If the decision had been made at the moment of charge, it could have been decided whether the offence fell into category 2 or whether, at the time of conviction, it was likely that a sentence of 12 months or more was going to be passed. There need be no delay between the decision by the court and the issue of the deportation notice under the automatic provisions of the Bill. But I can see that, unfortunately, we are not going to persuade the Minister this afternoon that these provisions are unnecessary, so I will for the moment beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 44 [Search for evidence of nationality]:
[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]
34A: After Clause 55, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent Police Complaints Commission
(1) Section 41 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 (c. 48) (Immigration and asylum enforcement functions; complaints and misconduct) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (1)(b) there is inserted—
“(c) the exercise by an individual or company contracted to provide services to the Secretary of State of specified enforcement functions relating to immigration or asylum”.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 34A is in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Avebury and Lord Roberts of Llandudno. It will come as no surprise to the Minister, as I have raised the issue of accountability in our consideration of almost all previous immigration and asylum legislation and legislation affecting policing; the UK Borders Bill will be no exception.
Our amendment would insert a new clause after Clause 55 to amend Section 41 of the Police and Justice Act 2006. We suggest that, after subsection (1)(b), a paragraph (c) be inserted to take into account,
“the exercise by an individual or company contracted to provide services to the Secretary of State of specified enforcement functions relating to immigration and asylum”.
By amending the Police and Justice Act 2006, we can meet the important need for accountability. To an extent, we can take it that today’s exercise is to probe the Minister’s intention on this matter and to tease out the Government’s stance. My purpose is to ensure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has jurisdiction to entertain complaints against private contractors doing enforcement work for the Home Office.
Section 41 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 provides a power to extend the jurisdiction of the IPCC to cover scrutiny of the Border and Immigration Agency in its exercise of enforcement functions. The Border and Immigration Agency is currently consulting on the content of regulations made under this section.
We understand that—I trust that the Minister will confirm this—the Government have recognised the need for powers to cover private contractors and are seeking a suitable legislative vehicle. This Bill provides that vehicle and this amendment is designed to give the Border and Immigration Agency an opportunity to do what it states it intends to do. Should the Government decline to accept the amendment, we will, as I said, raise it during debate on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which I understand had its Second Reading in the House of Commons very recently.
The latter Bill is an opportunity for the Government to extend the IPCC’s jurisdiction to cover private contractors working for HMRC. This, too, we understand to be the Government’s intention. While waiting for such a legislative vehicle, HMRC is writing into its agreements with private contractors that they must co-operate with the investigations of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Border and Immigration Agency will do likewise, pending not the identification of a suitable legislative mechanism—of which we have identified two in this short briefing—but their taking any action?
I remind the Minister of the IPCC’s understanding of this matter. Its website confirms that,
“assurances had been received from IND [the Immigration and Nationality Directorate] that arrests would only ever be carried out by an authorised officer. Relevant legislation did not permit this function to be delegated to contractors. However, if the legislative position changed then the IPCC’s jurisdiction in relation to contractors would also need to be revisited”.
The position had changed by that time, although I am afraid that the Border and Immigration Agency does not appear to have communicated that to the IPCC. Section 40 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 came into force on 31 August 2006 permitting private contractors to exercise search powers and to hold people for up to three hours. There have been heated debates on this matter in the House, particularly on the questions of the protection of children and juxtaposed controls.
Perhaps I may give the Minister a way out. I ask him to take back the amendment to see what provision can be made before Third Reading. We ask only for an assurance that there will be transparency in the process and that those with powers of enforcement functions, however limited, be subject to proper independent accountability and scrutiny.
The Minister is aware that a certain airline recently refused to participate in a deportation exercise because it did not believe that the process treated deportees fairly. I could give many more examples, but all I want is that we do not forget the damage to community relations in the detention and death of Joy Gardiner in Tottenham some years ago. At this stage, I simply look forward to the Minister’s explanation. Either at Third Reading or possibly during the passage of the new Bill currently going through the Commons, we shall have an opportunity to suggest a suitable means of moving forward. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment. It gives us an opportunity to test the Minister a little more on the code of conduct that we talked about earlier, although I appreciate that this brings it into the complaints procedure. If the code of conduct or anything of relevance in this Bill is not to be extended to agencies and contractors, that will leave a very big gap in the matter of protection and the way that people operate as a result. I look forward to the Minister’s reply. This is an important amendment and I am happy to support it.
My Lords, it seems to me that, however good a code of conduct, mistakes will still be made and there will still be grounds for complaint. I have to plead ignorance because I do not know, as no doubt I should, whether there is an official channel for complaints from people in detention and removal centres. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, suggests that it should be the Independent Police Complaints Commission. If the Government are not satisfied that that is the appropriate body, surely it is incumbent on them to suggest another venue. We know that such complaints do arise, and organisations such as Bail for Immigration Detainees have provided chapter and verse on this subject.
My Lords, this is a very important matter. In speaking to the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, took the actual wording of the amendment. In reply to this debate, can the Minister refer to Scotland? It seems to me that amending the Police and Justice Act 2006 would not be adequate. I may be wrong. Has the Minister considered that matter?
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for the way in which he has moved the amendment. I recognise that it is very important and significant as regards accountability, oversight and so on. I am also grateful to him for providing me with a way out, as he put it. That was very generous of him, but I have come to expect that generosity from the noble Lord in such matters. I hope that my comments will give some encouragement to noble Lords on this issue. I suspect that, in the end, we will not be a million miles apart in what we seek to achieve. There can be little disagreement about the importance of the issue and the need for accountability and oversight in dealing with properly made complaints.
The Police and Justice Act 2006 gave the Secretary of State the power to make regulations in England and Wales, conferring functions on the IPCC in relation to the exercise by immigration officers of specified enforcement functions and the exercise by officials of the Secretary of State of specified enforcement functions relating to immigration and asylum. The 2006 Act did not confer a power with regard to private contractors exercising any of the enforcement functions listed within the Act, such as those carried out by contractors providing detention and escort services, as it was considered that robust oversight mechanisms for these contracts were already in place.
This amendment, as argued, would allow the IPCC jurisdiction in England and Wales to be extended to private contractors, with the exception of those exempted from the provisions in Section 41(3). We all recognise that contractors play a valuable role in delivering the objectives of the Border and Immigration Agency. Where they are used, it is right that appropriate oversight arrangements are in place. There is no disagreement about that. The enforcement roles currently performed by contractors include detention and custody officers, detainee escorting and accredited search officers for freight searching at ports. So there is already a degree of oversight in those areas.
In the case of detention functions, oversight is provided, of course, by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, who investigates deaths in detention and considers complaints where detainees are not content with the response they receive from either the agency or the contractor. So there is already a level of oversight provided through that mechanism. One could fairly argue that the Prison and Probation Ombudsman, first, does a very good job—I know the current office holder has engendered a great deal of respect; and, secondly, it may well be that, for the moment, that is the most appropriate route and mechanism.
The use of freight search contractors in border control is regulated by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2006. Section 41(1) requires that a Crown servant be appointed to monitor the exercise of powers by the contractor, to inspect the way in which the powers are exercised and to investigate and to report to the Secretary of State about any allegations made against the contractor.
