House of Lords
Tuesday, 25 November 2008.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.
Coalition on Charging: Charging into Poverty?
My Lords, as my noble friend and other noble Lords are aware, the Green Paper on the future of care and support will be published next year for consultation. Members of the coalition have attended stakeholder events helping to inform the development of this important policy. The Green Paper team has a copy of the coalition’s report, which will be taken into account when developing the Green Paper.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is she aware that charges are having an absolutely devastating effect on disabled people? Some have been deterred from using these services, which is very sad because they need them. There was some talk of suicide, and it was not idle talk. People really are desperate, so can my noble friend tell the House precisely what the Government’s plans are for dealing urgently with this problem?
I am surprised that my noble friend has not agreed to meet the coalition, because although individual members have spoken to Ministers, that is not the same as having a full meeting. It is imperative, so I hope that my noble friend will change her mind and agree to meet them; that would cause great delight among disabled people.
My Lords, my noble friend asks two questions, and I will attempt to deal with both. I was not aware of the havoc and severe distress that he has mentioned, and I am very sorry to hear it. I will be very keen to hear about the problems he has referred to. However, the question appears to be based on the supposition that all service users are charged and that individual means for costs incurred in coping with disability are not taken into account. This is not the case. There is no reason for anyone to be deterred from applying to their local council for services. Councils must apply a means test before making any charge for services to ensure that nobody will be asked to pay for more than they can afford.
I am very puzzled by what my noble friend said about meeting the coalition. We are consulting with most members of the coalition already. Ten out of the 18 members are represented on the Government’s stakeholder panel on reform of the care and support system. I have made sure that the remaining two organisations are added to the stakeholder list. The report that the coalition published is certainly being used to inform the Green Paper. I should be happy to meet members, but there is no doubt that the coalition is already having a significant impact on this policy development.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that 47 per cent of families with a severely or profoundly disabled child live in poverty, probably due to the fact that they pay five times as much for specialist childcare as other families? That often means that the parents have to give up work to take over the job of full-time carers. Does the Minister believe that the £60 payment in January, offered in yesterday’s PBR, will ameliorate this dire situation?
My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware through his work, it is not the only payment that families receive to support them with their disabled children. A whole range of support and services should be available to them. It is important that families use the systems that are effective in making sure that those services are available to them. It is important that they use the information services and that they challenge local authorities where they think that services are inadequate.
My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that, when assessing the charges for care, local authorities do not take full account of unavoidable costs such as the essential utilities of heating and water? My own local authority, Hammersmith and Fulham, is being taken to judicial review in the High Court later this week for failure fully to impact-assess its charging policy for care. What guidance do the Government provide to local authorities on undertaking full and effective impact assessments of care services and on charges to use services? Does the Minister think that new guidance is required to prevent poverty?
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. The fair charging policies guidance already requires assessment of service users’ ability to pay charges. Local authorities have to assess individual users’ disability-related expenditure. The guidance makes it clear that it is not acceptable to make any charge without prior assessment of its reasonableness. If councils make a mistake in assessing charges, there are effective routes for appeal such as the Local Government Ombudsman, who I understand is both quick and effective in dealing with such cases.
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. I undertake to investigate why it has not been addressed for the past 20 years, although I have to say that the Government are keen that all the people who deal with disabled people and disabled children have the appropriate training.
My Lords, will the Government carry forward the report’s recommendation that when local authorities propose changes to charging policies, service users and their families should be fully involved in planning the changes so that the interests and concerns of the people who really need the services are properly taken into account? Will she recognise that the varying interpretations of the distinction between healthcare and social care is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, because some people are being charged when they ought not to be?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very important point. People do not care whether what they need is provided by the health service or social services; the key question is whether it is effective. That is why charging for care is being addressed in the Government’s current reforms. We are running a major consultation which will end this month. It is clear that there is a lack of public awareness about care and support, what it means and how it is funded. It is vital that we build public understanding so that we can have a genuine debate about solutions.
Banking: Lloyds TSB and HBOS
My Lords, on the advice of the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority, HM Treasury believes that the merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS will have benefits for financial stability. The boards of both banks wish to continue with the merger and so the Government have agreed a recapitalisation package with them on that basis. It is now a matter for shareholders whether the merger proceeds.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Does he accept the findings of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research that the banks will need an additional £110 billion on top of what they have already been given? Does he agree with his right honourable friend in another place, John McFall, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, that, if the banks do not play ball and resume spending, the demand for full-scale nationalisation may well grow? Does he agree with him that civil servants are good at running banks?
My Lords, there were three questions there. First, no money has been given to banks. Shares are being acquired in banks on fair market value terms, terms available to other investors. Funds are being lent to banks through guarantees and insurance on a market-price-related basis. There are many estimates of the likely required capitalisation of banks. I am content to rely on the advice that we received at the Treasury from the Financial Services Authority. The capitalisation that it proposed, and on which we worked on 13 October, is a stressed-condition capitalisation, which ensures that banks will be able to cope with a serious recession while at the same time maintaining their capacity to lend.
Finally, in response to the noble Lord’s final question, the banks are not being run by civil servants. They are being run by their own management under their own boards of directors, which in certain instances will be strengthened as a result of actions that we have taken to support the recapitalisation of the banks.
