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Grand Committee

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 12 November 2008

Grand Committee

Wednesday, 12 November 2008.

The Committee met at quarter to four.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) in the Chair.]

Perhaps I may remind the Committee that should there be a Division in the Chamber, we will adjourn for 10 minutes. Before the Minister moves that the first statutory instrument be considered, I remind noble Lords that in the case of each statutory instrument, the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the statutory instrument in question. I should perhaps make it clear that the Motion to approve the statutory instrument will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way.

Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: This order is part of a wider programme of work implementing the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007—many Members of the Committee will have very happy memories debating that last year—which gained Royal Assent in summer 2007. The order relates to the principles and rules to be followed when granting pre-release access to official statistics. The rules, along with the UK Statistics Authority’s code of practice for official statistics, will be used as the authority’s benchmark for its formal assessment of national statistics.

Pre-release access to statistics is access primarily by Ministers and officials to the final statistical data in the form in which they are to be published in advance of their release. The aim of pre-release access is to enable such Ministers at the time of release to account for the implications of the policy areas for which they are responsible. Additionally, it allows Ministers and their supporting officials to take any immediate action that might be required in the light of the statistical information being released.

Following careful consideration of responses to its consultation on this matter, the Government propose to tighten the rules under which pre-release access can be granted. Pre-release access will be limited to a strict maximum of 24 hours, reduced from up to five working days at present. It will be limited to the minimum necessary number of people and a minimum number of statistics. Where pre-release access is granted, it shall be done in an open and transparent manner, with details documented and published at the time of release. The need for pre-release access to a publication and the people who are to be granted access will be reviewed ahead of release of the relevant statistics. The decisions on pre-release access will be led by the head of profession for statistics for each government department. Each department will publish the arrangements that it has put in place to implement the pre-release regulations.

Access will also continue to be allowed in a limited number of special circumstances, reflecting current policy, to allow, for example, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England to make decisions about interest rates, with access to the latest up-to-date statistics, and to allow journalists to support accurate reporting and well informed debate. Details will be published of the journalists who are to be given access to statistics ahead of release. The justification for pre-release access for each person receiving it should also be available on request. Once pre-release access to a statistic in final form has been granted, it will be under embargo, which means that its contents cannot be shared with others until the point of publication.

Those granted pre-release access to statistical releases must, as now, not alter or attempt to alter the content or timing of these releases or the way in which they are presented, and the pre-release access period must not be used for personal gain or political advantage. Pre-release access may be removed from anyone knowingly breaching these rules.

Only statistics deemed by the independent UK Statistics Authority to comply with the rules in the order will be eligible to be branded as national statistics. The Government will review the new pre-release arrangements after 12 months of operation, including assessing whether they remain consistent with the broader objective of building trust in the statistical system. These rules ensure that pre-release will take place in an open, clear and transparent manner, with clear accountability and always with a due regard to the public’s trust in official statistics. It represents a considerable tightening of current practice. I hope that noble Lords will support the rules and principles set out in the order, to help improve the credibility and trustworthiness of official statistics. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Pre-release Access to Official Statistics Order 2008. 27th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

I thank the Minister for explaining the order, which deals with a very important subject.

In the United Kingdom, according to the Royal Statistical Society’s response to the Cabinet Office consultation, pre-release access to statistics has been permitted to many more people, for much longer, and for many more statistical series than it has in other advanced nations. This, in its view, potentially creates mistrust in the public’s perception of the independence of official statistics and increases the risk of leaks and improper comment. Since 2000, even for the key market-moving statistics, again according to the Royal Statistical Society, Treasury Ministers have allowed something like a doubling of the number of people to whom pre-release access is granted. Leaks have shaken confidence in Treasury statistics just when confidence in the markets is so badly needed.

The framework for statistics established by the Government in 2000 for the first time made explicit Ministers’ authority to determine who shall be granted pre-release access. Under this framework, departmental Ministers, including the Minister responsible for the ONS, determine which individuals should have access to national statistics produced by their respective departments in advance of their release, having first consulted the National Statistician.

The Government have too frequently spun statistical announcements to suit their own purposes. On 12 September 2006, the Prime Minister outlined the latest unemployment figures to the TUC conference prior to the public release of that information the following day. The Royal Statistical Society commented in its response to the Government’s consultation that advance access to statistics leads to,

“mistrust of the independence of official statistics. It is this public and journalistic perception of mistrust which is at the heart of the problem”.

The society would prefer the United Kingdom to follow the best practice of a number of advanced countries by dispensing with pre-release access altogether. Ministers would then only see the figures at the same time as journalists and everyone else. They would then issue a statement themselves, if necessary, later the same day. I can find no response from the Government to the points raised by the society but the Minister may care to comment on this.

Sir Michael Scholar, the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, the very body established under the Government’s Statistics and Registration Service Act, said that,

“the order is a welcome step forward in that it formally restricts pre-release access for the first time. But in the view of the Statistics Authority it still leaves government departments and ministers too much latitude. A system which continues to grant pre-access to statistics to ministers and officials, but not to other people, is unlikely to further our aim of promoting public trust in the Statistical Service”.

He also said:

“The Authority’s draft Code of Practice … promotes the principles of equality of access to statistics and the release of statistics at the earliest possible opportunity. Pre-release access sits uncomfortably alongside these principles and must be kept to the minimum”.

Again, I would be most grateful for the Minister’s response to these points.

We on these Benches have been calling for some time for truly independent statistics, so we welcomed the Statistics and Registration Service Bill when it was published, although we felt that its proposals were too weak to ensure that statistics are genuinely independent of political interference. To recapitulate, our key issues with the Bill included the lack of an obligation for anyone actually to obey the code of practice; the fact that true independence of statistics would mean that all statistical activity in different government departments, not just national statistics, be subjected to the code of practice; the blurring of the lines between the executive and scrutiny functions of the Statistics Board; the fact that the board would be more credible if it were a part of Parliament, on similar lines to the National Audit Office, reporting to a committee of both Houses; and that the rules on pre-release access should be determined by the board and should be stricter. It is worthy of note that Section 11 of the Act explicitly states that the code of practice may not deal with any matter relating to the granting of pre-release access to official statistics, the rules and principles for which are to be provided by order by the appropriate authority.

We have the following specific issues with the order. First, the definition of those who are eligible to receive pre-released information is far too broad. Secondly, it includes advisers, which could include, at least, special advisers and third-party consultants. Thirdly, there is too much subjectivity over the circumstances in which pre-release access can be extended over 24 hours. Fourthly, there is no information about the sanctions for transgression of the code; frankly, we doubt whether merely not being allowed access to future information is much of an imperative. Fifthly, Ministers have the flexibility to dribble early information of their own selection to selected journalists. I would be grateful for the Minister’s responses to these concerns.

We are concerned that the Government have missed an opportunity, with the order as well as the Bill, substantially to strengthen the integrity and credibility of the system. The review in 12 months’ time is crucial, and we look forward to it with considerable interest.

I thank the Minister for his introduction to the debate and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for reminding us of the issues which remained on the table when we differed from the Government at the end of the Bill’s consideration last year.

I have a few questions of the Minister, some narrowly related to the order and some more general. We welcome the fact that there is now a restriction on pre-release. We argued strongly at the time that 24 hours as the norm was too long. The order provides that pre-release may be granted up to 24 hours. Does that mean that the Government will in every case take 24 hours as the norm, or can the Minister envisage circumstances in which the period would be significantly shorter? The order allows a significantly shorter period; indeed, it would allow the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, which we support, to have no pre-release period. Do the Government think that it will be 24 hours in every case? Although it was nearly five days in some cases, in others the tradition has been that the pre-release period was significantly shorter.

The Minister referred to a review after 12 months which would, among other things, consider the extent to which the new regime had increased trust in statistics. Will the Government or the Statistics Board undertake a survey to get a feel of whether trust has increased? When we were debating the Bill, well over 70 per cent of people, when asked, said that they had no faith in any government statistic. Do the Government or the Statistics Board plan to have a time series so that we can see whether the Act is having an effect on people’s perception of statistics?

One of the other provisions in the Act which is not referred to in this order but is hugely significant in terms of the way that it operates relates to the fact that the management of the release of information will be through a hub in the Cabinet Office. Is that hub up and working, and are the Government satisfied that those arrangements—which are literally as well as figuratively the central part of the new system—are now operating satisfactorily?

Can the Minister also bring us up to speed on one of the other major issues that we debated when the Bill was going through the House? I refer to the staffing problems that were arising for the UK Statistics Authority in the light of its move to Newport. Considerable concern was expressed that key economic data would not be released on time because of staff shortages. I should very much welcome an update from the Minister on how that staffing situation stands.

Finally, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that there has been far too much leaking. However, does the Minister agree that provisions such as this have no value if those at the highest level of government feel capable of leaking the most sensitive information to senior journalists, as happened on the eve of the Government taking a major stake in the banks?

I am grateful to noble Lords who contributed to this short debate. I listened with the greatest interest to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, but his contribution could have been delivered in 2006 or 2007. In fact, it was delivered in 2006 and in 2007 by those who participated in debates on the Bill. I understand that he does not feel happy about certain aspects of the order that are now being taken forward. I understand his dissatisfaction with Parliament’s decisions, but he has to live with the fact that his arguments were not accepted either in this House or, much more crucially, in the other, democratically elected place. He can make promises on what he wants to change in the future, and he can certainly indicate his continued dissatisfaction if he so wishes, but he cannot expect me, at this Dispatch Box, to reiterate all the arguments that I put forward—I was going to say “succinctly” but will change the adverb—laboriously during the Bill’s passage, to the point where others were eventually either convinced or ground down by the sheer weight of the rhetoric. We have made it clear that we will carry out a review of this position in 12 months’ time, and we can return to the issues then. But all the criticisms that the noble Lord advanced related to the Bill which became an Act in the summer of 2007.

Somewhat grudgingly, the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and, rather more generously, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, indicated that they welcomed the fact that pre-release was being restricted by the Act and that the time limits that obtained previously were being reduced. I have to say to noble Lords that other countries are involved in pre-release statistics, but I had the impression that it was being contended that the British Government were unique in suggesting that Ministers should be in a position to see the statistics before release. Well, I have a list of one or two minor countries, such as Germany, France, the United States, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, which all indulge in this practice. It was roundly condemned by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, but Governments find it to be essential in equipping Ministers to cope with material which in many cases is extremely complex and needs to be analysed.

It was suggested that Ministers would dribble out information to their favoured journalists. I cannot think of a single occurrence of that during any Administration that we have had in the United Kingdom. We intend under the Act to tighten up on pre-release. There will be no time for the practice to which the noble Lord referred to occur—although he did not give any illustrations of where it had happened. I emphasise the obvious and crucial fact that the legislation takes official statistics out of the hands of government and puts them into the hands of the independent authority.

Greater credit should therefore be given to this significant change. It is bound to take time to work through and win public confidence. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, spoke about the low degree of confidence in official statistics, but he will recognise that that the legislation sets out to address that by creating the independent authority. It will take time for the Act’s success to be seen. Being, like the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, a perceptive Member of this House, he will accept that official statistics tend to be in the eye of the beholder, and the extent to which they are believed reflects public perceptions of officialdom and, in particular, government. There will be fluctuations in that from time to time; Governments are used to having their reputation fluctuate during their period in office. However, a decent length of time in which we are able to judge the operation of the Act should bring the benefits which all sides of the House thought during the passage of the Bill should develop from independence of statistics. The order deals with the relatively narrow dimension of pre-release.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked whether the Cabinet Office is the hub of statistics. It is the base in which civil servants who serve the Government on statistics are located, which is why those who are here to support me today come not from Her Majesty’s Treasury, as they would have done if we had had this debate 18 months ago, but from the Cabinet Office. However, the hub of statistics is not the Cabinet Office but the Statistics Authority. That is whole point of our having relocated authority from a government department to an independent organisation.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, will feel reassured that the Statistics Authority needs time to be grounded in public confidence. But it has a pretty fair wind behind it thus far. I do not think that I have seen, in any intelligent comments on the Statistics Authority, any comment that it is doing anything else than the job that it was set up to do—which was to be the central independent authority for government statistics and the crucial decisions thereto. Therefore, I look forward in due course to seeing the benefits of both the creation of the authority and the other dimensions of the Act which improve public confidence in government statistics. Of course, this order is merely a small dimension of that aspect.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, asked why the board did not report to Parliament via the Joint Committee. I remember us having that debate at some considerable length. The best way in which I may save the Committee’s time is if, perhaps, the noble Lord and I could have a gentle read through Hansard together, to my delight and his enlightenment over decisions taken in that area.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Legislative Reform (Lloyd’s) Order 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Legislative Reform (Lloyd’s) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The order that the Committee is considering today seeks to do two things: to modernise the governance arrangements at Lloyd’s, and to remove restrictions that impede the future development of the Lloyd’s market. As the Committee will be aware, Lloyd’s is one of the world’s largest markets for wholesale insurance and a leading part of the London insurance market. In 2007, Lloyd’s members underwrote gross written premiums of £16.3 billion and achieved a profit before tax of £3.8 billion.

When the Government’s proposals were discussed at an extraordinary general meeting on 21 May, 99 per cent of those Lloyd’s members on a capacity-weighted basis who voted supported the proposals. The vast majority of those who responded to the public consultation also supported the proposals. In view of this, I do not propose to detain the Committee with a lengthy explanation of each and every reform, but there are one or two general points that I would like to make.

