House of Lords
Wednesday, 19 March 2008.
The House met at three o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
World War II: Bomber Command
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw attention to my non-pecuniary interest shown in the Register of Members’ Interests.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, for the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Air Force, they will accord greater recognition to those pilots and crew members who served in RAF Bomber Command in World War II through support for the erection of an appropriate memorial, comparable with their support for the Battle of Britain pilots’ memorial.
My Lords, I can assure the House of the deep appreciation that this Government have for the courage and sacrifice of those who served in Bomber Command. However, it has been a long-standing policy of successive Governments that the cost of war memorials and associated projects is met from private donations or public subscriptions. I would also remark that in 2006, a memorial to Bomber Command was dedicated at Lincoln Cathedral, which served as a homecoming beacon for the bombers during the war.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 3 September 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the Cabinet:
“The Fighters are our salvation, but the Bombers alone provide the means of victory”,
making it very clear that the bomber offensive was determined at the highest level, and that the offensive was carried out by young men who went out night after night on extremely dangerous missions under the constant threat of being blasted from the skies? Almost half of them—some 55,000—did not survive the ordeal. Is it not time to commemorate, in a memorial comparable with and complementary to that for the Battle of Britain, not just the heroism of the few, but also the courage of the many?
My Lords, I have great sympathy with much of what the noble Lord says. It is true that many of those who joined Bomber Command were killed—as he says, more than 55,000—and the average age of those who died was 22 years. We all owe them a great debt and need to recognise their contribution. The Ministry of Defence would welcome any appropriate efforts to celebrate their achievements and to recognise their sacrifice but, as I said, the money cannot be raised from public funds. We would be quite happy to provide guidance and help and, were there to be a memorial, we would try to help with any dedication.
My Lords, there is time for both noble Lords. I think the House is saying that it should be the Liberal Democrats first, but of course the noble and gallant Lord must come in immediately afterwards.
My Lords, the Minister’s reply is very disappointing. Indeed, the Government helped financially with the Fighter Command memorial. The achievements, let alone the sacrifice, of Bomber Command were and are appreciated by those who know. The destruction of the towns of Germany called for a large response from the German Air Force. This led to the Germans not manufacturing enough bombers and not training enough aircrew because they were all engaged in trying to control Bomber Command.
It is coming, my Lords. Albert Speer, the Minister in charge of industrial production in Hitler’s Government, said that there was no question in his mind that the work of Bomber Command and the Eighth Air Force was a major factor in the defeat of Germany. I have talked too long about that, but it is worth saying. Will the Minister consider the matter again? Will she read a book called Bomber Boys by Patrick Bishop, which might enlighten her as to the achievements of these young men?
My Lords, I know that the noble Lord speaks from direct experience, and I think that the House has listened to him with great care. As I said, no one in Government underestimates the contribution made by Bomber Command. I spoke, as did the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, of the very significant sacrifices that were made—ones that we should all be grateful for. May I correct what the noble Lord said about the Battle of Britain memorial? It was not taxpayers’ money; the lead was the Battle of Britain Historical Society, and Westminster Council gave the site. We are happy to recognise the great contribution of Bomber Command and, I repeat, we will be happy to help in any appropriate way, but we cannot help financially. Were there to be a memorial, we would certainly help to encourage the right people to attend any dedication.
My Lords, the whole House will welcome the Government’s support, as I know will a now decreasing number of those who served in Bomber Command, their friends and relatives. The noble Baroness will recall that 55,573 aircrew, average age 22, lost their lives, 8,403 were badly wounded, and 9,838, having bailed out or crashed, were taken as prisoners of war. Following the evacuation of Dunkirk and until 1944, the only way that this country, which was fighting for survival, could bring the war to the enemy heartland was with strategic bombing. Does that not deserve remembrance by a memorial for a very long time into the future? Will the noble Baroness recall that it is important, not only to this Bomber Command generation but to today’s Armed Forces, that they are reassured that Governments will continue to remember, long after the time has passed, what they have done?
My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble and gallant Lord that we all have a responsibility to remember long after the event the sacrifices that were made. I simply repeat that we would welcome any appropriate efforts to celebrate the achievements of Bomber Command. I remind the House that we are approaching the 90th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Air Force. There will be many opportunities during the celebrations to recognise the tremendous effort that many people have made over many years to safeguard the future of this country.
Energy: Nuclear Industry
My Lords, Government and industry recognise the challenge of ensuring that the UK has enough skilled workers to maintain and decommission existing nuclear power stations and build new ones. We are therefore improving science provision in schools, have charged the sector skills council with taking forward a training strategy and have helped set up a national skills academy for nuclear to improve the supply of specialist skills at all levels.
My Lords, that is all very well, but is the Minister aware that many of the major players on this stage, including the universities, see an urgent need for the Government to make decisions that will enable them to take their matters forward? In particular—I have given the Minister’s office notice of this question—is she aware that it is now 18 months since a former Secretary of State at the DTI, Alistair Darling, foreshadowed the creation of a national nuclear laboratory and what was then called a BNFL technology centre, now known as a British technology centre, both of which will have a vital role in nurturing the skills needed for the future of a British nuclear capacity? When are Ministers going to make these decisions and announce them?
My Lords, the national nuclear laboratory was set up to protect the skills of Nexia Solutions, in particular with respect to decommissioning skills. Its major clients are the NDA as well as the site licence company at Sellafield. We will finalise the business case for the national nuclear laboratory when we are clear about the revenue stream from the site licence company. The process for contracting is going on as we speak. In the mean time, Nexia Solutions has been able to carry on providing its vital services to industry and NDA without interruption. We have not seen an interruption in skills, and we anticipate the set-up of a national nuclear laboratory soon.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that time is now of the essence? There is common agreement that we need a new generation of nuclear power stations if we are to meet our Kyoto obligations. Time is not on our side. We waited a long time while the public consultation took place; we have had the White Paper for some time; the Government have agreed their policy; but one thing is certain: we will not get that new generation of nuclear-generating capacity unless we have a skilled workforce in place at the time we need it. That time is now.
My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. Just today, the first phase of the pre-licensing of the generic design assessment has taken place, and all four of the designs have been successfully passed. The new phase will be announced shortly. We are working with industry as well as with universities to ensure the provision of school leavers and university graduates to deal with the skills issues. It should be noted that the modal age of skills in the nuclear industry is in the 40s, so while the matter is pressing and urgent, we have a little bit of time yet.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be aware that we on these Benches disagree with the remarks of her noble friend regarding the desirability of the nuclear programme. Will she not accept that if we are to continue the nuclear programme, it is common ground across your Lordships’ House that there is a danger that the Government will not do it properly?
My Lords, does Britain have the capability to design and construct a nuclear power station so that it can come on stream, as the Government’s target has it, in 2020? If it does not, history will judge the Government harshly for the 10 years of delay in making a major strategic decision. Have they not failed to cherish and largely dismantled the capability we need?
My Lords, we have made a full assessment of the issue and believe that we have the capacity to ensure that there is nuclear new build in this country. The design and production of reactors is international, as it was in the case of Sizewell B where the reactor was of American design, produced in France with Japanese components. We have the ability globally to do this and the capacity in the UK manufacturing sector. We expect to win 75 per cent of the capex on nuclear new build.
My Lords, the Minister has told us that the Government require a supply of skilled people trained in physics departments in the universities of this country. Would she agree that the recent cuts in funding to physics departments through the shortfall in the Science and Technology Facilities Council is a mistake and that those cuts should now be reversed?
My Lords, I emphasise that HEFCE has put aside £75 million over the next three years specifically for selected higher education institutions for stem skills related to engineering which are expensive to teach. The Research Council has also put aside funding specifically for nuclear skills.
My Lords, we have announced a £140 million strategy over the next three years to support stem skills in schools and have made a statutory entitlement to a course to study two science GCSEs. This involves recruiting and training teachers as well as funding stem awareness with 11,700 engineers acting as role models in schools. On the supply of engineers to the Royal Navy, that is also a part of the HEFCE scheme that I mentioned earlier.
NHS: Private Medicine
My Lords, there is no question of withdrawing NHS care from anyone. However, no Government have ever allowed—indeed, none of the main political parties supports—an individual simultaneously being an NHS and a privately funded patient within the same episode of care.
My Lords, is the Minister not embarrassed that the National Health Service threatened to withdraw treatment from a woman who wanted to spend £15,000 of her own money on cancer treatment that might have saved her? The reason given by the Minister in another place was that this would create a two-tier health service. At the moment, the taxpayer spends £96 billion on the National Health Service. Private individuals spend £30 billion on help for the aged, dentistry, private treatment, private drugs and over-the-counter drugs. If that is not a two-tier health service, what is it?
My Lords, I realise that this issue has been in the news recently and I understand why noble Lords would want to raise it, as these cases are highly emotive. Many arguments about top-up payments centre around cancer drugs that do not yet have NICE approval, have been rejected by NICE or have not yet been licensed. NHS bodies must provide drugs that have NICE approval, but it is for local decision whether they provide drugs that await approval, have been rejected or do not have a licence.
My Lords, is consideration being given to setting up a cross-party working party to look at top-ups or co-payments? This extends beyond cancer drugs to the new biologic drugs, which can be potent disease modifiers, and to aids and appliances—high-tech ones such as different types of cardiac defibrillator and low-tech ones such as different types of wheelchair wheels, which are not available on the NHS but which patients are not allowed to pay the top-up for.
My Lords, a founding principle of the NHS enshrined in every code of practice—most recently in the 2003 code of practice—is that someone is either a private patient or an NHS patient. Patients can be private patients and decide to resume their treatment as NHS patients but they cannot in one episode of treatment be treated on the NHS and then as part of the same episode be allowed to pay money for more drugs. I would be surprised if those on the opposition Front Benches felt differently from the Government about this matter because it is a fundamental principle. We need to think carefully about any suggestion of moving from that principle.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, tried to get in earlier. I think that it is his turn, after which we will take my noble friend.
My Lords, my noble friend talks about fundamental principles, which are all about lifesaving activity. Under the National Health Service a person is entitled to have treatment. If the National Health Service refuses to provide the particular medicines required to ensure that that person’s life will continue, is it not legitimate that that person should be able to buy those medicines outside the National Health Service and still be a National Health Service patient?
My Lords, it is important to clarify this. Mixing private payment with NHS treatment is not only inconsistent with the founding principles. If a private patient arrives at an NHS facility, of course they will not be refused treatment; they will be treated in exactly the same way. Also, PCTs have a statutory duty to fund the use of drugs that are recommended by NICE. If, however, a patient opts to have private treatment, they cannot have it within the treatment that they are already receiving from the NHS. I am sure that my noble friend will understand that that would mean that there would be a subsidy. However, in terms of drugs—
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister would agree that a child would not be denied state education if their parents were also giving them private tuition and paying for it. I cannot understand why she is arguing in the way that she is about private prescriptions for health service patients. Could she admit that it is perhaps a Stalinist leftover from the days before new Labour embraced the market?
My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to set out for me in a letter the legal basis on which the NHS refuses to treat any British citizen who is entitled to universal treatment under the NHS, and will she put a copy of that letter in the Library?
My Lords, I would be happy to do that. The noble Lord needs to understand this. NHS patients indeed have the right to expect high-quality healthcare, and it is the responsibility of their PCTs to ensure that they get it. The decisions about their treatment are taken locally, and ultimately the resources available to the NHS are limited. In a system that offers universal care free at the point of need, there can be no absolute right to treatment, but that has always been the case.
Olympic Games 2008: Tibet
My Lords, it is a matter for the British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association to decide what advice is given to athletes representing Great Britain at the Olympic Games. However, as a Government we remain extremely concerned about the situation in Tibet. We urge restraint by all sides and a return to dialogue without preconditions to find a sustainable and equitable solution to the underlying issues.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I am not asking him to support a boycott of the Olympics—certainly not at this stage—but what is his response to the statement made by the President of the European Parliament yesterday that politicians should consider boycotting the opening ceremonies if the violence in Tibet continues? Will he give an undertaking that Her Majesty’s Government will make it clear to the Chinese authorities that, if the brutality being used against the demonstrators in Tibet and now elsewhere in China continues, that will jeopardise people’s opinion of the suitability of China as a venue for a great sporting event that is based on individual freedom and cultural and ethnic diversity?
My Lords, on my noble friend’s first point about whether to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I think that the Olympics is a total event and that you cannot pick and choose your courses; if there is support for the Olympics, it is support for the entire event. On his second point, I have already made it clear in the media that China will damage its own interests and the reputation of the event, perhaps irrevocably, if there is extensive violence in the coming days and weeks in a crackdown on Tibet. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said today in another place that he had spoken to Prime Minister Wen of China this morning and had asked him to show both restraint and a willingness to negotiate with the Dalai Lama.
My Lords, does the Minister agree—I think that he has already said so—that the world, maybe led by us, needs to put all the pressure that it can to curtail abuses of civil rights in China? Will he also agree that this has no impact on the Olympic Games per se? I do not agree with him that the Olympic Games will be damaged by this. The Olympic Games should not under any circumstances be used as a political tool.
My Lords, let me completely confirm that point. We as a Government insist that any boycott of the Olympic Games would be a misplaced action, but China needs to be aware that the reputation of the Games and its own reputation will suffer if there is violence against the people of Tibet in the coming days and weeks. So no to a boycott but yes to China exercising real restraint at a time when a lot of blood could easily be shed.
My Lords, did the Prime Minister in his discussions this morning urge the Chinese leadership to allow the foreign media and organisations such as Amnesty International into Tibet and the surrounding provinces? If so, did he have any success? What access will the foreign media be given in China during the Olympics?
My Lords, I am not aware whether the Prime Minister raised specifically the issue of the foreign media in his conversation this morning. Unfortunately, a number of foreign media have been forced to leave Tibet in the past few days, as the noble Baroness suggested. We are monitoring the situation carefully. We have also sought, so far without success, to send British diplomats to Tibet to get a first-hand view of what is happening. As for the period of the Olympics, it has been agreed with the International Olympic Committee that journalists will have access to the whole country and will follow the Olympic flame when it passes through Tibet.
My Lords, I completely affirm the noble Lord’s first point that there is only one solution to the problem of Tibet, which is to take up the position held by the Dalai Lama, who is demanding not independence but autonomy based on negotiation and full respect for the sovereignty of China. That is a basis for a peaceful resolution of this situation, which we hope both sides will seize and move on. A reference to the Human Rights Council is being considered, but the pros and cons need to be weighed carefully.
My Lords, while the Olympic Games have a massive capacity for good, that nevertheless pales into insignificance side by side with the consideration that Tibet, this small country of 5.5 million people, has been raped and subjugated over the past half century, with many of its people murdered? This imperialistic power of China is now seeking to ingratiate and sanitise itself in the eyes of the western world. Does the Minister not agree that international justice should take precedence over the exigencies of international sport?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister also said today in another place that he would meet the Dalai Lama when he visited London in May. That is an indication of our respect for the people of Tibet in the terrible suffering that they have undergone. I do not agree that the solution to this is a boycott of the Olympics. I am in good company, as the Dalai Lama himself has said that there should not be a boycott of the Olympics.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Dalai Lama has conducted himself over many years with great restraint and dignity on these issues, as I am sure everyone in this House would affirm? Does he further accept that, while we should honour and indeed encourage the conscience of individual athletes attending the Games, these are properly matters that belong with Her Majesty’s Government and that—witness the 1936 Munich Games—it is the manner of people’s participation that sometimes leaves a long-lasting record of the dignity of all cultures and people?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an extraordinarily important point. We expect our athletes to respect British values of courtesy and respect for the country where the Games are being held but also that supremely important value of speaking the truth as they see it and speaking openly of what they see. However, it is enormously dangerous to compare Beijing to the situation in 1936. China is a country that has come out in a dramatic way in recent years. It has engaged in the world in ways that have led not just to a reduction in the poverty of its people but to incremental improvements in its internal political freedom. We have all—China and the rest of the world—pursued a strategy of engaging; we have not wanted to isolate China and force it to turn back on itself. We should not forgo that strategy at this point. There should be pressure to cease from violence but no disengagement from China.
Intergovernmental Organisations Committee
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That Baroness Hooper be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Baroness Flather, resigned.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 4 to 6
Clauses 7 to 13
Clauses 14 to 23
Clauses 24 to 39
Clauses 40 to 47
Clauses 50 and 51
Clauses 54 to 67
Clauses 68 to 72
Clauses 75 to 89
Schedules 18 and 19
Clauses 90 to 117
Clauses 118 to 121
Clauses 122 to 125
Clauses 127 to 139
Clauses 140 to 143
Clauses 144 and 145
Schedules 26 and 27
Clauses 147 to 151.—(Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Moved, That this Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
On Question, Bill read a second time; Committee negatived.
Then, Standing Order 47 having been dispensed with, Bill read a third time, and passed.
National Security Strategy
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“The primary duty of government—our abiding obligation—is, and will always be, the safety of all British people and the protection of the British national interest. Following approval by the National Security Committee and the Cabinet, the Government are today publishing the first national security strategy for this country.
“It states that while our obligation to protect the British people and the British national interest is fixed and unwavering, the nature of the threats and risks we face has, in recent decades, changed beyond all recognition and confounds all the old assumptions about national defence and international security. As the strategy makes clear, new threats demand new approaches. A radically updated and much more co-ordinated response is now required.
“For most of the last half-century the main threat was unmistakable: a Cold War adversary. Today, the potential threats we face come from far less predictable sources, both state and non-state. Twenty years ago the terrorist threat to Britain was principally that from the IRA. Now it comes from loosely affiliated global networks that threaten us and other nations across continents.
“Once, when there was instability in faraway regions or countries, we had a choice: to become involved or not. Today, no country is, in the old sense, far away, when the consequences of regional instability and terrorism—and other risks such as climate change, poverty, mass population movements and even organised crime—reverberate quickly around the globe.
“To address these great insecurities—war, terrorism and now climate change, disease and poverty; threats which redefine national security not just as the protection of the state but as the protection of all people—we need to mobilise all the resources available to us: the hard power of our military, police, security and intelligence services; the persuasive force and reach of diplomacy and cultural connections; the authority of strengthened global institutions, which can deploy both hard and soft power; and, not least because arms and authority will never be enough, the power of ideas, of shared values and hopes that can win over hearts and minds and forge new partnerships for progress and tolerance, involving government, the private and voluntary sectors and community and faith organisations, as well as individuals.