My Lords, have not Her Majesty's Government shown in this case an unusual bias in favour of the merger, first, by specially passing regulations to ensure that financial stability could be an issue overriding the Office of Fair Trading’s concern with the maintenance of competition and, secondly, by saying that the bailout or capitalisation of the banks should be conditional on this merger going ahead?
My Lords, the Secretary of State has taken action to ensure that financial stability is a condition under which a merger of this sort can take place—quite rightly so. Preserving financial stability and ensuring that our banks are in a position to support the needs of their customers, businesses and individuals, are essential. The Secretary of State has taken the appropriate action to ensure that that can be done.
My Lords, the Minister will no doubt be aware of the publication from Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, called Lloyds TSB/HBOS: The Yorkshire Solution. That document makes clear that 7.2 per cent of all jobs in the greater Halifax area are with HBOS. That, incidentally, compares with 1.9 per cent in Edinburgh. I declare that my son-in-law is one of that 7.2 per cent.
My Lords, we have to declare interests. On 18 September, 10 weeks ago, we first learnt of the merger. Would it not really be sensible if Sir Victor Blank, the chairman, and Eric Daniels, the chief executive, visited the town of Halifax and assured the employees and the community about their intentions regarding the 6,500 jobs in that town?
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot account for the movement of Sir Victor Blank and Mr Eric Daniels. What I do know is that I have met Yorkshire MPs and those who speak on behalf of Yorkshire Forward. I am aware of the concern in Yorkshire, particularly in Halifax and Bradford, about the problems experienced by Bradford & Bingley and HBOS. I know the strength, durability and skill of the Yorkshire workforce and I am sure that those skills will be recognised by the management of Lloyds TSB.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate asks an interesting question. I have in the past expressed sadness at the decline of mutuals, insurance companies and banks. It is a great shame, but the owners of those mutuals—their members—voted in favour of this happening. To some extent, they have brought some of these problems on themselves. I hope that the remaining mutuals, particularly in the building society movement, will continue to be strong and purposeful and deliver good value for their customers.
Ask a question!
My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me and one of the most distinguished Members of this House that “there is no alternative” to the merger of these two banks? Does he also agree that, if we had had the mischance of having an independent Scotland, both the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank would now be bankrupt and have disappeared altogether?
My Lords, there were two questions there. The second is hypothetical, which I do not intend to answer. The merger of Lloyds TSB and HBOS is a matter for the shareholders and the courts which will have to define whether the merger process accords with legal requirements. I will leave it to the shareholders and the courts.
My Lords, Latin is an important subject. It is valuable in supporting pupils’ learning of modern languages and can provide a useful basis for students’ study across a range of disciplines. It is for schools to decide whether it should be included in their curriculum. The number of non-selective state schools offering Latin has more than doubled since the launch in 2000 of the Cambridge Latin resource, for which the Government provided £5 million of funding.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am pleased that she shares my view on the importance of Latin as a way of understanding virtually all Romance languages, particularly English. That being so, is she not disappointed that 85 per cent of state schools still offer no Latin at all? Is she not concerned that each year 35 new Latin teachers are trained but more than 60 leave the profession? Is it not time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and given the same encouragement as other languages?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. He is correct that the number of Latin teachers in training is around that number. Indeed, it has been approximately 35 to 40 for the past 10 years and it is obviously worrying if a number of teachers retire or move out of the field. However, the Languages Diploma Development Partnership is considering the place of Latin within the languages diploma. Beginning in January, there will be a consultation about that, in which my noble friend may be interested in being involved.
My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the new careers services advise students that Latin has a wide application to future careers, not just in the classics and the modern languages based on Latin but also in the sciences, in particular biology? A biologist cannot manage without a good knowledge of Latin. Will she ensure that, even if an individual school cannot offer Latin to a student, Latin can at least be part of a local authority-wide curriculum offer and thus be made available to that young person?
My Lords, I am not sure that I can ensure it in the way that the noble Baroness suggests but I will certainly think about her comments and take them back to the department. We recently introduced a new form of qualification for modern languages called the language ladder, which I am advised is used for a range of languages from Welsh and Gaelic through to other modern languages and which emphasises the value of teaching, listening, speaking and writing. So we are thinking carefully how languages are promoted in our schools.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that not only is there advantage in teaching Latin in primary schools but that Latin has a huge advantage over modern languages in that it demands not fluency—no one is asked to speak Latin or write stories in it—but accuracy? Accuracy in Latin depends on introducing children to the grammatical and syntactical structure of language, which carries over into all Romance languages, at any rate. Therefore, will she assure the House that the Government will not only mildly support Latin in primary schools but actually press for the language committees of which she has spoken to put Latin high in the list of languages?
My Lords, I am very interested in the noble Baroness’s comments. I heard only just now from my noble friend Lady Thornton about a successful school in Hackney that is teaching Latin and Greek and where the children are receiving a high-quality service. However, the Government’s current priority is to develop the teaching of modern languages in primary schools. We have made a commitment that all children in 2010 will have an entitlement to learn modern languages at key stage 2 and that that will be compulsory in the primary curriculum by 2011. Currently 84 per cent of primary schools are teaching languages at key stage 2, but I hear what the noble Baroness is saying and I will share it with my colleagues in the department.
My Lords, following the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the importance of Latin in science—indeed, it is important and helpful in learning modern languages as well—I wonder whether we as a House should give the lead. I believe that we in this place can have 10 lessons in modern languages. Can Latin be put on the curriculum for Members of your Lordships’ House?