The first is that the governance reforms are all about ensuring that Lloyd’s has the right people in place at the right time to meet the challenges that it faces. The Lloyd’s market has changed enormously since 1982, and the Government believe that the rules now need to be updated to reflect modern standards and to ensure the governance arrangements are as effective as possible. The market-related reforms are also geared to ensuring that Lloyd’s is able to retain its competitive position, reflected in the figures that I quoted earlier. Removing the rule that gives Lloyd’s brokers near-exclusive rights of access to the Lloyd’s market will give managing agents greater freedom to seek new routes to reach clients around the world and to bring business to the market, as well as supporting efforts that the market is already making to maximise efficiencies and drive down operating costs.

The changes to the ways in which conflicts of interest are managed are intended to provide more effective protection for policy holders and to complement initiatives already being undertaken by the Financial Services Authority in pursuance of its principles-based approach to regulation. It is of course right that we should be cautious in making these changes, and I might able to anticipate some concerns of the Committee.

In consultation, it was suggested that removing the restriction regarding market access could allow poor-quality business into Lloyd’s and that the move to a more principles-based approach to managing conflicts of interests would remove an important protection for investors. I understand those concerns, but the Government do not believe that they are well founded, as we made clear in the explanatory document laid with the order we are considering today.

As far as market access is concerned, Lloyd’s has made it clear that it will introduce a by-law to ensure that all brokers accessing Lloyd’s are subject to the same prudential controls as currently apply to Lloyd’s brokers. In addition, managing agents are already required by FSA rules to monitor and assess their sources of business and distribution mechanisms. This means that all brokers bringing business to Lloyd’s will be treated equally and there will be no drop in standards.

On conflicts of interest, we need to remember that the current rules are not completely effective, because they are limited to prohibiting certain associations between managing agents and Lloyd’s brokers. It is possible for them to be circumvented and they would not apply to associations between managing agents and non-Lloyd’s brokers. In a world where non-Lloyd’s brokers have access to the market, they will not be able to achieve their aim.

In that context, the Government believe that a principles-based approach will provide a more transparent and therefore more effective method of enabling the Financial Services Authority to monitor associations between managing agents and intermediaries. That will work better than the current rules and provide better protection for investors.

As befits this situation, the Government’s proposals have a very practical focus. They aim to reduce burdens on Lloyd’s resulting from the Lloyd’s Act 1982 by removing restrictions and unnecessary bureaucracy. They are not intended to change the more fundamental or constitutional aspects of Lloyd’s governance arrangements. This is not because we seek to forestall discussion of such changes but merely because they are, quite rightly, outside the scope of the instrument before the Committee today.

The Committee will recognise that Lloyd’s is a great British success story. It has been so throughout its 300-year history and it is in our national interest that it remains so for the future. This order is intended to support the excellent work that Lloyd’s is doing and I commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Legislative Reform (Lloyd’s) Order 2008. 13th Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

I thank the Minister for that introduction to the order. The document produced by the Treasury was a model of clarity and comprehensiveness. I found it, for those of us who do not live our lives worrying about the minutiae of the way in which Lloyd's operates, a particularly helpful document. Given that I spent some time criticising the Treasury for not telling us what it was up to, it is only fair to say that this is a particularly useful piece of work.

The governance proposals in the order seem to be perfectly sensible second-order changes and I have no comment on them. The two more significant changes are those in Articles 9 and 10. I can absolutely see the competition arguments for the Article 9 changes, expanding the number of people who can place business at Lloyd's. I am reassured by Lloyd's intent to require that additional people involved in the market have the same prudential standards as those of Lloyd's brokers. I hope that those standards will be in place when the order takes effect and be rigorously policed.

I have rather more concerns about the second substantive change, removing the prohibition on associations between managing agents and Lloyd’s brokers. This provision, which is now being repealed, was introduced for a good reason, as there was a broadly perceived conflict of interest in the same organisation being able to undertake both functions. Once the changes have been made in Article 9, I can absolutely see why the changes in Article 10 follow on, but there is a real danger that the same conflicts of interest as applied before will rear their heads again.

I have received very detailed representations from an individual who felt—so far as I can see, quite fairly—that he lost out significantly as a result of those conflicts of interest being in operation before the change that we are now repealing. He is very concerned that, once this goes through, the regulatory regime will not be strong enough in practice to stop conflicts of interest re-emerging to the detriment of those doing business through Lloyd’s. I know that that concern was expressed by at least one of the people who made representations in the consultation process.

How is this conflict of interest to be avoided in future? The answer is that Lloyd’s is putting some rules in place and the FSA will also be keeping an eagle eye on how the new system operates. I am concerned about whether the FSA’s eagle eye will be sharp enough and whether its oversight will be sustained sufficiently from the start to avoid the likely conflict of interest that will emerge. If it were possible for the happy situation to arise in which the FSA’s oversight was effective, I would absolutely be able to see why, from a competitive market position, Lloyd’s would benefit from this change, but I remain concerned that the FSA will not be able to undertake that oversight as effectively as we would like. There is no way, a priori, of knowing whether that will be the case, but I hope that the Treasury will keep a very close watch on matters and that the FSA will report regularly on how it is exercising its oversight in that area. There was a major scandal in this area in the past and we do not want another one.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and I very much appreciate his anxiety in relation to his last point. On his earlier point concerning how soon the controls will be in place, there will be a slight delay following the passage of this order before the mechanism is in place, but I assure him that it will be very short and that it should not give cause for concern. Lloyd’s has published its draft by-law imposing the standards. It is intended that it will be in force in the new year, so all the work has been done and it will follow very rapidly on the passing of this order.

I turn to the question of whether the new system will provide sufficient protections, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that this is absolutely critical. The new rules will require additional disclosure from managing agents, so more information will be available. They will have to reveal any broker associations in their syndicate business plans and say how they intend to manage them. They will also have to report regularly to Lloyd’s and to syndicate members the proportion of business that they have done with associated brokers, so that information will be provided. Most of those who responded to the document to which the noble Lord referred thought that this protection would be adequate and, indeed, that it was likely to prove better than the existing system.

On effectiveness, the FSA raises its head, and I am conscious that the noble Lord and I have debated such issues in a wider context in recent months. The FSA has rules on conflict of interest in financial services and has been operating these for a number of years. I recognise the pressure on the FSA with regard to crucial issues with the banking system in recent months and over the past year or so. But it has not been suggested that the FSA has failed to enforce the conflict of interest regulations. Our proposals will ensure that the FSA, Lloyd’s and syndicate members have much greater information at their disposal, which will ensure that the actions of managing agents are subject to monitoring at all three levels, assisting enforcement in this area. That point has been considered. The initial information and the necessary protection which the noble Lord has identified is a crucial aspect of the order with regard to the governance of Lloyd’s.

To end on a most unexpected note, I believe I heard—although I may have misheard—the noble Lord, Lord Newby, offering some praise to the Treasury. This is a rare event.

I never thought that for one moment, nor did I assume that it would be catching to the Opposition Front Bench. On this occasion it has been registered, however, and I do not propose to detain the Committee any further; I feel that I must move post-haste back to the Treasury with the glad tidings.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare and Other Fields) Order 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare and Other Fields) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: This order, which relates to safeguarding and promoting the well-being of children and young people in Wales, will confer legislative competence on the National Assembly for Wales under Section 95 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. The Order in Council process created by the 2006 Act provides an enhanced mechanism to enable the Assembly to achieve its legislative priorities. The order is subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses and to the approval of the National Assembly. It was considered in the other place earlier today.

The powers being sought in the draft order will enable the Welsh Assembly Government to deliver on their aspirations for children and young people in Wales and to place greater emphasis on supporting those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. While the Welsh Assembly Government have had wide-ranging executive powers in respect of children and young people for many years, those powers have proved insufficient for them to achieve their aims. That is why they have sought legislative competence for the Assembly, so that primary legislation relating to Wales can be reformed.

The Welsh Assembly Government’s principal aim is to consolidate and reform the law in relation to the safeguarding and welfare of all children and young people in Wales; to strengthen preventative measures; and to tackle child poverty. For some time there has been a growing difference of approach between England and Wales in the policy, planning and delivery structures for children’s services. Wales, for example, does not have children’s trusts. Children’s services in Wales are based on agencies working in partnership, with the director of social services and chief education officer responsible for the welfare of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and their families.

The view of the Welsh Assembly Government is that the current restrictions in the law on child welfare limit them in developing policies to tackling Welsh solutions to child poverty and their agenda to strengthen support to vulnerable children and families. For this reason the draft order before you will insert a number of matters into Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, principally in the field of social welfare. These matters concern the provision of social care services, the making of arrangements and planning to help vulnerable children, children and young people more generally, and those who care for children. The matters also cover adoption, fostering and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. The draft order also inserts matters into the education and training and sport and recreation fields, ensuring that any Assembly legislation relating to children and young people can also cover aspects important to their welfare, such as play facilities and pre-school activities for children.

Taken together, these matters will enable the Assembly to legislate to consolidate and reform the law relating to the safeguarding and welfare of all children and young people in Wales, consistent with the Welsh Assembly Government’s policy aims. On 15 July, the National Assembly considered and unanimously agreed the draft order before the Committee. Prior to that, the Constitution Committee of this House considered the proposed order and confirmed that it raised no issues of constitutional principle. It was also scrutinised by the Welsh Affairs Committee and a committee of the National Assembly for Wales. The Government are grateful to all those who worked so hard to examine the issues in the order prior to its presentation today.

The process of scrutiny was rigorous and provided members of the committees, along with interested parties and stakeholders, with an opportunity to comment on, question and propose amendments to the proposed order. This led to significant improvements being made. I am pleased to say the committees supported the proposed order in principle. All recommendations arising from their scrutiny have been considered very carefully, and the draft order before the Committee reflects the outcome of those considerations.

The Welsh Affairs Committee sought assurance that the order did not provide competence to allow the National Assembly for Wales to remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” relating to the punishment of children. I recognise that that is a point of some controversy and debate in Wales, as it is in England. I make it absolutely clear that the draft order before us today does not provide scope to allow the Welsh Assembly Government to legislate to prohibit smacking. Following pre-legislative scrutiny, this order’s accompanying Explanatory Memorandum has been amended to make this point crystal clear.

The Welsh Affairs Committee also recommended the inclusion of the UK Border Agency and the Welsh fire and rescue services in the list of bodies upon whom the Assembly could place a duty of co-operation to safeguard and promote the well-being of children and young people. I can confirm that the fire and rescue services are included by virtue of matter 15.2. The draft partial immigration and citizenship Bill published in July, subject of course to widespread consultation, places this duty on the UK Border Agency as regards its activities across the UK. I am sure that the Committee would agree that it would be inappropriate and presumptive for this order to pre-empt that legislation by including the UKBA within the scope of the draft order, when a Bill is out for consultation, which both Houses will scrutinise with the greatest care in the usual manner in due course.

The Welsh Affairs Committee recommended making it clear that the draft order did nothing to weaken the Children’s Commissioner’s powers in relation to whistleblowing. The Welsh Assembly Government fully agree that whistleblowing is an essential safeguard, but they wish to ensure that the Assembly can legislate on all aspects of the commissioner’s role and are concerned that making specific reference to whistleblowing could restrict its ability to do so.

The draft order will enable the development in Wales of distinct legislation on child welfare, an area which has been devolved for many years. It will enable the Welsh Assembly Government to improve the lives of and outcomes for some of Wales’s most vulnerable children and families. It will enable the National Assembly to pass Assembly measures to ensure the welfare of all children and young people in Wales, to tackle poverty and social exclusion, to better define public bodies’ role in contributing to ending child poverty and to rationalise and consolidate the statute book on vulnerable children. This is sensible and worthwhile legislation and I commend the order to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare and Other Fields) Order 2008. 28th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for his clear explanation. I seem fairly regularly to be sitting opposite him; first it was on sport, then on gold, and now, of all things, on Wales, and children in particular, which is one of the most important issues in the order.

In principle, my party and I support the order, so we are not at loggerheads or fighting about it in any one way. The Explanatory Memorandum comprehensively sets out the policy background to the proposed order and includes the worrying statistic that some 28 per cent of children in Wales live in poverty, in households with incomes below the 60 per cent median. I say to the Bill team that I found the notes for the order comprehensive. They put me into the picture pretty quickly, which is a significant advance on notes to previous legislation associated with Wales. As I think everybody knows, there are 13 different ways of legislating for Wales. It has been complicated, but if the notes are an example of the way we are to go, it is clear that it is getting simpler.

I draw the Government’s attention to the report of the Welsh Select Committee—HC 576, published on 26 June 2008—and its conclusions and recommendations. I shall not read them all out, but paragraph 1 states:

“We do not believe that the process for the scrutiny of this proposed Order has been satisfactory”.

I know that my noble friend Lord Roberts will expand on that. Paragraph 8 states:

“We note with concern the Deputy Children’s Commissioner’s evidence that the split in responsibilities between England and Wales for safeguarding and promoting the well-being of children and young people has resulted in vulnerable children not receiving the services they need”.

The report makes quite clear what she found and quotes what she said. I would like an undertaking from the Minister that the Government have taken it on board and are moving to remove the gap into which those poor young people are liable to fall.

A number of other matters arise from the report on which I would appreciate the Minister’s observations. First, although the evidence of the deputy commissioner to the Select Committee contended that there were legislative constraints on the Welsh Assembly Government’s ability to legislate in the proposed area, as a consequence of which enhanced legislation and competence were sought, those constraints were not made overwhelmingly clear. We still wonder what they actually are. A reference was made by the witnesses to the need for a Wales approach, but that in itself did not take things much further. What I am saying now is similar to what would have been heard by those listening in the House of Commons, because my honourable friend David Jones was there. He was ill this morning, so I have not had time to put my head together with his, but I have some of his script so that we are on the same line.