The agency is currently exploring the potential of using contractors more widely to add further value to how the Border Immigration Agency delivers its services. As is currently the case with detention custody officers and accredited search officers, the appropriate level of oversight depends on the nature of the function being performed. Once the future functions are fully understood, we will consult on the appropriate level of oversight. The current feeling within the Government is that, until that time, it would not be right to legislate on this issue, hence our caution. In the mean time, and pending completion of our exploratory work on widening the use of contractors, we will ensure that there is co-operation with the IPCC and other monitoring bodies, as built into contracts, so that the issue is covered.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, rightly and understandably asked about the method of complaint for detainees. There is a comprehensive complaints system modelled closely on that used in prisons, with complaints being required to be investigated and, importantly, resolved promptly. This includes confidential access for complaints about centre staff where the complaint goes direct to the BIA for investigation. The whole system, as I explained earlier, is overseen by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman to whom complaints can be referred if a detainee remains unhappy with the outcome.
With the exception of the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, I have answered the various points raised. I will have to defer to the noble Baroness and, I suspect, drop her a note on the issue she raises.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. I definitely have a soft spot for him, because both he and I started our political careers in Brighton. However, I sometimes wish that he would throw his briefing notes away, look at the strength of our case and say, “Yes, that is right and ought to be done”.
The Minister has used two arguments. First, he talked about the prison ombudsman. I remind him that there was substantial discussion in this House on corporate manslaughter, which did not accept that that was the right way to proceed on such a serious matter. Ultimately, the Home Office and the Minister for Justice gave way. Secondly, he talked about ensuring that the IPCC will receive co-operation, but there is a difference between co-operating with the IPCC and the IPCC having jurisdiction over contractors’ actions. That is the point we are trying to make.
I said before that I will look carefully at the consultation process taking place. There are other opportunities, but perhaps the Minister would look at whether there is anything more he can do on this issue before Third Reading. I am sure that the Government want to find a way out. If that is the case I will be able to help, but there certainly will be other opportunities for me to seek the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I certainly undertake to consider again the carefully phrased comments of the noble Lord, for whom I also have more than a soft spot.
I shall also use this opportunity to answer the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour: it is correct that Section 41 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 gives the IPCC oversight of immigration officers and officials in England and Wales. In Scotland, the role will be that of the procurator fiscal and the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland. As for private contactors, if their role is extended we will of course ensure—as I have said on several occasions—that adequate oversight arrangements are in place, not just England and Wales but in all the UK jurisdictions.
35: Before Clause 57, insert the following new Clause—
“Access to immigration advice in police custody
After paragraph 25C of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) (administrative provisions as to control on entry etc.) insert—
“25CA (1) This paragraph applies if—
(a) a person has been detained under this Schedule; and(b) that person is in custody at a police station.(2) Persons to whom this paragraph applies shall have access to immigration advice on request.””
The noble Lord said: My Lords, since we last discussed the question of legal advice to persons detained in police stations, we have heard again from the Transport and General Workers Union, although it has not given us details of individual cases as we requested. It said that numerous cases have been reported to it in the past 12 months of members being arrested at their workplace, usually on the basis of a tip-off from the employer or from an agency providing temporary labour. The member is detained incommunicado in a police station without any of the PACE protections for up to five days. When the member fails to show up at the workplace and the union gets to hear of his absence, it has to telephone police stations at random because it is seldom possible to establish where an individual is detained or why. The union tries to arrange for a police-accredited solicitor to attend but, where the member is detained because of an alleged immigration offence, the police refuse to allow access on the grounds that a properly accredited immigration solicitor is required.
When union officials take these cases up with the police, they are told that the member is held pending the arrival of an immigration officer. It seems incongruous that when an immigration officer detains a person pending the arrival of the police, the limit is three hours, but when it is the other way round and the police are detaining somebody pending the arrival of an immigration officer, the limit is five days. When the immigration officer finally attends the police station, an in-depth interview may be conducted and sometimes the officer suggests that the detainee should not ask for an interpreter because the officer considers that the person’s English is good enough, or because if he asks for an interpreter his stay in the police station will be extended. In some cases the detainee is asked to sign a document agreeing to removal, and is warned that if he refuses the police will charge him with an immigration offence that may lead to a custodial sentence.
The TGWU tells us that this problem largely relates to undocumented migrant workers—such as those working unlawfully pending an immigration decision—asylum seekers, and students working in breach of their 16-hour conditions. Many of them will presumably be among the 450,000 legacy cases who would starve if they did not work. Employers are deliberately recruiting from these sectors, using fictitious self-employment or agency working arrangements. A recent TGWU-supported case, Kalwak and others v Consistent in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, exposed some of these practices.
We have also received information from the Poppy Project, which we have heard a lot about in other contexts. It is conducting research on 154 victims of trafficking who were its clients between March 2003 and July 2007. It says that 18.8 per cent of them had been in police custody on charges relating to immigration offences and 2 per cent had been given custodial sentences. I am not sure whether the research will show how long the women concerned were in police custody, but their experiences would presumably have been similar to that reported to us by the TGWU. Finally, I remind the Minister that Janipher Maseko, whose case aroused such widespread dismay because she was separated from her breast-feeding infant, was originally in the custody of the police before she was transferred to Yarl’s Wood.
There is enough evidence to show that the absence of access to legal advice for alleged immigration offenders in police stations is a matter for serious concern. I suggest that the Minister invites the relevant organisations, such as the police, ILPA, the TGWU, the Poppy Project, the JCWI and the Black Women’s Rape Action Project, to a round-table discussion to see how the problem can best be addressed. I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment would impose a requirement to provide immigration detainees held in a police station with access to immigration advice on request. Noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches tabled this amendment in Committee and we had a very full debate on it at that point. Although we could not accept the amendment, I had hoped that the reassurances I gave during the debate might have addressed some of their major concerns.
I explained in Committee why we did not consider this amendment necessary and, in essence, we have not changed our view. We agree, however, that it is entirely right for individuals detained under Immigration Act powers to be able to access competent and independent legal advice at an early stage. Those are two essentials. That includes individuals held at a police station. We acknowledge that in the past immigration detainees held initially at police stations, usually before transfer to an immigration removal centre, may not always have been able to gain easy access to immigration advice.
It would be fairly accepted that that was in large part due to the fact that duty solicitors, who would normally be contacted by the police on behalf of detainees, were unlikely to be able to provide advice to individuals on non-criminal immigration matters. To address this issue, the Legal Services Commission has been running a pilot scheme since June 2006 to provide independent immigration advice by telephone on non-criminal immigration matters to people detained at police stations.
I explained in Committee that the commission believes that telephone advice is, realistically, the most effective method of providing timely advice to individuals held at police stations, particularly as they will usually be held for very short periods before transfer to an immigration removal centre or release. Indeed, the commission has been piloting the provision of telephone advice for people held at police stations since October 2005. Under the Criminal Defence Services Direct pilot scheme, the commission evaluated the use of telephone advice for individuals detained at police stations and facing specific criminal charges. The pilot established that the provision of telephone advice provided clients with prompt access to legal advice and represented value for money in terms of public expenditure. In relation to the telephone pilot for immigration detainees, I understand that feedback received from advisers taking part in the scheme has suggested that the benefit to clients has been very positive, and that no significant problems with telephone advice as a method of delivery have been reported.