“Mr Speaker, the foundation of our approach is to maintain strong, balanced, flexible and deployable Armed Forces. I pay tribute to Britain’s service men and women—and those civilians deployed on operations—who every day face danger doing vital work in the service of our country and, in particular, I remember today the sacrifices made for our country by all who have been injured or lost their lives in recent years in Iraq, Afghanistan and other theatres of war.
“To raise recruitment and improve retention, we will match our new public information recruitment campaign, launched this week, with the Government’s first ever cross-departmental strategy for supporting our service personnel, their families and veterans, to be published shortly. In the last two years we have raised general pay levels and introduced the first tax-free bonus of nearly £400 a month for those on operations, as well as a council tax refund. Today the Secretary of State for Defence is announcing new retention incentives for our Armed Forces. There will be increased commitment bonuses of up to £15,000 for longer-serving personnel. Starting with a new £20 million home purchase fund, we will respond to the demand for more affordable home ownership for service men and women.
“To meet the threats ahead, after a trebling of its budget since 2001, the Security Service will rise in number to 4,000, twice the level of 2001. We will be increasing yet again, this time by 10 per cent, the resources for the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which brings together 16 departments, including the police and intelligence agencies, and giving it a new focus on the longer-term challenge of investigating the path to violent extremism.
“I can confirm that, to meet future security needs, we have set aside funds to modernise our interception capability; that at GCHQ and in the Secret Intelligence Service we are developing new technical capabilities to root out terrorism; and that the new Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, which we set up last year, will provide a higher level of protection against internet- or cyber-based threats.
“The strategy published today will be backed up by a new approach to engage and inform the public. Two years ago we removed from being classified as secret the information on threat levels for the UK. We will now go much further. Starting later this year, we will openly publish for the first time a national register of risks—information that was previously held confidentially within government—so the British public can see at first hand the challenges we face and the levels of threat we have assessed.
“To harness a much wider range of expertise and experience from outside government and help us plan for the future, we are inviting business, academics, community organisations and military and security experts from outside government to join a new national security forum that will advise the recently constituted National Security Committee.
“Having accepted the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee—I thank it for its work—to separate the position of chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee from policy adviser to the Government, and appointed Mr Alex Allan as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, I can confirm that, as proposed by the Butler review, his responsibility will be solely to provide Ministers with security assessments formulated independently of the political process.
“We will immediately go ahead to introduce a resolution of both Houses, in advance of any future legislation, that will enshrine an enhanced scrutiny and public role for the Intelligence and Security Committee. This will lead to more parliamentary debate on security matters, public hearings on the national security strategy and, as promised, greater transparency over appointments to the committee, so that the committee can not only review intelligence and security but perform a public role more akin to the practice of Select Committees in reporting to and informing the country on security matters.
“Emerging from all the experience and lessons learnt of the past decade is the clear conclusion that we are at our strongest when we combine the resources of our military, police and security and intelligence services with effective diplomacy, and when we work closely with international partners to confront the new global challenges and bring about change. This approach emphasises the importance of strengthening our key diplomatic and military alliances with: the United States, our strongest bilateral partner; NATO, the cornerstone of our security; our central role at the heart of an outward-facing European Union; and our long-lasting and deep commitment to the Commonwealth and to working through international institutions.
“Britain will be at the forefront of diplomatic action on nuclear weapons control and reduction, offering a new bargain to non-nuclear powers. On the one hand, we will help them, and we have proposed the creation of a new international system to help non-nuclear states acquire the new sources of energy they need, including our proposed global enrichment bond; and we are today inviting interested countries to an international conference on these themes later this year.
“But in return we will seek agreement on tougher controls aimed at reducing weapons and preventing proliferation—first, by ending the stalemates on the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; and secondly, by achieving after 2010 a more robust implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with the aim of accelerating disarmament among possessor states, preventing proliferation and ultimately freeing the world from nuclear weapons. A new priority to meet the dangers both of proliferation to new states and of material falling into the hands of terrorists will be tougher action—not just against potential proliferators such as Iran, but new action against suppliers—seeking to strengthen export control regimes and build a more effective forensic nuclear capability, to determine the true source of material employed in any nuclear device. Having already reduced the numbers of our operationally available warheads by 20 per cent and made our expertise available for the verifiable elimination of nuclear warheads, I confirm that we, Britain, are ready to play our part in further disarmament.
“As great a potential threat as nuclear weapons proliferation—and as demanding of a co-ordinated international response—is the risk from failing and unstable states. The national security strategy proposes a new departure, learning the lessons from recent conflicts ranging from Rwanda and Bosnia to Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. We will create a standby international civilian capability so that, for fragile and failing states, we can act quickly and comprehensively by combining the humanitarian, peacekeeping, stabilisation and reconstruction support that these countries need. In the same way that we have military forces ready to respond to conflict, we must have civilian experts and professionals ready to deploy quickly to assist failing states and to help rebuild countries emerging from conflict, putting them on the road to economic and political recovery. Britain will start by making available a 1,000-strong UK civilian standby capacity, which will include police, emergency service professionals, judges and trainers. I call on EU and NATO partners to set high and ambitious targets for their contributions.
“Between now and 2011, Britain is offering £600 million for conflict prevention, resolution and stabilisation work around the world, including in Israel and Palestine, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya and the Balkans. As we assume our presidency of the UN Security Council in May, we propose an appeal by the UN Secretary-General for a co-ordinated crisis recovery fund that will provide immediate support for reconstruction, and to which Britain will contribute. Specifically, because we know the importance of peace in Darfur, I am announcing more help from Britain to train, equip and deploy African troops for the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping operation. Because of the importance of peace in Somalia, I can announce that Britain will help pay for 850 Burundian troops, as part of the African Union peacekeeping force there.
“Because of the critical importance of economic and political reconstruction complementing military action as the elected Afghan Government face down the Taliban, we propose an integrated civilian-military headquarters, headed by a civilian, which will be constituted in Helmand. In Iraq, where we have already brought electricity and water supplies to over 1 million citizens, we are stepping up our contribution to the work of long-term economic reconstruction by supporting the Basra Development Commission, led for the British by businessman Michael Wareing, who is doing an excellent job. To maximise our contribution to all the new challenges of peacekeeping, humanitarian work and stabilisation and reconstruction, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is also announcing this afternoon that, as part of a wider review, the Government will examine how our Reserve Forces can more effectively help with stabilisation and reconstruction in post-conflict zones around the world. This year sees the 100th anniversary of the Territorial Army and I pay tribute to the service men and women in our reserves, who are such an essential element of our nation's defence.
“The security strategy published today also makes clear that, as well as being able to respond to crises as they develop, we must tackle the underlying drivers of conflict and instability—poverty, inequality and poor governance. Focusing on areas where poverty breeds conflict, we have quadrupled Britain’s aid budget and are pushing for bold international action in 2008 to meet the millennium development goals. On climate change and competition for natural resources, we are leading the way in arguing for a post-2012 international agreement and a new global fund to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, including in the areas most under stress and therefore most likely to suffer instability as well as humanitarian disaster. On disease and global pandemics, our priority, with the World Health Organisation, is to improve early warning systems, increase global vaccine supplies and help put in place a more co-ordinated global response. Because of the importance of building stability and countering violent extremism in the Middle East and south Asia, we are increasing the number of Foreign Office staff in those regions by 30 per cent.
“Among all the security challenges to citizens of this country covered by this new strategy, the most serious and urgent remains the threat from international terrorism. The head of MI5 has said that today Britain faces 30 known plots, and 200 networks and around 2,000 individuals are being monitored. There have been 58 convictions for terrorism in just over a year, and the Home Secretary is announcing today that we will now have four regional counterterrorism units and four regional intelligence units, significantly increasing anti-terrorism police capability in the regions.
“Since the events of 11 September, on suspicion that they are a threat to national security or fostering extremism, 300 individuals have been prevented from entering the country. Now, backing up our unified border agency, compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals and our proposals in the Counter-Terrorism Bill that in unique circumstances we can extend detention to ensure full investigation of terror threats, the Government will match stronger action against those we suspect of stirring up tensions with collaborative work with our European partners to strengthen the EU rules on deporting criminals—a matter I will be discussing with President Sarkozy next week.
“For action against terrorism and organised crime, it is important also to strengthen Europol and Eurojust, ensure rapid and secure exchange of information across borders, and speed up both the extradition of criminals and the confiscation of their assets. Starting with the United Arab Emirates, we are signing more agreements so that, once the assets of a convicted criminal are seized in one country with the assistance of the other, both countries will get a share of the proceeds.
“Our new approach to security also means improved local resilience against emergencies, building and strengthening local capacity to respond effectively to a range of circumstances from floods to possible terrorism incidents—not the old Cold War idea of civil defence, but a new form of civil protection that combines expert preparedness at a local level for potential emergencies with greater local engagement of individuals and families themselves. The Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary will report next month on additional measures we propose for young people, in colleges and universities, and in prisons and working with faith communities, to disrupt the promoters of violent extremism—all building upon the support of the vast majority of people, of all faiths and backgrounds, who condemn terrorists and their actions.
“The national security strategy shows a Britain resolute in the face of an unstable and increasingly uncertain international security landscape. It demonstrates the lessons we and other countries have learnt in recent years—that we must expand our policing, security and intelligence capacity, which we are doing; do more to prevent conflict, including by more effective international control of arms, which we are doing; strengthen the effectiveness of international institutions to promote stability and reconstruction, and we have put forward proposals on this today; and always be vigilant and never leave ourselves vulnerable, supporting, and at all times and wherever necessary strengthening, as we do today, our defences and civilian support for national security. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. The whole House shares an immense sense of debt to the police, security services and our Armed Forces for the often unseen, and sometimes never known, work that they do to protect our country.
The House will want to explore this new strategy, which is being billed as a unique event in national history, very closely. There is of course unparalleled expertise in this House on these matters.
Will the noble Baroness confirm that, while the Statement bore the mark of the Prime Minister’s hand, a central place in drafting the strategy as a whole was played by the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead? If so, the doctrine of parliamentary accountability would greatly reinforce the case for an early debate in this House.
Of course, we welcome the idea of a national security approach. Two years ago, my party said that it was time for a national security strategy. I am glad that the Prime Minister is now joining in this.
The noble Lord, Lord West, is also right to warn that issues affecting our national security—from terrorism, to cyber attack, to nuclear proliferation and energy security—are proliferating. The terrorist threat is certainly spreading multinationally. Incidentally, does this not confirm the warnings given to the Prime Minister and his colleagues by the Joint Intelligence Committee before the Iraq war that invasion would worsen the Islamist terrorist threat to us at home? What is the noble Baroness’s assessment of that? Does she accept that the result is as was then predicted? Is it not essential that we have a full inquiry into the whole saga of our engagement in the Iraq War and discover what lessons must be learnt?
On cyber attack, are the Government concerned that this country has been probed by cyber assaults on several occasions and that some suspect the involvement of national Governments? There are major threats: real, emerging and, perhaps, re-emerging. However, does the noble Baroness not see that a kitchen-sink Statement of this kind, which includes sending a civil commissioner to Helmand province, paying for 850 Burundian soldiers and re-announced council tax refunds for soldiers—all that detail—risks confusing the wood for the trees? Did not too many of the grave crises we faced in history arise from not looking in the right place at the right time? Are there not dangers in lumping long-term problems, such as global warming and disease, with council tax refunds?
A national security strategy will work only if it is put in place and carried out properly. Institutions in the UK need to be properly organised to deliver a national security approach. Therefore, we very much regret that the Prime Minister has missed the opportunity to establish a proper national security council. The existing committee clearly needs its authority reinforced. On the “Today” programme this morning, the noble Lord, Lord West, said that the Government had concluded that they did not need a national security council. However, the Prime Minister, in reply to my right honourable friend Mr Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions today, said that he already had one—so which answer is correct?
It is essential that intelligence assessment and activity is, as the Government suggest, entirely independent of the political side, as was recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, in his review. Never again must we see in this country the outrage of spin doctors e-mailing intelligence officers about their job. Will the noble Baroness confirm that Mr Carter, the Prime Minister’s new head honcho of spin, will have no access to security material?
The United Kingdom must retain the power, properly funded, to intervene abroad militarily when necessary, but we must understand that military operations abroad have consequences for security at home. Lately, that has been too often forgotten. At the same time, our Armed Forces have had to step in repeatedly—in the fuel crisis, in the foot and mouth outbreak and in firefighting—to bale out poor domestic planning.
Why have the Government still not banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group that poisons young minds against our country and way of life? Why did we not follow the Irish Government in barring Ibrahim Moussawi, a spokesman for Hezbollah and an apologist for terror, who recently conducted a lecture tour of the United Kingdom?
Why, despite the urgent need for secure borders, do Ministers still refuse to create a proper border police force with enforcement powers? Can the noble Baroness tell us why, in the new spirit of openness, the Government do not publish the report of the noble Lord, Lord West, which aims to improve security in crowded places and protect critical national infrastructure in the event of attack? I repeat my request to the noble Baroness, to which I am sure she will agree, that all these matters should be discussed in a government debate, one perhaps headed by the noble Lord, Lord West, and responded to by my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones.
I welcome two things. First, there was no mention of the maximum 42-day detention without trial. I assure the noble Baroness that there is no consensus about going beyond 28 days’ detention. The Government have tried to make a case for that, which we do not think has been met and will oppose the relevant provisions of the terrorism Bill when it arrives here. Secondly, the Government appear to be backing away from their wasteful and ineffective plan to impose ID cards on the British people. Biometric visas are one thing, but spending billions registering and tracking children and their grannies on trips to Portsmouth is quite another. Neither compulsory ID cards, nor the absurd totem of 40-day detention, featured in this massive security Statement. The noble Lord, Lord West, may shudder if the phone rings from No. 10 after he has been on the “Today” programme, but he should hold fast to his course. If he does so the whole House will be grateful for that.
My Lords, I wish to be associated with the tribute of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to our police servicemen and to the security services. They do great service, in some danger, to the benefit of us all. The best tribute that we can pay them is to provide a system of political checks and balances, whereby Parliament shoulders its responsibilities in this matter and where we avoid, if possible, asking the Armed Forces and others to carry out actions based on misjudgments, misinformation and down-right folly. At the outset of a new strategy for security, the best tribute we can pay our Armed Forces, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, indicated, is to have an inquiry now into the origins of the decision-making that led us to the war in Iraq.
Parliament would have done its duty better five years ago if the Conservative Party had not been in the claque of cheerleaders for war and had done a proper job as the Opposition by questioning Ministers. Be that as it may, the time is now more than right for such an inquiry and the precedents are there.
On the basis of this new strategy, of course we welcome an overview of strategy in these areas. We are second to no one in our determination to give full security to the British people. The threats are new. The challenge to Parliament is still there. How we meet those threats properly and effectively, while retaining the civil liberties which make us, in a full sense, a liberal democracy, will put heavy responsibilities on Parliament. With a Statement of this length, there is certainly a need for an early and full debate, so that the expertise that exists in this House can be deployed on its contents, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said.
I have one point to make on the exchange in the other place. When my right honourable friend Nick Clegg raised the question of the missile defence system, apparently the Prime Minister said that that was nothing to do with the United Kingdom. That is an extremely disturbing response and reaction. Probably the Lord President would like to clarify that because we are deeply involved in it. There are reports in American papers saying that if the Poles back out, we will be next in line to get even more deeply involved in something on which there has not been a full national debate.
We welcome many of the proposed initiatives. Does the Lord President not agree that many of them will need the full co-operation of our colleagues in Europe for them to be at their most effective? The sooner we get Europe onto a working basis, looking at these real priorities for our own and for Europe’s security, the better. We welcome the initiatives for the failing states. In recent times, it has been absurd to find that there are hold ups because no helicopters are available anywhere in Europe, or some such thing. Matters have to be improved.
On parliamentary scrutiny of the security services, I welcome what is in this document. I realise that to my left is the brooding presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, who will no doubt intervene to tell us that this will bring the security services to rack and ruin. I disagree with her; the best and most effective security services are those that are exposed to proper parliamentary scrutiny. The lessons from this country and elsewhere are that the security services are at their least effective, and can do most damage to the countries that they serve, when they operate without proper accountability and scrutiny by the relevant parliament.
We also welcome the nuclear initiative, which I hope in part reflects the influence of my noble friend Lady Williams, who has been advising the Prime Minister on these matters and putting forward many of precisely these proposals. We worry about the contradiction between activity on soft diplomacy and the effect of our Foreign Office—we support that—and the fact that, as was demonstrated in a recent debate that we instigated in this House, we are cutting back on the Diplomatic Service. Although we may be putting diplomats into hotspots, we are cutting back in other areas. I was recently in Tunisia, where we are cutting back on diplomacy; in such posts we might find gaps in our information and influence.
We welcome the Statement so far as it goes. We want to know far more about the national security forum, which should not be seen by the Prime Minister as a safe option for Parliament. Security strategy must be examined most carefully in this House and the other place. We welcome the promise of more parliamentary debates. We need one on this document very soon to make sure that, although the defence of the realm remains the first responsibility of government, that responsibility is under the scrutiny of a very alert and active Parliament.
My Lords, I am grateful for what I think was a general welcome for the strategy. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that I appreciate what the Conservatives put forward a couple of years ago. What is critical about the way in which this approach has been brought together is that it is the first time, as I said in the Statement, that we have pulled together the different strands to create this strategy. It is important that we look at it in the round. It is not for me to determine whether there is a debate; the usual channels must discuss that. I am sure that they have listened with great care to what both noble Lords have said about their desire to discuss the detail of the Statement and, more especially, that of the document. I am sure that they will have discussions to ensure that that debate can be facilitated if possible in whatever way works best for your Lordships’ House.
Both noble Lords requested an inquiry into Iraq; that also came up when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed the Statement in the Commons. I can only repeat what he said: that the time for an inquiry is not when the Ministry of Defence is—rightly—spending its resources on and looking to the theatres of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but when the troops are back in the UK. It would be wrong to put resources into an inquiry at this point. Noble Lords may disagree with that but, frankly, the most appropriate time for that is when one is able to devote resources to doing it properly and effectively. I am sure that that will be taken forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, felt that, with regard to detail, this was a bit of a kitchen sink. When presenting Statements, it is important to be able to give the level of detail that will indicate the Government’s commitment to the issues raised in a strategy and ensure that people understand that those commitments are not just words but turn into actions—that resources are made available and that there are details about why the resources have been made available and what is being sought with them. When noble Lords read the strategy in detail, I hope that they will see the ways in which the Government have turned the vision of a strategy on security into the reality for the people whom we are trying to support in the many areas that the strategy covered. The reply that Mr Cameron got on the national security council was that we already had one. That fits exactly with what my noble friend Lord West, who played a significant part in putting the strategy together, said, and we are sorry that Mr Cameron apparently missed it—never mind.