The Select Committee recommended that in future it would be helpful if, when existing legislative constraint is cited as a reason for applying for an order, a comprehensive explanation of that constraint were included in the Explanatory Memorandum. Can the Minister confirm that the Wales Office accepts the recommendation of the Select Committee and that, in future, explanation of legislative constraints will be given in Explanatory Memoranda? Furthermore can he confirm that, in future, orders addressing a specific subject will be narrowly focused and his department will resist the temptation to widen the brief and go off into the countryside?

Perhaps most importantly, the Select Committee noted with concern the evidence received from the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for Wales, which I have already mentioned, and the split in responsibilities between England and Wales for safeguarding and promoting the well-being of children and young people. Interestingly, the evidence from the deputy commissioner was extremely disturbing; she noted the gap that I have already mentioned and went on to say:

“To sit here and say it objectively is one thing, but when you are meeting these children and seeing the impact on them, you would not believe that these things are happening in the UK and there is not an organisation there which is able or empowered to properly champion their rights”.

I hope the Minister and the rest of the Government will quickly find a way in which to put that right.

Most worryingly, perhaps, is that the deputy commissioner believes that in the aftermath of the LCO, after this order is passed, the cross-border problems could actually increase. Can the Minister assure me that that will not happen—and I do not mean may not happen, but will not happen—because of government action? Will he indicate whether the Government are already taking steps to put in place an overarching framework that will cover those things mentioned by the deputy commissioner in her evidence?

Finally, there was a recommendation from the Select Committee that the proposed order be amended to make it clear that nothing in it would weaken the Children’s Commissioner’s existing powers in relation to whistleblowing, which the commissioner described as one of his essential safeguards. The Minister gave that undertaking in his opening remarks, but it would be nice to hear it substantiated. Notwithstanding that recommendation, no provision appears to have been inserted into the draft order before us, so I welcome the Minister’s explanation for why nothing in the order substantiates the powers of the Children’s Commissioner.

I have pointed out some of those very important areas that still need work done by the Government. I hope that noble Lords and the Government will agree with most of what I have said, because I do not believe it to be contentious. I believe it to be caring and of interest to the families of children and others in Wales.

I support most of this order, but it makes clear the shortcomings of the Government of Wales Act. We could have done so much more in the Act than we did. We urged the Government that the Welsh Assembly should be given more powers, which would have met these concerns. But we will have to await further debate and a possible referendum before the Welsh Assembly is given those powers.

Certain things were not tackled properly and there are grey areas—for instance, the relationship of the health service in Wales with health facilities on the other side of the border. I know how much we in north Wales have used and have been able to praise 100 per cent the Alder Hey children’s hospital on the other side of the border, where our children receive some incredible treatment. Yet, these are grey areas that have yet to be resolved.

An order in council shows that our children’s issues are paramount in the thinking of the people of Wales. They are always of real concern. We might not have children’s trusts, but we were the first to have a Children’s Commissioner. That became the model for the rest of the United Kingdom. We would like to be seen as ahead in proposing initiatives with which the other countries of the UK follow suit.

We welcome any new powers that come from an order in council, but as the new powers are devolved, there is need for further scrutiny. I wonder whether a 60-Member Assembly is sufficient to scrutinise effectively the additional powers devolved to it. Many county councils in Wales have more than 60 members. If only we had been listened to when we debated the Government of Wales Bill, we would have an 80-Member Assembly, as the Richard commission recommended. That is important.

We welcome this order and the opportunity for co-ordination. We see in the order a recommendation allowing a better understanding between the various areas of concern regarding children in Wales. There will be co-ordinated efforts to eradicate poverty. When one considers that so many children in Wales, some 28 per cent, are brought up in relative poverty and that places such as Merthyr Tydfil have the worst record in the United Kingdom, a great deal needs to be done to ensure that poverty belongs to the past and that the well-being of every child in Wales is safeguarded.

We look forward to further discussion and, who knows, there may one day be a senate or a parliament in Wales with the same powers as those enjoyed by the people of Scotland.

I, too, warmly welcome the draft order and the spirit in which it has been generally received by the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrat party. The measure is very much in the mainstream of powers that were transferred in an administrative capacity to the Welsh Assembly and which were previously enjoyed by the Welsh Office before the creation of the Assembly. Therefore, the powers are very much near the heart, core and kernel of functions which have for some time been administered at an executive level in Wales.

More importantly, as noble Lords have suggested, the powers represent a specific Welsh approach to these matters. Such matters are, of course, common to every part of Britain, but there are many Welsh aspects that are dealt with in a particularly Welsh way. Members of the Committee have pointed out that there are no specific directors of children’s affairs in Wales. Indeed, the work is done through the agency of the children and young people’s partnerships. Those are controlled by the 22 local authorities, which are coterminous with the 22 local health authorities in Wales. The system seems to be working well. The draft order therefore builds on what has already been shown to be a progressive, adventurous and fresh development for Wales.

I should like to make two brief points. First, the order does not, of itself, create any legislative authority for Wales. It creates a potential, nothing else. Very often I am asked by people in Wales how Part 3 of the 2006 Act operates. I try to explain it in this way: the general field—think of it in physical terms—has already been designated under the term “field” in Schedule 5 to the Act. The signs are up there, designating it as a field where generally the Welsh Assembly can operate. An Order in Council, such as we are dealing with here in draft, designates, as it were, a building plot within that field. It does not create anything, but designates an area within whose boundaries something can be built. What can be built, of course, is an Assembly measure which essentially is exactly the same as an Act of Parliament as far as Wales is concerned. So we have the field, the plot, and, ultimately, one hopes, the structure that is specifically built upon it.

My second point is also very obvious. The Government of Wales Act 1998 was not meant to be a static picture. It created a dynamic system, a system of devolution. Indeed, one could say that it had been commenced with the creation of the office of Secretary of State for Wales in 1964. It speeded and made more efficient and transparent a development which had long been in train. The 2006 Act accelerated that process.

I take the point as far as Part 3 is concerned. This has been in operation for some two and a half years. We have seen a trickle of such instruments as we are dealing with this afternoon. I make no criticism of the speed with which these have been coming through because it is obvious that it needs a very long time to build up a core—indeed, a whole body of expertise—in relation to this. It cannot be done overnight. I appreciate that it will probably be a long time before the Welsh Assembly Government have all the resources that they need to be able to do this. But I would like to see the process speeded up somewhat.

Part 3 is essential as part of that dynamic process of devolution. It is also essential as a bridge to Part 4, as touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Part 4 gives the Welsh people the opportunity of deciding in a referendum, once that referendum is supported by two-thirds of the members of the Welsh Assembly, whether Part 4 shall be incorporated into law and become essentially a domestic Parliament, on lines not dissimilar to Northern Ireland or Scotland.

There are to my mind immense benefits arising from such a development, although not everybody here would agree with that. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, made the point, touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that there are restrictions—some well known, some partly hidden—in all manner of statutes and statutory instruments. It is, indeed, a terrifying task for a Welsh lawyer to have to go through this legislative maze to discover whether there is a specific description. Devolution in Northern Ireland and Scotland has been entirely different. The legislation has been introduced en bloc over a whole area of jurisdiction, save such exceptions as have been specifically spelt out. In Wales, the situation is totally different, as it comes from hundreds of different sources which have emanated over the years through devolution.

I very much hope that there will be more and more of these orders. They will give the Welsh people confidence in their ability to deal with specific problems in a specific Welsh way, and indeed I also hope that they will lead ultimately, and before very long, to the creation of a Welsh parliament. For those reasons, I greatly welcome the order.

I think that at this time we are all particularly conscious of the special care needed for vulnerable children, to whom the order applies, because of the dreadful fate and very tragic end of the 17 month-old baby boy at Haringey. That is still very much in the news and on our minds.

The order, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said, enables the Assembly Government in Wales to pass Assembly measures, has been very closely examined by the Welsh Affairs Committee. I want to refer to only one major procedural point where I find myself in very strong agreement with the committee. Its first conclusion on page 27 of its fifth report states:

“We do not believe that the process for the scrutiny of this proposed Order has been satisfactory, or that it has worked as intended. We would again urge the Welsh Assembly Government to synchronise the publication and referral of a proposed Oder to an Assembly Committee with its referral to Parliament by the Secretary of State. Failure to do so represents the single biggest obstacle to the effective scrutiny of proposed Orders and, coming as it does at the very beginning of the process, it adversely affects all subsequent arrangements”.

That is a very important paragraph. What appears to have happened is that the first draft of the order was reported on by the Assembly committee before it had been cleared with other relevant Whitehall departments. The rest of the story is recounted in paragraph 6 and the following paragraphs on page 8 of the report. Paragraph 6 states:

“The process of Whitehall clearance had led to some substantial revision of the proposed Order as first published and laid before the Assembly ... Effectively, this meant that the Assembly Committee had undertaken considerable work in scrutinising and reporting on a very different proposed Order to that which was referred to the Welsh Affairs Committee. It also substantially reduced opportunities for formal joint working between the two committees, something which each committee decides on a case-by-case basis. On this occasion we decided not to conduct formal joint working, as the Assembly Committee had completed its investigations and published its Report—almost two months before the revised proposed Order was referred to us”.

This was a very serious situation. The proposed order in its revised form has therefore not been scrutinised by the Assembly committee, as that committee acknowledged in its second report. I am abbreviating this account, but it makes certain key points. This unsatisfactory situation could have been avoided had the proposed order first been cleared with Whitehall departments before being published and been laid simultaneously before the Assembly and before Parliament. That would have helped to facilitate complementary working by the two committees.

I appreciate that the noble Lord is making a fundamentally important point. It is important that there should have been scrutiny and an agreement by the relevant body of the Welsh Assembly before the matter came here. I ask him, however, to accept that the situation is to some extent ameliorated in this way. Over the past six years, four comprehensive statements of policy, very helpfully set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, have been published in relation to children and young persons generally and to vulnerable children and children in poverty. I believe I am right in saying that there is no proposal in any part of this draft order which is not specifically a proposal contained in one or more of those papers. Although it can fairly be said, and has very properly been said by the noble Lord, that there has not been scrutiny by the Welsh Assembly, this paper nevertheless contains nothing other than what the Welsh Assembly has set out, from time to time, in relation to these matters.

I accept a great deal of what the noble Lord says about policy papers produced by the Assembly over the years. Of course, to a certain degree, this is the outcome of those papers. Nevertheless, here we are dealing with some very specific detail. I think he would agree that it would have been better had there been scrutiny of this order by the committee. I agree wholeheartedly with the Welsh Affairs Committee’s conclusion and hope that the Government will somehow ensure that this sort of wasteful muddle does not occur again. By now there should be an established procedure, both in the National Assembly and here at Westminster, so that time and effort are not wasted, as on this occasion, and that proper scrutiny is carried out. Personally, I would like to see as much joint scrutiny as possible, with the relevant Assembly committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee collaborating closely. I still believe that we have a lot to learn from each other. Surely that is the way to a harmonious relationship between the National Assembly and Westminster.

I thank my noble friend Lord Davies for his comprehensive description of the order and for explaining the mechanism which has led to the order. I want to concentrate on one paragraph in the Fifth Report of Session 2007-08 of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. I concentrate on that paragraph because this order will set precedents and hurdles for the future. My concern is that paragraph 10 of that report sets out the principles which guide the committee in its examination of the order. The first question is whether the order is within the spirit and scope of the devolution settlement; secondly, whether there is a demand for the legislation that will follow the order; and, thirdly, whether the LCO is more appropriate than the use of framework powers in a Westminster Bill.

I speak with great respect for the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee and its members, but I am troubled by the criteria in paragraph 10. On the first criteria, on the spirit and the scope of the devolution settlement, I have been rereading the Second Reading debate on the Government of Wales Bill in 2006. Unless I have missed the point, and without having officials to correct me on this, that phrase is nowhere defined. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, may recall, because he took part in the debates in this House, that when the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, introduced the Bill, he spoke of this procedure as being the development of the devolution settlement. That remark can be found in vol. 680 of the Official Report, in col. 265. In the Commons, in vol. 441 of the Official Report, the Secretary of State said that,

“the provisions represent a development of the current settlement”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/1/06; col. 32.]

In the past 15 years, Welsh devolution has been seen as a process. My noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan felt that it was a dynamic process, but it is a process or development. The report asks whether the provisions were within the process, as if it were a separate matter. I hope that we are not abandoning the vision of a process or development. I do not know whether the Minister can tell us whether he can place in the Library a note explaining the meaning of the phrase “within the scope of the Act”.

As for the second and third criteria, on whether there is a demand for the legislation and whether the LCO is the most appropriate procedure, I see no reference whatever to those criteria in the debates on this Bill in 2006. They appear to be novel and brand new. Surely those two matters are for the judgment and initiative of the Assembly; surely we can trust it.

I come to the second point that concerns me. I may not be expressing a general view, but it concerns me. The Explanatory Memorandum which went to the Welsh Affairs Committee seems to be acquiring a huge importance—far more than some of us envisaged when the debate on the Bill took place in 2006. I am sure that the Welsh Assembly Ministers and civil servants will take note of that. My fear is that unless we are careful we may be coming to a stage where Parliament will require the Explanatory Memorandum to set out full and detailed particulars of the substance of the order which is to follow the Bill. In my view, that would not be a helpful development.