My Lords, I am very interested in the noble Baroness’s suggestion and would support any additional opportunities for learning in your Lordships’ House or elsewhere. I myself have recently taken advantage of Welsh lessons and I am sure that other noble Lords have other dreams that they wish to fulfil.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am an indifferent Latin scholar but a slightly better gardener? The small Latin that I have—no Greek, but small Latin—helps me a great deal in my horticultural endeavours. Does she agree, going back to the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, put, that the practice of medicine, for example, along with a number of other activities that we wish to encourage, is made considerably more difficult for those who have no Latin?
My Lords, should the noble Baroness’s robust reply in her original Answer, which I applaud, lead one to believe that she would be against the occasional movement to remove Latin words from the English language on the basis that they complicate English? If that were successful, words such as “exit”, “et cetera”, “Anno Domini” and “am/pm” would go. Would that not be a great mistake?
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether, following the remarks by Sir Richard Tilt, chairman of the Social Security Advisory Committee, they plan to defer proposals to make lone parents, disabled people and the long-term jobless seek work.
My Lords, there is no current intention to defer our proposals.
We have learnt the lessons of the past and know that it is important to help people prepare for work, not abandon them on benefits, causing them to become detached from the labour market. Our welfare reform proposals offer more support to ensure that people are well placed to enter work when the economy picks up.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he accept that the whole welfare-to-work policy, which we on these Benches and the Social Security Advisory Committee broadly endorse, was conceived in a much more benign economic climate? In the light of that, are the Government prepared to agree that, until there is better childcare, more flexibility in employment and enough well trained personal advisers in enough jobcentres around the country, the tough sanctions regime should be abandoned?
No, my Lords, I do not agree with that. The capacity of Jobcentre Plus is being increased. We shall doubtless deal with that when we discuss the Statement shortly. Of course, it is important that affordable and appropriate childcare is available, if we are to ask lone parents to undertake employment. The Government have invested more than £25 billion in childcare and early years provision since 1997. Over the next two years, we expect about 18,000 additional lone parents to move into work as a result of our proposals. However, there are some 460,000 vacancies in childcare and early years provision in England alone. We believe that it is not right to step back from the proposals. In the past we consigned people on to benefits and effectively destroyed their lives. Eight hundred thousand people have been on incapacity benefit for 10 years or more because we neglected them and their families in the past. We must not repeat that.
My Lords, would it not make better sense to help to liberate people from the poverty trap in which they are ensnared? Does the Minister not understand that when many people at the bottom of the stack go back to work and earn £1, income tax and loss of benefit takes back 80p out of that £1? Why not give them the incentive to work instead of trying to beat them into work?
My Lords, nobody is trying to beat anybody into work. Everybody who goes through a Jobcentre Plus process to be helped towards the labour market is provided with a “better off in work” calculation, which demonstrates exactly what their circumstances are. The proposition that people will inevitably end up poorer by going into work is simply not the case under this Government’s policies. Withdrawal rates of benefits are lower than under the Conservative Government.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, in considering whether to require a person to take up work, it is essential for Jobcentre Plus staff to have regard to the availability of accessible transport, the nature of the work, whether it is reasonable for the person concerned given their impairment and previous career history, and whether it is reasonable to expect a person to take a job which would lead to a fall in their family income?
My Lords, I agree that the issues the noble Lord has identified should, and would, be properly taken into account in determining whether a person should take up an employment opportunity. That is exactly what the employment and support allowance and the flexible New Deal proposals are all about.
My Lords, in following up the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, does my noble friend agree that under previous Administrations, in which a wage was a man’s wage, often, if he had dependants, he was better off on benefits, whereas tax credits were designed precisely to ensure that the take-home pay reflected family size so that work paid?
My Lords, is not the problem with withdrawal rates that they are different for different benefits? None the less, even in the worst recession since the Second World War, more than half a million jobs are waiting to be filled, as the noble Lord has just said. Surely he will agree that to abandon people to state benefits, whether single parents or anyone else, is no way to achieve the Government’s aim of lifting them out of poverty?
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord. As he said, half a million job vacancies are available at any one time, there is a very dynamic labour market, millions of people move between jobs, from work into benefits and from benefits into work, and 10,000 vacancies are notified to Jobcentre Plus every working day. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That does not mean that we should not properly also focus resources on those who will be made newly redundant in the current economic climate. Yesterday’s PBR announcements will help us significantly to deal with those issues.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, despite all the Government’s efforts, families still fall through the poverty trap? For example, where a young mother has a disabled child and would like to go back to work but that would mean part-time work and, therefore, she would lose her carer’s allowance and end up with less than she is receiving on benefits. I hope that the Government will look at those circumstances where there are still gaps in the benefits.
My Lords, I am afraid that we have hit 30 minutes.
A message was brought from the Commons, That they agree to certain Lords amendments to the Planning Bill without amendment and that they disagree to the remaining amendments for which they have assigned reasons.
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons be considered forthwith.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to Bill 69, as first printed for the Commons.]
My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 115, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 115A.
Yesterday the other place rejected by a majority of over 70 the amendment put forward by this House to amend the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to ensure that those exercising planning functions have “special regard” to the preservation of gardens, groups of gardens and urban green spaces. I hope that your Lordships’ House will now accept the argument put forward—indeed, the way forward proposed—by my right honourable friend John Healey, which was carried in the other place.