The noble Lord has asked before why we have not banned Hizb ut-Tahrir, and the answer is the same: the legislation is very clear, and we monitor organisations very carefully to make sure that those that should be banned under the legislation are banned. We are not at that point, and it is being monitored. Equally, Mr Moussawi’s visa was reviewed, and it was decided not to revoke it at this point.
On the broader issues that noble Lords have raised, particularly the 42 days and the issues that will come before us in legislation, we will no doubt debate them at great length, and I look forward to that. The Government’s position has always been that we should be clear that when evidence is presented to us that we may need to hold people for longer than 28 days—noble Lords will know that I and my noble friend have many times in your Lordships’ House discussed the reasons for that, which are partly to do with technology and partly to do with the need to gain information from other countries—we should have at our disposal the capacity to do it in those exceptional and, we hope, rare circumstances. It is much better to discuss and deliberate on those issues in advance of that need; I fear being forced to make decisions too close to the time because of incidents that had occurred. From the evidence that we have before us—noble Lords will debate this at length in the legislation—it is clear that that time may be approaching and we should therefore discuss and deliberate on it. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about opposing it. That does not surprise me in the least, but I hope that when noble Lords hear the rationality of the debate, we will be able to get consensus in your Lordships’ House that it is important to have on the statute book, with careful political, judicial and parliamentary safeguards, that ability to keep our country safe. That must be the paramount reason on which we operate.
The question the right honourable Mr Clegg asked in the other House was, I think, whether the missile defence system will be here. The answer that my right honourable friend gave was that it will be in the Czech Republic and Poland—I am doing this from memory as I was watching from the Gallery. There was nothing wrong with the question or the answer. The answer was correct for the question. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked a broader question about the involvement of the UK. Discussions are ongoing; the noble Lord would not expect anything else in terms of our discussions with the US. I agree with him about co-operation across Europe with our European partners. It is an important element in what we do, although in much of what was said in the Statement the role of NATO is also essential. I am grateful for the welcome for the important work we have done on failing states. I am waiting for the noble Baroness, Lady Park, to ask a question on the ISC. I know she will ask me; in fact, I think she would agree that I have prompted to her to do so, so I shall deal with that specifically. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has done extraordinary work on nuclear proliferation which I hope is reflected in the Statement.
I hope I have answered as many questions as I can within my time.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of the VT Group. At the moment the Ministry of Defence is in meltdown because the budget it has been given is totally inadequate to service the demands of the defence programme in the short, medium and long term. We thus see woeful shortcomings in readiness levels, as set out in the defence planning assumptions; we see ships unable to meet their sailing programmes because of logistic underresourcing; we see troops unable to train on the equipment they will use in theatre; we see debilitating mini-saving measures being inflicted upon our service establishments, which completely undermine quality of life; and we also see our future programme, which will ensure our ability to fight future wars, being reprofiled out of sight because there is no money to pay for it. Future-proofing has gone out of the window as we struggle to deal with how to manage today.
My Lords, if the Government are serious about delivering the national security strategy, how do they intend to ensure, to paraphrase part of the Statement, that the military can be responsibly mobilised if they continue to short change the military in the way they are doing at the moment?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for bringing his remarks to a close. I did not want to cut him off but I am conscious of the time. A very useful discussion took place in my office between the Secretary of State for Defence and noble Lords. The noble and gallant Lord was away and could not be there. I had a nice letter from at least one of the noble Lords who participated about how useful and valuable they found the opportunity to put forward their comments directly to the Secretary of State and to my noble friend Lady Taylor.
It is very clear that there is an increase in the budget for defence. If the noble and gallant Lord looks through the strategy he will see that many of the issues that were raised with me by colleagues in your Lordships’ House have been addressed by the Ministry of Defence in thinking through what needs to be done about retention, about training and so on, issues which are of great concern to him. I do not agree with his analysis.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their comprehensive and energetic approach. Will my noble friend confirm that there is no suggestion intended in the Government’s Statement that the Joint Intelligence Committee has at any time been influenced in its assessments by inappropriate political considerations or pressures?
As the Government seek to inform the public about, and engage them in, the range of threats to their security, publishing a national register of risks, how do they plan to influence media presentation and public attitudes, to ensure that people do not either panic or shut their eyes and simply hope that this menagerie of horrors will go away, but instead maintain a sensible alertness? Do the Government accept that at hearings of the Intelligence and Security Committee held in public, nothing of any sensitivity or significance will be said? If scrutiny by Parliament of the agencies is to be enhanced, will not the Intelligence and Security Committee need the powers, the will and the resources to ensure that it can reach anywhere within the entrails of the agencies, and will the Government facilitate that?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The committee has the powers to which he refers. Although I am still waiting for the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, before I get into the detail, I agree on the issues to do with the committee. He is right about the principle that issues of sensitivity must not be discussed in public. I also agree that it will be very important to engage the media and the public in the appropriate way to ensure that they do not panic but find the information of value and feel themselves party to what we are trying to do on security. I shall have to come back to my noble friend with more detail, but he has raised a very important point.
My Lords, as the brooding presence, perhaps I may say yet again that, although there are many good things in the Statement, it is totally mad to think of having open discussions and open meetings in the ISC. Agents will not come forward to be recruited if they think that is going to happen; agencies such as the CIA will be very reluctant to tell us what they are doing; and, not least, it is absolutely idiotic to think that only people of goodwill are going to be earnestly asking, “Are we doing the right thing?”. There will be many people of ill will taking advantage of the situation. That is something no one can get round.
My second point, about which I feel equally strongly, concerns the idea of investigations within the services. Inside the services there is a policy of strict need to know. When I left Moscow after two years, the day after ended all my access to whatever was happening on the Soviet Union; it was no longer my business. Inside the services, that has been a vital safeguard. If we were to have investigators coming and saying, “That is a very interesting file; there is a reference to it so I would like to see that as well”, it will destroy a system and make agents feel very unsafe. So, in terms of recruitment and producing intelligence, I suggest that the present system is admirable. The services have talked freely to the ISC as it was and is constituted, but no service should be exposed to an ambitious MP—I think there may be some—with a useful media friend asking some interesting questions. At this stage and at all stages, the services should be protected. You will simply have to trust us.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I shall quickly try to divide up the different issues that we have tried to address within the Statement. First, the Statement refers to the need for Parliament to have more discussion and debate about security issues. Noble Lords have already asked for more debate in this House on the strategy and, in general, that is a good thing. I think the noble Baroness would agree with that.
Secondly, the function of the ISC in terms of its ability to educate and inform is inevitably underestimated. Perhaps in that arena one would see the opportunity to do things, if one liked, in public. I do not think that anybody is suggesting that evidence of a sensitive nature would ever be provided by the services in public. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, in response to a question in another place and, subsequently, in other discussions that I have been party to this afternoon, has made it clear that the balance that he is looking for is the opportunity for more debate and discussion about security issues while not, at any point, wishing to put the services at risk.
We will not only have to convince the noble Baroness, but, obviously, my right honourable friend and others will have been talking to the services. We would not wish to do anything to damage the way that we work with the services or, indeed, as the noble Baroness said to me in the Corridor, recruitment and retention in those services. That is very important. The investigations are generic; they would not be able to do what the noble Baroness fears. I understand that they have happened satisfactorily in the past and they would take place in that way.
My Lords, towards the end of the Statement, the Leader of the House referred to 30 known terrorist plots and 58 convictions in the past year. The Terrorism Act, as she will know, contains many offences at the minor or less serious end of the spectrum. Last summer, five young Muslims were convicted under Section 57 of that Act of possessing an article for terrorist purposes. A week or so ago their appeal was allowed and the Lord Chief Justice went so far as to question whether they should have been prosecuted in the first place. Incidentally, I assume that those five are not included in the 58. The House will certainly want to know, before we debate the Counter-Terrorism Bill, the breakdown of those convictions and, as far as can be given, the breakdown of the 30 plots. Without that information, I do not see how the House can seriously address the question of an extension of detention beyond 28 days.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who has enormous expertise in this area. I can confirm that the five are not included in the 58. I am sure that a breakdown of convictions will be available as noble Lords begin to discuss the legislation. For lots of reasons, I do not think that we will be able to give a breakdown of the plots per se, because it is very difficult to see how one could do that without revealing information. However, I have noted the point and I will take it away.
My Lords, the Statement made several welcome references to strengthening international institutions. I have not had a chance to read the whole document but I think that the Statement, unfortunately and regretfully, made no mention of the rule of law. Respect for international law has been one of the great casualties of the past seven years, including UN instruments such as the torture convention and the refugee convention. Unfortunately, we have had torture, disappearance and rendition. Recently, President Bush vetoed a Bill outlawing torture, and there have been allegations, not least from the European Parliament, of European Governments colluding in extraordinary rendition. We had a recent admission from the Foreign Secretary of an overlooked rendition through Diego Garcia.
Can the noble Baroness reassure me that the Government now see upholding the international rule of law as vital to national and international security? Will the Government make every effort to prevail on the President of the United States and other Governments that the exercise of rule of law is essential to our security?
My Lords, is it not a question of the Government now; the Government always have done so. If the noble Baroness turns to chapter 2, Guiding principles, 2:1 says:
“Our approach to national security is clearly grounded in a set of core values. They include human rights, the rule of law”.
If the noble Baroness reads the section when she has a chance there will be nothing in it with which she will disagree.
My Lords, my noble friend referred to the civilian standby capacity. Does she agree that apart from involving NATO and the European Union there must be an increase in linguistic capacity? How is that to be achieved? What priorities are to be set with regard to it?
My Lords, the 1,000-strong group that we have described within the document are people who have particular expertise. We talked about police officers, the judiciary and so on. Linguistic capacity will be a part of that and that is why we will need to think about who will be relevant and necessary for a particular set of circumstances. But we have a long history of working closely with nations across the world where the provision of expertise from Britain has been highly relevant to trying to help states recover or not to fall into moments of turmoil.
My Lords, is the Leader of the House aware that while she is right to heed some of the warnings of my noble friend Lady Park on the matter, there is nonetheless a strong case for strengthening the role of the ISC. When I was chairman I envisaged that it might be possible to hold occasional public hearings, not discussing secret matters of course. I particularly welcome the statement that the staff of the ISC is to be reinforced to give it an effective investigative arm which we used to have and was unfortunately lost and not replaced, which was a great mistake.
The Statement is full of immediate matters and long-term matters. It recognises at last the serious problem of retention, particularly in the Army at the present time. Sadly, it is not a question of spending more money. Now the Government have to address the issue. The noble Baroness’s friendly talks with the Chief of the Defence staff in her room are not a substitute for recognising the real problems. The real problem is in terms of resources and experienced people. They are willing to do one tour; they are willing to do two tours, bravely discharging their duties in a magnificent way; but when it comes to a third tour and the impact on the family, the Government face a challenge that money is not necessarily going to put right.
My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said about the ISC. Perhaps I need to ask him to talk to his noble friend. It fits well with what my right honourable friend Margaret Beckett, the new chairman of the committee, was saying this morning. I cannot hear what the noble Lord is saying to me—I am sure I was not meant to hear it.
I take the noble Lord’s point about the Armed Forces. I did not mean to suggest that friendly talks in my room were anything other than an opportunity that I was willing and wished to give for those people with great concerns to be able to meet the Secretary of State for Defence. I am glad that it was friendly, but when I left the room I had no idea whether it would be.
My Lords, a purely national security strategy is probably relevant only to emergencies such as floods when more and more we need to co-ordinate our strategy with friendly alliances. Can my noble friend say to what extent the priorities in the document have been aligned with those of the European Union for their own security strategy and other international organisations?
My Lords, in terms of the relationships that we have described in the Statement, there is the bilateral relationship with the United States and our relationship with NATO. We talk about the role of international institutions whether that is the World Bank, the UN and so on and indeed our role with our partners as part of the European Union. All of those relationships are important. On Monday I reported back on the spring Council on behalf of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. It is clear, as noble Lords will know, that climate change and other issues are firmly on the agenda. That is led in large part by the UK in order to have that sense of a co-ordinated approach that we are going to need if we are to tackle some of these global issues.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that one of the crucial elements in preventing terrorism is taking action with regard to nuclear and other dangerous materials. In that context, will she look at the decision to send from Sellafield cargoes of plutonium dioxide, which is a very dangerous material, to France for reprocessing? Will the Government decide whether it is a completely safe method? Does the noble Baroness further agree that, in order to protect this country, it is absolutely essential that we play, as we are beginning to do, a major part in the creation of international architecture that will enable us closely to control nuclear materials and, in particular, materials that could lead to the construction of nuclear weapons; for example, through strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and strengthening the decisions to move away from short warning times for nuclear weapons?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I agree entirely with her on the important role that we must play in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We, too, are anxious about materials moving around. On Sellafield, my noble friend is conducting a review of a number of issues, of which this will form part.
My Lords, some very interesting facts have emerged this week about how the Government moved towards the resolution of the problems of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Do they intend to learn the lessons of that experience in dealing with the problems of terrorism now?
Of course, my Lords, though there are huge differences, as I indicated in the Statement, between what was a real problem in terms of terrorism from the IRA and the situation that we face now. However, all the lessons from the ongoing conflicts in which the UK has been involved in any way need to be learnt. As the noble Baroness said, it is important to make sure that those lessons play a part in how we put together the strategy.
My Lords, we are hugely grateful for the inclusion in the Statement of issues of shared values and the gathering together of the faith communities in this task. I am sure the noble Baroness would accept that, in the absence of confidence among the people and a sense of communality in our life together, no amount of technical arrangements for security will succeed. Does she also accept that the more one marginalises the leadership of key communities, the more one encourages unhealthy voices to arise within them, and the more we can engage in continued conversation and partnership, the more we make that more difficult? Does she further accept that it is important that DfID recognises the need to build up civil society in those weak states overseas in which we work if we are to provide a structure that preserves the values that hold our common life together?
My Lords, I am tempted to say yes, yes and yes, but the right reverend Prelate deserves a little bit more than that. I could not agree more that it is essential that underpinning all this—I can take no credit for it being in the Statement, though the right reverend Prelate gave me some—is the work that we do with our own communities, developing those relationships and dealing with the issues. As the right reverend Prelate will see in the document, global issues such as poverty have their part to play in destabilising societies. We should foster those voices, as the right reverend Prelate described them. I agree that it is important for the faith communities to play their part together. I pay tribute to the work that the church and other faiths have already done. It is important that we do not marginalise. DfID has played an important and valuable role in understanding that and working with other Governments, especially in developing our strategy in other countries.
Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [HL]
Clause 1 [LBRO]:
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “Local Better” and insert “Better Local”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the name proposed for the new quango to be established by the Bill is misleading to the point of falsehood. The name proposed in my Amendment No. 1 is the minimum required in the interests of truth.
This office should not really be called the Local Better Regulation Office; it should be called the National Office for Regulating Local Government Regulators—or something of that sort. That is its purpose and what it is going to do. The body is not local but national. As a test of that, imagine oneself sitting in an office somewhere, picking up the telephone and somebody on the other end saying, “I am from the Local Better Regulation Office”. Would you suppose that he or she came from a local or a national office? You would assume at once that they came from something local. That proves the point I am trying to make.
The formulation in the amendment was suggested in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. It is the minimum rather than the ultimately desirable and I put it forward on that basis. I do not consider myself a pedant, although I realise that no pedant ever does. I am a disciple of Lynne Truss and was a disciple of Sir Ernest Gower, who wrote an excellent book on plain words. The Civil Service guide to clear English was written in about 1948 but lasted a long time in Civil Service circles; I do not know whether it is still used.
The name should be made clearer. Perhaps the body should be called the “Temporary National Regulator”. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Jones, is not with us. He described it as a temporary body and said that it would all be wound up before long. No doubt we shall hear about that on a later amendment. This is not a quango but a tango. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, has looked in occasionally, a bit like the Cheshire cat. He comes and grins at us from time to time, then fades away again, leaving somebody else to move the amendments in his name.
It is important that we describe things correctly. The Bill does not do so. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, was kind enough to remind me in correspondence that all we are doing here is putting on a statutory basis something that is already done voluntarily to a considerable extent. Yet there is a world of difference between something done voluntarily and something done statutorily, particularly for the local authorities whose powers are in effect being taken away or certainly impinged on. At present, both the primary authority and the local authorities involved must agree. In future, that will all be laid down. Later amendments, notably my Amendment No. 39, attempt to remedy this. The difference is that when a dispute arises, ultimately the matter, if it is statutory, can come to the courts to be decided in a way that it could not if it was voluntary. There could be appeals all the way up to what we should call the Middlesex Guildhall by the time this gets going. Putting this on a statutory basis is one thing; we can discuss that in later amendments. Yet the body is really a national office and we should recognise that at a minimum by accepting Amendment No. 1. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has made a good case for his amendment. It is certainly a much better case than that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on behalf of the Opposition, when she wanted to change “regulation” to “deregulation”. That seemed to me nonsense. We all know that regulation is necessary, whether we are talking about food safety, health and safety of workers, consumer protection or whatever. What is needed is better regulation—or better administered regulation—which is fairly and adequately enforced.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, makes a good case for altering the name. What are we about? We are about better regulation and he wants to say “Better Local Regulation Office” instead of “Local Better Regulation Office”. Of course, he is quite right that it is a national body and the existing name could confuse people in the way that he described.
MY only qualification is that we are where we are. The name “Local Better Regulation Office” has been with us for some time; the noble Lord admitted that it was there as a corporate body before it was suggested that it become a statutory body. The name is familiar—the LBRO has advertised posts under that name—so what is the case for changing it now? I very much doubt that that case has been made, as distinct from the case that could have been made if we were starting from scratch.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Cope on both amendments. As he has extensively argued, the appellation “Local Better Regulation Office” is an obvious misnomer, as the office is an attempt at central, national co-ordination. What is currently regulated by local authorities will come under the jurisdiction of this new national body. Names of bodies should indicate the functions of those bodies and, while the Minister might pick at our argument for being pedantic or irrelevant, I argue that it is important to have clarity of intention from the start. Misinterpretation can lead to mistakes and the regulatory system cannot afford to suffer mistakes—nor should it.