Apart from those few words of caution, I strongly support the order. I am sure that it will give the Assembly a means of providing better facilities for the children and young people of Wales. But, picking up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, I am beginning to think that there may be too few Members to undertake effective scrutiny of the Assembly measures which will follow this and other orders.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I hope that I have identified the key issues and that I will be able to respond to them. I had anticipated there would be some considerable debate about the policy areas of the proposal but we have been concerned rather more with process and how the devolution settlement is working. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, combined two concepts, which then became the subject of fairly intensive debate by the Committee. He said, first, that the order might have been handled differently and better; and, secondly, he raised issues, which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, also developed, about what the order meant in relationship to powers. That brought forth from my noble friends two definitions: first, their concept of devolution and how it should evolve; and, secondly, whether the order fitted within that framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was supported by his noble friend, as I would expect, but they are both pushing at an open door when they say that it would have been better if this order had been considered at the same time by the relevant committee. That is what we intend to do in future. It is unfortunate when decisions appear to have a pre-emptive quality imposed on them by whoever is first into the field. I emphasise that I agree with the representations of noble Lords that that would have been a better way of doing this. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said that the process might benefit from joint consultation and he went on to develop the point. But the Welsh Affairs Committee makes its own rules; the Government do not dictate to the committee its rules or procedures. We have learnt from this exercise that we would do better in the future to make sure that the process is carried on, if not through joint consultation, then at exactly the same time, and that there is no pre-emptive quality to it.

On the more general issue, I agree with my noble friends that the whole concept of the Government of Wales Act was to introduce a dynamic and a process of devolution. The Government of Wales Act set up a broad framework within which the National Assembly may seek to put forward orders extending its powers and seek the agreement of this Parliament to that position. That is exactly what this order does.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, refining the position of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, indicated that there may be constructive ways in which the process could be developed further. The whole point of an order is to explain its scope and content; it does not set out to explain where it fits in with the constitution of the Government of Wales Act and the process of devolutionary development. If it did, every order that came before us would be—to put it mildly—extensive and we would have debates that went beyond the order’s framework and covered the whole process of devolution. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the order has been carefully devised and is confined to the powers being sought, which is its proper role.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, indicated that he wanted reassurance on certain aspects of the order. I reassure him fully that we intend to protect the position on whistleblowing. He asked whether future orders could be narrowly focused. That depends on what one means by “narrow”.

A Division has been called in the House, so we will resume the Sitting at 5.26 pm.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 5.16 to 5.26 pm.]

Prior to the Division I was giving reassurances which I thought I ought to give to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on points that he raised and which were reinforced by his noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. I emphasise again that we intend to lay the proposed orders before Parliament at the same time so that both bodies can see the orders at the same time, as is advisable. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, emphasised the possibility of joint working. It did not happen on this occasion, leading to the disadvantages that the noble Lords identified.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also emphasised that orders should be narrowly focused. The orders have to be within the framework of the Government of Wales Act, as pieces of the devolution settlement; and the orders must have a clearly defined role, as the Act lays down. The Welsh Assembly is under a duty to ensure that the process is accurate. There may be wider issues which the Assembly thinks need to be addressed in policy, but it is for the Assembly to propose. If it agrees, it is then for this Parliament to make the decision whether, within the framework of the Government of Wales Act, the proposal before Parliament is acceptable. That is how we tackle such matters. I do not think that this proposal is unnecessarily wide. After all, the policy which it covers is quite discrete in terms of the care of children and young people.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said that there were difficulties with the commissions and their operation between England and Wales. There are some difficulties, but however well legislation is framed, it still depends on how effectively people work within it. There will occasionally be possible difficulties but that is common to all legislation; in no way, shape or form is it a reflection of any failure of function in the orders put forward or in the powers of the Assembly in relation to the United Kingdom Parliament—it is more what happens on the ground.

I am not terribly happy with the response on the obvious gap between the English and Welsh commissioners for children. I would like stronger reassurance that the Government will focus and take some action, whatever it may be and regardless of whether it is at administrative level and, therefore, below legislative level. If the Government and the department focus on that with both commissioners and their officials, I feel that the gap could be addressed.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, referred to the question of the commissioner. There is a genuine difficulty here, because under devolved legislation, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales can deal with individual cases, but he cannot deal with the more general policy issues, because that relates to the criminal justice system, which is not devolved. So there will always be some differences and difficulties in respect of the powers and the relationship between the two commissioners. That has come up in our previous debates on these matters. It is a classic case of where the limits of devolved legislation produce different powers in relationship to the work of a devolved officer. I take on board that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is dissatisfied by my response and I shall, therefore, try to define and embellish it by writing to him and copying it to other Members of the Committee. However, I am not sure that I can advance the argument much further.

I do not wish to bang on any longer but I would like the noble Lord to take on board what the Deputy Children’s Commissioner said. She said:

“you would not believe that these things are happening in the UK and there is not an organisation there which is able or empowered to properly champion their rights”.

That is a big statement from someone in her position.

It is a big statement, but, by the nature of the devolution settlement, officers in certain positions can find it inordinately frustrating that their responsibilities may be cabined, confined and limited in ways that they would not prefer. However, the devolution settlement, and the question of the powers retained for this Parliament, can throw up such frustrations for officers. I heard what the noble Lord said and I will respond to him. I am sorry that he does not accept my argument but I am not too sure that I will be able to advance the case a great deal more than I have already.

I wanted to end on a rather happier note at this belated hour. The noble Lord rightly said that on previous occasions we have debated sport, the gold reserves and now Wales. What a happy note it is to put Wales, gold and sport together. Think of the contribution that we made in the Olympic Games.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008.

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the regulations is to implement new arrangements for lone parents with older children who can currently claim income support solely on grounds of being a lone parent. It is a requirement that I confirm to the Committee that the provisions of the regulations are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, and I am happy to do so.

The new arrangements will mean that instead of continuing to receive income support until their youngest child turns 16, those who are able to undertake paid work may claim jobseeker’s allowance when their youngest child reaches the age of seven, and will be required, with support and assistance, to look for paid work that is appropriate to their individual situation. Lone parents who have a disability or health-related condition that limits their capability to work may be able to claim employment and support allowance. To support these lone parents we have included amendments to the Employment and Support Allowance Regulations so that eligible claimants receive the work-related activity component from the start of their claim.

The decision to place the age threshold at seven was based on the principle that, by this age, these children would be settled in an established education routine and any disruption caused by the lone parent entering employment would be minimised. We propose to introduce the change initially for lone parents making a new or repeat claim who have a youngest child aged 12. The changes to existing claims will be phased in to ensure a smooth transition, starting with lone parents with a youngest child aged 14 from March 2009. The phasing will affect lone parents with a youngest child aged 10 from October 2009, and those with a youngest child aged seven from October 2010. This stepped approach will allow Jobcentre Plus to provide more support in helping lone parents make the transition between benefits and a move into employment.

The measures are consistent with the Government’s approach that people should make full use of the support that is available to them and from which they can benefit to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. On this basis, the Government are committed to the principle that, once children are older, lone parents who are able to do so and are claiming benefits should be expected to look for paid work. These regulations are intended to help lone parents move into paid employment. The Government believe that these measures are a balance between providing financial and other assistance to support families and the wider responsibilities to lift individuals and children out of poverty.

The Government have consulted widely on these regulations, and after careful consideration of the views put forward by individual respondents and lone parent voluntary organisations and the views of Social Security Advisory Committee, have decided to lay the proposed legislation before Parliament, with clear provisions and safeguards to ensure that vulnerable lone parents are protected. The Government’s proposals do not apply to those lone parents who are entitled to income support on other grounds. For example, lone parents who are in receipt of carers allowance, those who are fostering and lone parents who have a child for whom the middle or highest rate care component of disability living allowance is payable will remain eligible for income support.

The proposals will, however, apply to lone parents claiming income support and educating their children at home. The Government recognise the right of a parent to choose to home educate their children but do not provide them with the funding to do so. Lone parents who are currently claiming income support receive their benefit solely based on their status as lone parents, not as home educators.

To make sure that the welfare of children is not compromised by these changes, the regulations also make lone parents a vulnerable group, so the jobseeker’s allowance hardship regime may apply in certain circumstances. Although we want to apply sanctions only when absolutely necessary, sometimes it is necessary to use compulsion to encourage people to acknowledge their responsibilities and make sure that those who can work do not opt out. Provided that lone parents meet the conditions of eligibility for jobseeker’s allowance they will not be sanctioned. When a sanction is applied, no lone parent who is entitled to a hardship payment will be subject to a sanction of more than 40 per cent of their personal benefit allowance.

The regulations will include transitional protection for lone parents who receive income support and who are full-time students, undertaking a full-time course of training on the new deal for lone parents, or on an approved scheme which meets the objectives of the new deal for lone parents. We propose that lone parents in these circumstances will remain entitled to income support until their youngest child reaches the relevant age in force at the time they commence their studies, or the end of the course, whichever is the sooner. Currently, lone parents claiming income support are required to attend a work-focused interview at six-monthly intervals. To provide opportunities to prepare and support lone parents for the change in their last year of eligibility for income support, the regulations include the introduction of mandatory work-focused interviews on a quarterly basis.

The changes form part of the Government’s ongoing package of welfare reform and strategy to eradicate child poverty. In Budget 2008, the Government invested an extra £950 million in measures to continue to tackle child poverty. More than one-third of children in lone-parent households live in poverty. Fifty-eight per cent of children in workless lone-parent households live in poverty. This figure decreases to 19 per cent when the lone parent works part time, and to 7 per cent if the lone parent works full time.

The Government believe that the regulations create the right balance between providing financial and other assistance to support families, and their wider responsibilities to lift individuals, families and children out of poverty. To delay implementation, as some have suggested, would mean that lone parents who can undertake paid work may not take up the assistance available to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Of course, in addition to the financial return, paid work provides far-reaching social, health and personal benefits for both the lone parent and the children in their household. The regulations are intended to open the opportunities of paid work to more lone parents and support them to have a better standard of living for themselves and their families.

We know that some of our customers face greater barriers in obtaining paid work than others, especially parents who may have extra challenges because of their children’s needs. To recognise this, the Government have provided extra support to lone parents to assist them to find and keep a job and to progress once they have settled into employment. Support to help lone parents find work includes the New Deal for Lone Parents, which offers access to a specialist Jobcentre Plus personal adviser and a range of additional services such as extra financial support and access to training. Since its introduction in 1998, the New Deal for Lone Parents has helped more than half a million lone parents to find work.

In-work credit is now available nationally to help lone parents make the transition into employment, as well as help sustainability and progression in work. This is an additional payment of £40 a week—or £60 in London—for 52 weeks to lone parents who leave benefits for work of at least 16 hours a week. Lone parents are also able to access help when they are settling into their job. Jobcentre Plus can provide financial help to overcome any unexpected financial barriers which might otherwise prevent them remaining in paid work. Lone parents can also access in-work advisory support provided by Jobcentre Plus Advisers to help resolve any difficulties and guide individuals towards any support needed, such as skills and training.

Some stakeholders have raised concerns about the availability of childcare. We have substantially improved childcare options for working families. More than £3.5 million a day supports lower and middle-income families with their childcare costs through the tax credit system. We have more than doubled the availability of childcare provision in England since 1997, with the stock approaching 1.3 million places. As a devolved issue, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have in place childcare strategies which aim to extend access to high-quality, affordable and flexible childcare. The Childcare Act 2006 places a duty on local authorities in England and Wales to secure, so far as reasonably practicable, sufficient childcare to meet the requirements of parents in their area who require childcare in order to work or to undertake training or education to prepare for work. A key element of this in England is extended schools, offering affordable, school-based childcare on weekdays between 8 am and 6 pm, all year round. More than 14,230 schools are already offering the core extended services.

We recognise that lone parents who do not have the support of a partner may require extra help in balancing the needs of their families and looking for paid work. The regulations give Jobcentre Plus staff additional flexibility to help and support lone parents who are actively seeking work while often facing challenging circumstances. Importantly, Jobcentre Plus staff must consider whether it was unreasonable for the person to stay in a job or to take up a job because appropriate affordable childcare was not available. That may help lone parents facing particular circumstances, such as those who educate their children at home.

It is clear that the current global economic climate means that we shall face challenging times. It is important that we do not repeat the mistakes of previous slowdowns and allow people to slip into long-term inactivity. This is bad for the individual and their families, trapping them into dependence and poverty. The labour market is dynamic, with millions of moves between employment and unemployment every year. Job opportunities will continue to become available; for example, there are around 600,000 job vacancies in the economy. Our active labour market policies will ensure that lone parents do not become further detached from the labour market and are well placed to benefit from current jobs and other opportunities as the economy picks up.

I firmly believe that the regulations will result in more people obtaining a better life for themselves and their families and will lift more children out of poverty. The regulations will make sure that the right help and support will be available for lone parent customers who are able to undertake paid work but often face challenges to do so. At the same time, we will ensure that those customers for whom work is not an option are supported in a way that best suits their circumstances. The Government believe that the additional flexibilities to jobseeker’s allowance contained in the regulations, along with the operational safeguards and Jobcentre Plus guidance and training, offer protection for all lone parents, particularly the most vulnerable. I commend the regulations to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Social Security (Lone Parents and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2008. 27th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 30th report from the Merits Committee.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

The Grand Committee will be most grateful to the Minister for his careful explanation of these regulations. So careful was it that I was tempted to think that the noble Lord did protest too much, but perhaps that would be unfair to him. I am grateful also for the letter that he sent me explaining briefly—very briefly indeed in comparison with the speech he has just made—the regulations before us today. I was slightly less pleased that I received the letter only after Questions today. I know it is not the Minister’s fault, but somewhere in the system something has clearly gone wrong.