The original amendment put forward by noble Lords opposite was intended to address a problem that has become known as “garden grabbing”. The amendment as constructed was extremely problematic. It suggested that planning authorities should have special regard to back gardens in all aspects of the planning system, both at the plan-making stage and in determining applications. That was unacceptable because it would have meant that planning authorities would have had to give priority to the consideration of back gardens in planning decisions over and above other considerations, such as design or the suitability of the transport links, in determining appeals.
I made it clear at Third Reading that I do not deny that there is an issue to be addressed and that there are public and political concerns around the issue of the loss of gardens to development. Our case for a more responsible and evidence-based response, however, rests on the fact that, although there is a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence in individual boroughs where gardens are being lost—some of that evidence was rehearsed again in another place—there is a crucial absence of systematic evidence as to where, how and why this is occurring, why some local planning authorities are more successful than others in developing policies for protecting back gardens and where a sustainable solution may lie.
I return to the point that I made on Report and at Third Reading—that the solution lies in the hands of local authorities that choose to develop. As my right honourable friend made clear in the other place, local authorities can set out, within their local development frameworks, strong and specific local policies that protect gardens in particular areas if that is desirable. Our planning policy statement 3—it is on planning for housing and was published in November 2006—also strengthened the local authority’s hand in this: local authorities can set individual brownfield targets that apply only to back gardens, effectively separating them from derelict land and vacant sites. My right honourable friend in another place quoted several examples, as I have done in this House, that show where that is working well and pointed out that local authorities already have the power to turn down applications for inappropriate housing development in back gardens. Provided that the supply of land is maintained and the proposed development is in line with the council’s planning for housing objectives, they can resist garden development and expect support at appeal.
There is simply no evidence that the Planning Inspectorate overturns local authority decisions on brownfield development just because they are on garden land; that was raised in the other place yesterday. I am able to put some figures before the House, which were provided to us by PINS. They show that over the two years from October 2005 until September 2007, 28.5 per cent of appeals were granted on minor dwellings—that is, fewer than 10 dwellings—which means that in 71.5 per cent of cases PINS supported the local authority’s decision. Of that 28.5 per cent, some of the development would have been on previously residential land. It is simply not true to say that any increase in garden development—if, indeed, there is one—is because of the actions of the inspectorate.
My right honourable friend also said—I absolutely concur with this—that there is genuine confusion about the evidence that so-called garden grabbing is happening. For example, I have tried to follow up a survey that the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, mentioned in our last debate—he referred to a survey of six local authorities. I have failed to find it; I am sure that that is my fault rather than his, but I would welcome sight of it because it is reported to have found that, in the sample of authorities, 72 per cent of all brownfield site development is on back gardens. Our published statistics—they are taken from the land use change statistics, which are collected and published by my department on the amount of development on previously developed land as a percentage of all new housing and include development of back gardens—show that the figure across England is 26.9 per cent. Indeed, the Mayor of London’s draft London housing strategy indicated that only 3.78 per cent of new units in 2006 were on gardens.
I am going into such detail because I want to demonstrate that the situation is simply not clear. We can all agree that there are no systematic figures, that there is no uniform approach to address the issue and that the issue is best addressed at local level to reflect local circumstances. That is why I confirm, in response to the debate that noble Lords started in this House and which they pursued assiduously, that we are proposing to begin a review early in the new year of evidence on the extent of development on back gardens to ascertain whether there is a clear and genuine problem. If there is a problem, we will take action to remedy the situation by, for example, making revisions to policy, changing the definition of previously developed land or offering targeted support and guidance to local authorities.
We can proceed only from a robust evidence base, which we do not currently have. I know that noble Lords appreciate that—we are always told in this House to be sure of our evidence before plunging into policy. We must take the greatest care that policy changes do not bring perverse consequences and that they are properly consulted on. Noble Lords will also agree that, given the demand for housing—especially affordable housing—we have to be sure that a change of policy would not undermine our objectives on housing.
Having listened to the debate in the other place last night, I am pleased to say that my right honourable friend’s announcement of a review and a subsequent commitment on policy was welcomed by Members of the Opposition. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords who raised the issue successfully in this House will now feel that they can accept the outcome in another place.
Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 115, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 115A.—(Baroness Andrews.)
My Lords, since garden grabbing was debated and voted on in this House on Report, our amendment on the issue was debated yesterday in another place and, predictably, thrown out. During the debate, there was strong support from all parties for the need to protect gardens and open spaces. Indeed, it was heartening that on Report in this House the Minister said:
“We support the underlying aim of the amendment”.—[Official Report, 12/11/08; col. 694.]
However, when arguing against our garden preservation amendment, both the noble Baroness and the Minister in another place, John Healey, argued that there is sufficient protection within PPS3 to preserve gardens. The small print of PPS3 must be so small that this protection is unidentifiable. Even the Minister’s honourable friend Paul Truswell had to ask for clarification on how PPS3 can be used to address garden grabbing. The issue certainly is not clear to me, to local authorities or, indeed, to the Planning Inspectorate, especially as PPS3 defines previously developed land as,
“land … occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land”.
That definition specifically does not exclude gardens but it includes them within the curtilage of the house. This issue was not helped by John Prescott saying, when Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Planning Inspectorate, that the need for housebuilding was such that gardens were a legitimate source of development. We can go on debating whether PPS3 offers sufficient protection for gardens but it is obvious to me that, as I think the noble Baroness said, the policy is unclear about whether gardens can or should be protected.