We are rather spoilt on this Bill and in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform by having the noble Lord, Lord Jones, as our Minister of State as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, as our Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, with the whole thing backed up by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who is one of the most experienced members of the Government’s Front-Bench team. We are being spoilt rotten—and I am only too delighted to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to the Bill, which she has now taken over and on which, I presume, she will be with us to the end.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cope, for tabling Amendments Nos. 1 and 2. I take this opportunity also to thank noble Lords for the time and attention that they have accorded to this important Bill. We have listened and considered carefully all the amendments proposed. We have made numerous concessions which we believe will improve the Bill, please noble Lords and enable us to complete our consideration of the Bill today. However, the first amendment is not one that we can accept.
I shall explain to the House why we chose the name “Local Better Regulation Office”. We completely accept that the office is not a local but a national body. However, the phrase “Better Regulation”, which appears in the middle of the LBRO’s name, refers to a well recognised concept in policy-making. The Better Regulation Executive, which leads across government on regulatory reform, is a part of my own department; indeed, I am the Minister for Better Regulation. The LBRO is about better regulation at a local level, which is local better regulation. I would not dream of suggesting that anyone is being pedantic, but we could have quite a long debate on semantics. The key issue is that the LBRO will promote better regulation locally. That could be phrased as local better regulation or better local regulation, but the former name maintains the better regulation brand and is therefore, I believe, the correct sequence of words in this case.
As my noble friend Lord Borrie suggests, the LBRO has been in existence since last year. It already has brand recognition. It has written to every local authority in England and Wales. It has a draft strategy that has been consulted on in its name. Changing its name now without good reason would lose the value of that brand recognition and require the office to spend time rebuilding its reputation. In addition, there would be administrative and legal costs associated with any change of name, which we estimate would be about £35,000. These would include the cost of rebranding stationery, user guides and websites, as well as legal fees on, for example, company documentation, pensions and payrolls et cetera. I understand that £35,000 may not seem much but, coming from the Treasury, I should point out that it is the annual salary of an average teacher or policeman. I understand the point that the noble Lord makes, but I hope that in the light of what I have said he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, that was an interesting short debate. I am grateful for the support for my proposal not only from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, from whom I got the idea in the first place and whose support was therefore to be expected, but from the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. However, the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, also argued, as did the Minister for Better Regulation, that it would be a mistake to alter the name now. I am mildly shocked by that suggestion. What is being said is that, because the Executive decided something a few months ago off their own bat, Parliament is going to be ignored and whatever we say should not be taken seriously. What is being said is, “We have already decided that. It was all settled. We cleared that up in government”. If we accept that sort of argument in Parliament, we will, if we are not careful, waste our time discussing legislation at all. There is a considerable danger in that. I am not sure what the Government are doing presuming to lay all these things down and then saying, “Sorry, we have decided that already. Forget it. Do not bother even discussing it”.
The Minister herself accepted that this body is not a local body, which is what its title suggests. She also advanced the idea that the cost of changing the name was too great. Frankly, coming from this Government, that is rather amusing. This Government have changed the names of departments of state more frequently than any Government I have known. They have mucked about with the titles of Ministers, sometimes very frequently, reshuffled departments, rewritten everything and moved departments about, sometimes in large ways and at enormous expense. Yet they say that they cannot possibly afford a little money to change this name, which they decided—wrongly in my opinion—a few months ago.
I am not happy with the answers that have been given to me and I urge the Government to think again. This Bill started in your Lordships’ House. It has not yet been to another place, so there is plenty of time for the Government to think again when it is passed down the Corridor. As a matter of fact, they have taken a lot of time between Committee and Report. The Bill has not been overpressed through this House. I make no complaint about that, but the Government have time to rethink this matter, as I think they should, for the reasons that I have advanced. I have made the case and I have been supported around the House, at least on the basis of the case. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“(4) LBRO shall cease to exist on 1st January 2014 unless the Secretary of State provides an order under section 73(3) of this Act.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I once again bring for us to debate a sunset clause to ensure that the provisions of the Bill cannot continue past 1 January 2014 without parliamentary scrutiny. The Minister may have been a little too quick to dismiss my initial—
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for giving way so early in her remarks. I intervene with a view to assisting the House on this matter. It may help the House to know that, when I respond, I will propose making a statutory provision for a review of the LBRO’s effectiveness in three years—two years before the proposed date in the sunset clause. This provision would be similar to that in Part 3 of the Bill. We believe that it would be a more tailored approach, which would achieve the aims intended by the noble Baroness and noble Lords but without the uncertainties and unintended consequences that the sunset clause would bring.
Well, my Lords, I have a wonderful speech here. It took my researcher Violet and me ages to write. Where did I stop? I said that once again I bring for us to debate a sunset clause to ensure that the provisions of the Bill cannot continue past 1 January 2014 without parliamentary scrutiny. If I heard the Minister correctly, she will propose an undertaking to review the Local Better Regulation Office in three years. If that is what I heard—I would like to think that that was what I heard, and she is not interrupting me again to tell me that I am wrong—I do not need to continue with this speech.
My Lords, I would prefer to say that that would be a welcome and reassuring measure. I look forward to what she will say. It is not for us to prevent the Government from getting their business through; it is our job to improve the Bill where we can. If that is what we are about to do, that would be very helpful. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment should refer to Section 74(3), not Section 73(3).
My Lords, I entirely endorse the remarks of the noble Baroness welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to the Front Bench. I am slightly disappointed, because I was about to place a bet of £10 for every time a Tory Peer stood up and made a slightly childish comment about the actions of the noble Lord, Lord Jones. At the rate they were going, I would probably have had £1,000 by Easter. However, I endorse the noble Baroness’s remarks and welcome the Government’s concession. As the Minister will be aware, sunset clauses are a topic dear to the heart of our party and this is a satisfactory compromise, which I welcome on behalf of these Benches.
My Lords, I just make the point that Clause 17 already provides for the possibility of a government order to be made to dissolve the Local Better Regulation Office when its purpose has been achieved. That is surely much better than an arbitrary date chosen by this amendment. We also have my noble friend’s point about the review, so that, well before the date chosen by the Opposition for a complete but arbitrary cut-off point, there will be a review. No doubt there would have been one anyway because of the power in Clause 17 to dissolve the office at some future date.
My Lords, I thank the Minister. I am grateful for what she said and for the gracious way in which the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, spoke. He always says nasty things about us. I do not know why he goes on like that. I will give him £10 if he wants £10: he does not have to gamble on how many times we mention the noble Lord, Lord Jones. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that politics is a messy old business. “Perhaps” is not good enough for us, so I am much happier to have the Minister’s reassurance today. I am now happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 1 [LBRO: supplementary]:
4: Schedule 1, page 36, line 32, at beginning insert “half”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised an important point in Committee about the provisions in the Bill for board membership. As he said, the Bill allows the chair to appoint ex officio members—in other words, employees of the LBRO—to the board. Currently, the number of ex officio members may not exceed the number of ordinary members. This may allow the chairman to form an effective majority over the ordinary members of the board simply by appointing the maximum number of employees as ex officio members. While we think this is unlikely in practice, it is clearly unacceptable if we wish to make the right provision for the good governance of the new body.
We agreed in Committee to consider restricting further the number of ex officio members. Having considered the matter, we believe that the approach suggested by the noble Lord in Committee—in other words, that the number of ex officio members should be limited to half the number of full board members—is the right one and we are grateful to him for raising the issue. The effect is that employees may only ever form one-third of the committee, removing the risk that they might make up an effective majority.
I know that there is an amendment in the name of the noble Lord. I have had the good fortune to discuss this matter with him prior to today. I hope that he will not move his amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I briefly thank the Minister for his kind comments and, indeed, for his amendment. When we discussed this in Grand Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested the idea of half less one. I tabled an amendment to this effect but when I played around with the practical implications for the structure of the board, it was clear that the original idea was better. Therefore, I shall not move my amendment and I am grateful to the Minister for adopting the proposal.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]
6: Schedule 1, page 37, line 6, leave out “five” and insert “three”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this takes us back over some territory we discussed in Grand Committee. This pair of amendments has the simple objective of changing the terms of office for board members from two five-year terms to three three-year terms. My arguments in Grand Committee can be summarised as follows. First, the LBRO will deal with private sector companies, and modern corporate governance allows for three three-year terms, not two five-year terms. Since it interfaces with the LBRO, the LBRO should be on the same basis. Secondly, five-year terms are inherently undesirable. A chairman or board member can do a great deal of damage in five years. Thirdly, my noble friend Lord Cope made the helpful suggestion that three-year terms made the board succession question—which he described as the balance between continuity and turnover—easier.
The argument against, which the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, was prominent in advancing, was that this is a public sector and part-time body, and it takes five years to get to know the ropes. It is a public sector body, but a very specialised one. It is established as a body corporate. It is registered with the Registrar of Companies for England and Wales. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 suggests that it is not to be regarded as a servant or agent of the Crown. However, it is wrong to say that it takes five years to get to know the ropes. All non-executive directors are part-time. In large private sector companies, three years is considered the right length of time and as striking the right balance between continuity and becoming complacent. The suggestion, also made in Grand Committee, that three-year reappointments unduly increase Ministers’ influence was unworthy, because if the members of the LBRO are so weak as to fall prey to this, a five-year term of office will make no difference.
The Minister suggested that he wished to use the precedent of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I really do not think that SOCA, as a law enforcement agency, is comparable to this issue. He finally pointed out that five years was, in any case, the maximum period and that it was possible to remove a chairman or board member in less than five years. But we all know that the reality is that, once people are appointed, it involves very great agony and effort to turf someone out before the end of their maximum turn. The LBRO interfaces with private sector companies, which are set up on a “three-by-three”, not a “five-by-two”, basis. The LBRO should be the same. That would be better for it and will make it more effective and responsive to changes in the marketplace. I hope that the Minister will think again. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope that I have never said, either in Committee or elsewhere, that it is necessary to be on a body for five years to get to know the ropes. I expressed my view that five years should be the maximum period, because it takes a year or two—especially for a part-timer—to be useful and to get to know the ropes. Then one needs a reasonable time to be useful, rather than thinking, “In a few months’ time, I have to leave”. That was all I was saying. I hope that I did not go as far as the extreme statement attributed to me by the noble Lord.
My Lords, paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 makes provision for the tenure of board membership, and paragraph 6(2) limits board members to terms of no more than five years; paragraph 6(5) limits board members to a total period of appointment of no more than 10 years. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, returns to a theme discussed in Committee, and I am sorry that, on this occasion, I will not be able to agree with him.
As my noble friend has just said, these are maximum periods for a term and for the total period of appointment respectively. It should be noted that within the Bill it is quite possible to appoint a board member for a term of only three years. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has already mentioned what my noble friend Lord Borrie said in Committee—that, unlike board members in the world of business and commerce, the LBRO’s board will be taking on part-time posts and it will take them some time to learn the ropes. We take the same view.
While of course there are arguments for and against limiting the terms of the LBRO’s board members to three years, on balance we believe that it is preferable to include flexibility in the Bill and to allow for the possibility of a five-year term for a board member. That addresses the point made by my noble friend on the previous occasion, and now on Report. That is the Government’s view and I hope that the noble Lord—although I am sure he is not persuaded—will not press his amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful, as ever, to the Minister for his courteous response to my amendments. I am not persuaded that his case is right for achieving the best governance in this organisation. All non-executive directors are part-time, and if you are to be a non-executive director of a major international company, you have to get to know and become familiar with the company in three years, and you can be reappointed. I understand the Minister’s viewpoint; it is not an open-and-shut case. I accept that there are arguments on the other side that he and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, have advanced. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]
Clause 4 [“Relevant function”]:
8: Clause 4, page 3, line 18, leave out subsection (7) and insert—
“(7) The Secretary of State may by order determine whether, for the purposes of subsection (3), an enactment made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 (c.68) is made with respect to any of the matters specified in that subsection.
(7A) An order under subsection (7) requires the consent of the Welsh Ministers where—
(a) the determination affects the application of this Part in relation to local authorities in Wales, and(b) the enactment made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 relates to a Welsh ministerial matter.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I also speak to government Amendments Nos. 12 and 37. Amendments Nos. 8 and 37 are linked. Amendment No. 8 will require that any direction issued by the Secretary of State under Clause 4(7) is made by way of an order subject to the negative resolution procedure. Amendment No. 37 is consequential to this. These amendments respond to the comments of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee regarding Clauses 4(3) and 4(7) and our treatment of the relevant statutory instruments made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. The committee has stated that it is content with the approach we have taken in Amendment No. 37. There was a good debate in Committee and I would like to explain our approach.
The scope of Parts 1 and 2 is determined by reference to the “regulatory functions” of local authorities arising, first, under any of the Acts listed in Schedule 3 and statutory instruments made under those Acts; and secondly, under secondary legislation made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act. The use of category headings to capture the secondary legislation made under Section 2(2) of the ECA is intended to facilitate the interpretation of the scope of Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill. In most cases, it will be clear whether a set of regulations falls within one of the category headings. Such regulations themselves generally include a heading such as “Animal Health” or “Consumer Protection”. Where there is doubt, a power has been included to allow the Secretary of State to determine whether an instrument made under Section 2(2) falls within the scope of one of the category headings at Clause 4(7). Amendment No. 37 will make this determination subject to the negative resolution procedure. I hope that noble Lords will feel able to support these amendments and hope that we have met the concerns of the Delegated Powers Committee and the Committee on the Bill.
On Amendment No. 12, it was noted in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that while the LBRO is required to consult persons who are subject to regulation—usually businesses or their representatives—before issuing guidance, it is not explicitly required to consult local authorities. It has always been our intention that the LBRO should do so under the broader requirement to consult such persons as it considers appropriate, set out at Clause 6(4)(b). We were therefore very happy to consider the noble Baroness’s amendment, which would have added a specific requirement to consult local authorities. Amendment No. 12 has this effect. It requires the LBRO to consult such local authorities—or their representatives—as it considers appropriate. This reflects the fact that guidance may only affect a subset of local authorities. For instance, guidance on trading standards would only be relevant for unitary and county councils. The LBRO needs the flexibility to conduct a more tailored consultation than an unqualified requirement to consult all local authorities would require. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome these amendments. The letter on Amendment No. 8, sent to noble Lords following Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, was particularly helpful. It certainly prepared me for this amendment and persuaded me. I also welcome Amendment No. 12 and am grateful to the Government for taking up the point.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 5 [Objective relating to general functions]:
9: Clause 5, page 3, line 32, at end insert “and efficiently”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to the general functions of the LBRO and are ploughing some familiar ground, but it is ground where the nature of the argument has moved on since we debated this in Grand Committee. The purpose of the amendment is to add “and efficiently” to the word “effectively” as the objective relating to the general functions of the LBRO with regard to local authorities in England and Wales in Clause 5.
Once again, I take the Minister back to the Regulators’ Compliance Code, which states:
“This Code supports the Government’s better regulation agenda and is based on the recommendations in the Hampton Report. Its purpose is to promote efficient and effective approaches to regulatory inspection and enforcement”.
It does not say only “effective”; it says “efficient and effective”. When we discussed this in Committee, the Minister was quite sympathetic, saying that the amendment had,
“given me food for thought”.—[Official Report, 21/1/08; col. GC 35.]
I therefore left the Committee stage with a spring in my step but, sadly, since then, his sympathy appears to have drained away, so I am returning to the charge this afternoon.
The Minister may say that the quotation I have given concerns only the Regulators’ Compliance Code and not the Bill. I do not entirely accept that because regulation should be all of a piece. Indeed, the purpose behind the Bill is to achieve an even, level playing field with regard to better regulation, and that is the reason behind the creation of the LBRO. Even if I were inclined to accept it, the guide to the Bill, at the top of page 11, refers to the general duties created by the Bill and lays down three duties. It goes on to say:
“These duties closely relate to the Regulators’ Compliance Code and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform … Order … which are currently before Parliament ... The duties created under the RES Bill”—
the Bill we are considering this afternoon—
“will work alongside the Regulators’ Compliance Code and the five principles to ensure that the principles of better regulation are embedded in the delivery of local authority regulatory services”.
It therefore seems to me that we are absolutely ad idem on the compliance code and the legislation that we are debating today.
The Minister was kind enough to offer us a meeting to discuss this matter in more detail, and I am extremely grateful to him and the noble Baroness. We spent an hour going through some of the trickier issues that we are discussing here this afternoon, and we had a chance to discuss more closely his loss of sympathy—the fact that his intention to give me a fair hearing had somehow disappeared—which appeared to be due to a potential clash with the duties of the Audit Commission. Adding the word “efficiently” in Clause 5(1)(a) would cause difficulties with the Audit Commission, given the wording in that subsection, which reads:
“In exercising its functions under sections 6 to 10 LBRO has the objective of securing that local authorities in England and Wales exercise their relevant functions”.
It was the duty of the Audit Commission to judge efficiency and therefore, according to the Minister and the Bill team, it was all right for the LBRO to require local authorities to be effective—there would be no clash. However, requiring it to be efficient causes a clash.
I thought that that was slightly counterintuitive, so this morning, while preparing for this afternoon, I went to the Printed Paper Office and got out the Audit Commission’s two most recent reports. The first is called Fire and Rescue Performance Assessment, and the summary at paragraph 8 on page 3 says:
“However, all services are achieving some efficiency savings, and 31 fire services … are meeting their efficiency targets”.
I thought that I now understood this—I could see what the Government were driving at. Clearly there would be a clash if we had efficiency. However, I then went on to paragraph 9, which states:
“This has been achieved through better arrangements for consulting local people and more effective work at the neighbourhood level”.
So, clearly the Audit Commission is measuring effectiveness and efficiency. However, if we turn to page 3 of the second report, which is called Positively Charged: Maximising the Benefits of Local Public Service Charges, there is no mention at all of efficiency. The only reference in the summary reads:
“Councils do not always make the most effective use of their charging powers”.
Therefore, I have some difficulty seeing why the Government now argue that “efficient” will give rise to a clash when, in the two Audit Commission reports I picked out at random, effectiveness is clearly an important part of their role.