The Minister will be pleased to know that I find the second set of regulations that we are discussing this week quite a different cup of tea from the first. That said, like the Government, we believe that the best way out of poverty, and often ill health, is work. I therefore have no difficulty with the policy behind the regulations. There is no logic in continuing to pay income support to lone parents with school-age children until their youngest child passes compulsory school age.

However, the Minister will have read, as I have, the Social Security Advisory Committee’s comment that:

“Overall, we have considerable reservations about the proposals, both in terms of their potentially negative impacts and their potential to improve the situation of lone parents and their families and to reduce child poverty”.

Although I do not agree with that committee in total, it is right when it says that success in getting lone parents into work depends on the availability of out of school activities, whether in conventional childcare or in school activities out of school hours, especially in the holidays. We do not want to end up with an increasing number of latch-key kids or children wandering the streets in gangs and getting up to all kinds of trouble.

There is also the potential for the breakdown of family relationships. This will be particularly important when we get to the post-October 2010 period, when income support will remain only for lone parents whose youngest child is less than seven years old. It is about the seven to 10 year-old age group that I am most worried. Naturally I read the report of the discussion of this order in another place and observed that the Minister’s colleague agreed with the point that I have just made, saying that,

“the crucial point is that the whole system depends on appropriate child care being available”.—[Official Report, Commons, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, 30/10/08; col. 18.]

She had said earlier that the Government had,

“more than doubled the availability of child care provision in England since 1997, with the stock approaching 1.3 million places”.—[Official Report, Commons, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, 30/10/08; col. 5.]

The Minister has just repeated that figure.

My questions on this are twofold. Are these places currently filled? Will they cope with the extra number of children that these regulations will bring into the need for childcare? Are these places evenly spread around the country, especially in rural areas? Is every primary and secondary school open in the school holidays? I observe that page 4 of the SSAC document says, in paragraph 21, that services are increasingly available. That does not strike me as a satisfactory answer to those questions, nor does it help lone parents very much.

According to the Minister’s colleague, the figures are quite large, with 58,000 lone parents apparently having a youngest child aged 12 or over, 32,000 a youngest child of 11 or over, 38,000 a youngest child of 10 or over and 83,000 a youngest child of seven or older. Can the Minister say how many children all those people have? Doubtless it will average out at more than one.

There are other points of concern on which I should question the Minister. First, there will be a gap in lone parents’ income when they are automatically transferred from income support to jobseeker’s allowance, or employment support allowance, as the case may be. These individuals are, by definition, among the poorest in the country and an absence of income, if only for a week or two, will make them temporarily poorer still. “Oh well, they can get a temporary loan from the Social Fund”, I have heard Ministers say. That may be so if the local Social Fund has enough money in its coffers. Will the fund get an increase in subvention to cope with the undoubted calls upon it? In addition, is it wise to place lone parents into debt—perhaps even further into debt? Is it really not possible to speed up the transfer process and pay the money over immediately, and then to get the jobseeker’s agreement form signed later or even make the single parents come into the jobcentre and complete the whole process then and there? Only if they do not come should there be a gap in their benefit income; in other words, it would be an extra sanction to the ones the Minister mentioned.

I noted on page 5 of the SSAC report that arrangements had been put in place between the DWP and HMRC to encourage lone parents to claim child tax credit at least six months before the date on which they would lose their entitlement to income support. I do not pretend to be an expert or, indeed, to have any knowledge whatever about child tax credit, but the fact that it has the words “tax” and “credit” in its title must mean that at some point during the year the lone parents in question must have been paying tax—otherwise, they could not get a tax credit.

No? In that case, I shall have the answer in due course. I know that those credits go on for a full year. Nevertheless, many of those lone parents will have been out of work for some considerable time—I would guess at least seven years, and probably seven years plus maternity pay, possibly even longer. Some will never have worked at all.

The subject of jobcentres brings me to the training of officials, who are particularly stretched at the moment by a reduction in numbers at a time when unemployment is on the increase—to 1.82 million—and only 589,000 jobs are available. I noted that the Minister’s figures on that particular item drifted a little between Question Time today and the speech that he has just made. There was a difference of 2,000. That is a tease that I could not resist. One wonders how long this will last, with small and medium enterprises failing at the rate of 50 a day, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. What extra training have officials been given to cope with the extra demands being placed on them by this order? How much will they know, and inform parents, about what childcare is available locally, for example? Presumably, the parents will be expected to pay something towards the childcare that their children receive; if so, to what extent does the Minister expect lone parents to be better off when paid the minimum wage?

Lastly, and on a more general point, I said at the beginning of my speech that the Official Opposition believe that the policy of getting more people into work, whether lone parents or others, is the right one. I did not, however, say how pleased we are that the Government have adopted a fair proportion of our welfare to work policies, as shown by their acceptance of the Freud report. However, the way in which the Government are going about it makes me ponder. Do they have any intention at present of doing away with jobseeker’s allowance altogether in favour of the lower rate of ESA? Although I see a certain logic in that, now would not be the time to do it. Nor am I certain that, at a time of deepening recession, now is the time to move lone parents with children aged between 10 and 16 from income support to jobseeker’s allowance. Will the Minister tell us why the Government have introduced this order now, with unemployment rising as fast as it is?

Like the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I welcome the philosophy behind the regulations, not because I do not value parenting but because I do. I am reminded of the story that Frank Field used to tell about visiting a school in Birkenhead. He asked a 10 year-old what he was going to do when he grew up, and that 10 year-old said, “I’m going to get my benefit”. That image of children living in a home in which two or three generations have not worked is the worst possible dowry we can hand our children. I suspect that none of us in this Room doubts the need to encourage lone parents, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, rightly said, to remain attached to the labour market and to help them to prepare for that by investment in training so that they do not permanently bump along at the bottom on the minimum wage, relying on tax credits to improve their income. Therefore, the move from IS to JSA is fine. I hope that ultimately this will be one of the most effective levers with which to address child poverty, which is what matters above all.

I wish to raise a couple of points, the first of which concerns language. Throughout the document, lone parents are referred to as “he”. I understand that in law “he” includes “she”. It would be quite nice, given that 95 per cent of lone parents are female, for “she” to include “he” on occasion. There is no linguistic reason why that should not be the case. I do not know whether the blokes in the Room have noticed this, but it does rather hit one.

The substantial point is to give assurances about the nature of the conditionality of JSA and the conditionality attached to resuming JSA, should one lose a job. Those are the areas that we are concerned about, some of which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has mentioned.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 5.56 to 6.06 pm.]

I had been praising the policy and deploring the language. Perhaps I could now explore conditionality, which is the core of this. I am sure that my noble friend will be able to give us the reassurances that we need to feel entirely comfortable about this policy.

On the conditionality of JSA, my noble friend was very sensitive about the different situation faced by lone parents juggling childcare compared with the average people on JSA who tend to be younger, single people, three-quarters of whom are on JSA for less than six months and who will move very quickly into the labour market. That will not be the case for many lone parents who have had many years away from the labour market, particularly as they face limitations which the younger, single people on JSA will not face. The first is the suitability of a job. Jobs between the hours of 9.30 am and 2.30 pm are like gold dust. In my experience, they seldom exist, unless you are lucky enough to have a very supportive employer. Increasingly, lone parents take jobs which, in previous years, we used to call “unsocial hours” jobs. They are in catering or cleaning, retailing on a Saturday, or working Friday evening in the newsagents, the chip shop or the launderette. Suitable formal childcare is not available with such jobs. So there is a problem about the availability of suitable jobs with the backing of childcare.

Secondly, lone parents, particularly in rural areas, may have a very real problem with juggling transport. Most lone parents are not able to afford a private car and public transport will be weak. A lone parent has to juggle taking a child to school or to the childminder or wherever, along with getting herself to work. All that will bite into the time available for part-time work, and hence the wage, which will affect both the conditionality of JSA interviews and the ability to hold down a job under pressure.

There is also the problem of reclaiming JSA if a job folds for whatever reason. Conventionally, you do not easily reacquire JSA if you have voluntarily left a job. That is understandable in most circumstances, but not here. If your child is sick and cannot go to school and the childminder will not look after him as he may infect other children, as the child’s carer—the European Court has already established what that would mean—you cannot work. That is understandably inconvenient for the employer and, therefore, the job may fold, as a result of which there may be a question about reaccessing a JSA claim as it could be perceived that you have voluntarily left the job because you were not able to fulfil the perfectly reasonable requirements of the employer. There will be conflicts here in which both sides are right, and that will require sensitive negotiation.

The problems of reclaiming JSA will be at least as hard for many lone parents as they would be if they were going from JSA into the labour market. Alongside that will be the ability to reclaim housing benefit, which often takes weeks and weeks. I suspect that something like the linking rules that currently apply to disabled people will need to be applied to lone parents who have no income and are reliant on JSA—if they have been able to reclaim it—as part of the New Deal framework. That would be necessary to smooth the transition and avoid finding not just the lone parent but, even more importantly in my view, the child exposed to serious poverty.

Lone parents’ advisers who are handling the New Deal have a wonderful track record in acting as sheepdogs for their sheep, taking the lone parent to job interviews and helping them to buy clothes and so on. Will the task of encouraging lone parents to go not only on to JSA but into the labour market be entrusted to those selfsame lone parent New Deal advisers? If not, what additional training will be given to what are often young single men who are well intentioned, I do not doubt, but have no experience whatever of trying to juggle difficult issues where there is absolutely no financial margin with which to play?

I would be much more comfortable with the regulations if we had already securely banked the right to ask for flexible working for parents with children over the age of six. The Government are intending to introduce that but it appears to have been deferred at the moment. I would also feel much more comfortable if I knew that we could support the childcare of choice of most lone parents, which is that provided by grandparents. Twenty-six per cent of all childcare provided for women in work comes from grandparents. That is even more important in rural areas and for lone parents who work unsocial hours. Whatever the JSA regulations say, lone parents will often feel guilty about going into the labour market unless they have childcare they trust, and the childcare they trust is the sort that they themselves give the child, which is very often that provided by their own mother. They know that that childcare means that the child will be taken to the doctor if he is feeling poorly or be hugged if necessary, and it will be available if the mother is running late because the trains are late or the bus is not running, or whatever.

I am delighted that from 2010 we shall be giving carers of older people a national insurance credit if they care for 20 hours a week. I understand the argument that going for a childcare tax credit for grandparents in their 50s to pay for the childcare that would otherwise go to a childminder may produce a dead-weight loss. However, if a grandparent enables a lone parent to work, that lone parent, who would have been entitled to HRP, will not be claiming it but will be paying their own NI credits instead. Therefore, in a sense, it amounts to a transfer of the NI credit. I hope that my noble friend can take that away and look at it, because that would be one way of making the system easier. A lone parent would feel more guilt-free about entering the labour market and sustaining a job—which, after all, is the point of JSA—if she had childcare which she trusted, was stable and would strengthen family bonds. That can be provided by a grandparent. If we decide that we cannot afford to pay for it, we can at least ensure that that grandparent in their 50s is not penalised by losing access to their pension.

We should remember the problem that we had with tax credits. From the latest statistics that I saw, the core problem was that 50 per cent of lone parents experienced more than 10 changes of circumstance in any one year. As a result, the computer system toppled—it simply could not keep up with the continuously changing circumstances. For lone parents, the job contours may have changed or they may have a new partner in their life. But the primary cause of the changes of circumstances which toppled over the tax credit computer system was changes in childcare.

I have no confidence that we have fully addressed that problem. We may provide after-hours care, but if the child is tired, the child wants to go home and does not necessarily want to stay at school until 6 o’clock when the mother can come. That applies to weekends, if the mother has to work in Debenhams, for example, on a Saturday, and to holidays. Unless we can ensure that there is childcare that is stable and reliable and which the mother trusts, the lone parent will be in a revolving door situation between JSA and work, JSA and work. Every time the childcare collapses, which, from the tax credits records appears to be once a month on average, that lone parent will be out of the labour market. At that point, the employer will understandably get increasingly pressured, particularly in small firms, and lone parents will find themselves back on JSA again.

I am not confident that we have fully taken on board the ramifications of what that means. Having said that, I remain supportive of the policy. The most important thing we can do to address child poverty is to encourage the lone parent, as soon as is possible, back into the labour market, without having her fray under the pressure we put on her.

I hope that my noble friend can give me the assurances I seek on suitability of jobs, issues of transport and, above all, supporting the childcare the lone parent most needs to have available to her, which is probably that provided by her own mother.

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. She is an expert in these matters and I concur with just about everything that she said. I, too, have no rooted principled objection to these regulations, but it is worth remembering that the Social Security Advisory Committee recommended that the Government did not proceed with the regulations for a variety of operational and administrative reasons, rather than those of principle.

I pay tribute to the Merits Committee for its work on these regulations; it has helped the work of the Grand Committee considerably. The same applies to the Social Security Advisory Committee, whose report is instructive and informative. The Government’s Explanatory Memorandum is also a very useful document. As the department develops its policy, documents of that kind and in such detail help us all get a framework within which these changes can be judged.

I will try to be brief; I could talk all night about this subject, but I will resist that temptation. I want to talk about the philosophy and about operational capacity in the department and then add requests for assurances to those that the noble Baroness has just made.