Another tenet of the Government’s arguments against the amendment has been that brownfield policy has been in existence for years and therefore a change of course now is either not necessary or too complicated. However, that is not the case. The previous version of the guidance, PPG3, issued by my noble friend Lord Patten in 1992 when Secretary of State, did not include any definition of gardens as brownfield, nor did it contain density targets. Indeed, the guidance discouraged residential infill where inappropriate and gave a broad discretion for councils to protect the character of their locality. It stated:
“Where authorities consider that the pressure for development and redevelopment is such as to threaten seriously the character of an established residential area which ought to be protected, they may include density and other policies in their local plans for the areas concerned, while avoiding undue rigidity. Policies may also need to cover the physical scale of new buildings, access, and in areas where new development is likely to have serious traffic implications, off-street car parking standards. Policies should take account of the character of particular residential areas … Where the planning authority considers that existing densities in a particular area should not be exceeded, a policy to that effect in the local plan can help to deter the speculative demolition of sound housing”.
That policy gave gardens and open spaces the necessary protection while giving local authorities flexibility.
The policy has now changed and it changed under this Government. I believe that they now recognise this, too, which is why they are offering us a review. I welcome the announcement that they made yesterday, which was repeated by the Minister, that there will be a review of this issue early in the new year, but that could signify either that the Government have accepted, however grudgingly, that there is a serious concern that must be addressed or that they simply wish to kick the subject into the long grass in the hope that it will go away. I hope that the former is the Government’s motivation. Indeed, I feel sure of that, given that the Minister said:
“We support the underlying aim of the amendment”.—[Official Report, 12/11/08; col. 694.]
As the underlying aim of the amendment is to protect gardens and green spaces in urban areas from infill and rapacious overdevelopment, the Government’s concession is very welcome.
I hope that the Minister can furnish the House with some details of what form the review will take. One of the great difficulties in this area is that there are no reliable national figures and facts, because the Government do not collect them. There must therefore be an external review, not simply an internal department review of whether anything should be done. The review must be evidence-based, comprehensive and countrywide, encompassing all local planning authorities in England. What is the timescale of the review? The matter is urgent and concern is widespread. When will the review report? Will the Minister facilitate a debate in this House?
I hope and expect that the Minister will agree that the following questions should be asked. What percentage of new homes is built on brownfield land? What percentage is built on existing gardens and green spaces? What is the density of such developments? How does that compare with the density of housing in the existing surrounding area? How many of these developments were refused by the planning authority as inappropriate development but were allowed on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate? How does each local planning authority interpret the local development framework set out in PPS3? Does each local authority’s framework provide specific protection for gardens and open spaces and, if so, how? These are the kinds of questions that must be asked.
If the Government claim that they cannot act because there is no evidence of a problem, they must be prepared to gather the data that will allow us to ascertain the scale of the problem. The Minister in the other place said that he was not prepared to accept anecdotal evidence. These are the sorts of questions that must be asked if anecdotal evidence is ever to be allowed to be investigated in a fair, clear and statistical way.
I have one more point. Given that the review will take place in 2009 and that, with the present state of the housing market, developers are reluctant to build any new housing, I hope that the Government will not be tempted to conclude that garden grabbing has been much reduced over the previous year or so and to go back to their old argument that PPS3 therefore gives sufficient protection for gardens. Unless the Government do something now, garden grabbing will return as soon as the property market strengthens. I do not doubt that the results will differ from local planning authority to local planning authority, but I am quite certain that, if the Government go about this review in a rigorous and impartial manner, the scale of the problem will quickly become apparent. Once we have got to that point, perhaps the Government will be more amenable to suggestions about how we can better protect our gardens.
My Lords, clearly this matter has different resonance in different parts of the country. In my area, suburban London, it is a major issue. I readily agree that it is a multi-faceted issue; it cannot be divorced from the matter of getting homes built that offer a good quality of life and do not inappropriately reduce the quality of life of those in existing homes. Yesterday, the Minister in another place said that there was no evidence of a problem, although he appeared to pray in aid information from the inspectorate as evidence on the other side. I do not know how many anecdotes are required to become, in aggregate, evidence, or at any rate a strong pointer, but there is clearly at least a strong pointer.
From these Benches, we very much welcome the proposal for a review and congratulate the Minister on pushing for it, as she clearly has. She mentioned this afternoon targets for brownfield development, where brownfield comprised back gardens. I do not know whether she can tell your Lordships whether one can have a target of nil for such development. In taking the review forward, I hope that the Government will consider consulting on its terms of reference and on the definitions and methodology to be used.
I hope that the review will pay attention to the fact that the sort of developments that your Lordships have been discussing are often for small units, usually flats, which are not necessarily what is most needed to address the housing crisis, and that it will also pay attention to applications for a number of units which, oddly, comes in just below the local threshold at which affordable housing has to be included. I also hope that the views of the inspectorate will be sought. Why are some local development frameworks easier to uphold than others? Why are some decisions, by which I mean refusals, easier to uphold than others?