The reality is that the LBRO should ensure that local authorities are both effective and efficient. The Minister knows that because that was his reaction when he heard the arguments put to him in Committee. The prospect of a clash with the Audit Commission is, to be candid, a smokescreen. The Minister should trust his instincts and accept the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with what has been said by the mover of the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I recalled that in Committee my noble friend Lord Desai indicated that it was rather difficult to think of saying that a local authority had been effective in its job without also considering whether it had been efficient. The two seem to go together like twins and that led me to think that the proposal in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is redundant because “effective” covers the same area. However, to be on the safe side and make it clearer to local authorities, businesspeople, consumers and whoever is concerned with the provision in the Bill, it may well be a good idea to have “efficient” added to “effective”.
The noble Lord has done his homework in studying a selection of Audit Commission reports and has made some important points. I was not terribly convinced of the explanation given in Committee by my noble friend Lord Bach when in rejecting “efficient” he said that that was a matter for the Audit Commission. I fully accept that detailed assessment of local government management and its efficiency is indeed a matter for the Audit Commission, but I do not see a clash between that assessment that the Audit Commission pursues and the idea in the amendment that the LBRO should consider the effectiveness and efficiency of local authorities. Therefore, I still have sympathy with the amendment proposed by the noble Lord.
My Lords, I spoke in Grand Committee and I continue to be astonished that, in a Bill designed to reduce red tape, all that we have been doing is adding words, phrases, requirements and tasks. Therefore, whenever we cut red tape, we make sure that another nice bouquet of it is handed on to whoever has to abolish it. Why have two words when one will do? The whole principle of business is “save money, save costs and save time” and I do not think anything is gained by having two words where one will do.
My Lords, the point that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has just made about reducing or adding to the burden provoked a smile from the Government Front Bench. It is a view that I share, but the Minister may be about to tell us why we are both wrong.
I tabled an amendment in Committee that referred to what I think the noble Lord, Lord Bach, called the mantra of “efficiency, effectiveness and economy”—with which the Audit Commission is concerned. I tabled that amendment because I wanted to understand how the work of the LBRO interfaced with that of the Audit Commission. I was then persuaded to withdraw it. It seems to me that to add one extra limb in this clause would be inappropriate. I can see that the LBRO’s business is to support and to encourage effectiveness among local authorities, which is entirely within its remit. Efficiency on the part of local authorities is not its business. I would be unhappy if the provision were extended in this way.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts in his Amendment No. 9. It seems to me to be a sensible idea to ensure that the LBRO is tied to good practice through the Government’s own regulators’ Compliance Code. It makes a qualitative requirement that the LBRO fulfils its duties with adequate success. In these debates on regulation, we need to ensure that the LBRO is a body fulfilling a purpose. When the regulatory system is so hideously complex, the last thing we need is another body that will further complicate the system, let alone an extra word. We need to find solutions and clarity and, unless we stipulate that, I believe we are in danger of missing an opportunity here.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for raising this issue. In our view, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, had it absolutely right. She speaks with a lot of experience of local government—some of us have some experience of local government but not to the extent that she has. The point she makes is right. Efficiency is very much about the internal workings of a local authority. I will not say that it has a specific meaning, but it has a pretty clear meaning in local authority terms. Efficiency is about the internal workings of local authority regulatory services. The LBRO is looking at the external manifestation of regulation: the effects or effectiveness of regulation.
The efficiency of local government is a matter that is looked at by the Audit Commission. We are not afraid of clashes with the Audit Commission—the noble Lord is wrong about that—but he is aware of our belief that the Audit Commission already performs the role of seeing that a local authority is performing efficiently and it has performed that role perfectly well. It would be ironic to have two public bodies performing the same function in the name of efficiency and, in the process, to put local authorities under a duty to account to both at the same time. To have to account to the Audit Commission is a responsibility on each and every local authority. We are just confusing issues if we say that there should also be an obligation under this Bill to the LBRO.
The word “effective” in the LBRO’s objective seeks to capture maintaining what can only be described as regulatory outcomes, which sounds rather clichéd; for example, consumer protection, which is key to the policy behind the LBRO. We do not think that the use of the word “effective” in the context of the Audit Commission has the same meaning. For that reason, we see no clash with regard to the term “effective” from the quotes given to us by the noble Lord when moving his amendment. It is not because it adds an extra word to the Bill—although in general terms my noble friend Lord Desai is right that we will add the words “in writing” later this afternoon—but because there is a confusing of roles. Efficiency is a matter for the Audit Commission and effectiveness is very much a matter for the LBRO. I am sorry that I cannot accept the amendment.
My Lords, I am very disappointed with the Minister's response, as he will understand. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, for his qualified support for what we are trying to achieve. I understand what the Minister is driving at, but I do not think that that meets the point, which is that the Audit Commission reports comment on effectiveness as well as efficiency. So if you wish to avoid having the same ground climbed twice, you should strike out “effective” as well as “efficient”.
Secondly, if this is the case, the regulator’s code also needs amending because that refers to both categories as being part of a regulatory function. It is all to do with the internal workings of the regulator. That is not the purpose behind the Regulators’ Compliance Code. That code was about the enforcement of regulation. It does not refer to whether a regulator is internally efficient, which is the construction that the Minister is trying to put on my amendment. From my perspective, “effective” means fulfilling its functions and “efficient” means that it is doing it in a way that is the minimum burden to the person who is being regulated. That is to say, is it sending four or five individuals to check where one would do; and are various other aspects of the operation not being fulfilled in an efficient way and a way that is likely in the longer term to place a burden on the regulated business, bearing in mind that what we have here can be charged to the regulated company or the regulated entity? I am unsatisfied and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
10: Clause 5, page 3, line 34, at end insert”, and
(d) in a way which allows or encourages economic progress.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, spurred on by that enormous success, I return to Clause 5 and the objective relating to general functions. I can be briefer on this occasion than I was on the previous amendment. I again wish to add an additional objective. The amendment requires the LBRO to have regard to the work of local authorities,
“in a way which allows or encourages economic progress”.
According to page 6 of the guidance, the Bill implements the Hampton agenda, which includes a principle that regulation should recognise that a key element of activity will be to allow, or even encourage, economic progress and to intervene only where there is a clear case for protection. Somewhere in this better regulation Bill we need to recognise the importance of entrepreneurial and economic activity to the future of this country. It is too easily overlooked.
In Grand Committee, the Minister chided me:
“I am afraid we do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to include provision in the Bill requiring the LBRO to ensure that local authorities carry out their functions in a way that allows or encourages economic progress ... it is hard to believe that a local authority would do the opposite”.—[Official Report, 21/1/08; col. GC 42.]
I wish I always had his confidence. In deference to him, I shall leave aside the wilder shores that his party reached in the 1970s, which brought this country to its knees, but there is a much more prevalent, softer and insidious possibility because local authorities can be very risk-averse. The benefits from economic success, entrepreneurial activity and dynamism accrue to those involved, but when there is a failure, the fallout can rebound on the local authority. The local press can ask, “Who allowed it? How was it permitted? Should someone not have stopped it? What was the local authority doing?”. We need to make sure that we have a better way of dealing with this, and I think that if we fail to mention in the Bill the fact that economic progress is the wellspring or activity that will enable us to do many of the things that we, whatever our political persuasion, think are desirable for this country, we are failing the better regulation agenda, and we are failing what Hampton set out as his principles. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a problem with this amendment too. Local authorities have powers in regard to the three limbs of sustainable development—economic, environmental and social—and to extract one and put it in the Bill would distort the picture. I have written a note to myself that this goes too far. The remit of the LBRO is quite specific and clear, and this is outside the way in which the Government have designed it. It also goes too far for local authorities.
That is not to say that economic progress should not be encouraged but it would distort the responsibilities of local authorities to have this provision in the Bill, both by specifically separating it from the other roles and duties which are spelt out, and from the constraints and criteria on how they exercise their regulatory functions. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord again.
My Lords, I am also sorry that I am going to disappoint the noble Lord again. As was said in Committee, the phrase the noble Lord seeks to get into the Bill is echoed in the regulator’s compliance code, which comes into force in April this year. The code states:
“Good regulation and its enforcement act as an enabler to economic activity”,
“allow or encourage economic progress”.
However, the code also includes a number of other obligations based on the Hampton principles to which local authorities must have regard. These are: carrying out comprehensive and effective risk assessments; improving compliance through support and advice; not inspecting without a reason; balancing the need for information with the burdens presented by information requests; targeting those who deliberately or persistently breach the law; and establishing structures to ensure accountability and transparency. It is essential for local authorities to have regard to all these obligations and it would be odd and invidious to include only one in the LBRO’s objective, thereby giving that one undue weight over the others.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is keen to ensure that we acknowledge in the Bill the importance of economic activity to the prosperity of this country. The Bill recognises the importance of economic activity and it is designed to ensure that the UK regulatory environment is world class. Where a local authority exercises its relevant functions effectively and in a way that does not give rise to unnecessary burdens, is transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed, economic progress will follow.
I accept that we may not have made it as clear as possible how the work of the LBRO will relate to the code and that this will have to be addressed. If the noble Lord has done nothing else, he has made that point. The most appropriate place to do this is in the guide that accompanies the Bill. I do not agree with him that this should be included in the Bill and I invite him to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the importance of economic activity and success is hard to overestimate. I accept entirely the Minister’s point about other matters referred to in the Hampton report. The economic prosperity of this country is so critical that its position vis-à-vis our regulatory framework is central, in a way that some of the other headings that he referred to, while important, are not. Having said that, if the Government are clearly not minded to accept that point of view, I do not propose to ask the House to troop through the Lobbies, as I did a few minutes ago. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
11: Clause 5, page 3, line 38, leave out “only”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to take out the word “only” from the provision that,
“regulatory activities should be targeted only at cases in which action is needed”.
We debated the clause in Committee, where I was concerned to understand the difference between acting proportionately, which is required in the same clause, and targeting. During that debate the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he thought that “only” was incorrect, and that it,
“seems not to provide the kind of protection for consumers and others that”—[Official Report, 21/1/08; col. GC 39.]
had been spelt out previously. I think that he was right. Rereading the clause, it seemed that targeting “only”, if it is not tautologous, is very close to being tautologous and it is too tight. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, asked the Minister to have another look at the risk-based approach to regulation and suggested that the matter could be expressed “slightly more subtly”. This is not a very subtle amendment but, nevertheless, I hope that it may give the Government an opportunity to argue the case again. I beg to move.
My Lords, we spent some time in Committee discussing the principles of good regulation, which feature prominently in the LBRO’s objective. Local authorities are already required to have regard to the principles of good regulation, under the provisions in the legislative and regulatory reform order. That order applies the principles as listed in Section 21 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. The fifth of the principles, which we are talking about here, states that,
“regulatory activity should be targeted only at cases in which action is needed”.
Clause 5(2)(a) follows that wording precisely. The word “only” is what the noble Baroness complains of.
A change in wording here would send somewhat contradictory messages to the LBRO and to local authorities, and would clearly be undesirable. However, I acknowledge that concerns were raised in Committee that “only”, which here is attached to the fifth principle of targeting, could cast a cloud over some important work performed by local authorities.
The clause specifies that regulatory activities should be targeted only at cases where “action is needed”. That does not mean that local authorities may only act where there is a specific problem. It means that they should target their activities where they are needed more generally. There is no doubt that local authorities will need to do some investigative work to determine if there is a specific problem in the first place. I give an example: a fire authority may want to do random inspections of high-risk premises in its area or a food authority may need to take random samples of food to test for contamination. Clearly those are both cases where action is needed. Local authorities could not do their work in protecting the public adequately without that action. It would not, therefore, be excluded by the principle. However, the principle of targeting suggests that purely routine inspections, with no such meaningful rationale, should not go ahead, and that is obviously right.
Consistency with the existing legislation is critical, but I acknowledge the concerns expressed on this point. Reluctantly, we disagree with the noble Baroness. “Only” should remain in the clause.
My Lords, the Government seem to be hung up on the fact that they have used this phrase in previous legislation. The Minister’s argument seemed apart from that to support not only everything that I said—I said it quite quickly—but everything that I thought. I have not looked at the 2006 Act in this context, but if the phrase is wrong here, it would not be right to compound what is perhaps not quite right in that Act. I shall withdraw the amendment, but urge the Government to take another look at the matter. I understand the need to be consistent with previous legislation, because there can be confusion if exactly the same point is dealt with in different ways in different Acts of Parliament. I have made that point on a number of occasions over the years. However, the phrase is not right here. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 6 [Guidance to local authorities]:
12: Clause 6, page 4, line 11, at end insert—
“(aa) such local authorities in England and Wales, or such persons representative of local authorities in England and Wales, as LBRO considers appropriate, and”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 7 [Guidance to local authorities: enforcement]:
13: Clause 7, page 4, line 18, leave out “LBRO” and insert “The Secretary of State”
The noble Viscount said: My Lords, before moving the amendments, I acknowledge the great assistance that I have had, both in letters from the Minister and from the Bill team, which directed me to one of the longest links that I have ever tried to tap into my laptop. In the end, I obtained the information for which I was looking. I am truly grateful for that and the other comments that have been transmitted to me in the dialogue on who should have the power to direct.
Amendments Nos. 13 to 18 and 20 to 23 would simply move the power to direct local authorities from the LBRO to the Secretary of State. In Committee, the Minister said:
“The power to direct is intended as a backstop power that might be used where, for example, one or more local authorities persistently acts with disregard for a particular piece of guidance and that disregard is, frankly, detrimental to business or the public or, as could often happen, both”.—[Official Report, 23/1/08; col. GC 111.]
That is a pretty stern test. This important statement was and remains welcome as a description of the need for the backstop power. In what follows, I am using—I hope, without plagiarism—persistent disregard as the way of looking at the situation.
The Minister also said on a more personal note that I was a sturdy champion of local government, a charge which I fully accept. However, my concern on this occasion is centred on the relationship between Ministers and Parliament. As the Delegated Powers Committee reported, directions can have a legislative effect. It is one thing when they are used for administrative matters, but another when, as in this case, they change the legal position of the person directed. I believe that the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House would agree.
Therefore, Parliament needs to be very careful as to whom it gives the power of direction. In this case, when the Minister’s test of persistent disregard comes to be considered, it will most probably be when a local authority has either failed to follow Clause 6(3), under which it must have regard to guidance, or, as is much more likely, when it has regard but remains convinced that the guidance is faulty and so should not apply. It is after all human to err. The LBRO will be no exception. It is also likely that if and when a local authority persists in disagreement, there will have been a long and diligent dialogue. The Secretary of State is the best person to resolve the matter. He should retain the backstop power of direction and Parliament should expect him to do so.
There are several other good reasons for this conclusion. Non-departmental public bodies do not now have powers of direction, nor should they. An analogy with the Food Standards Agency has been suggested and I am grateful for a full briefing from it. There is one power of direction which enables the agency to bring a food authority into line, subject to an order in the High Court. This power has never been used. It is certainly not a precedent for the interrelated purposes of Clauses 6 and 7.
Further, the giving of the power to the LBRO would make it in all essentials judge and jury, not only in its own approach to persistent disregard but also on behalf of regulators, thus widening the power in a completely unprecedented way. Then there is the obvious point that an unelected public body can enforce compliance on an elected local authority. Finally, the LBRO will face a steep learning curve. It is to be a temporary body. To whom might its powers of direction be transferred when it is dissolved? For all these reasons, the LBRO is the wrong choice.
In Committee, there was an extensive discussion of consultation on the powers to be given to the LBRO, summed up by the Minister with a carefully phrased sentence:
“Consultation produced an overwhelming view from business that the LBRO would need significant powers of compulsion beyond those of merely issuing guidance”.—[Official Report, 23/1/08; col. GC 112.]
I hope the Minister will forgive me emphasising “from business”. It is possible to see the picture quite differently. There was no consultation on the power to make directions because there was no Clause 7 in the draft Bill. The parliamentary procedure of direction was not mentioned; instead, questions were asked.
Proposal 5 of the Government’s response to the consultation was that:
“Local authorities be placed under a statutory duty ‘to have regard to’ guidance issued by LBRO”.
The questions asked were:
“Do you agree with this approach?”;
“Should a stronger requirement be placed on local authorities to comply with LBRO guidance? If so, what is your argument?”.
Some 79 per cent of the respondents answered that there was no need for a stronger requirement, while 21 per cent answered yes. Among the yeses was the National Consumer Council, which answered to the second question:
“However if outcomes suffer because guidance is being consistently ignored then LBRO should have appropriate reserve powers to deal with this”.
The Trading Standards Institute—incidentally, these two bodies were discussed in Committee—answered the same question by saying:
“If LBRO determines that there is a limited take up of guidance and yet clear benefits from adherence then LBRO should be able to be instructive to authorities on implementation of any such guidance”.
It is clear that Ministers have allowed the 21 per cent—mainly business respondents—to prevail. By including Clause 7 they have gone further than anyone consulted could have expected. One can question the purpose of consultation if its results are not then accepted but, being where we are, we need to make the best of it. It is also now said that, having seen the clause, both the National Consumer Council and the Trading Standards Institute are content with it. Yet do they fully understand the constitutional issue involved? What about the 79 per cent?
Defending the late entrance of Clause 7, it is argued that the Secretary of State is an adequate safeguard because he has to be consulted before a direction can be made. Why have a safeguard when you do not need it? It is much better to put the responsibility where it truly lies, with the Secretary of State. This is not only normal practice but also improves accountability to Parliament, particularly if the Secretary of State was to lay an order rather than proceeding straight to a direction. All the detriments associated with the LBRO having the power are removed. Its relationships in pursuit of its core aim—
“to support local authorities to regulate more effectively”—
would be that much easier to manage productively.
In summary, Clause 7 would remain in place if my amendments were accepted. The Secretary of State would have the power to direct when he was satisfied that there was persistent disregard of sound guidance. The Government thus retain all the substance they want. There is only a change in the form. We can all hope with some confidence that the power would never in fact turn out to be necessary. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly support what the noble Viscount has said, his reasons for saying it and the way that he put it. When I first read the Bill, Clause 7 was perhaps the clause that startled me most. It is headed “Guidance to local authorities: enforcement”, which seems relatively innocent. Yet in the first line one comes to the power of direction. This is an important constitutional point. I do not want to take up the time of the House by repeating what the noble Viscount has said. By not repeating it, I hope it is not thought that I do not entirely go along with him. We support him fully from these Benches.
My Lords, I oppose the amendment proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. We know—he showed us—that Clause 6 gives the LBRO power to issue guidance to local authorities on their so-called relevant functions. In the main, no doubt, that guidance will be accepted and followed by local authorities. As the noble Viscount pointed out, Clause 6(3) says that local authorities “must have regard” to the guidance.