One of the concerns raised in Committee was how a telephone-based service could deal with the need for interpreters. The pilot scheme explored this issue. Under that scheme all advisers have to be able to set up three-way conversations between the police station, the interpreter and themselves. This is a contractual requirement—it is specified in the terms of the contract—for firms taking part in the pilot.
The commission has indicated that it will share its findings in relation to the evaluation of the scheme with representative bodies, and that the evaluation will be published on its website in November. I understand that the findings have been positive and that the commission will be tendering for new contracts later this year. The noble Lord has identified a genuine issue. We have taken steps to meet some of the pressures and demands that have arisen as a consequence of that issue. I think that we can fairly say that we have addressed those concerns through the pilots and, when the evaluation report is fully absorbed, we hope that it will be possible to see in the tendering process next year a wider adoption of the telephone advice service.
On the point raised in particular by the noble Lord about the need to meet organisations concerned about this which in one way or another provide advice and support, the department meets regularly with stakeholders including the Poppy Project and others that he referred to. No doubt they will use the opportunity of those discussions and meetings to reflect on the issue raised by the amendment. In any event, I give an undertaking that this is one issue that will be fairly considered when department officials next meet.
My Lords, that is a very satisfactory reply. My excuse for tabling this amendment again is that we heard further from representatives of the TGWU after the matter was raised in Grand Committee. At that point, their anxieties were not assuaged. However, what the Minister said this afternoon will go a long way towards satisfying them that adequate arrangements have been made and that their clients will not be left in the lurch for a whole five days without any access to advice.
I hope that the information that will be published in November—the Minister said that it would be given to practitioners in advance of being placed on the website—will be distributed to the TGWU, which is the main agent of concern over the question of access to advice in police custody. I am also grateful to the Minister for saying that he will ensure that other organisations that have raised the matter with us, particularly the Poppy Project, which mentioned this in its current research, are brought into the picture next time there is an opportunity to raise it with them. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
36: Before Clause 57, insert the following new Clause—
“Provision of information to immigrants from A8 countries
(1) Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument make provision for information to be provided at major ports of entry to persons entering the United Kingdom from A8 countries.
(2) The information provided under subsection (1) shall include information on—
(a) finding employment;(b) employment law, including rights and responsibilities and the worker registration scheme;(c) obtaining a national insurance number;(d) the provision for language training;(e) finding accommodation;(f) access to health care and education;(g) sources of further advice and support.(3) The information provided under subsection (1) shall be provided in a form determined by the Secretary of State.
(4) In this section the “A8 countries” are Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, as we reach the last amendment I would like to say that it has been a great privilege to take part in this Bill. I have not won many of my arguments, but at least we have made our points and some arguments have had a response from the Minister, which has been encouraging. I am sure that someone else will be thanking all those concerned when we come to Third Reading, but I say, “Diolch yn fawr”, or “Thank you” in Welsh.
We are calling for information for those coming into the UK from the new countries of eastern Europe. They should have available information that is essential to anyone who is new to the United Kingdom. It should be in a format that they can access easily, that is attractive and readable and gives information gathered together from various sources into one comprehensive piece of literature, in the different languages of those new countries. That is what we are looking for.
The Minister rightly said when we last discussed this point that there were sources where nearly all this information could be obtained; it was available on the web or in different government briefings. I am sure that it is, but not in all the languages that I would like. However, I suggest that we need a welcome pack for those who come to the UK so that they know exactly where they can get health provision, where they register for work, and where to get help if they are finding it difficult to find homes or food. They should be able to have all that information in one piece of literature.
The information should be in hard copy as well as on the web because many of those who come here have no access to the web at the beginning. You need something at the port of entry so that you can go to the information desk and ask for comprehensive and co-ordinated information to help meet those various problems. I would like to see this guide—if I may call it that—made available in the consulates of the countries of origin of these people so that they will have this information in their hands before they come here. It might deter some from coming here. We know that 97 per cent of folk who come from eastern Europe are able to survive. They make arrangements for accommodation and jobs before they come. I am worried about the other 3 per cent—3 per cent of 400,000 is a substantial number. We are trying to prevent these folk from slipping totally into destitution—I use again the word that we have used many times during the passage of the UK Borders Bill.
The information could be printed in various languages; it could be available in the countries of origin and at the ports of entry into the UK. I have tried to find out whether any information is available. I visited the information counter at Victoria coach station, but there was nothing. There might have been another counter where this information could be found, but I could not find it. Is not Victoria coach station the sort of place where people could be guided and helped in their initial meeting with the folk of the United Kingdom?
There could be a government publication, but we are told that that would have cost implications. I was told, “No, no. You must not spend money, Rog. That money is not easily available”. Perhaps we could emulate the Canadian Newcomer Magazine, which includes part of the information that I would like to see. It is a commercial venture.
My Lords, in a way, I am quoting from it. This attractive, accessible, available magazine format might be what we need. The Minister may say, “We think that it is a great idea, but we cannot afford it” but perhaps some encouragement could be given for producing it commercially. It could be paid for by advertising. However it is produced, it would be in the hands of those who need it and could be a helpline for them. With those words, and accepting the rightly merited reprimand, I beg to move.
My Lords, this is an important amendment. We are all aware that there have been too many bad cases of exploitation of migrant workers. Complaints have usually ranged around sub-standard wages, poor accommodation and food provided, and excessive deductions from pay. Therefore, this amendment provides a useful list of the kind of information needed and would be of great value to citizens’ advice bureaux. There have been problems about access to healthcare and even education.
My only query is why not include Romania and Bulgaria as well because they are now members of the European Union? I realise that there have been some restrictions on migrant workers coming from those countries, but more may well come in the future. I look forward to the Government’s response.
My Lords, there is no doubt that we benefit enormously from the A8 countries and the great number of immigrants—if we can call them immigrants, because they are all part of the EU. People coming to this country are providing a lot of the talents and expertise which we do not seem to have at the moment. My noble friend Lady Anelay did not support this amendment previously on the basis that it would be centrally driven and that the information would be provided from central government. People coming here tend to cluster and keep together. There are a lot in London, as well as a lot who move further north. It really is not much use having a centrally produced leaflet when the information they need concerns local facilities close to where they have settled.
So yes, information should be provided, but information from central government is probably not very interesting, as well as probably being expensive and difficult to make available in the various languages. However, my experience of people from the A8 countries is that they can speak English almost better than we do. By and large, English works very well. Most important, though, is that local information is far more valuable than anything centrally produced.
My Lords, this has been a useful short debate. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has provided us with further thoughts on information provision by drawing on his personal experience and making a little promotion for Canada. We have all learnt something this afternoon. I certainly do not distance myself from the thought that this amendment is anything other than useful because it is always valuable to talk about these issues. I cannot accept the proposed new clause for a number of reasons, but cost is not the most significant of those so far as we are concerned. That is because much of what the noble Lord is talking about is already being done, as I tried to suggest to him before.