I detect that these regulations take us quite a few more steps along the road of the “responsibility” agenda. Work first is a condition of benefit in the new active labour market proposals. In a normal, stable environment, when this policy was first put together—some months ago, if not years—there was a case for saying to people, “It doesn’t matter if you’re better off, your responsibility is to take work and then trade your way out of that with help”. I acknowledge that there has been a lot of support. It is described at some length in the Explanatory Memorandum; it is useful to have it all set out in one place again.

We have to be very careful, in the ugly financial circumstances that we will be facing in the next 18 months to two years, of saying that this is a work-first agenda and that people have a responsibility, if they are claiming benefits, to seek work even if that does not mean that they are financially better off. There are some circumstances in which that can happen.

Lone parents are in a unique position because they have to balance family responsibilities in a way that perhaps other claimants do not. That puts them in a unique dilemma. While the work-first agenda may have to be deployed, we have to deploy it with real care if we are talking about lone parents.

The first thing I would really like to do—I think that I know the answer to this, or at least I hope I do—lies in a quote from Mr Peter Hain, when he was the Secretary of State, in a speech that he made to Barnardo’s on 29 November 2007, which is on the departmental website. He said about the development of this policy:

“There will be lone parents for whom work is simply not an option and I will ensure that they will be protected”.

I think that that is still the Government’s policy, but I would prefer it to be said by someone more current than the previous Secretary of State, and I should like it to be said on the record, in the House. That would give some reassurance to people. If my understanding of this slight shift in policy and development of policy is right, it would be good to know where we were on that question.

I could develop the following point at much greater length, but I shall not. We should start thinking about children in terms of dependency ratios and the demographic change that we face in this country over the next 50 years, not the next two or five years. Children will have to carry a much heavier load. Economists talk about human capital and developing the human potential. I do not want to suggest for a moment that we should start thinking about children as economic units, particularly, but with the combination of the change in the demographic, with people living longer, and the reductions in fertility rates that we are now experiencing, it is staring us in the face that children will have to carry a much heavier burden of wealth creation in future, if we are to make progress as a nation. We can see that now. The child poverty agenda is so important, but we need more than that agenda. When we talk about active labour markets, we should always be conscious of the fact that this is not just about domestic family income for people in distressed conditions, but about developing the capacity and potential of the children in those households. Generally, the Government’s agenda does not give enough time to that, but maybe, in the short term, they have other problems on their minds, which I understand.

On the philosophy behind this, all my experience suggests to me that lone parents are desperate to work. The survey evidence says that nine out of 10 suggest that if the opportunities were there and they could get the support and if all the other circumstances were to hand, you could not keep them at home. Therefore, we need to be careful about moving in a sanctions direction, as we might be going against the grain because there is a willingness to work that we are not tapping into properly.

I absolutely support some of the new proposals that the Government have put in place. The Explanatory Memorandum refers to that. There is a lot here, but it is all new. There is the in-work credit from April 2008, the in-work credit and retention, the in-work advisory support from Jobcentre Plus advisers and the in-work emergency discretion fund. That is all brand new, and we do not know how effective it is going to be. That is why the SSAC has asked why we cannot just hold our horses before implementing these regulations to see how that works.

I cannot do the figures because I do not have all the data, but the success that the Government have had since 1997, with a 12.5 per cent increase in lone parent participation in labour markets to something like 57.5 per cent, represents a real change. A lot of that is because the economy has been good, because of the tax credit regime and because of the changes that the Government have introduced with the New Deal for Lone Parents. There is a success and a momentum that could be built on. If we could only find a way of retaining the jobs that lone parents win, we would get to the 70 per cent target by 2010 quicker and with the grain of the lone parent client group that we are trying to deal with.

There is a sense that the department thinks that lone parents lead an orderly lifestyle, and it may be that 80 per cent of them do, but 20 per cent lead very difficult, incoherent lifestyles in which they drop in and out of work, benefit and childcare. For all those reasons, they need additional support. If I were the Minister, I would be thinking about looking at that 20 per cent, working with them, trying to sustain them in work, and trying to deploy all the department’s resources in that direction, rather than going down the route of sanctions and the rest of the proposals in the regulations.

I want to move on quickly. I notice from the Explanatory Memorandum that the Government think that these proposals are easily done and that Jobcentre Plus will implement them at a canter. I have to tell them that the department’s annual report for last year revealed that only three out of the six key priorities were achieved. Last year was an easy year. If the Government think that Jobcentre Plus will improve on that record in the next 12 months, they are blind, deaf and dumb. I seriously think that given the job cuts that the department is experiencing and the tight Comprehensive Spending Review targets—I bore on about this, for which I apologise, but it is a very important point—the footfall after Christmas in Jobcentre Plus offices will skyrocket, which will put pressure on all the staff and certainly on the personal advisers. What sort of case load will they have? Will that interfere with the training which they will need to develop this sensitive advisory service for lone parents who are coming into this regime for the first time? Is there time to train anyone in Jobcentre Plus these days? The realignment payment suggestion of a crisis loan from the Social Fund is just a joke; the Social Fund is up to its armpits in backlogs and delays. We know about that because we have debates in this House about it.

The Government suggest, “Oh well, people can apply for a crisis loan”. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was right to mention that, as was the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. The Social Fund entitlement of the cohort of people that we are talking about in this client group is already exhausted. Special provisions will have to be made if crisis loans are to be made for realignment for that group of people. That is guaranteed to go wrong.

If you bring child tax credit and HMRC into the equation, you will have a really nice mix of things that will all work sweetly, everything will be hunky dory, and by next spring, everything will be fine. I just do not think so, and nothing that I have heard, seen or read in the Explanatory Memorandum or anything else convinces me otherwise. I could talk at great length about that, too, but I shall not.

I shall finish on the need for assurances that have not yet been required because all of us who have contributed so far are on the same page as the Minister as regards policy development. However, there are serious concerns, and I concur with everything that has been said. I shall not repeat the concerns about the childcare wrap around provisions mentioned by both colleagues earlier, but I certainly have concerns about Scotland, because the Government have no idea what is going on there and they have no control of the policy delivery of wrap around care in Scotland. It is an entirely different jurisdiction, with a different policy envelope. I need reassurance about that and the rural areas.

In terms of home education, the department is heading straight for a judicial review. Home education used to be a lifestyle choice by people with a kind of hippy way of life. It is not any more. It is worrying that the department does not know how many people this measure will apply to, but I would put money on the fact that the provisions in the regulations will be challenged in the courts by those who home educate. I would support them in doing that because someone needs to test the fairness of the regulations as they currently stand.

I accept that there has been a concession in regard to disabled children, but the provision, which leaves people with children in the lottery of the DLA component, trying to find childcare and to fit into the regulations, is not fair. There was no need to leave lower-care component DLA children in that category. The Government should think again about that. There is nothing like enough consideration of domestic violence and breakdown. It was alluded to earlier and needs to be looked at as well.

I understand that lone parents will not continue to go from New Deal for Lone Parents into flexible New Deal after the gateway. Stage 5 of flexible New Deal is workfare. I know that a Bill is coming, and that we will need to think about these matters again, but I have great concern about how lone parents put on to jobseeker’s allowance will come out the other end. We know that Jobcentre Plus will look after them in the first year and that they will go into the private sector for specialist providers in the second. If they are still unemployed, they will go on to workfare.

I am not happy about the lone parent client group that the regulations cover being turfed into workfare at stage 5 of flexible New Deal. If that is where they are heading, the Government should think about it very carefully indeed when the Bill comes before the House. I am in the same place as the two Members of the Committee who have spoken earlier. We need more assurances. The philosophy is entirely defensible, but the operational and administrative constructs that try to support the policy are very shaky and suspect. I hope that the Government will think about it carefully and give us some assurances before we take the plunge with the regulations, which after all start next week. There is not a lot of time to work these things out and make sure that we avoid the pitfalls into which we are concerned we might fall if we are not careful.

I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate, which I would characterise as offering support for the underlying policy approach, but asking some questions around the practicalities and implementation. I shall try to deal with as many of the substantial number of points raised as I can.

I am sorry if the letter did not reach the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, until late today—it certainly was not intended. He raised a range of questions. He asked why now. It is clear that we face challenging times, as I said in my opening remarks, but we have reasons to be confident about the economy’s prospects once we get through this difficult period. However, it is vital that we continue to focus on keeping people in touch with the labour market. I do not want to overstress a perhaps political point, but one of the problems we still face with incapacity benefit is that people were dumped on it in the past without support, and the longer that people are on benefits, the more difficult we know it is for them to engage. That is why we are introducing the measures now.

The noble Lord asked also about training. Jobcentre Plus has comprehensive plans in place to make all staff aware of the changes in income support for lone parents before 24 November. All Jobcentre Plus staff will receive awareness training and process-and-scenario walkthroughs prior to the changes going live on 24 November. Staff training for dealing with the changes to JSA will be phased in line with the profile of lone parents leaving income support each month. Our training delivery started on 13 October. We plan to train sufficient staff ahead of go-live for new and repeat claims on 24 November. I have more detail on that if the noble Lord wishes to follow it up after the debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and my noble friend Lady Hollis asked about childcare and affordability. As I said in my opening remarks, we are investing a huge amount of money in childcare provision. The upper limits under the childcare element of tax credits are £175 for families with one child, and £300 for families with two or more children. The childcare element of working tax credit currently benefits around 449,000 lower- and middle-income families. Of those working families, around 287,000 are lone parents and 162,000 are couples.

The noble Lord asked what happens if wrap around childcare is not fully in place. Childcare is available for the large majority of parents who want it. To put this in perspective, in the next two years we expect about 18,000 additional lone parents to move into work as a result of these changes. The Childcare and Early Years Providers Survey 2007 reported 460,000 vacancies in childcare and early years provision in England alone.

The noble Lord asked what happens if suitable childcare is not available, a point also pressed by my noble friend Lady Hollis. Advisers will be required to take into account both the availability and suitability of childcare when they consider whether a parent’s childcare responsibilities make it unreasonable for him or her to stay in employment, to take up paid employment or to carry out a jobseeker’s direction. Advisers must also consider any necessary childcare expenses where they represent an unreasonable amount of that person’s earnings. A lone parent who is claiming JSA will not be penalised if she or he has just cause for leaving a job or good cause for not taking up a job.

The noble Lord and my noble friend focused on what is suitable childcare and the range of circumstances that lone parents can face. Jobcentre Plus personal advisers will work with parents and the childcare partnership manager to identify and access appropriate childcare provision. They will not dictate to parents the type of childcare or which providers they must use—that must remain a decision for parents. A lone parent who considers that he or she cannot take up a job to which they are referred by a personal adviser because appropriate and affordable childcare is not available will need to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to secure such care. If they are able to justify that, sanctions would not apply.

The noble Lord asked about childcare places in England and Wales, and in Scotland in particular, for children aged 11 to 14. In England, another concern of the noble Lord, we will ensure that by 2008 a third of all secondary schools will be extended schools; they will be open from 8 am to 6 pm and offer activities for both children in the school and the surrounding area.

Yes, it does. It is meant to be year round. By 2010 all secondary schools will open up on weekdays between 8 am and 6 pm all year round, offering a range of activities such as music and sport. Extended schools do not apply in Scotland—the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, raised this point—however, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government have in place childcare strategies which aim to extend access to high-quality, affordable and flexible childcare. We have been working with them on those issues.

I do not know whether my noble friend is staying with the issue of childcare but perhaps I may press him on one point. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is absolutely right to ask about the holidays, but the area I am concerned about is that increasingly the only jobs available to unskilled women who have been out of the labour market for a period of time are unsocial hour jobs—early morning and late night cleaning and catering, weekend retailing and so on—and no formal childcare, whether child minders, wraparound, schools or anything else, can meet their needs. How does my noble friend envisage childcare being available for such women?

There is flexibility in the system, specifically in the agreement which an individual lone parent would have to reach with the jobcentre adviser. That could lead to a requirement to work for only 16 hours a week and would obviously seek to focus on a job that is suitable for that individual. However, if the job that is suitable and available for that individual is not consistent with childcare being available on an affordable basis, then clearly that person could not be subject to sanctions. So it is not only a generic availability; it has to be available in the specific circumstances of the individual involved. I am looking for support from the Box on that and I see a few nodding heads. I hope that helps my noble friend.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked about funding. I shall leave aside the tax credit issue at the moment but lone parent transition loans will be paid out under crisis loan legislation. The crisis loan funding comes from the amount allocated annually for budgeting and crisis loans. The lone parent transition loans will be funded from that budget and, in 2007-08, £511 million was paid in budgeting loans and £121.2 million in crisis loans.

My noble friend Lady Hollis raised a number of challenging points. On the use of the language, I entirely take the point that my noble friend has made. Whatever the conventions, it seems to me that we are dealing with a group of people who are overwhelmingly likely to be women rather than men. It is not beyond the wit of parliamentary draftsmen or draftswomen to get that right.

My noble friend asked about sanctions and how they would apply. In this order we are amending the JSA regulations in connection with good and just cause. The decision-maker must consider whether a parent’s childcare responsibilities make it unreasonable for her to stay in employment, to take up paid employment or to carry out a jobseeker’s direction. We propose that the decision-maker must specifically consider the availability and suitability of childcare. In addition, we propose that decision-makers must consider any necessary childcare expenses where they represent an unreasonable amount of a person’s earnings.

My noble friend again raised issues of flexible working. No decisions have been made on this or on any other forthcoming regulations but it is only right that the Government look afresh at the costs and benefits of new regulations in the light of the global economic downturn. The Government are determined to do all they can to help both employers and employees in tough economic times and flexible working can give both employers and employees mutually beneficial flexibility, helping to keep businesses profitable and to keep people in work. The business benefits of flexible working in tougher economic times are well documented and it can make workplaces more efficient, with improved productivity and reduced absenteeism. That is looking at it from a business point of view but it can also provide a real link for the individual to good-quality employment.