From time to time there is bound to be a recalcitrant local authority and the question is how the guidance can be enforced. Should it be by the LBRO itself or by a relevant Minister? The Government’s answer in the Bill as it stands is the right one. The LBRO needs some sort of backup power for the recalcitrant local authority which, let us say, persistently ignores or declines to follow the guidance that the LBRO has given. Without that, there is a risk of the LBRO being impotent. The amendment asks for ministerial involvement but, as the noble Viscount fairly pointed out, Clause 7(2) requires the LBRO to have the consent of the Secretary of State. So there is a ministerial dimension and the potential for parliamentary accountability connected in that way in the Bill already. The Minister can always be asked, in this House or in the other place, why consent was given—and the Minister will have to respond.
We have here the independence of the LBRO and its power to issue guidance and enforce it directly, but we also have ministerial accountability, which is the key constitutional point with which the noble Viscount has been concerned. The Bill as it stands achieves the right amount of LBRO independence and ministerial accountability for what is done.
My Lords, bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said about not having something that is impotent, I wonder what effective enforcement the LBRO can achieve. Is it financial against a local authority? In what other way can the LBRO ensure that the recalcitrant local authority actually complies? Clearly, a Secretary of State has a financial ability. Does the LBRO have that financial ability?
My Lords, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am in full support of the raft of amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Eccles. The amendments would move the powers of direction from the LBRO to the Secretary of State. Crucially, the amendments do not diminish the power that stands behind the instruction for compliance. I follow my noble friend Lord Eccles in his concern that the Bill gives the non-departmental body, the LBRO, an unprecedented power to turn guidance to local authorities subject to the “must have regard to” instruction into enforcement—and thus the instruction “must comply”.
I would also very much like to hear the Minister’s justification for conferring such a great and significant power, given that the LBRO is a new body and an untested novice in its regulatory role. A regulatory body should never have the power to be both judge and jury over the regulated. I do not need to point out to your Lordships that such a situation risks losing the trust of British businesses in the regulatory system. I find it hard to believe that the Minister will not agree that optimum regulation occurs when the system is seen to work for business and the consumer, and not isolated in a separate superiority. Therefore, I would be very much more reassured if the Minister could put the reserve power of direction into the properly accountable hand of the Secretary of State.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity that the amendments give to discuss our reason for the inclusion of the measures in Clause 7. I am doubly grateful to the noble Viscount for his thanks particularly to the Bill team for the help that he says that it has given him. It is very good of him to say so because Bill teams do not often receive that kind of plaudit, although they do extraordinarily hard work—one hopes for all Members of the House.
I acknowledge, too, that the noble Viscount has moved his position to some extent from the one he held in Committee. The amendment would no longer remove the power that the LBRO has to direct compliance with guidance; it would retain the approach adopted in Clause 7 but would put the power to give directions into the hands of the Secretary of State. I understand why the noble Viscount is testing the provisions in the clause further, but I shall try to explain to the House why we do not feel that this particular change would be helpful.
We have already set out the thinking behind the inclusion of the LBRO’s power to direct. It has its origins in the Hampton report, which recommended the creation of a public body with significant powers, along the lines of those which are already held by the Food Standards Agency, to which the noble Viscount referred. It is important that the LBRO should have a backstop power to be used when, for example, as my noble friend Lord Borrie argued, one or more local authorities persistently act with disregard for a particular piece of guidance, and this disregard is detrimental to business or the public.
The use of the power will be subject to important controls. The most important of these is that any use of the powers of direction is subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. One question that has been raised has been the one of precedents for the Clause 7 power. As we discussed in Committee, the Hampton report recommended the creation of a body with powers broadly comparable to the Food Standards Agency. We believe that it is relevant, despite what the noble Viscount has said, that the closest precedent is the power exercised by the Food Standards Agency under the Food Safety Act 1990 in Section 40, where the agency may give directions to a local authority to take steps to comply with a code of practice, much as the LBRO may require that a local authority complies with guidance. The FSA only has to consult the Secretary of State, however—that Act does not contain the stricter requirement of consent from the Secretary of State that Clause 7 sets out.
Not only does this power have a clear precedent therefore, but the measures before the House have rather more stringent controls than does the precedent. The noble Viscount is concerned to ensure that appropriate democratic accountability is brought to the way in which the LBRO gives directions to a local authority. We believe that the ministerial consent requirement will have a similar effect in practice as the approach set out in the amendment. The LBRO will propose directions, but Ministers will be accountable for consenting to their use. The provisions in Clause 7 are vital in enabling the LBRO to achieve its objective; sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that the LBRO uses its power to direct compliance with guidance in a responsible manner.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked how the LBRO could enforce its directions. Of course, local authorities, as she will know probably better than anyone else in the House this evening, are required to comply with directions. Failure to do so would be a breach of their statutory duty. The LBRO can seek to enforce the breach and third parties can sue if they are harmed by that breach of statutory duty. So it puts the local authority at risk of being sued by third parties.
We mentioned in Committee—and the noble Viscount dealt to some extent with this argument in moving his amendment—that the inclusion of this power has the support of business, notably the British Retail Consortium. It certainly does. The CBI has written this week to the Government, saying that it would welcome moves to maintain the powers of the Local Better Regulation Office. It said:
“Business has been promised a better regulatory environment if regulators are awarded new powers. But this requires regulators to deliver on this, and we think it important that the LBRO is given the appropriate powers to ensure that local authorities do just this. Maintaining Clause 7 as currently drafted, which gives the LBRO powers of direction, would help achieve this”.
Noble Lords may have seen the briefing notes from the major stakeholders, but I remind them of the position of other bodies that by no stretch of the imagination could be described as businesses. The Trading Standards Institute said that it believes that,
“it is necessary that LBRO has the power to direct local authorities that are at odds with central guidance in order to ensure a consistent regulatory environment”.
The National Consumer Council said:
“The LBRO cannot secure consistency of practice if local authority regulatory services are free to choose to ignore its guidance. Indeed, we are concerned that the requirements on LBRO to consult and obtain the consent of the Secretary of State before issuing a direction are too onerous and might work to dissuade LBRO from legitimately exercising this power”.
They go further than the Government do. Clearly, it would be unhappy with this specific amendment which would put the use of the power even further from LBRO’s hands.
I will just sum up our case on this. We believe LBRO’s powers in Clause 7 are precedented; based squarely on Hampton; have the support of business, and not just business but also consumers and the professions, particularly the Trading Standards Institute; are subject to controls recommended by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which we have accepted in full; and are designed in such a way as to ensure the appropriate accountability to Parliament. For those reasons, I am afraid that we stick with our view that Clause 7, as drafted, is appropriate in this case. These are intended as backup powers and it is in that context that we suggest that they are appropriate for this Bill.
My Lords, before I try to reply as best I can, may I refer to the Food Safety Act which the Minister mentioned? There are two things. Under Section 40 the Secretary of State can issue a code of practice, giving food authorities guidance on how they should enforce food law, and under Section 41A the Food Standards Agency can direct a food authority. Even if a food authority is also a local authority, that power is much narrower than anything proposed in this Bill because it is specifically about the single subject of food. I wonder if the Minister would agree that we are looking at a precedent. It is not right to use the Food Standards Agency as a sufficient precedent for what is in this Bill.
My Lords, I accept the enormous amount of work that the noble Viscount has put into researching this, no doubt more work than I have put in. The advice that I have received is that the Food Standards Agency is a good precedent for what we are intending here. It may not be absolutely on all fours, precedents rarely are, but it gives that agency the power to direct local authorities. That is precisely what we are seeking for the LBRO here. It is a backup power with all that that is intended to mean. One difference the other way is that the Food Standards Agency only needs to consult the Secretary of State. Here if the LBRO is to direct any local authority, it has to have the prior consent of the Secretary of State himself or herself.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think that in substance we are in very close agreement. I am not in any way contesting the need to be able to bring a recalcitrant local authority into line. Nothing in my amendment takes away the power to do just that. My argument is: why have a dog when you can bark yourself? Also, no non-departmental government body has, even if it has the power of direction, ever exercised it. Why is it sensible to set a precedent on this occasion? It seems to me that what I have proposed meets everything in substance that the Minister wishes to see. I have effectively two choices—three really. I could hope that down the other end the argument will be read with sufficient care, the Government will come to see the force of it and an amendment will be introduced. I am not entirely optimistic that that will be the case. So, in thanking all those who have taken part in this relatively short debate and noting particularly what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
[Amendments Nos. 14 to 18 not moved.]
19: Clause 7, page 4, line 31, at end insert—
“( ) such local authorities in England and Wales, or such persons representative of local authorities in England and Wales, as LBRO considers appropriate,”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in Committee, we sought to delete the whole of Clause 7. I did not at that point argue a matter that I argued elsewhere in relation to the Bill, which is the special position of local authorities with regard to consultation—in this case, consultation by LBRO for giving a direction. Under Clause 7(5),
“LBRO must consult … any relevant regulator, and such other persons as”,
it considers appropriate. My amendment would make it entirely clear, as I am sure must be the case, that local authorities have a particular position. I have used wording that the Government have used in similar amendments to the Bill and, although I never expect that my drafting will be accepted in terms by the Government, I hope that the point will be taken. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her amendment, which we suspect is designed to complete the job that she began in Grand Committee by tabling an amendment that required LBRO to consult local authorities prior to issuing guidance under Clause 6. We considered that amendment and made an amendment of our own to include that requirement in the Bill. We are delighted to say that we will consider this new amendment as well. I hope to return with our form of words at Third Reading.
24: Clause 9, page 5, line 10, after “of” insert “existing or proposed”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple amendment, which I hope the Government will accept, because they were in favour of the principle of the thing when we discussed it in Committee.
My Lords, in that case, I need not go on for very long. The point is whether the LBRO will consider prospective as well as existing legislation. The noble Lord said in Grand Committee that that might be included under the words “any other matter” in subsection (1)(d). As legislation is specifically referred to in subsection (1)(b), we should include the words that I suggest. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 in this group. I pause hopefully, but no one is leaping to intervene.
Clause 11 provides for LBRO to publish,
“a list specifying matters to which a local authority should give priority when allocating resources to its relevant functions”.
My concern is that LBRO’s powers should not extend to allocating to the regulatory functions from the whole of a local authority’s budget. Rather, they should be limited to the priorities within what a local authority itself allocates to the functions. I hope that the Government can reassure me that that is what is intended. If the Government take the view that LBRO should have the greater power of saying to a local authority, “Thou shalt devote X million out of your Y hundreds of millions to the relevant functions”, that is too much power on the part of LBRO. I therefore hope that the Government can assure me that this is intended to be a more limited intervention.
My Lords, I have tabled Amendment No. 28 in this group. This is an issue that we covered in Committee. It concerns publishing the details of representations made to LBRO and the identity of those making the representations. The background to this was that I felt it important that, if you wish to influence public policy by lobbying LBRO, you should at least be prepared to be identified as having done so. The compulsive litigant or compulsive complainant should at least be identified as such.
The Minister suggested on 28 January at col. GC 132 that this would fall foul of the Data Protection Act as he understood it. Between Committee stage and tonight, I have taken the trouble to ask, at a fairly unofficial level, a data protection lawyer about this. I am advised—I am sure that the serried ranks of the Bill team and its huge legal battery will have much better advice than I have—that where people put themselves forward and make direct representations, they would not be afforded the protection of the Data Protection Act, but that they would be if their support was implied. That is to say that, if the chamber of commerce had done something, you could mention the chamber of commerce but not the firms that were part of it. If you said that a company had made a representation, you could name the company but not individual directors.
I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to think about this. Transparency is important in these areas. If you wish to influence public policy, you should have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to stand up and say what you are standing for. The dangers of allowing this to be done without disclosure are considerable.
My Lords, these amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, give me an opportunity to remind the House briefly of the intentions behind Clause 11. Before that, I should refer to Amendment No. 24 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. His amendment gives me an opportunity to give further assurances about how the Government expect the advisory role of LBRO to operate in practice. The noble Lord raised an important point in Committee in relation to its ability to offer advice to the Government, not only on the existing legislation enforced by local authorities but on proposals in the pipeline. Clearly, LBRO will have considerable expertise to offer and the Government could get just as much benefit, if not more, from advice on legislation in development. We share the noble Lord’s view that LBRO should be able to advise on this. We consider the provision in Clause 9(1)(d), that LBRO may give advice on,
“any other matter relating to the exercise by local authorities in England and Wales of their relevant functions”,
would be sufficient legal basis for LBRO to offer advice on legislative proposals. To put the matter beyond doubt, let me say that the amendment of the noble Lord is helpful and that, if he will withdraw it tonight, we will come back on Third Reading with words that I suspect will be very similar to what he has proposed—they might be a little different. We are grateful to him and will certainly consider his amendment.
Turning to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I can give her the agreement that she wanted. That is not to accept the amendments but to agree that, in her phrase, “more limited intervention” is what we are trying to achieve here, rather than what she fears. I want to make it clear that the provisions in Clause 11 will not prevent councils from giving due regard to their own priorities. These can be given equal—or even greater—weight than the national priorities when it comes to planning their operations and how resources are allocated. The clause is intended purely to give some order and discipline to the way in which the centre sets priorities for local authorities. I would have quoted the Rogers report in more detail to answer the noble Baroness, but I can give her what I hope she wanted to hear from me, which is that she is right in thinking that we are in favour of more limited intervention and that this would not somehow undermine local authorities’ rights.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, wants us to agree that LBRO should publish the names of anyone who makes representations, pursuant to its preparation of a list of regulatory priorities. I am going to argue again that LBRO should have the flexibility to, where appropriate, withhold the details of those who made representations, not least because the publication of personal data may—and I use that word advisedly—in some circumstances fall foul of the Data Protection Act principles. This duty would require disclosure of the names of anybody making representation in all cases and could give rise, if it fell foul of that Act, to actionable breaches where there is a duty of confidentiality in any particular case.
Representations may not simply be formal lobbying activities. LBRO is likely, in practice, to follow the example of Peter Rogers when he conducted the first review of regulatory priorities last year and to hold a number of workshops and focus groups with the public, regulators and businesses. Under this amendment, the names of all those involved would need to be published. That would not be appropriate. In practice, LBRO is likely to want to publish the names in many cases. This is good practice, as when the Government published most of the names and responses of those who responded to the consultation on the Bill, but we do not believe that it should be a requirement. The same rules should apply as to any other consultation that might impact on government policy.
We understand the noble Lord’s concern that undue influence might be brought to bear on LBRO’s activity and that the light of publicity might help to eradicate this. Let me give what further reassurance I can. LBRO alone cannot and will not take the final decision that will put the priorities into effect. Under Clause 11(7), the consent of the Secretary of State is needed before the priorities become statutory priorities. The Secretary of State will expect to see a logically argued case based on clear evidence before LBRO’s recommendations are accepted. This is what the representation requirement is meant to capture. The hidden influence of individual bodies alone would not be sufficient to sway the final decision. Therefore, I am afraid that we cannot accept the noble Lord’s amendment.
My Lords, I am delighted with the response from the Minister on my Amendment No. 24, because he has accepted the point, and I am happy with the drafting. As a matter of fact, I support the other amendments in the group, in the names of my noble friend Lord Hodgson and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I am glad that the points behind the amendments of the noble Baroness will also be considered further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 11 [Enforcement priorities]:
[Amendments Nos. 25 to 28 not moved.]
29: After Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—
“Memorandum of understanding
LBRO must enter into a memorandum of understanding with the devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland as to how they will work together in the exercise of their respective functions.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to an issue that has concerned me regarding the different treatment emerging in the United Kingdom as a result of the devolved nature of Scotland and Northern Ireland. That is a serious weakness in the planned approach of the Bill, about which the Government are only now starting to be clear and honest. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, was uncharacteristically ratty with me in Grand Committee when I pointed that out in our debate on Clause 73, which is on extent.
I shall briefly readdress my arguments. Paragraph 4 of the Explanatory Notes states:
“The Hampton Review set out a vision for a risk-based approach to regulation and included a set of principles for regulatory inspection and enforcement, based around risk and proportionality”.
Nowhere does that paragraph mention the episodic nature of this approach, whereby it may or may not apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland. Furthermore, in the debate on Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, said:
“The UK’s better regulation agenda is widely regarded across the world as being the most ambitious anywhere”.—[Official Report, 28/11/07; col. 1238.]
He then prayed in aid this legislation as part of that work. That is all very well, but the Bill is not about the UK; for the most part, it is about England and Wales, with some references to Scotland and Northern Ireland coming along behind. When the Minister talked about the UK, that showed how far he is adrift from what the Bill seeks to achieve. Paragraph 6 of the Explanatory Notes states:
“The Hampton Review found that the diffuse structure of local authority regulatory enforcement increases uncertainty and administrative burdens for business”.
We are not tackling this issue as regards Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Bill is flawed in respect of firms that operate on a UK-wide basis. Only when one reaches paragraph 17 of the Explanatory Notes does it become clear what the Bill’s remit is in different parts of the UK.
I tried to think about how we could move this game forward. My thought was that Clause 12 might be relevant, as it requires the establishment of memorandums of understanding with certain key regulators—those with which LBRO and local authorities are expected to have the greatest amount of day-to-day contact. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, will forgive me if I quote what he said in Grand Committee. He said:
“There is of course a problem of local authorities receiving mixed messages from central government … Having some memoranda of understanding is vitally important: it helps to improve the consistency of messages coming through to local authorities from central government”.—[Official Report, 23/1/08; col. GC 136.]
What I am trying to achieve in the amendment is a memorandum of understanding between LBRO within England and Wales and the appropriate authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with a view to avoiding mixed messages. That is what my new clause is all about.
My proposal would not infringe anyone’s sovereignty. I am sure that the Minister will say—the Bill team pointed this out at our meeting on Monday—that we cannot require the devolved Administration in Scotland or Northern Ireland to enter into memoranda of understanding. I am not clear how we will require one of their regulators to enter into any meaningful MoU. I can understand that there is a requirement to force them to do something, but a worthwhile MoU between LBRO and the regulators listed in Clause 12 will come about after negotiations—because of give-and-take in discussions—on how best to approach this matter. Under my amendment, that would be the case for the devolved Administrations. There would be an opportunity for discussions to take place and for a process with a level playing field to emerge. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter carefully, with a view to making the Bill better, because it would provide the certainty of a level playing field across the United Kingdom as a whole.