The benefits of migration from the A8 states are commonly agreed between most political parties in the United Kingdom. There is no doubt that workers from those states are contributing greatly to the economy and in supporting public services. I am sure that we could all provide a suitable anecdote to support that contention. Figures showing the growth in the economy make it clear as well. I agree that it is important that new migrants—not just those from the A8 states, to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—understand what their rights and responsibilities are in the United Kingdom. The Home Office provides extensive information to all potential migrants. For A8 migrants, this includes specific advice on our websites produced in English and in all the A8 languages. This information is also provided overseas through the Foreign Office at our embassies and consulates. That is more important than providing information for migrants as they disembark at Victoria coach station, because by the time they arrive there, it is almost too late. They need information in advance of coming to the United Kingdom.
The European Union provides much by way of advice, and the EURES network provides detailed information and advertises jobs across Europe. It makes available a lot of the information that I think the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is seeking to place in the hands of migrants who are quite legitimately coming here to work. Further, we do not believe that it is appropriate to legislate for the reasons alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. It would be excessively centralised and overly prescriptive. However, it is important that other agencies assist in this field, and they do. Indeed, the noble Baroness made the point that because the different groups tend to cluster, information is best provided locally as well as being accessible centrally.
Even if I were convinced that legislation is the way forward on this, I do not think that ports would be the best place to locate such information. People who take an active and positive decision to migrate investigate the opportunities before moving here. It is therefore much more important that the information is available before they come to the United Kingdom. For those reasons, I am not convinced by the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. It is in all our interests to ensure that those living here understand their rights and their obligations. However, the new clause does not really provide for that; it merely imposes what can fairly be described as a bureaucratic burden.
To sum up, the noble Lord has moved the amendment in the best spirit, but much of this information is already in the public domain. The Home Office provides it here and it is made available at our consulates and embassies, as well as through other agencies. I understand that the TUC provides a very good information pack for those coming to the UK to work. So the information is there and it is accessible. No doubt we will continue to improve that information as this issue becomes more important and significant in ensuring that those who come here fully understand their rights and their obligations.
I hope that the noble Lord will not feel too offended by our decision not to support the amendment and will dwell on the more positive observations that have been made during this short debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reassuring reply. I am glad about the various languages in which he says the information is available. I actually circulated Welsh local authorities and asked them what they were doing to let migrants into their areas know about what was happening there and in which language they published the information, and three answered, “Welsh and English”. I am not sure the Welsh helped but we certainly need a wider vision than that.
I hope that the various local authorities, like Cornwall—its handbook is a wonderful example of what can be done—will be able to make information on all these points readily available to all those who need it in their areas. I hope someone might be listening somewhere who will say that a venture such as the Newcomer magazine in Canada might be a commercial possibility.
I am grateful to the Minister. This matter will carry on in various ways but, because of the discussion we have had, which was very useful, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Information Committee: Visitors to Parliament
rose to move, That the First Report from the Information Committee, Improving Facilities for Educational Visitors to Parliament, (HL Paper 117) be agreed to.
The report can be found at http://www.publications. parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldselect/ldinformation/117/117.pdf
The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I came to Westminster this morning at 10 o’clock, I walked from the Members’ Lobby towards our Lobby and I passed a guide who was talking to a bunch of young people. He was explaining to them that well known picture, “Speaker Lenthall asserting the privilege of the Commons against Charles I”. This, of course, is the picture in which Charles is seen in the Speaker’s chair trying to arrest five leading Members, including Pym, who had been a great nuisance to him. The guide did it well; he spoke well and all the young people listened very carefully. But I thought that that little incident synthesised the problem that I hope we are going to talk about today, which is how do we successfully present both Houses of Parliament as a living, important, vital organism? How do we do that to both the young and adults, but particularly to the younger student?
I followed my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking as chairman of the domestic committee, the Information Committee. Its remit is,
“to consider information and communication services including the Library and the Parliamentary Archives within financial limits approved by the House Committee”.
In the year that I have been chairman there have been one or two modest and minor changes. For example, there has been a modest and carefully planned change in the Library—which I hope some of your Lordships have noticed—for example, in the arrangements for desk-top and information services in the Queen’s Room. The Parliamentary Archives are now more accessible than they were. This has reference to a Question that was asked in the House this afternoon.
But what concerned my committee more than anything else was the need to enable the Palace of Westminster to handle a much larger number of school visitors and to give them such an interesting and vivid description of what Parliament does today that they went away with a much better knowledge of the way Parliament works, both in Select Committees and in PQs, and also in drafting and debating Bills and turning them into Acts. That is the task, it is fair to say, that has dominated the thinking of the Information Committee in the past year while I have been chairman.
What we have tried to do has a history. A pamphlet was produced way back in the early 1960s by Stephen King-Hall, then president of the Hansard Society, suggesting that there should be two “looking and listening” chambers underneath the House or in the garden over the way that would have some of the effect of what we are talking about today; of enabling people to understand better, listen to more debates and so on.
We have to accept that the Palace of Westminster is not an easy place to take school visitors to. Victorian Gothic, beautifully built under the instructions of Pugin, marvellous in itself—but not an ideal place to take a school party. Where are the loos? Where are the sandwiches? Where can they sit down and stay warm, rather than queueing in one of our cold corridors? Yet we have to teach the importance of Westminster, for that is where legislation starts and is finalised, not on the “Today” programme with John Humphrys between 8.10 and 8.30 in the morning. That is not an easy task.
It is against that background that we produced the report we are looking at today. It has one great credit; it is only about eight pages long. There is a similar report from the House of Commons that is about 145 pages, so our report’s brevity is some credit to us. Its key recommendation supports recommendation 17 in the Commons Administration Committee report of 18 April that has the same title as ours; namely, that,
“a dedicated space for school visitors of approximately 1,000m² (consisting of flexible accommodation of five classrooms with ancillary space for storage, toilet facilities, a lunch area and locker space) should be sought either on or off the existing Estate—the exact space depending on what becomes available and at what cost”.
Why a dedicated space of approximately 1,000 square metres? Quite simply, because the Parliamentary Education Service, for which I have great respect, reckoned that that was the area that was necessary, within which it would be possible to accommodate entire average-sized year groups. It estimates that within such a space capacity could be increased from the present 28,000 students a year who come to Westminster to a target figure of 100,000 a year.
In addition, the facilities could be used by others outside term times; for example, for adult learners, families and teacher training. The aim would be to make the education centre very high-tech so that it was exciting and stood up against the sort of exhibition that students can now have at the Science Museum. Some of the suggestions come under the heading of “interactive space”. Using the latest technology such as digital film editing, students would engage with the work of Parliament. For example, a Peer could be interviewed in the education centre by a visiting school group, who would then use the footage to create a short film introducing the role of the Lords that would then be downloaded on to computers in the education centre and edited. In order to produce a coherent film in that exciting way, students would have to understand better the functions of Parliament. Thus they will be motivated by the technology, which will immerse them in the topic so that they learn about Parliament.