My noble friend asked how lone parents will be treated if their children become ill. As now, Jobcentre Plus advisers will be able to take that into account when deciding whether there should be a sanction. Advisers have to consider whether it would be unreasonable for a person to stay in a job if they have to look after a child who is ill. If it is unreasonable, they will not be penalised. That applies also to attendance at interviews.

My noble friend also asked about travel times, particularly in relation to rural areas. The JSA policy stipulates that travel time of up to an hour each way within the first 13 weeks of a JSA claim and one and a half hours each way thereafter is appropriate. Jobcentre Plus staff would also consider whether travel time to a job is reasonable, taking health or caring responsibilities into account, and would include any reasonable time required to drop off and pick up children from school or childcare.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, raised a number of issues. He stressed the point that in many ways lone parents are in a unique position and that we need to address these issues in a sensitive and balanced way. I entirely agree. I believe these regulations seek to do that. He asked me about Peter Hain’s comments and what our position is on that. Peter was reported as saying that work is simply not an option for some people and we agree. Some people will remain on income support and some will go on to the employment and support allowance and may end up in a support group. I think it is already recognised that we are not saying that absolutely everyone must work because we know that is not appropriate for everyone. This is about helping those people who can work to move towards the labour market.

The noble Lord said that lone parents can be quite desperate for work. That is generally right—indeed, it is possibly overwhelmingly right—which is why I believe that we are pushing at an open door with these policies. It does not preclude a regime of sanctions; if used sparingly and in clearly defined circumstances the evidence shows that they can have a beneficial impact.

The noble Lord asked what would happen if a lone parent’s child was disabled. Under the new proposals, any lone parent who receives carers’ allowance for disabled children or who is caring for others will be able to continue to claim income support. So they will not be under the JSA regime. The Government considered an exemption for lone parents with a child for whom the lower rate care component of DLA is payable. However, it is our view that such a child, by definition, would not require the amount of care that precluded the parent from paid work, particularly given the flexibilities which we are building in to these arrangements.

The noble Lord asked what evidence we had that sanctions work.

Will my noble friend be good enough to assure us that, a year on, there will be a tracking of sanctions, possibly through a letter in the Library? Most JSA sanctions are for young men who do not get out of bed of a morning and do not turn up at interviews and so on and no one would dispute that they need to be brought back into real-life situations. But there are so many concerns here—such as lone parents with disabled children and those who may have to travel an hour and a half as well as dropping their children off with childminders and so one—that we need to know how many sanctions are imposed, to whom and under what circumstances It would help us if my noble friend could tell us that, 12 months on, there will be a letter, if not a formal report—one does not have to be too bureaucratic—making sure that we know how many sanctions have been applied and on what grounds. We could then see whether his assurances, which I am absolutely sure are given in good faith, are being interpreted appropriately in jobcentres.

My noble friend makes a very reasonable request. I hope she will forgive me if I cannot, off the top of my head, say precisely what is in train to evaluate and review the effects of this policy. I am sure that there is some way and I promise to take that back to the department to see how we can do it effectively. Next year’s welfare reform Bill, which will take forward some of these broad concepts, will be another opportunity for detailed scrutiny of that issue.

The noble Lord asked about the evidence on sanctioning lone parents. Our administrative data show that under the current income support regime, only one in 20 lone parents subject to the work-focused interview regime are sanctioned each year. Of those sanctioned, more than half go on to attend a work-focused interview within six months.

I am conscious that time is proceeding apace.

As the noble Baroness and I are already owed a letter—we did not even get one late, about which we are heartbroken—perhaps one dealing with some of the other points might be possible. If so, that would be perfectly acceptable.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord and I will do that. I will review the record to make sure that I have covered every point that has been raised.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Medical Profession (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Medical Profession (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2008.

The noble Baroness said: This draft order is the third in a series of affirmative resolution orders and is part of the process of implementing the recommendations made in the White Paper, Trust, Assurance and Safety. It makes what are, in effect, three sets of changes to the framework legislation for the regulation of doctors.

The first set of changes relates to medical education. The order will transfer the statutory functions for the oversight of medical education from the Education Committee of the GMC to the council. This will allow the GMC to bring together all four of its interlocking statutory functions under the auspices of the council. In doing so, the GMC will be able to demonstrate that its responsibilities for medical education are central to, and not isolated from, its other regulatory functions. The order will also remove the residual role of the Privy Council in relation to the first year of postgraduate medical education.

The second set of changes relates to the introduction of licences to practise. Amendments were made to the Medical Act in 2002 to create a new system whereby all practising doctors would need not only to be registered with the GMC but also to hold a licence to practise. In due course, doctors will be allowed to keep their licences to practise only if they go through a process known as revalidation, which will be a periodic re-evaluation of a doctor’s fitness to practise. The introduction of licences to practise is therefore an important preparatory step towards revalidation of all doctors.

Plans for the development and introduction of revalidation have been in place for some time now, but none of this has yet been commenced, and thinking about how revalidation should take place has now evolved. The order amends some of the provisions already in place to bring them in line with the White Paper.

The White Paper indicated that revalidation is now expected to have two components: relicensing, which will apply to all doctors; and recertification, which will apply to specialist doctors. No provision for recertification was included in the 2002 legislation, and so this order makes the necessary changes that will include it.

Other changes to the licensing system address important issues such as the handling of adverse information about a doctor which is discovered in the course of revalidation and additional powers to ensure that, in all cases where fitness to practise concerns are identified, these can be referred through the GMC’s existing fitness to practise procedures.

The third set of changes relates to specialist registration and will, in due course, have a knock-on effect for recertification. The order enables the GMC to allow senior consultants who did not apply for inclusion in the specialist register between January 1997, when it was established, and September 2005, when the current arrangements for access to the register were introduced, to make a late application for entry. This reinstates the powers that the GMC had prior to September 2005.

The current situation, where some long-standing consultants are not on the specialist register, means that there is the potential for a small number of consultants to avoid recertification. Providing a quick and easy route on to the register is a first step in correcting this anomaly.

These reforms will help to raise standards of medical practice and improve the patient experience. The measures will, in the longer term, help to ensure that doctors meet the very high standards that we and they expect. All the measures are supported by the GMC and I commend them to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Medical Profession (Miscellaneous Amendments) Order 2008. 28th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Thornton.)

The Committee will be grateful to the Minister for introducing the order, to which I have no objection in principle. At the moment, as the Minister made clear, the Education Committee of the GMC has the statutory function of overseeing medical education. I accept the arguments that she outlined for transferring those functions to the council of the GMC.

One question that arises from that is whether, in the process of that transfer, anything of value will be lost. I am sure that the Minister will confidently assure me that the answer to that is no, but, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, one advantage of having a separate committee to oversee medical education and nothing but medical education has been its focus. We have had a group of people who have developed experience and specialist expertise in this important area and, although I accept the argument that the council itself should operate in a way that places education at the centre of its deliberations, it could still have done that without the Education Committee being done away with. It is arguable that there may be at least a temporary loss of corporate knowledge and expertise by dint of the transfer and possibly a temporary loss of focus and progress. How is that issue to be dealt with?

As we have heard, the amendments to the 2003 order will allow the GMC to provide a mechanism to enable senior consultants who did apply for inclusion in the specialist register at the time it was established to make a late application to the GMC. This will reinstate the powers that the GMC had prior to September 2005. Again this provision appears sensible. However, I have two queries. As I understand the position, if a consultant is not on the register, he or she is not eligible for recertification and can therefore escape that whole process. Once the order comes into force, I do not understand what is to oblige a consultant who is not registered to apply to have their name entered on the register, beyond simply the terms of the consultant’s contract.

Secondly, perhaps the Minister can assure me that there is no suggestion that the changes proposed in this statutory instrument may have the effect of unintentionally slowing down the recertification procedure for consultants. How many consultants are thought to want to avail themselves of the ability to make a late application? Is the GMC resourced properly to meet the likely demand on top of all its other administrative responsibilities?

I, too, thank the noble Baroness for introducing the order. I wish to raise only a few questions because I have no great objection to it in principle. First, on the issue of the transfer of statutory oversight of medical education to the GMC, I understand—it has been well debated in the House—that the Government’s intention and that of the GMC is to place medical education at the heart of what the GMC does. However, I echo some of the concerns raised by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. How will this change be evaluated and by whom? What would happen if the quality of medical education were to decline or deteriorate? What would happen if the oversight of the quality of medical education were to decline? Those are the questions which arise from what is, in essence, a technical change to the way in which the GMC conducts its business.

I make no comment of any substance on the proposals for licences to practise simply because this is not about the details of revalidation, which is the primary concern voiced by noble Lords during the passage of the Bill. There is still as yet no detail and to raise questions at this point would be continuing to grapple with shadows. However, I wish to refer to the issue of senior consultants who did not apply for inclusion on the specialists register and the reinstated provision for them to make a late application. I understand why that should be done—it is desirable that all specialist consultants within the NHS should be on the specialist register; I understand from the Explanatory Memorandum and from the GMC briefing how the situation has arisen in which a small number of people have not been included in the specialist register; and I understand from comments made by Mr Ben Bradshaw in another place yesterday that we are talking about 200 people or fewer. But no one has explained why these people have not registered when registration of this kind is an essential requirement for an NHS consultant and has been so for over a decade; it is not new.

I would therefore like to know what has caused this other than, I guess, bloody-mindedness on the part of some people. The figure of James Robertson Justice leaps to mind. It is obvious that this is an integral part of the contract that a specialist must have for an NHS consultant’s post—and such a post is a desirable thing to have. I may be being slightly flippant, but I am just intrigued about why this has happened. If it has happened in a situation which has gone on for over a decade, what assurance will there be that that will change as a result of reinstating this concession?

I welcome Schedule 2, and thank the noble Baroness. I have to declare an interest: I am one of those doctors. My specialty came into being late and when, having trained in general practice, I contacted the GMC and said, “I’m down on your general practice list. I should be on the consultants’ list”, they said, “Don’t worry. It’s fine—you’re on the register”. I wrote to the GMC and was reassured that I did not need to change anything. So when everything changed and I missed the boat, I spent some time waiting for my contract to be terminated. I am delighted, as are others in my specialty, that the small number of us will be able to rectify this situation in retrospect. It was not wilful; it was simply the way the specialties evolved. I hope that that answers the question—and I hope that the GMC will let me register.

I hope that the GMC will now send out a very simple form to consultants—I presume that it needs to go to the trust as well to verify that they are bona fide and practising as consultants—and that everything happens quite quickly. In that way, there will be 100 per cent recording in the appropriate parts of the register. We are all on the register; we are just in the wrong parts.

I also have a concern about orphan specialties. There are a few with very small numbers, such as breast physicians. The specialty will determine the recertification process, so it will be important that there is enough flexibility and the categories are broad enough to ensure that somebody who is practising in a narrow area gets recertified in that area and is not forced to go through a load of hoops that no longer apply to the way they practise medicine.

I have a warning regarding recertification and revalidation. Attitude is the biggest problem, and it is the hardest to assess. Communication skills can be assessed, but that is a bit fuzzy. My department has been doing it for some years and we have developed a toolkit for when people run into problems. Factual knowledge in isolation is the easiest to assess. The trouble is, it is the synthesis of all aspects—skills, competencies, attitudes, communications, scientific knowledge—that makes a good doctor. It seems from the research that one of the most sensitive ways to find out who is a good doctor and who is not is to ask other doctors to rate them and ask whether they would allow themselves or their nearest and dearest to be treated by them. The 360-degree appraisal type of approach is probably the best assessment in the long term, but it has to be meaningful. If it happens too often, it becomes ritualistic and a tick-box exercise. I give that as a slight warning but greatly welcome my personal change in status.

I thank noble Lords for their brief and thoughtful contributions. The aim of the reforms is to enhance confidence in the system of professional regulation.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, both asked whether we need a separate committee for medical education. As I said in my opening remarks, we want this to be core to the GMC’s other statutory functions. Removing the Education Committee as a separate statutory committee does not signal a diminution of the importance of education; instead, it highlights its crucial importance in all the regulatory functions carried out by the GMC.

The GMC is proposing a three-board model to improve co-ordination of medical education and training—a graduate board, a postgraduate board and a continuing professional education board. While the Education Committee will no longer be a separate statutory committee, the council will have three boards to provide advice on all stages of medical education.

That brings me to the other point that noble Lords raised concerning continuing expertise and the potential loss of expertise. It seems very likely that many of those who have served on, and been involved with, the Education Committee will move on to the new committees and therefore their expertise will not be lost.

I turn to the subject of specialist consultants. Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for informing the Committee and answering questions for me. I am always very grateful for her interventions. The vast majority of the 200 consultants are long-established and, for one reason or another, have not registered. However, we hope that the carrot of free registration will encourage those who have not done so to register. In future, those who do not do so may find recertification difficult if they do not co-operate. We hope that this carrot means that a stick will not have to be used at this point.

Finally, I turn to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in relation to standards and orphan specialties. We intend that standards will be developed for each area of specialist recertification by the appropriate medical royal college or specialist association. We expect the academy and individual colleges to work closely together to develop these standards. Therefore, although there are differences in practice, we have to ensure that there are consistent standards but with the flexibility that the noble Baroness mentioned.

If I have missed any points, I shall pick them up and write to noble Lords.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Amendment of List of Responders) Order 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Amendment of List of Responders) Order 2008.