The noble Earl rightly asked about timing. We have heard that the review will start in the new year, but the timetable is unclear. When the Minister in another place said yesterday that he failed to see that this was an urgent and pressing problem, that was an unfortunate turn of phrase. The noble Earl also referred to the economic difficulties. Those alone make it a particularly urgent matter. Developers who are able to do any work at all will look for the easiest sites to develop, and they are often those which are the subject of the amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the welcome given to the idea of a review. I was intrigued by the metaphor of the long grass. We will make sure that the grass is cut regularly and that the timetable for the review is fit for purpose. I would be very bold to set a timetable for the review without knowing the full scope that will be necessary. It is important that we identify the problem, ask the right questions and set the terms of reference on that basis—I will try to keep noble Lords informed about that—and then work out a timetable that enables us to carry out the review thoroughly.
For all the reasons that the noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, have elucidated, these are complicated issues. There is a long history. The complication of curtilage, for example, in itself gives us pause for thought when we look at how best to address it without undue consequences for people who legitimately want to use their gardens.
PPS3 has been rather diminished in our debates but, in fact, it makes it quite clear. Although it does not mention back gardens specifically, it states that local authorities should develop a locally set brownfield target which can be broken down into different targets for different categories of brownfield land if necessary. Authorities with a positive policy of active management of gardens start from there, and we will be able to learn from them how they manage that and other issues.
The noble Earl also asked what the terms of reference were likely to cover. He made some useful suggestions, which can be read in Hansard by officials and Ministers, who will now think about how we can best do this so that we get a result that is genuinely productive. My noble friend made the point in the other place yesterday that some gardens, according to the statistics, have been replaced by homes with gardens, so we are not looking necessarily at a total net loss. You often find the same thing with green spaces, too; allotments that are sold under the conditions in which they can be sold are often replaced by other forms of green space. This is exactly why we have to look closely at the issue and at what we plan to do.
We had a positive and useful debate in this House. We have a good outcome and I am grateful to noble Lords for supporting this.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
My Lords, I beg to move that this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 160, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 160A.
Lords Amendment No. 160 was considered by the other place on 24 November. The other place disagreed with the amendment on the grounds of financial privilege. Noble Lords will be aware that the Companion to the Standing Orders makes it clear that the Lords do not insist on their amendments when the Commons have disagreed on these grounds. Given this, I ask that the House does not insist on its Amendment No. 160.
Moved, That this House do not insist on its Amendment No. 160, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 160A.—(Baroness Andrews.)
160B: Page 130, line 1, at beginning insert “subject to subsection (2A),”
160C: Page 130, line 2, at end insert—
“(2A) With the exception of regulations under sections 200, (Liability: interpretation of key terms) and 201, regulations shall not be made unless, before approval by the House of Commons, a period of 60 days has elapsed, beginning with the day on which the regulations were laid.
(2B) During the period of 60 days—
(a) either House of Parliament may— (i) debate, or pass a resolution relating to, the regulations, or (ii) refer the regulations to any committee for a report; and (b) the Secretary of State must respond to any such debate or resolution or to any such report of a committee before the House of Commons gives its approval to the regulations under this section.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment to the government Motion to accept the rejection of Lords Amendment No. 160 by the other place is intended once again to ask whether it is right that only the other place should have a formal role on the 20 or so sets of regulations to be tabled under Part 11 of the Bill.
I remind noble Lords how we have got here. The Bill as it reached this House provided that all the regulations to be made under Part 11, on the community infrastructure levy, were to be approved only by the other place. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee criticised this, and saw no reason why the Lords should not have the same powers as the Commons. The Government’s line all along has been that CIL is a financial matter and therefore, as a matter of financial privilege, must be reserved to the other place.
An amendment tabled on Report to substitute both Houses for the House of Commons in the Bill was rejected by only six votes, so at Third Reading I moved a different amendment to give both Houses the right to debate the draft orders on CIL and to require the Government to respond but not—I repeat not—to reverse the previous decision of this House. All it asked was that this House should have a say on the draft regulations before they are approved by the Commons. Noble Lords who were here will remember that that amendment was carried by three votes. The Bill was therefore returned to the other place with this amendment as one of the many to be considered. The Bill has now come back to us and we have the Motion to reject it entirely, which is where we are today.
The other place, no doubt led by Ministers, had a number of options as to how to treat the amendment which we accepted. They might have accepted the clear recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee and given both Houses the right to approve the regulations. However, I entirely accept that, as that option was rejected by this House on 12 November, it might have been very difficult for Ministers to accept that proposal. As an alternative, it might have recognised the distinction drawn by the Delegated Powers Committee between regulations which are clearly financial and those which, in its words, “are not obviously financial”. On this basis, it might have tabled an alternative amendment to provide that the Commons would have the sole right to approve the financial regulations, but that both Houses would have the power to approve the others. Despite the discussions which I had with the noble Baroness and her colleague John Healey, for which I was most grateful—it was, I hope, a useful meeting—this, too, has now been rejected.
Another option might have been to recognise that our amendment did not seek the power to approve the regulations and would do no more than allow us to have a say. If there were drafting flaws, as there might well have been, they could have been amended to deal with that while still retaining a right for this House to have our say.
However, we have before us what I would regard as the worst option of all: simply to remove this House altogether from any role in relation to the 20 or so sets of CIL regulations to be tabled next year. CIL is a new charge. Part 11, which introduces it, is no more than skeleton legislation. As was repeatedly pointed out during the debates, almost all the details will be in the regulations and, apparently, we are to have no say on any of them. The upshot is that we have been asked to approve the skeleton but not the substance. I do not think that that is good enough. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer of Leeds, who I am very glad to see in his place, said at an earlier stage, “It is deeply offensive” and I agree with him. That is why I have tabled my amendment.