The prime requirement now is finding an appropriate space. That has not yet been found, but I understand that an active search is taking place and several possibilities are now being examined. The space should if possible be within the parliamentary estate. As the space has not yet been found, the cost is not yet fixed. That would be the next and important question. I understand that, for capital costs of this nature, the Commons pays 60 per cent and the Lords 40 per cent. It is therefore clearly a matter in which we would be closely involved, and it would require close attention by your Lordships’ appropriate committees.
I have a high opinion of the Parliamentary Education Service. When we succeed in increasing the capacity for educational visits from the present figure of 28,000 to the hoped-for level of 100,000, it is calculated that the number of people in the education service will increase to 19 from today’s rather unhappy figure of 9.5, and that the complement of visitor assistants will increase from 17 to 20. That means in turn that there would be a total full-year estimated additional cost of £549,000 per year, of which the Lords’ share would be £165,000. It is a substantial sum and again it reflects the appropriateness of our House being well involved in, and looking very closely at, the proposal for increasing education facilities in Westminster.
Recommendation 7 on page 4 of our report sounds a note of caution by stating that our committee did not subscribe to all the conclusions and recommendations contained in the House of Commons Administration Committee’s report (HC 434). Some members of the Information Committee—I am delighted that a number of my colleagues from that committee are here this afternoon and are, I hope, going to speak—felt that providing better education facilities for children and students should be only a first step towards better, more modern and more effective reception of adult visitors, including tourists. Paragraph 63 of the House of Commons report states:
“It is clear from the information provided to us that provision for visitors at Westminster has fallen behind other Parliaments and Assemblies, both in the United Kingdom and abroad”.
This applies to both the visitor centre at the Scottish Parliament, which has, the report states,
“a deliberately open and accessible approach and … uses tourist industry standards to ensure visitors leave satisfied”,
and the National Assembly for Wales, which has placed a visitor and education centre with toilets, interactive displays and a shop in a listed building 50 yards from the Assembly building. I have to say that we felt more strongly than our colleagues in the other place that the education centre might be only a first step towards better facilities for all tourists.
In this context, I pay tribute to the outreach work of the Lord Speaker. I am pleased to learn that an experienced communications professional, with a strong track record, will be located in the House of Lords Department of Information Services, support the office of the Lord Speaker and work closely with the Parliamentary Education Service. Those are all important steps in making Parliament more visible and more comprehensible to the general public.
Westminster is not just about Prime Minister’s PQs on Wednesday morning. We all realise that there is little knowledge of what Westminster does among the general public, including students. It is arguable that the place where we are today would be more suitable as a museum, but that will not happen. It is surely our duty to promote Westminster—Lords and Commons—as being at the heart of the current governing process. We wish to help young people understand, keep that understanding, teach it to others, and go home excited at what they have seen and learnt here. This is a compelling task in which I hope we can succeed. I beg to move.
Moved, That the First Report from the Information Committee, Improving Facilities for Educational Visitors to Parliament, (HL Paper 117) be agreed to.—(Lord Renton of Mount Harry.)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, the chairman of our committee, for the excellent way in which he introduced the report, with his customary panache and clarity. Today we are being asked to agree to this report, as I am sure we will, despite the fact that it is a much shorter report than many members of the committee would have liked.
In June 2004, the Modernisation Committee in another place expressed concern that Parliament needed to reconnect with the public. It was absolutely right; there is no doubt that Parliament needs to do something to reconnect with the public, particularly the younger generation. This was underlined very clearly in the Puttnam commission’s report. If Parliament fails to make an impact on youngsters by the age of 16, it is very unlikely that they will vote and even less likely that they will become involved in the political process, join political parties, or stand as candidates to become councillors or Members of Parliament.
The evidence of Parliament failing to connect is widespread. There has been a reduction in turnouts at general elections, with even lower turnouts for European elections and elections to local councils. I remember standing in a county council election in Park ward, Cheltenham, almost 20 years ago in 1989, which was not a particularly good year for my party. The turnout was well over 54 per cent; in the neighbouring ward it was over 60 per cent—and, yes, I won that election by four votes, after a recount. In a by-election in the same area this year, the turnout was, dismally, less than 40 per cent.
How do we address that decline? We need to provide much better facilities for visitors—and for all of them, not just for schools. We know from research carried out that most school visits to Parliament come from the south-east of England—in other words, where the party can get to and from Parliament in a day. When I was MP for Cheltenham, in another life, I received school visits and was aware how early the children and teachers had to get up to catch the bus to London, how many of them missed breakfast, and how tiring the whole process was for them. I can recall one morning a young girl fainting in the “No” Lobby—which, for noble Lords who have not served in another place, is the equivalent of our “Not Content” Lobby.
Recommendation 24 in our report’s appendix, taken from the House of Commons report, says that we should consider subsidies for educational visits, to allow more schools to come—and examples are given of Australia, Germany, Norway and even Wales, where there is such a system of subsidies. To help those who live a long way from London, we need to provide that kind of support as well as access to Parliament through the internet. Recommendation 12 of the report’s appendix makes that point.
The Information Committee carried out a lot of work, looking at proposals for a full new parliamentary visitor and information centre. The officers serving the committee did an excellent job looking at the possibility of providing such a centre, either in or under Victoria Gardens or College Green. I admit to having been excited at the prospect of planning a PVIC, but to having qualms over the estimates of the likely costs. Details of these proposals and estimates of costs are included in report HC 434 from another place. Costs were predicted to vary between £44 million and £84 million, depending on the site and design. This obviously scared off some of the more vocal members of the sub-committee of the Administration Committee in another place, with whom we had joint discussions. I have no criticism of the chairman of that committee, Mr Frank Doran, who did his best to save something from the wreckage of our discussions and to make progress despite the outright opposition of some, may I say, difficult members of his committee.
It is quaintly bizarre that after the Modernisation Committee in another place decided that something must be done, some Members of that place decided that nothing should be done. I will not name them but I wonder whether those individuals who do not want any improvements in facilities for visitors have discussed this with their constituents. Some might conclude that the last thing these Members want is for their constituents to find out what goes on here—particularly the unnecessary yah-boo politics which we see and hear too much of, not in your Lordships' House but in another place.
Until and unless we can reconnect with the people, the negative image of Parliament portrayed so often in the media will get worse. Discussion in pubs and restaurants will be about trivia rather than about the substantive issues and challenges of our time.
We are the people's Parliament. Our democracy should be about being open to scrutiny, not just within Parliament but accountable to people. Of course we should support this modest report, but we should also make it clear to those in another place that much more needs to be done to stop the corrosive wasting away of our democracy as fewer and fewer people take part.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the excellent introduction by the chairman of our committee, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the noble Lord, Lord Jones.
It will be no surprise to noble Lords that this is not, and never has been, a straightforward issue—other, that is, than stating the broad objective. It is, of course, true that Parliament, and Members of both Houses who labour here, have an important role to discharge in the national interest. It is right that the accommodation and other needs of Members to fulfil their roles, and of those who assist and support them, are taken fully into account.