In Grand Committee, we discussed an amendment similar to my second amendment in the group, Amendment No. 106 to Clause 73. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the long and detailed letter that he sent me by hand today, no less. I had the benefit of it ahead of this debate. He states that the clause,
“is not designed to specify what provision we are making about the law in each jurisdiction. That is done in the main body of the Bill itself”.
I accept that, but if you are going to have to work through this legislation, you will find it quite difficult, when you reach subsections (1), (3) and (4) of Clause 23, to work out that this is the part of the Bill that tells you that Part 2 does not apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. If, as I suspect, his speaking notes state that this amendment is not acceptable and will break every constitutional precept, I hope that he will find ways to make it absolutely clear in this legislation where and what it applies to. This Bill is meant to ensure better regulation. Better regulation is clear regulation and we have failed to achieve proper clarity in this significant area.
I understand that this is a difficult and tricky issue, but we must find a way, if we are trying to help UK plc to have a level playing field. Finding some way of tackling the issues implicit for the devolved Administrations is critical. I beg to move.
My Lords, we sympathise with the spirit of the amendment, which certainly captures how the Government expect LBRO to behave in practice. However, as the noble Lord anticipated, the amendment brings us into territory which risks falling foul of the devolution settlements. Of course it will be crucial for LBRO to work with relevant parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland if we are to secure the greatest possible benefits for businesses operating across the United Kingdom. That has always been behind the noble Lord’s thoughts on the Bill and on other legislation.
We are grateful to Welsh Ministers for their interest in the Bill and for their commitment to its full application in Wales. Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland have made it clear that they do not want the Bill and LBRO to apply to devolved matters. The noble Lord is welcome to take up the issue with them, but responsibility for devolved matters lies ultimately with the devolved Administrations and their electorates. As one would expect from the noble Lord, the amendment has been carefully phrased in terms of the requirement on LBRO. Nevertheless, I am afraid that the amendment would by implication place a requirement on the devolved Administrations to enter into a memorandum of understanding with LBRO. The requirement on LBRO to enter into the memorandum would be meaningless without that corollary. That is just not possible without the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
Of course, businesses will want to see as much joint working as possible between LBRO and the devolved Administrations. The guide accompanying the Bill makes it clear that we expect LBRO to work with the devolved Administrations in so far as it is authorised to do so. I am glad to say that LBRO, in its present company form, has already begun to establish productive relationships with Scotland and Northern Ireland, both at the governing level and with professional bodies such as the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and representative organisations. It is on track to form strong working relationships. Here, as elsewhere, we believe that LBRO can be trusted to get on with the job using common sense; certainly businesses will look to it to do so.
I am afraid that we cannot accept the noble Lord’s amendment, because it could not be put into operation. I am grateful for what he said about the letter that I gave him today on Amendment No. 106. In order to make sure that this is as clear as possible to those interested in the Bill, the guide that will be published on the Bill will set out clearly what parts apply where. That information can, of course, be found in the Bill, as the noble Lord has acknowledged, but we will make sure, as best we can, that one part of the guide will set that out, so that anyone using the Bill will be able to find out whether it applies in various parts of the United Kingdom. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurance that he will ensure that clarity on this issue is prevalent and pre-eminent when we publish the guide to the Bill. This issue could have significant implications for UK-wide businesses. I hope that we can continue to think about ways to develop it, because, as the Minister and I have discussed, this is not the only area where there is a mismatch. We have to find a way of making sure that the pieces of legislation join up as far as possible if we are not to impose considerable and unnecessary burdens on businesses operating UK-wide. I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurance and correspondence and for the efforts of the Bill team to address this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 14 [Ancillary powers]:
30: Clause 14, page 7, line 4, at end insert “, with the consent of the Treasury”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 30 inserts the ominous words,
“with the consent of the Treasury”.
As your Lordships know, I was a Treasury Minister and am, in a sense, reverting to that part of my history. The subsection in question allows the LBRO, for instance, to acquire and dispose of property and to borrow and invest money, although it is not said what the LBRO would invest it in. There appears to be no control over what it does. If it borrows money, I am not sure whether that will have either an express or an implied government guarantee. Let us suppose that the LBRO acquired some office property, perhaps for its own use, with the aid of a mortgage or loan of some sort, and the value of the office block went down, so that it was unable to cover the loan and found itself in negative equity. I am sure that before long some people will find themselves in negative equity. We hope that they will not, but if they did, would the Government stand behind it? That is the question. If they do not, they will have to pay more to borrow the money, which is the way these things work. It is an important and relevant question. The sums of money will be small in terms of the Government’s accounts, but where will they appear in the Government’s accounts, if at all? Is it a completely freestanding body? These are the thoughts that lie behind my amendment to insert the requirement for the consent of the Treasury to significant financial transactions that are potentially permitted by this clause.
I am interested that the Government have grouped my Amendment No. 30 with their Amendments Nos. 31 to 36, which all deal, in Clauses 15 and 16, with the giving of guidance by the Secretary of State and by Welsh Ministers respectively. It may be that the reason for grouping those amendments with my amendment on finance is that some of the guidance will be financial. I would not think that in the least improper. On the contrary, I would think it wise, particularly if there were going to be express or implied guarantees behind any money borrowed by the body in question. Amendments Nos. 33 and 36 take up points that I made in Committee about guidance. I am grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for agreeing to those amendments. I think there are some potentially important financial considerations with regard to Amendment No. 30. I beg to move.
My Lords, this gives me an opportunity to clarify that the LBRO will be subject to all the usual rules for the management of public money. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, raised the question of the LBRO’s money. Provided the LBRO is acting within its remit and objectives, Her Majesty’s Government would have to stand behind it financially, as they do with every other non-departmental public body. It has been created as an NDPB with operational independence and freedom from day-to-day interference by Ministers. I am sure that the House will think that a good thing. The government amendments in this group seek to limit the scope for inappropriate micromanagement by Ministers.
This clause is essential to provide sufficient legal certainty that the LBRO will be able to engage in activities that are helpful or necessary to the discharge of its functions and the achievement of its objectives. The clause provides specific examples of what will be covered by the ancillary powers provision—some financial, many not. There are many precedents for such provisions. Natural England was established by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. Section 13 of that Act specifies that Natural England may,
“do anything that appears to it to be conducive or incidental to the discharge of its functions”.
The section then sets out a list of examples, which includes all the actions included in the LBRO list, as well as some additional ones.
There are good reasons why detailed ministerial control, which would be accorded if Treasury approval was needed, is unnecessary. The first is that reliance on ancillary powers is circumscribed by the requirement that anything done must be,
“necessary or expedient for the purpose of, or in connection with, the exercise of … its functions”.
Secondly, the LBRO will be subject to all the normal rules of public spending. Thirdly, it will be financially accountable to Parliament in the normal way through the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Fourthly, it must provide the Secretary of State and the Comptroller and Auditor-General with a copy of its accounts on an annual basis.
We argue that this is a routine provision for independent public bodies, with a good recent precedent. The clause is essential in ensuring that the LBRO can function effectively in day-to-day business matters. We do not think that adding a new level of control would do anything other than significantly hamper the organisation in its routine work.
That takes me to government Amendments Nos. 31 to 36. They place a number of important controls on the right of Ministers to give directions to the LBRO. At Second Reading and in Committee, noble Lords were concerned about the precise uses to which Ministers’ powers of direction would be put. I repeat that it is the Government’s intention that these powers of direction should be used as nothing more than a backstop. The LBRO will be operating as an independent body, and it is intended that Ministers will use the power only in cases where the organisation acts against the public interest. Naturally, we hope that that situation will not arise, but Ministers will be accountable to Parliament for the performance and conduct of the LBRO and there has to be a power of direction to ensure that accountability is assured. We accept that the powers in Clauses 15 and 16 were too broadly drawn for this purpose, and we have already accepted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in relation to directions over the LBRO’s own direction-giving power.
In Committee, noble Lords suggested a number of additional changes, which we agreed in principle to consider. First, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, argued that the reference to “general or specific” directions was too broad; secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested that a formal consultation process should be required before directions are issued; and, thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggested that there should be a requirement that any directions should be laid before Parliament or the Welsh Assembly where appropriate. We have decided to make the appropriate changes and we are grateful to the various noble Lords for their suggestions. Our amendments, which I hope to move in due course, will implement them.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister to clarify one point in relation to my noble friend’s amendment. He referred to the support that the Treasury would give to the LBRO. Was that de facto or de jure? Will it actually happen or is it bound to happen by law? Reading the “Status” paragraph in Schedule 1, I was struck that it was as close to saying that the LBRO is flying on its own as it could be without those words being used. The paragraph states:
“LBRO is not to be regarded as a servant or agent of the Crown … The property of LBRO is not to be regarded as the property of, or property held on behalf of, the Crown”.
I understand that the Government may be forced to stand behind the LBRO but I should like to know whether they are bound to do so by law.
My Lords, I am advised that the organisation will be treated like any other NDPB in this instance. However, I think that the points raised in this debate are worthy of a letter setting out how we intend the finances to work here; that is, setting out the relationship between the Treasury and this body. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to write to them about that.
My Lords, that would be most helpful. I am somewhat reassured by what the Minister said on the financial provisions and I am grateful to him for accepting the suggestions that I and others made in Committee on Clauses 15 and 16. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 15 [Guidance or directions by the Secretary of State]:
31: Clause 15, page 7, line 13, leave out “general or specific”
32: Clause 15, page 7, line 14, at end insert—
“( ) Before giving any guidance or directions under this section the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) LBRO, and(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers likely to be affected by the guidance or directions, or persons representative of such persons.”
33: Clause 15, page 7, line 16, at end insert “and lay a copy of any such guidance or directions before Parliament”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 16 [Guidance or directions by Welsh Ministers]:
34: Clause 16, page 7, line 30, leave out “general or specific”
35: Clause 16, page 7, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) Before giving any guidance or directions under this section the Welsh Ministers must consult—
(a) LBRO, and(b) such other persons as the Welsh Ministers consider likely to be affected by the guidance or directions, or persons representative of such persons.”
36: Clause 16, page 7, line 34, at end insert “and lay a copy of any such guidance or directions before the National Assembly for Wales”
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 19 [Orders under Part 1]:
37: Clause 19, page 9, line 38, after “section” insert “4(7),”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 25 [Nomination of primary authorities]:
38: Clause 25, page 11, line 30, after “agreed” insert “in writing”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this group includes Amendment No. 39, to which I shall also speak. On reflection, I will not, as it is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, but perhaps I may respond to it in due course.
Amendment No. 38 concerns a small matter but it was one on which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, moved an amendment in Committee and we thought that he was right about it. Where a local authority agrees with a business that it will act as the business’s primary authority, the agreement should be made in writing, and that should be stated in the Bill. Of course, it is likely that the LBRO would register a primary authority partnership only where it received notification in writing of an agreement between a business and a local authority, but we believe that there is some benefit in making that a requirement and that is what we do in Amendment No. 38. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am most grateful for the noble Lord’s agreement to the amendment by putting it in writing in the form of an amendment. He has taken on board not only the point that I made but also the drafting, simple as it was.
In Amendment No. 39, I am concerned about a quite separate point. At present, when a primary authority lays down how a series of local authorities are to carry out their responsibilities in respect of, say, a chain of shops, the local authorities in which the shops are situated all over the country have no certainty of being told whether their authority will be controlled by the agreement made between the primary authority and the headquarters of the business concerned.
When I moved a similar amendment in Committee, I was told, “It’s all right because it will all be on a website, so they can look it up quite easily if they are thinking of going to have a look at a shop”. However, in a high street, some shops will be owned by national chains—we all know that any high street has a lot of shops owned by national chains. Others will be independent—I hope that as many as possible of them will be because I like to see independent shops in high streets—and some will be franchises. As we know from Committee, it will be extremely difficult to know whether franchises will be controlled through a primary authority or whether they will be treated as independents. Therefore, the local authority regulator will have to go through the website looking at all the shops in the high street before he sets out to see whether they are complying with the regulations. That is why I am saying that the LBRO should let the junior authorities know whether an agreement is in place. I have also provided in the amendment that they should be told when it is proposed that a primary authority will be appointed so that, if they want to, they can object to it.
It is not particularly easy to tell who owns the shops in a high street. Some will be trading under names which are not the names of the companies that own them but trade names, and that will add to the complication for the local authority regulators. I do not want the regulators to be placed in the position where they go into a shop—for example, with a view to enforcing some food regulations—only to be told, “Push off. There’s an agreement with our headquarters that you are not supposed to do this. You’re supposed to do it another way”. That would be bad for the local authority regulators. Therefore, it is important that the junior authorities, as I call them, know when such agreements are either proposed or enforced. That is the intention behind Amendment No. 39. However, I am grateful for Amendment No. 38.
My Lords, I shall support—very briefly, your Lordships will be pleased to hear—my noble friend Lord Cope in his Amendment No. 39, which will make sure that the regulated party and, crucially, the regulators will be completely clear who is responsible for enforcement.
My Lords, Amendment No. 39 gives me an opportunity to discuss how we envisage primary authority partnerships will be publicised in practice. We understand the concerns of the noble Lord about how the existence of primary authority partnerships will be brought to the attention of local authorities. I like to think that we can put his mind to rest.
The critical issue is the register of partnerships that the LBRO will be required to maintain under Clause 25(6). The primary authority provisions are, deliberately, closely built on the basis of tried and tested voluntary arrangements which local authorities have maintained. There are a large number of such partnerships and they are listed on databases maintained by LACORS and the Health and Safety Executive. When a serious regulatory issue arises relating to a multi-site business, all that local authority enforcers have to do is simply look the company up on LACORS’s or the HSE’s database and consult the authority which has taken on that role. In practice, there is no difficulty in finding out whether a partnership exists and which areas of regulatory activity are relevant. As with the existing voluntary schemes, the LBRO database will make this very clear. The process we are proposing is no more complicated than what authorities already require of themselves under voluntary arrangements at present, but it will be more rigorous and give businesses the certainty that they need.
We feel that the amendment may rest on the assumption that local authorities will need to keep tabs on each partnership just in case something untoward emerges. That is not the case. Local authorities will only need to refer to it if there is a specific problem to be dealt with where an enforcement action is necessary. Local authorities that already participate in the voluntary guidance on home lead schemes will find that it is simply an extension of existing practice—but, of course, the database will be the responsibility of the LBRO rather than other bodies.
It may be helpful to go through a hypothetical series of events. Say an enforcing officer in local authority A establishes that there is a trading standards problem with a business that needs attention. It is not an emergency, so the exemptions created by Clause 28 do not apply, and the requirement to contact the primary authority takes effect. All the officer needs to do is look up the company’s name on the database. If there is a partnership—there may not be, but if there is one—three pieces of information will be listed against it: the name of the primary authority, the field of regulation within which it has effect, and the contact details for notification of the issues. It will be very clear if there is a trading standards partnership in existence and about the appropriate steps for getting in touch with it.
It is important to think through the practicalities of the scheme. We think that the scheme that we are intending to set up, which relies a lot on what has existed before, is practical and can work. For that reason we are not persuaded that the amendment is necessary.
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene here but, as the Minister will realise when we come to the groups of amendments with which I am involved, the question of numbers of prosecutions, and therefore numbers of regulated bodies or individuals that might be prosecuted, will become important. Can he give the House any idea of what proportion there is now, and what proportion is anticipated, of enforcement actions likely to be covered by instructions from primary authorities or the requirement to consult them?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, but it is extremely hard to answer his question because it will need the development of the primary authority principle to know from experience how widespread the effect will be. Perhaps he will let me consider what he has said and maybe on a later amendment we can come back with a better answer.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
39: Clause 25, page 12, line 13, at end insert—
“( ) LBRO must inform the local authorities in whose area the regulated person carries on the activity being regulated—
(a) when it is proposed to nominate a primary authority, and(b) when such an authority has been nominated.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was not particularly happy with what the Minister said but I do not wish to move the amendment.
[Amendment No. 39 not moved.]
Clause 27 [Enforcement action]:
40: Clause 27, page 12, line 27, at end insert “pursuant to the relevant function”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we come to an important series of amendments which deal with various matters, many raised in Committee, relating to the primary authority’s provisions in Part 2. I will speak to my Amendments Nos. 41, 42 and 44 in due course.
The first amendment is technical, aiming to tackle an unintended omission in Clause 27. Primary authority partnerships will be established between businesses and local authorities, and will cover particular areas of regulation. That situation reflects practice under the existing voluntary schemes. Firms will commonly have trading standards partnerships with, for example, a county council and environmental health partnerships with a district council. To use the language of Clause 24, they will be nominated to play the part of primary authority for the “relevant function”.
Clause 27 needs to be limited to reflect that specialisation. An enforcing authority should only be under an obligation to consult the primary authority before taking enforcement actions that follow from the regulatory function in question. For example, an enforcing authority should be under an obligation to contact a business’s primary authority with responsibility for environmental health if, and only if, the issue at hand is an environmental health issue. It should not be required to contact the primary authority responsible, for instance, for trading standards. That reflects practice under the existing home lead schemes, where local authorities will in many cases contact different lead authorities for different areas of regulation. Enforcing authorities should not be required to consult on enforcement actions of every sort. Amendment No. 40 would make this restriction clear.
Amendment No. 41 will remove the LBRO’s power to delegate to another body its arbitration functions under Schedule 4. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Berkeley, expressed concern in the Committee that the LBRO’s power to delegate its arbitration function could result in another body directing a local authority under paragraph 7 of Schedule 4. It has never been our intention that the delegation power should be used in this way.
The LBRO will be a relatively small body with a wide-ranging scope. The types of cases that can be referred to the LBRO for arbitration could range from agricultural produce to zoo licensing, dog breeding to explosives. We do not expect the LBRO to have the necessary in-house expertise to effectively arbitrate on all the issues that could be referred to it. Instead, we expect it to consult with, and take the advice of, expert bodies such as national regulators when arbitrating. We think that sufficient provision is made for this purpose without the LBRO delegating its arbitration function to another body. In particular, under Clause 14:
“LBRO may do anything which it thinks necessary and expedient for the purpose of, or in connection with, the exercise of its functions”.
That could include seeking advice from a national regulator when arbitrating. In addition, under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4, the LBRO must consult with the relevant national regulator, and may consult other persons it considers appropriate, when arbitrating. Therefore, we are removing the power for the LBRO to delegate its arbitration function.