The noble Baroness said: This order amends the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 to ensure that NHS trusts that provide ambulance services remain as category 1 responders if they attain NHS foundation trust status.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Civil Contingencies Act imposes a series of duties on local bodies, such as the police, fire brigades and local authorities, which are known as category 1 responders. Schedule 1 to the Act classifies NHS trusts as category 1 responders if they provide ambulance services, hospital accommodation and services in relation to accidents and emergencies, or public health services in Wales.

NHS foundation trusts, first established in England in 2004, have a status that is different from that of NHS trusts. Established as independent public benefit corporations, they are free from central government control and accountable to their local population. The Act classifies NHS foundation trusts as category 1 responders only if they provide,

“hospital accommodation and services in relation to accidents and emergencies”.

It does not take account of the potential for foundation trusts to provide ambulance services.

In June 2007, my predecessor announced that NHS trusts that provide ambulance services would be able to apply for foundation trust status from April 2009. In other words, none is in existence at the moment. Therefore, an amendment to Schedule 1 is required. This order serves to maintain the status quo should an ambulance trust become a foundation trust, ensuring that it will continue to be subject to the duties and responsibilities of category 1 responders.

As I am sure the Committee can appreciate, failing to amend the Act could, in the event of ambulance trusts attaining foundation trust status, result in these trusts no longer being legally responsible for the duties set out in the Civil Contingencies Act, and this, in turn, could have serious implications for patient safety and, indeed, the nation’s ability to respond to a national emergency. As such, I commend the order to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (Amendment of List of Responders) Order 2008. 30th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Thornton.)

I thank the Minister for introducing the order, which is straightforward in its purpose and content. In broad terms, I take no issue with it. However, a few questions arise. Two of the defining features of a foundation trust are the greater degree of autonomy that it enjoys, as compared with a non-foundation trust, and the fact that it is not performance-managed by a strategic health authority. Given that these features apply, I am not clear about what drivers will exist to ensure that the care of patients who have been looked after by an ambulance foundation trust and then passed across to the A&E department of an acute NHS trust will be seamless and of a uniformly high standard.

I appreciate that foundation trusts have a duty of co-operation with the wider NHS, but that does not seem to be sufficient to guarantee that the interaction between an ambulance foundation trust and an acute trust will make the quality of the whole patient journey something that the ambulance trust makes one of its specific priorities. What matters to a foundation trust in terms of demonstrating that it has performed well is that it has met certain benchmarks relating to the care that it delivers. Whether or not it has facilitated good care delivered by another provider is not central to its mission.

On the other hand, what matters to a badly injured patient is not just the length of initial response time by the ambulance, or whether he is well looked after en route to A&E, but how long it takes him to access high-dependency care in hospital. Not for a minute do I wish to sound critical of ambulance crews, whose professionalism and dedication are not in question. I am just a little concerned that the systems and structures that we are setting up may not always work to the maximum extent possible in favour of good patient care, and that the greater insularity of an ambulance foundation trust may, in practice, not be wholly conducive to the delivery of optimum patient care along the entire patient pathway.

On a different issue, one of the other distinguishing features of foundation trusts is that they are fully subject to the tariff system. What progress is being made to apply a workable and credible tariff system to ambulance trusts, and how will this operate? Is it anticipated that there will be any change in target response times for ambulances, if and when ambulance trusts are overseen by Monitor? On a factual point, I should be glad to know how many ambulance trusts have indicated a wish to apply for foundation status.

Reverting to the content of the order, what steps are being taken to ensure that disaster preparedness training is being extended to these trusts, so that staff remain fully briefed and prepared for the worst? Will these civil contingencies duties be built into the functions of ambulance foundation trusts?

I thank the Minister for introducing the order and I, too, wish to home in on some of the same concerns as those expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I, too, am concerned about the fractured nature of the planning and management of emergency response that might arise from the granting of foundation trust status. For that reason, I want to ask the Minister the following question. It is right and sensible that foundation trusts and ambulance trusts should be an integral part of civil contingencies. Will this function be a factor upon which an application by an ambulance trust to be a foundation trust is assessed? Whether it is or not, will the preparedness and performance of an ambulance trust in the event of a disaster be part of the ongoing evaluation and maintenance of its trust status?

I thank both noble Lords for their questions, some of which I had anticipated. We spent a considerable amount of the early part of this year discussing the work of Monitor and the CQC. We commended Monitor for the admirable way in which it goes about its business and the way in which it ensures that foundation trusts carry out the job that they are supposed to do. That is what it and the CQC would do for ambulance foundation trusts. They would be under the same regulatory regime as other foundation trusts.

The noble Earl asked about payment for results. Payment for results in the sector is not a pre-requisite for the introduction of foundation trust status. On civil contingencies, that will be part of their terms and conditions of authorisation. It will be monitored and will be part of the granting of foundation trust status. They all intend to apply. Only one or two are on the stocks for early application.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

There is a Division in the House. The Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 7.16 to 7.25 pm.]

Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) (No. 2) Order 2008

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) (No. 2) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The order has a simple purpose, which is to amend the service discipline Acts—the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957—to remove the constraint that the prosecuting authority for each service must be an officer of that service. Rather than an officer, the amendment permits a person to be appointed to be the prosecuting authority in the future. This amendment will allow Her Majesty the Queen to appoint Bruce Houlder QC, the current Director of Service Prosecutions, or DSP as he is more usually known, to be the prosecuting authority for each of the three services.

Our intention is that his appointment should take effect from 1 January 2009. I am pleased to say that this date is consistent with the original target we set for the DSP to begin work as the single prosecutor for all three Armed Forces. It is the date that was discussed with Bruce Houlder when he was appointed to be the DSP, and I know that he is keen to take up his duties as a prosecutor on the date that was originally planned.

The reason for the amendment, for which the Government are today seeking approval, is that the legislation under which the post of DSP was created—the Armed Forces Act 2006—is not now going to be implemented in its original timescale. The Act received Royal Assent in November 2006. Since then, work has been underway to implement it. That work has involved developing the detailed policy, drafting the secondary legislation, writing the manuals and preparing the training that will be needed to enable the Armed Forces to move to the new single system of service law.

The target date for implementation had, for some time, been established as 1 January 2009. However, during the summer, it became clear that some changes had taken place which meant the original target date might no longer be achievable. Those changes were connected to the very significant amount of secondary legislation being produced under the Act, not least the transitional provisions which will govern the move from the three current systems of service law to the single system under the 2006 Act.

The work on the secondary legislation and the main transitionals order proved to be much more complex and time-consuming than had been anticipated. With regard to the transitionals order, an assessment of quite how complex the work would be could not be made until the extensive policy instructions were finalised and drafting begun. That is not altogether surprising when you consider that we are moving to a single new system from three separate Acts of Parliament, which date back to the 1950s and which have been amended and updated periodically over the intervening decades.

Taken overall, it is vital that we get the transitional regime right. It is central to the interests of our Armed Forces that we ensure the transition to the new system of service law is as smooth as possible. As a result, it was announced by Written Statement on 7 October that implementation of the Armed Forces Act 2006 was to be postponed until October 2009. As the DSP was due to get his statutory powers from the Armed Forces Act 2006, the delay to its implementation means that he will not in fact be able to assume those powers when he had expected.

Fundamentally, that would have prevented him taking full responsibility for service prosecutions until October 2009. Given that he would have been in post for more than 16 months by then, we therefore looked at how we might remedy the situation. We decided that the most suitable course would be to bring before Parliament legislation to amend the service discipline Acts, thus allowing Her Majesty the Queen to appoint Bruce Houlder as the prosecuting authority for each of the services. He will assume full powers as the DSP when the Armed Forces Act 2006 is implemented in October 2009. He has already laid out the plans for a new organisation which will bring together the staff of the current prosecuting authorities from 1 January 2009, and he has put in train what promises to be an extensive training programme for prosecuting officers.

When the legislation was considered in 2006, there was concern in some quarters that the person appointed to be the DSP might not have a service background. Defence Ministers at the time said that the main priority was to appoint the right person for the job. We believe that Bruce Houlder is that person; he brings impeccable legal credentials, credibility and charisma to the post. We said to Parliament that any person who was appointed to be the DSP and who did not have a service background would undergo a period of induction. The aim of that induction would be to give them a good understanding of how the Armed Forces operate. Speaking at Report on 31 October 2006, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, said that it was,

“essential that the director has a knowledge of how each of the services operates and of the needs and the working of the service system of justice and discipline”.—[Official Report, 31/10/06; col. 240.]

Having started shortly after the DSP took up post in May, I am pleased to report that his induction has gone well and is now drawing to a close. As part of his induction, he has visited all the court martial venues and witnessed several trials in progress. He has also visited the service police and the Military Corrective Training Centre at Colchester. More widely, he has seen the Armed Forces working in command headquarters; he has seen them going about their day-to-day business at bases, units and stations in the UK and Germany; and he has seen them in the most difficult circumstances, on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In sum, he has travelled far and wide to develop a knowledge of the Armed Forces and what they do at home and overseas. This induction has given him a good understanding of the Armed Forces and, in particular, of how the service justice system operates. It will stand him in good stead as he takes on the important role of the first ever Director of Service Prosecutions.

It is regrettable that there has been a delay in implementing the 2006 Act, but I am pleased that we have been able to maintain the momentum towards implementation by keeping to the original timetable for the DSP taking up his prosecuting function. I assure the House that the Government will spare no effort to ensure that the work gets done on time and the 2006 Act is implemented next October. I am very clear that we must be able to move in an orderly fashion to the new single system of service law that the Armed Forces want. I commend the order to the Committee. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) (No. 2) Order 2008. 30th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)

I thank the Minister for explaining the order. Originally, we were told that there would be 65 statutory instruments under the Armed Forces Act 2006, but that has now increased by 15 to 80 during the past 12 months. I would be grateful if the Minister could say why that should be; is there a level of complexity that was not foreseen or is it simply a lack of foresight? We understand that full implementation hinges on a transitional order that will be laid this summer. Why has there been this delay in introducing such a fundamental measure?

The Government’s decision to appoint someone as DSP who has not served as a regular or reserve member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces is bound to raise further questions about how well the new system is to emerge from the operation of the old. However, I was comforted by what the noble Lord said in his opening remarks. Can he provide information about whether he anticipates that the effect of the change to a single system of discipline will result in a more swift delivery of justice? There continues to be a wide disparity in the time that it takes for a case to arrive at court martial. Last year, for example, that took an average of 267 days in the Royal Air Force and 74 days in the Royal Navy. Will the Minister explain how the order will address this?

Our attitude to the legislation has throughout been constructive but realistic. It still contains wisps of the doctrinaire, as to which we remain unhappy. However, it is evident that the order is a necessary step and we do not oppose it.

We support the order, which provides for the appointment of a qualified officer to be the prosecuting authority for the relevant service, be it Army, Air Force or Navy. We recall the debates on the Armed Forces Bill 2006, now an Act, when my sadly missed noble friend Lord Garden tabled an amendment to ensure that the director of service prosecutions could be appointed only if he had at least two years’ regular or four years’ reserve military experience in the previous 10 years. Sadly, the Liberal Democrat Front Bench was not successful in getting the amendment into the Bill. Although the order does not address that specific point, the clarification that it makes to the definition of a prosecuting authority goes some way to alleviating our concerns about the relevant provision of the 2006 Act. Thus we are content.

I thank noble Lords for their contribution. The number of orders has risen, as stated, from 65 to almost 80. That some existing statutory instruments require updating to be brought into line with the terminology of the Armed Forces Act 2006 is the reason for the majority of the extra orders.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked the reason for the delay. I have some personal experience of large projects and they are extraordinarily difficult to estimate. I do not think that we would be served by much more analysis of the delay. Frequently, the complexity comes only when you get into the detail. I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that this is a process that we all saw as having to be thorough. We did not want to go into it with any glitches, and we wanted the Armed Forces to go into it with the right people and the right training. The delay will allow for that. When a project is delayed, one has a choice: “Do I do it slowly and thoroughly, or a bit more quickly to achieve timetable?” This is an area where slowly—or, rather, with all due speed—and thoroughly is right.

I was asked whether the order will result in more swift delivery of justice. I do not yet have a note on that, so I shall write to noble Lords.

I return to the matter of the director of service prosecutions not being a former officer, about which I know the House was concerned. Having looked at what has happened, I am seized of the thoroughness of the induction. Perhaps I may read a letter from the DSP to Vice Admiral Wilkinson, who is Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Personnel), about his induction. The DSP said:

“The induction that I have received over the last 6 months culminating in a visit to Afghanistan and Iraq has been most valuable. In the course of these months, alongside the work I have been doing towards setting up the new overarching prosecuting authority, I have seen just about every aspect of service life that will be relevant to my role, and responsibility towards discipline and prosecutions. … All three services have offered me the greatest help and support towards gaining an understanding of the clear context in which I will be taking future decisions. These will bear not only on the lives of servicemen and their families, but also of the victims where criminal offences occur. … I have tried to reassure COs wherever I have gone, that whilst I clearly have my job to do, I am also here to support the operational effectiveness of HM Armed Forces. … This requires me to understand the context in which actions and decisions are performed and made”.

I can assure the Committee that the Armed Forces are making every effort to induct him properly and I have every confidence that he will lead his new unit with distinction. I cannot emphasise enough how officials have stressed to me the importance of doing the training and getting the documentation right before the 2006 Act goes live. I have no note on swiftness and so I shall write.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

As the two remaining orders will be rescheduled, that completes the business before the Grand Committee today. The Committee stands adjourned.

The Committee adjourned at 7.40 pm.