As those who are familiar with the procedures will recognise, the amendment is based on the super-affirmative procedure set out in Section 18 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. It requires that the Government consult this House, among others, on the proposed regulations while they are in draft, while retaining for the other place the right to give the final approval. I find it very difficult to see how this could infringe the financial privilege of another place, unless it seeks to rely on what seems to be a very extreme interpretation of the relevant paragraphs of Erskine May.
However, my anxiety about this goes further than the CIL regulations. I am not alone in becoming increasingly aware of a tendency on the part of another place to regard a reference to Parliament as applying only to the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said:
“I am beginning to think that the other place has got into the habit of conflating the word ‘Commons’ and the word ‘Parliament’, when they are two different things”.—[Official Report, 14/10/08; col. 660.]
I expect that there are some Ministers in another place who may not be too unhappy about that: the more business that can credibly be reserved to the other place, which they effectively control, and the less that is allowed to come here, where they do not have control, might suit them very well. But this tendency holds profoundly dangerous implications for our constitution. We are a bicameral legislature in which each House has its proper role, and its rights and privileges. If we allow Ministers or the other place to whittle away at these, we will find ourselves inadvertently making significant changes to our constitution, with consequences that I suspect most of us would deeply deplore. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, at end insert “but do propose Amendments Nos. 160B and 160C in lieu of Lords Amendment No. 160”.—(Lord Jenkin of Roding.)
My Lords, while not wishing to stifle debate or discussion in any way, and recognising the strength of feeling in this House, it may be helpful if at this stage I say a few words about the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, Amendments Nos. 160B and 160C, and Commons financial privilege. As set out in the Marshalled List before us, the Commons have disagreed to Lords Amendment No. 160 and give as their reason financial privilege. The guidance in the Companion is quite clear: where the Commons have given a privilege reason, the Lords do not insist on their amendment. This is a longstanding convention. The Companion continues by stating that noble Lords,
“may offer amendments in lieu of amendments which have been disagreed to by the Commons on the grounds of privilege”.
By convention, any amendment in lieu must not clearly invite the same response from the Commons. The House authorities have advised that Amendments Nos. 160B and 160C do not breach the convention.
With this advice and the conventions between the two Houses in mind, I urge the House to confine its debate to the substance of the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and to refrain from questioning the reasons asserted by the other place.
My Lords, the statement made by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House goes to the heart of the relationship that exists between the two Houses when we are dealing with what I would call the conversation between them when we are engaged in the consideration of Commons and Lords amendments. The noble Baroness has rightly pointed out that there is a long established position that this House does not insist on an amendment where the other place cites financial privilege, and no one, least of all me, is trying to change that. However, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin pointed out, that is an immense power for the other place, and as we all know given the way the other place works, it means that it is an immense power for the Government. The issue that will need to be resolved, if not today then at some stage in the future, is how wisely and justifiably that power is used.
Yesterday, when this issue was debated in another place, my honourable friend Jacqui Lait and Julia Goldsworthy for the Liberal Democrats contested whether this was an appropriate case for the citing of privilege. Miss Goldsworthy pointed out that, if this was accepted, your Lordships’ House might be forbidden from having any say in regulations on council tax, business rates or other local matters, while my honourable friend cited other provisions such as the climate change levy, in which noble Lords have a great and legitimate interest. The Government therefore did not seek to debate the substance of my noble friend’s amendment in another place last night; they simply declared it unconstitutional and cited privilege. I do not think that that is good enough. The Government should not hide behind the principle of privilege as a matter of course, because what is constitutional should be a matter for the whole of Parliament.
Parliament should not accept the use of the privilege amendment in cases of doubt simply to stifle debate, which is the impression that the Government have given in dealing with my noble friend’s amendments. After all, if the amendments of your Lordships’ House are not to be discussed, what is the point of this House ever agreeing to any amendments?
I ask the noble Baroness to consider this matter carefully with her colleagues in another place, with Members of this House and, perhaps, with the Clerk of the Parliaments and his opposite number in another place to see how this issue can be resolved. If the rights of your Lordships are well understood—not only in their limits but in their reality and usefulness—then none of us should see those rights lightly eroded.
My Lords, the Companion also states that the Commons regularly accepts Lords’ amendments which have financial implications. If we are to function as a bicameral parliament, as has been said, it is inevitable that it should do so because almost everything costs money. Your Lordships will understand the subtleties and nuances involved in such issues.
I support the call of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for the matter not to rest here with this Bill. It is clearly a wider matter and I hope that the House can find a way of considering it—perhaps through the Constitution Committee. As has occurred to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—I perhaps put it a little more bluntly—it is easy for a Minister to assert in another place that there are financial implications, and for that to be accepted there without discussion and argument as to whether that is really so. Clearly this is an issue. I am sure that the noble Baroness will listen to the points that are made and I trust that she will take it away beyond the Bill to protect the position of this House.
My Lords, it is the duty of the Delegated Powers Committee to monitor all Bills which confer delegated powers on Ministers. When the committee, which I chair, monitored this Bill for the first time it became apparent that Part 11 gave rise to two serious problems. First, almost the entire structure of CIL was left to regulations; and, secondly, all regulations needed approval only by the House of Commons.