Amendments Nos. 42 and 44 will specify those matters which must be exempt from the requirement to notify a primary authority before enforcement action is taken. For reasons that were discussed in Committee, we considered it important to retain as much flexibility as possible for exemptions to the primary authority provisions to be dealt with by order. Noble Lords may wish to refer to the guide accompanying the Bill, which lists the categories of exemptions that we now intend to make here. The detail of these exemptions needs to be worked up in consultation with those on the ground. We shall consult on the details later this year. We were persuaded by the strength of the argument presented in Committee that where it is possible to do so, such exemptions should be put in the Bill.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, who I am delighted to see in his place—almost every other hour he is elsewhere in the building chairing the Crossrail committee—tabled an amendment in Committee which would have retained the ability to specify exemptions by order, but set out those circumstances that the orders must address on the face of the Bill. We thought that was a sensible approach, and we have therefore brought forward an amendment which will have that effect. The amendment will set out four exemptions which must be specified in the order. I do not need to set out what the exemptions say as they are in our amendment.
I have spoken to the government amendments but there is another one in the group. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment No. 43 stands in my name. I pause to see whether the Government will accept it. I see the Minister shakes his head. It is similar to points that the Government have accepted, acknowledging the position of local authorities and providing for consultation with them. That explains the amendment. I hope that the explanation carries some force. I do not want to spend a long time on it.
I welcome the matters that the Government are putting into the Bill regarding exemptions. An acknowledgement of consultation would be an appropriate step. I welcome the government amendments in the group. On delegation, the Government are absolutely right. I raise a concern which has been expressed to me and I believe to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which is worried that,
“the effect of this amendment could be considerable for the resources of the LBRO and may bring into doubt their ability to meet the demand for adjudications and/or dealing with the (potentially large) number of references it might get under this process”.
I would welcome comment from the Minister on the resources point.
On Amendment No. 42, I cannot restrain myself from noting that we now have a provision that the Secretary of State “shall” do something. Amendments to change “may” to “shall” normally come from the Opposition Benches. The Government may find it is quoted back at them on other occasions.
Paragraph (b) in Amendment No. 44 states that the application of a section would be “wholly disproportionate”. I stumbled slightly over “wholly”; it is not something I would have expected to see in legislation. That seems to be more the language of conversation or rhetoric. Given that there is reference to proportionality elsewhere in the Bill, I wonder whether there is a particular significance in this.
My Lords, I speak against government Amendment No. 41. That amendment removes the ability of the Local Better Regulation Office to delegate its functions under Schedule 4 to another person as it considers appropriate. Perhaps I may jog your Lordships’ memories back to day three of Committee. Noble Lords will remember that that aspect of the Bill was debated by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, answered the debate at col. GC 249 and, in his usual sympathetic style, agreed to review this part further and to look at “delegation”, “responsibility” and “function”.
The Government’s proposed solution is to remove that paragraph from Schedule 4. It is an unsatisfactory solution as, while it addresses the point made that the Local Better Regulation Office should not be able to delegate or discharge its responsibility to another, at the same time it now makes the reverse possible, as the Local Better Regulation Office could now not delegate at all. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, said that this provision is,
“critical to the success of the scheme”.—[Official Report, 28/1/08; col. GC 248.]
The Local Better Regulation Office is a small body and the arbitration role that it undertakes under Schedule 4 has the potential to become burdensome, to skew the resources away from other tasks and not take advantage of expertise in other organisations capable of ably assisting.
The Trading Standards Institute and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have expressed their concerns about this amendment and the impact it could have on the Local Better Regulation Office to engage with organisations such as themselves and the Local Authorities Co-ordinating Office on Regulatory Services to fulfil its obligations and responsibilities under the Bill. No one is suggesting here that the Local Better Regulation Office should be able to discharge its responsibilities to another, as could be interpreted from the original text, but the pendulum seems to have swung the other way to force this new body to be much more insular and not to take advantage of the expertise that exists within these other organisations.
My question to the Minister is: are the Government able to reconsider and to provide an amendment that addresses the concerns that were communicated in Committee without removing this paragraph completely and frustrating the clear intention that the Government had here?
My Lords, I do not want to make any criticisms. On Amendment No. 44, I just want to say a word of gratitude to the Minister. There are two lessons to be learnt from this amendment, which the Government, at my suggestion, have been good enough to accept. If one knows the criteria in advance, whereby some particular function will be used, one does not need delegated legislation. We have far too much of it. Just look how easy it is to put it in the Bill. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for ensuring that this will be in the Bill and that we do not have to endure even more subordinate legislation.
My other point relates to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said. Paragraph (b) in the amendment is quite important. I do not mind whether it is “wholly disproportionate” or just plain “disproportionate”. If it does not matter, there is no point in involving massive bureaucracy. There is a great advantage in the noble Lord bringing forward an amendment that ensures that there will not be an imposition of bureaucracy on local authorities for quite minor matters, so I want to say thank you.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, although I am not sure that I am quite so grateful to the noble Baroness opposite or to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
Amendment No. 43 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require the Secretary of State to consult local authorities before laying an order that would set out the exemptions to the primary authority requirements in Clause 27. We are sympathetic to the intentions behind the amendment. As the House will know, the Government’s code of practice sets a high standard for consultation relating to any new area of policy development. This is important not least in the interests of better regulation, which is the subject of this Bill.
Noble Lords will be aware that, as was said in Committee, the Government have recently reviewed their processes of consultation and will revise their code of practice shortly. I assure noble Lords that any use of the order-making powers in Clause 28 will be subject to consultation and will clearly need the input of the experts working with practitioners from local authorities as well as from businesses to get the details right. However, an explicit statutory requirement to that effect is unnecessary. The spirit of the noble Baroness’s amendment is agreed to, but it does not need to be in the Bill in this instance.
The noble Baroness invited me to refer to the phrase “wholly disproportionate”. That relates to orders that the Secretary of State is required to make. Proportionality is a fine balancing test and often it is not crystal clear whether contact will be proportionate. Where contacting the primary authority is wholly disproportionate—a stronger test than merely disproportionate—there must be an exemption. That is what the provision does.
The noble Baroness also asked about resources. Under Clause 12 and the memorandums of understanding, we expect LBRO to make arrangements for sharing resource and expertise on arbitration issues. The answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is that, although we have taken out that part from the schedule, there is under Clause 14 the right for LBRO to do anything that,
“it thinks necessary or expedient for the purpose of, or in connection with, the exercise of its functions”.
That can include seeking advice from a national regulator when arbitrating. I also point out that, under paragraph 5 of Schedule 4, LBRO must consult the relevant national regulator and may consult other persons it considers to be appropriate when arbitrating. By removing part of the schedule, we have not made it impossible—in fact, it is still very possible—for LBRO to consult.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Schedule 4 [Enforcement action: references to LBRO]:
41: Schedule 4, page 48, leave out lines 37 to 39
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 28 [Enforcement action: exclusions]:
42: Clause 28, page 13, line 31, leave out “may” and insert “shall”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]
44: Clause 28, page 13, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State shall in particular under subsection (1) prescribe circumstances for the purpose of securing that section 27(1) to (4) shall not apply—
(a) where the enforcement action is required urgently to avoid a significant risk of serious harm to human health or the environment (including the health of animals or plants) or the financial interests of consumers;(b) where the application of section 27(1) to (4) would be wholly disproportionate.”
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Autism: National Strategy
asked Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in the development of a national strategy for autistic spectrum disorder; and what consultations they are having with the three devolved Administrations.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak about autism and am grateful to noble Lords who indicated a willingness to support me. I take this opportunity to thank all of them, especially those who manage to get in on this short debate.
I do not intend to speak about methodologies beyond declaring that my personal experience is that progress for more of those who are on the autistic spectrum can best be made through an eclectic approach; there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution. Behavioural aspects, sensory difficulties and communication problems must be addressed together. Neither should aspects of co-morbidity be treated separately. We must get away from an approach that labels children and laboriously moves them from what I call one silo to the next.
That is why I want to ask the Government to rethink the provision and planning of autism services and to work to establish and accommodate within a national strategy the best of what is happening in England, in Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. The voluntary sector within the three devolved entities has found it beneficial to come together with the Irish Republic to establish an autism co-operative: the Celtic Nations Autism Partnership. However, the United Kingdom as a whole and we in this Parliament have an obligation to better manage procedures. Autism services are currently a postcode lottery. Those on the spectrum, their parents/carers and their siblings deserve better. Autism is a family issue.
I was asked in September last by Michael McGimpsey, the Health Minister in Northern Ireland, to chair an independent review of autism services. Without prejudice to what the review team will present within the next month, I want to define some of the shortcomings within our current system. In December 2002, Hall and Elliman published a report entitled Health For All Children—sometimes referred to as Hall 4—in which they endorsed screening and surveillance reviews of babies by health visitors soon after birth and then at roughly monthly intervals until 13 months. Thereafter, they advised only optional contact with parents and “assessment where required” at two years, with nothing further until three to five years.
Now I ask: “assessment where required” by whom? Is that by a first-time mother, with no baseline against which to make her judgment, or by parents in denial that something is not quite what it should be with their child? In Northern Ireland, a previous Chief Medical Officer issued an instruction based on Hall 4, which was:
“Formal universal screening for speech and language delay, global development delay, Autism, and post-natal depression is not recommended”.
I stick my chin out: she and Hall 4 were wrong on this point and that guidance should be amended at once.
There is an irrefutable need for early identification of autistic tendencies, which can be evident when a child is between 18 months and two years. Such identification needs to trigger immediate intervention services concurrent with immediate early assessment and diagnosis. No longer should we have waiting lists that, according to the last Written Answer I received, can be anything up to three years. Those vital three years can never be retrieved. They will be crucial as to whether those with ASD achieve the best possible life outcomes or are destined not to reach their potential.
My number one proposal is that a two-year structured home visit by a health visitor must be put in place and the current two-year optional visit, with better purpose, must be put back until 30 to 33 months. Let me try to define, in real terms, what that involves. Available epidemiological data suggest a prevalence of ASD of around 90 per 10,000 births. With roughly 750,000 births per annum in the United Kingdom, that means about 6,750 children may come on the ASD register each year. Allowing for initial incorrect suspicion, adding, say 25 per cent, we will have closer to 8,500 children referred for specialist assessment and diagnosis. My review group has calculated that specialist diagnostic services will require about 18 hours per child, on average—some more, some much less.
In terms of scoping out diagnostic/assessment service capacity, additional capacity must be factored in because of, first, the backlog of cases currently on waiting lists and, secondly, the potential cohort of older, as yet undetected, cases that are still to arise and present to services; we also—thirdly—need provision to cater for Asperger’s syndrome, which can become apparent in those between five and 10 years of age. On that basis, our review has identified an immediate need to have 13.3—forgive the 0.3—whole-time equivalent specialists for our 1.75 million population in Northern Ireland; for the UK, we would be looking at a figure of around 480 whole-time equivalent specialists.
Should we achieve a situation where we effectively cater for every child as efficiently as is humanly possible through early identification, early assessment and early intervention, I could not promise any reduction in specialist services—there is a huge deficiency in adolescent and adult services. However, I do not have time to deal in detail with transitional services and the transfer of meaningful data across departments. Primary education will necessitate teachers and classroom assistants who are “autism aware”. Some, in both these areas, are outstanding, but too many are, bluntly, “unaware”. In my 23 years in the classroom, I would have been one of the latter.
But I have a good news story. I have, during the past six months, visited teacher training colleges the length and breadth of Ireland to discuss what is needed in respect of autism-specific modules. In the true spirit of cross-community co-operation, the principals of our two colleges, St Mary’s and Stranmillis in Belfast, have responded with a working team, planning just such a teacher training provision for the start of the next academic year. This will be factored into existing special needs courses. It is an enormous leap ahead and I am very grateful to principals Peter Finn and Anne Heaslett.
I hope that others will refer to transition and data transfer in a more comprehensive manner than I have time to address—I refer to the transition to secondary and tertiary education and the transition to adolescence and adulthood, where, invariably, those with disability are currently left to fall off the precipice at 18 years of age.
Much can be achieved by a better-directed use of current capabilities and resources. But if we are to have equality of opportunity for those with ASD, we must systematically begin to organise along the lines that I have just outlined. We must have a proper blueprint for action that is properly benchmarked, so that there is accountability within every administrative sector and sub-sector—especially, but not exclusively, within health and education.
My number two proposal would be that, if we cannot achieve consistency and efficiency by persuasion, the Government must legislate specifically for autism. I hope that that will not be necessary.
During my research I have found the most caring parents, the most dedicated individuals within the health service and an enthusiastic voluntary sector—probably the best informed and most aware element of all—but each is searching, competing and despairing as it tries to function in a chaotic system in which government departments are yet to enforce cohesion. There is neither cross-cutting nor co-ordination. Sub-sectors must stop protecting their precious little corners and operating in silos.
I do not want to overrun my time; I simply ask the Minster whether the Government will study our comprehensive review of autism services and seek to give us leadership on this vital issue. Perhaps we could then have a longer and more detailed debate as we plan how quickly and effectively we can move forward.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, for securing this important debate on a national strategy for autism.
Autism is no respecter of national boundaries. Its impact is felt by families, carers, people with autism and those who work with them. It is clear that the more we can work together at a cross-national level to share our ideas, policies, skills, experience and knowledge, the greater the chance we have of meeting the challenges of autism that we face within our own nations.
It is therefore highly commendable that the national charities of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have formed the Celtic Nations Autism Partnership. This Celtic partnership takes a strategic approach to autism within the voluntary sector and serves to engage with the devolved Governments in the UK on autism far more effectively than ever before.
May I bring to the attention of noble Lords the capacity-building towards autism, which is currently being undertaken in Wales? In Wales today, 60,000 people are affected by autism—that consists of those who have autism, their families and those who work with them. The Welsh approach to autism is very strategic.
Autism Cymru, the Welsh autism charity, first inspired, and then worked in partnership with, the Welsh Assembly Government and others to establish an all-age Welsh Assembly Government strategic action plan for autism, which is due to be implemented from April; that is the first of its kind by any Government in the world. In September this year, Autism Cymru, in partnership with the UK research charity Autism Speaks and Cardiff University, is setting up the Wales Autism Research Centre and a chair in autism. This initiative has been supported by the Welsh Assembly Government among others. These are just two out of several examples, which inspire great hope for the future.
The Celtic nations countries have been bold in their approach and are taking the lead in terms of a strategic outlook and practical developments for autism. The message is clear: Governments need to develop long-lasting and consistently applied strategies and policies for autism. I therefore ask the Minister to ensure that the Government expand their vision and engage with the devolved Governments and members of the Celtic Nations Autism Partnership, and start planning for the future as a matter of urgency.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on bringing forward this debate, which is on a subject of great importance.
I worked many years ago with Professor Sir Michael Rutter at the Maudsley Hospital. He is one of the earliest experts in this field. I had the opportunity to work with the National Autistic Society in my former constituency at one of its residential institutions in Godalming and, more recently, I have been professionally involved with TreeHouse. That remarkable charity, which is chaired by our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, provides education for parents and professionals and an advocacy service for people affected by autistic spectrum disorder. I was also pleased to hear the noble Baroness refer to Autism Speaks—that wonderful charity raises money for research and is led by Dame Stephanie Shirley, who is a remarkable, fearless and persistent champion of this cause. Already Autism Speaks provides as much as half of the Medical Research Council funding for autism research, which is a reflection of the inadequate recognition of this very important issue. Perhaps half a million people are affected by autism spectrum disorder—one in 110 children—and are in a situation that needs some form of attention.
I commend to the House the recent report by TreeHouse suggesting that the aggregate annual cost of supporting people with autistic spectrum disorders is around £27.5 billion; £16.25 billion is for services, £10 billion for lost earnings—either for the individuals or their families—and £1.25 billion is for family expenses. If only there was better diagnosis, more appropriate support and better understanding much of that cost and suffering could be reduced. I support those who say that now is the time to look towards a national strategy with increased funding for research into the causes, the diagnosis and the treatment of autism, thus bringing forward the development of effective therapies.
We need to mandate early development checks on young children that look for signs of autism, and I endorse the comments made by the noble Lord and by David Cameron about the importance of health visitors. We need clear standards for diagnosis, access to early intervention and goals for educational services. It is not acceptable that there are 6,500 fewer state special school places now than 10 years ago. In that time, 147 special state schools have closed, yet these are children who it is extremely difficult to integrate in mainstream education. We need to improve professional training and set standards for social services provisions that recognise the lifelong nature of autism. We need to establish employment support mechanisms specific to autism that allow people with autism to find work that exploits their strengths rather than exposes their weaknesses. We need to monitor and encourage, if not enforce, national standards of provision.
Now is a timely moment for this debate, which is so overcrowded that we have all had to condense our comments not to just a minute, but to three minutes. I hope the Government will take seriously the messages from it and will act.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on securing this debate. I shall make some brief comments from my experience over the years in general practice in community health, as chair of social services in my borough and from my time as a ward councillor and a Member of Parliament. I am sad to say that in all those roles I met many constituents with children in the autistic spectrum and the children themselves, of course. There was poor provision then as now, despite the Government's worthy statement of intent in 2006 entitled Better Services for People with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The combination of difficulties in social interaction, communication and social imagination is notoriously difficult to pick up in the milder cases that are sometimes thought to be due to poor management of the child by the family, which can lead to a big delay in diagnosis. There is often confusion about who is best able to deal with the problem, and the lack of joined-up working between health services, education and mental health services needs to be addressed urgently. There are still many areas in this country with no designated person for autistic spectrum disorder advice and support, let alone a team. As the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, we need teachers in every school who have had training in recognising this disorder.
Last week, I was disturbed to hear a senior forensic expert at Scotland Yard call for recording the DNA of children who may be at risk of falling into criminality. If that happened, I wonder how many children with an autistic spectrum disorder, who did not have educated and battling parents supporting them and demanding treatment and care, would be seen as just naughty, antisocial and unresponsive, and be marked as future criminals and recorded as such.
Every area needs a clear strategy and varied facilities for children with ASD, as we have heard. We needed them 20 years ago, and they are still lacking. Finally, I wish to put in a plea for the many families, and mothers, in particular, who have a child with a severe form of autism. It often means family break up: the father leaves because he cannot stand the stress and siblings become difficult and often frightened. If I had time, I could relate many cases where that happened. Mothers face a lifelong commitment to a child, and subsequent adult, with whom they cannot communicate and for whom they can do very little to help. In concentrating on provision for autism, let us not neglect the rest of the family who need so much support.