Nor can we ignore the problems of terrorist threats, though I become more and more concerned as every time we return from a recess there is more and more costly physical protection in place. We must surely be prepared to face some risk, as the bill for all that is being done to protect us and these buildings becomes an ever greater charge on the public purse.
It is, of course, a privilege to work in such unique buildings with their iconic, worldwide appeal and combining, as they do, many of the features of a famous museum and architectural heritage site. With the improving visitor arrangements we have rightly sought to look after the interests of groups and individuals, tourists and sightseers who want to visit and absorb some of the history and ethos of the Palace. But just as visitors to a museum or stately home are expected largely to do their own homework and inquiry into the place, perhaps with the benefit of a guide, so, too, we expect such visitors to the Palace to behave. The focus of the Information Committee’s work has not been on them; rather it is on the education of young people and others whom we want to interest and inform about the political processes of the country at the national level.
Combined with extensive work undertaken by the Administration Committee in the other place, we have agreed the recommendation that a dedicated space for school visitors with flexible accommodation of greater space than currently available to the Parliamentary Education Service is required. I am disappointed that we have not been able to come up with anything better, though this, when implemented, will be a considerable improvement on what is available at present.
Understandably, a large capital charge on the public purse for a new-build visitor centre was not deemed to be a runner, and was thus described as not representing “good value for money”. I should have preferred to save the £60 million-plus being devoted to a Supreme Court building, and used some of that for a dedicated educational facility instead of reshaping and rehousing the Law Lords.
Nevertheless, our aims of reaching out to schoolchildren and the voters of tomorrow are undoubtedly a high priority for the country and for its democratic health into the future. This is a form of education with real practical value and importance throughout adult life. Is it not a topic that might appeal to major benefactors with interest in supporting youth education and the democratic processes of this country? Are we right not even to consider or explore this approach? Has it to be ruled out of order because it would look as though Parliament were ducking its responsibilities and so be embarrassing? Are we being a bit defeatist in thinking that, whoever was to pay for it, no new build in the vicinity of the Palace would ever get through the planning and heritage regimes to which it would have to be exposed, or at best only after a most monumental struggle and inordinate delays? Maybe we can return to that another time.
I turn to the thinking about outreach, which has an important part to play in getting the message across to young people. For those who cannot make the journey to London or be fitted into the limited resources that we have on-site, getting out to them is important. The three Armed Forces run formal presentation teams that visit all corners of the country and explain to their audiences what their service does, what it has and how it is structured. Over the years, the teams have honed their presentations—no doubt many noble Lords will have seen them for themselves—and with the use of video and so on they have a very good track record. They are widely appreciated and perform a most important function of informing and explaining the role and make-up of the Armed Forces of today. The teams tailor their presentations to the level of knowledge and experience of their audience.
Many in the country now have few opportunities to engage with and understand what the services do, apart from what is reported in the media, and that is not always the “good news” type of story. Perhaps there is a role for a formal House of Lords presentation team, working either in direct support of the Lord Speaker on her outreach work or on other occasions to explain and interest young people in Parliament. Video excerpts from the State Opening, a Question Time, a debate linked with a commentary explaining what was behind the visual images being projected, or, to avoid being too dated, perhaps some passages from “Yesterday in Parliament” might be incorporated.
For the Lords, without the direct link of constituency interest, such presentation material could avoid becoming overly constrained by factional party barriers. Combined with the excellent efforts in train that are so successfully improving the Parliament website, and as a feature of the Lord Speaker’s key outreach work, I commend the idea of a House of Lords presentation team to the House. Meanwhile, I support the Information Committee’s report.
My Lords, it has been a pleasure to serve on the Information Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Jones, reminded us, much of the work of the Information Committee dealt with the decision in 2004 to enhance the relationship between Parliament and the public. Although this decision was taken by the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, your Lordships’ House decided that it applied as much to us as to the other place. Indeed, the views of your Lordships’ House on connecting Parliament more effectively with the public have usually been more progressive than the ideas of the other place. That is thanks not only to the members of our Information Committee but to a great extent to the efforts of our committee staff. Their imagination, innovation and dedication deserve our grateful thanks and congratulations.
We are seeing and benefiting from some of the results already. For a start, the Parliament website is very much improved. It is right that we should have started with the internet, because internet-enabled networks are changing society, the economy and politics. Our website provides information on what is happening in Parliament, on legislation, debates, Questions, how to contact MPs and Peers, who we are and what we do. The website explains how Parliament works; it provides a fascinating insight into the culture of Westminster, our democracy, its history, its heritage and, indeed, the history of Parliament. It is slick and modern. Noble Lords appreciate this, because when I referred to it during Question Time last week, my remarks were greeted with quite a few “hear, hear”s from all around the House—and they were deserved. One day in May, there were 38,504 user visits to the parliamentary website. That is an impressive number.
Facilities for visitors are better, also. The Central Tours Office and the provision of trained guides is a big improvement and help to those of us who have visitors to Parliament. The guides are eloquent, enthusiastic and well informed. The visitors reception building currently being built on Cromwell Green will also make visitors more welcome by speeding up security and providing even shelter from the rain.
In your Lordships’ House we have elected a Speaker, part of whose task is to connect the House with the public. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, she is now doing this with energy, vigour and imagination. The media are certainly telling the public a lot more about us.
Where do we go from here? I do not hide the fact that, like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, I would have liked to have gone for a full-blown visitor centre. We are after all the Mother of Parliaments and we have a lot to say and teach about our parliamentary democracy. It is well worth visiting the Scottish Parliament’s visitor centre. However, wiser heads than mine counselled a step-by-step approach. Change in Parliament seems to come about best through the accumulation of small steps, rather than a giant leap. Your Lordships’ committee proposes that we should now tackle education. I agree—education mainly for the young, but also for adults.
Of course, we already have a Parliamentary Education Service and, although it is run from the House of Commons Library, it serves both Houses. I can confirm that it is well respected and much-valued, because I have “speakered” debates which it has organised. Parents, teachers and students themselves have told me of their appreciation of the service. However, only one in five young people who visit Parliament benefit from the education service. Requests are increasing and your Lordships’ committee recommends that the service be expanded. The expansion is ambitious—to provide an education service for 100,000 mainly young people per year. Anything less would be failing our commitment to connect Parliament with the public.
We are not the first to do this. The major museums are already doing it and we went along to learn from their experience. The main lesson that came across strongly to me is that it is a matter not just of staff but of facilities and organisation. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, unless you provide young people with a place to leave their bags, a place to eat their lunch, adequate toilets and secure arrangements for dropping the young people off and collecting them, they will not come. Without these facilities, if they do come, they will not stay for long. I agree with the noble Lord—we must provide them with good modern technology. We must provide them with workshops in art, drama, photography—and the film-making that he described—with debating opportunities, as well as telling them about the history and workings of Parliament. Otherwise, you will not hold their attention and enthusiasm. As well as budgeting for staff, we have to budget for space and facilities—and it all has to take place on the parliamentary estate. The museums told us that the whole package has to be provided; it will not work in parts.
These enhanced educational facilities can, of course, have a dual purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, spoke about this. They can be used by parliamentarians for sessions with community or constituency groups. They can also be used for conferences and training for citizenship teachers and perhaps even for social gatherings and exhibitions outside the parliamentary term. So I support the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Renton.
Others may say that we are a working Parliament and priority must be given to that. It is true that the work of Parliament has to take priority over visitors, but Parliament also has to justify its work and be accountable, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said. We must justify ourselves to our citizens, but we will never do that if we are remote and exclusive. There has to be a balance between the work of Parliament and justification to our citizens. Making them welcome and educating and informing them about our work is one crucial way in which we can justify ourselves.
Indeed, I think that this is so important that we should consider the case for subsidising visits by young people, perhaps from the more remote parts of the country. This happens in most other nations, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said. However, not everybody will want to come to Westminster, so there has to be an outreach service, again to perhaps the more remote parts of the country. That is already happening in Cornwall, where this month outreach work is going on, with the full co-operation of the Cornish Members of Parliament. The feedback should be interesting.
I hope that your Lordships will join me in supporting these initiatives. Your Lordships’ House has a tradition of being innovative, imaginative and progressive in these things. After all, the televising of Parliament started in your Lordships’ House. We had another first earlier this year: the finals of the schools debating competition took place here in your Lordships’ Chamber. The venue inspired excellent speeches. The event inspired the teachers and delighted the parents. It certainly convinced me that we are moving in the right direction.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for introducing this debate on the report. I served on the previous Information Committee as well as on this one. The joint meetings between the Information Committee and the Commons Administration Committee entailed a lot of work. In fact, the work on the visitor centre has been going on since 2000. The Group on Information for the Public was set up to look at what we should be doing and the Visitor Facilities Support Group did a great deal of work on the detailed recommendations that went into the final feasibility report.
There is general agreement about what is needed and why we want to do it. We have to provide a better welcome for the public and an interesting and friendly environment for the visitor. We need to make Parliament more accessible in what it is and what it does. But we also have the problem that it is a real workplace, and we have huge security problems.
A number of feasibility studies were made, culminating in the feasibility report and options appraisal in October 2006. In considering this report, one needs to consider the target audience: what do we give them and how? Hence, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said, the committee visited a number of locations: the Globe Theatre, the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Churchill Museum. We were also given information about how other Parliaments provide facilities. We had information from Austria, Canada, Australia, the EU, Scotland, Wales and the USA. The United States is building a huge new visitor centre in Washington so that its citizens can see what is happening. The costs and provision vary enormously.
A survey of Peers’ opinions brought out a lot of dissent. One Peer would rather spend the money on a Lords car park than a visitor centre. So there was a huge range of opinions about the way that we should go.
The costs have been mentioned. They range from £84.5 million for a full visitor centre down to £45 million for an education unit only. However, the £84.5 million represents only about £1.3 per member of the population, which would be a fairly trivial amount if it were added to income tax.
Who are our target audiences? I think that there are three or four, and obviously, one is schoolchildren. I had the pleasure of going round with such a party with the education unit. We are looking at children in the eight to 11 year-old range, who are starting to become interested in citizenship. There are then the young adults in the 15 to 18 year-old range, who are coming into the voting environment and whom we must get to come because these will be our new young MPs, councillors and so on. We have to get them involved in the political process. Then there are the disillusioned older people who are failing to vote. I think that they form one of the most important groups, but we will not attract them simply by having an education unit. Finally, there are tourists from both overseas and the UK.
All those people require different facilities. As has already been said, for school parties we need lockers, picnic space and toilets. We need interesting things using modern technology that will attract their attention. There is also the question of subsidies for people who come from more remote areas. That is terribly important. We can do so much with modern technology and outreach but it is vital to subsidise children from schools in the north of England, distant corners of Wales or Cornwall in order to get them to come here.
If we had gone for a full visitor centre, I thought that we might have had a reproduction of the House of Common Chamber where children could take part in debates. The education unit does that to a small extent, with limited facilities, before they take the children out. It is very effective and interesting to see how they all take part in that. Our website has improved enormously over the past few years, and the provision of modern computer facilities, perhaps with virtual tours of the workings of the House, could also be beneficial.
The decision on the way forward was obviously complex because there was distinct opposition to spending such a sum of money. The House of Commons Administration Sub-Committee was well and truly divided, which was a great pity. The Lords were more or less united in thinking that we should go for a full parliamentary visitor centre. However, as I said, again, the Lords survey showed a division in opinions. The opposers favour the use of such a large sum of money for improving the facilities for Members—I have already mentioned the car park. My own opinion is that we should go for something more elaborate so that we can encourage the older voter to come and take part, but it is important that we ensure that the scheme does not simply degenerate into a tourist attraction for overseas visitors.
There were enormous problems regarding planning and location. We had endless letters from the planning people, English Heritage and Westminster City Council, and it was clear that, whatever we did, there would be problems. We looked at taking over a number of existing buildings within the neighbourhood but, again, that did not come to anything at this stage.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in what we are doing but I agree most heartily that this should be only the first stage in a much more elaborate plan.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry on securing this debate, and on the report his Information Committee has produced, which has made a positive contribution towards the debate about raising the profile of Parliament in the eyes of the public. We must not forget that turnout at the 2001 general election was less than 60 per cent. That represented the lowest turnout for a Westminster parliamentary election since the advent of universal adult suffrage. It gets worse: among 18 to 24 year-olds, turnout was less than 25 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, referred to the imperative of the need to address that. There was not much improvement at the 2005 election, despite the creation of the Electoral Commission with a specific remit to increase turnout. It is not just about turnout. Nearly 4 million people who are eligible to vote are not even registered to do so.
It is too easy to put this down to a general feeling that all the decisions are taken in Europe, or that people's votes do not matter. To put this right we have to start at a young age. We must enthuse children and young people with the process of Parliament. Today's young people need to be aware of how fortunate they, and we, are to live in such a democracy. They see, daily, on the internet and television, the horrifying examples of countries such as Zimbabwe, Burma and Darfur whose citizens have lost, or never had, the benefits we have. We and they must not forget what the suffragettes suffered for. For hundreds of years only a small elite could vote. Disraeli, with such forethought, started the process of widening the franchise. What would his generation have thought of today's apathy?
Let us not forget, either, how fortunate we all are to work in this wonderful place, with its history and traditions, and to have a chance to influence our country's affairs. While our excellent tour guides, as my noble friend Lord Renton explained, draw out the historical aspect, it must be our duty to ensure that the working Parliament is explained and that an awareness is passed on of its real benefits to future generations. If Parliament is to continue to carry out its functions properly, future generations must learn to understand how it works, to love it and to enthuse about it. They need to know how both Houses and their committees actually work; what a politician does; and about the huge amount of knowledge and talent there is, especially in your Lordships' House.
As we have heard from my noble friend Lord Renton, his committee's report draws attention to a key recommendation in the other place's Administration Committee's report that an off-site parliamentary visitor and information centre would not provide value for money and would be unlikely to focus on educational visitors interested in the Houses of Parliament as a working legislature. The Administration Committee concluded that the most effective route forward would be to create a dedicated facility for school visitors. While endorsing that, we must not allow it to happen in isolation. Education has to become a state of mind among us all. The Lord Speaker's initiative of Peers going into schools, to which other noble Lords have referred today, is an excellent example, and the students' debating competition in May, which the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, mentioned and which my noble friend Lord Hunt and others worked so hard to achieve, is another example, of which we need many more.
Educational visits to Westminster are undoubtedly of huge benefit to students and to the institution of Parliament, and are in high demand, with a waiting list of two school terms ahead. According to the most recent annual report of the other place’s commission, nearly 11,000 students and teachers visited Parliament last year; that figure is up nearly 40 per cent on the previous year, so the appetite is there and it is growing.
We must seize the opportunity represented by this demand. The reports from the Commons Administration Committee and from our Information Committee are valuable contributions to the debate on exactly how we can accommodate our guests, although I hope I am wrong to wonder whether I detected some reluctance in the wording in the Commons report. The recommendation in paragraph 7 of my noble friend’s committee's report urges more detailed work and planning, which we must strongly support. What is going to happen in the classrooms? How will that be made to happen? Exactly what resources are needed? Who is going to do the teaching? And how will the teachers be trained? The answers to these and many more questions need to form part of that detailed planning work. So we must surely endorse this report wholeheartedly and ask what action will be undertaken to take it forward, so that a precise and costed proposal can be presented.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for introducing this report of the Information Committee. Noble Lords may be curious as to why I am found speaking from the Dispatch Box this afternoon. As Chairman of Committees, I am the spokesman for the House Committee, and the House Committee eventually—I hope—will be asked to look at this proposal and the financial side for the Lords’ share. It does, however, mean that I am of course unable to comment on some of the more political points that have been made this afternoon; for example, the merits or otherwise of the Supreme Court building.
The House will be aware that much is being done within both Houses to improve the engagement of the public with Parliament. The consideration by the Lords Information Committee and the Commons Administration Committee of options for improvement to education and visitor facilities has been a key aspect of this work. It is to the credit of both committees that they worked in parallel throughout their investigations. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and his committee on their work and report.
Noble Lords will recall that the viability of a visitor centre was considered as a possible way to improve the experience of visitors to Parliament. However, as noble Lords have mentioned, difficulties such as locating a practical space for such a development have blocked this option—not forgetting, of course, the potential cost, which has also been mentioned. The committees have now indicated that they consider enhancing educational facilities to be the key priority. Of course, I recognise that a majority of speakers in this debate would have liked to go much further in the direction of a full-blown visitor centre.
On 12 June, the House of Commons endorsed the recommendations contained in the Administration Committee’s report, which included a proposal for a dedicated space for educational visitors to be provided on or off the Estate. As indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, the Information Committee of this House has supported that proposal. This is significant because, in identifying strategic objectives of such importance, it is helpful when the two Houses agree. Improved educational facilities would enhance the delivery of the Houses’ core objective of promoting public knowledge and understanding of the work and role of Parliament. As has been mentioned, a large number of students visit Parliament each year to learn more about the workings of our institution. However, the Parliamentary Education Service estimates that the number of learners visiting Parliament could increase to 100,000 in future years. Clearly, the current accommodation would be totally insufficient to meet this demand.
As has been mentioned, the Lords have always been at the forefront of encouraging innovation in Parliament. In May, the Lord Speaker hosted the finals of the English-Speaking Union Schools Mace competition in this very Chamber. This was the first time that either Chamber of Parliament had been opened up to public, non-parliamentary use and the debate saw the winners of national school debating competitions from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland go head to head in the UK final. The feedback from those who attended the debate, which included many of your Lordships, was extremely positive.
A programme of virtual tours of the Houses of Parliament is also being developed to enable visitors to take virtual tours of the Palace. The first tour to be developed is that of the House of Commons Chamber, Members’ Lobby and a Division Lobby. A tour of the Lords Chamber will be developed next. The tours will provide a new tool for the Parliamentary Education Service and community outreach teams to use in their activities with schools and colleges and will provide a useful pre-visit or post-visit lesson tool for groups. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and others have praised the many other improvements to the parliamentary website, and I join in that praise.
Initiatives such as these are part of the wider efforts by the Houses of Parliament to open ourselves up to the public. Endorsement of the proposal to provide enhanced educational facilities would be a key step in driving forward the agenda to improve Parliament’s engagement with the public. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, mentioned the recent outreach programme to Cornwall. I can tell the noble Lord and the House that the initial feedback was that it was very successful. The experience gained during the Connecting Parliament with the Public week in Cornwall will now feed into plans being developed for a formal parliamentary outreach programme which will be piloted in two regions next year.
This House is invited to endorse the Information Committee’s recommendation. If agreed to—and I am sure that the House will wish to agree—it will set in train more detailed design work and discussions so that a precise and costed proposal can be prepared for consideration by the House Committee in due course. I recommend that the House agrees to the report.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in this debate. All the speeches from colleagues on both sides of the House have been extremely constructive and helpful. I shall make one or two specific points in reply.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, made a point about finding major benefactors who might help to finance the space for the educational office when we move there. He made the same point in the committee. I think it is worthy of serious consideration. I recognise that it is branching out from the traditions of Westminster, but it is a serious point.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, spoke about the parliamentary website. I was delighted by his conclusion that it is much improved, and I agree. The noble Lord might like to know that the site as a whole has been redesigned. The section devoted to schools, which is known as Explore Parliament, is being updated, and this week the first of the virtual tours—I am always worried about the word “virtual” because it has several double entendres—of the best known areas of the Palace of Westminster has been released. The first tour explains the functions of the House of Commons Chamber and a similar tour of this Chamber is planned for early next year.
I was grateful for the support of my noble friend from the Front Bench. He asked how a working Parliament can be explained. It is a very good question. It is a high priority for the Parliamentary Education Service. It is developing special tours focused on the national curriculum so that children who come on the general tours will get information on the role and function of Parliament, as well as its history, that will fit into their general curriculum.
I end by remembering that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, kindly used the words “innovative, imaginative and progressive” about what we are trying to do in our report. Since I became chairman, I have taken the view that we want to have a project that is achievable, not one that we would get into conflict with the Commons about or that was vastly too expensive in the first stages, but a project that we might see happening a year or two ahead. That is why some of the comments in the report were not as all-embracing as some of the noble Lords who have spoken would have liked. It is important that we concentrate our minds on a project that might take place in the next few years. It is against that background that I thank all noble Lords for their speeches and I move that the report be now agreed to.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Legal Services Bill [HL]
The Bill was returned from the Commons on Monday 15 October agreed to with amendments. The Commons amendments were printed in accordance with Standing Order 51. (HL Bill 105)
Broads Authority Bill
A message was brought from the Commons that they have made the following orders to which they desire the concurrence of this House:
That the promoters of the Broads Authority Bill which was originally introduced in this House, in the previous session, on 23rd January 2006, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).
House adjourned at 5.44 pm.