The Government placed Part 11 into the Bill even though planning for CIL was at an early stage. It would have been much better to have left Part 11 out of the Bill and to have introduced it in the next Session as a separate Bill when more work had been done on it. That did not happen. Therefore, the Delegated Powers Committee drew attention in our 12th report both to the skeletal nature of Part 11 and to the exclusion of your Lordships’ House from any participation whatever in the approval of any regulations under Part 11. As our report makes clear, we were aware of the possible exercise of privilege, but no claim to privilege had been made then or was made until yesterday.
The Government, to their credit, worked hard during and after the Summer Recess to comply with the Delegated Powers Committee’s recommendation to put the framework for CIL in the Bill. By the time we reached Report stage, government amendments enabled the Delegated Powers Committee to accept that Part 11 was no longer merely a skeleton—although it has been described, I think accurately, as being anorexic. However, the Government refused to meet the recommendation in our 12th report that the consent of your Lordships’ House should be needed for regulations which did not attract the exercise of the right to privilege. The report set out a number of precedents where the House of Commons had not claimed privilege and had waived any right to privilege in circumstances at least comparable to those of Part 11. Our recommendation could have been satisfied very easily by reserving to the House of Commons the sole right to decide matters such as who is liable to pay CIL and the amounts chargeable by a charging authority, but also by requiring the consent of both Houses to regulations on matters such as procedure and enforcement which do not interfere with the power to raise funds for this purpose. The Government have instead insisted on putting to the House of Commons the exercise of privilege in respect of all these regulations.
It is rare, but not unprecedented, for the Government to reject the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. If it happens, the committee does not normally respond, but leaves it to your Lordships' House to decide whether to insist on government acceptance of our recommendations. This case, however, is somewhat different because of the constitutional implications which needed to be brought to the attention of your Lordships' House. The removal by the Government of powers which your Lordships’ House could reasonably expect to be left with us weakens the constitutional position of your Lordships' House.
The response of your Lordships' House to amendments previously moved by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, shows that this is becoming a matter of increasing concern to many Members, including a number who sit on the Government Benches. That concern will be increased, I believe, by the use of privilege to block the debate in your Lordships' House yesterday on an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Bill on the DNA database. The ground for claiming privilege there was that the amendment would have required extra government spending. That amendment, strictly speaking, imposed a charge on public funds, but Erskine May makes it clear that it also falls within the class of amendments for which privilege can in fact be waived. Given that any extra cost would have been minimal, I believe that the Government should not have sheltered behind privilege, but should have been prepared to argue the merits of the amendment.
The views of your Lordships' House have been fully expressed in previous debates and it is not for me to express a further view. Whatever the outcome of this debate, however, I believe that today should not be the end of the matter. We are facing a constitutional issue of some real importance, and I believe that your Lordships' House should consider the problems which arise from this Bill and from the Counter-Terrorism Bill. Noble Lords might well start by asking the Constitution Committee to prepare a full report and submit it to your Lordships' House so that we can then consider what action we can or should take to avoid this damage to our traditional powers.
My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend the Leader of the House emphasised that while it was not for us to challenge a Commons assertion of financial privilege, equally she did not wish us to be stifled in debate. That dual requirement leaves us in a bit of difficulty because without question there is an important constitutional issue here. Noble Lords on all sides of the House should be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for his vigilance in identifying that issue at a very early stage in our proceedings on the Planning Bill and for his persistence, as well as for his temperate tone and the moderation of his ambitions. He has sought to find ways in which the differing positions can be reconciled and the powers and responsibilities of this House can be preserved. Equally, we must be extremely grateful to the Delegated Powers Committee for its trenchant analysis of the issue.
Yes, indeed, the other place is entitled to assert financial privilege, but for some of us it is perplexing that it should have wished to do so, given that the Secretary of State is not on the list of CIL charging authorities. There are a great many issues that will be subject to regulation which Parliament has not had the opportunity to examine hitherto. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, there are perhaps some 20 sets of regulations to come to flesh out and clarify what the purport of the legislation may be. Among the issues that will be considered will be not just the level of charges—indeed, that is a matter for local determination—but matters of principle such as who should be liable for the charge, the interaction between the new regime created under the regulations and charity law, and what rights of appeal and compensation there should be. These are not matters of “financial privilege” as one conventionally understands the term; they are matters of legislative principle which it seems strange and unsatisfactory that this House should be denied the right to consider.
The Joint Committee on Conventions specifically rejected the proposition that this House should no longer have the right to reject regulations. As noble Lords have already reminded us—although we hardly need to be reminded in this House—we are a bicameral legislature.
I am authorised by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, who regrets very much that he cannot be in the Chamber this afternoon—because, ironically, he is chairing a session of the Merits Committee—to say that he is greatly concerned that the measure deprives this House and the Merits Committee of the ability to scrutinise the instruments which will define what the CIL is to mean in practice. He notes that we see very many statutory instruments which impose fees and charges which have never hitherto been seen as outside the purview of this House and the Merits Committee. He also asked me to say that he is speaking in a personal capacity, because the Merits Committee has not yet had the opportunity formally to consider this issue. However, what he has asked me to say on his behalf bears serious consideration by this House.
The proceedings on the Planning Bill have shown very well the capacity of this House to improve legislation on a cross-party basis and on a basis that the Government are frequently willing to accept. As noble Lords have already suggested, it is the more important in that so little detail about the CIL has been made available to us in the terms of the primary legislation.
In the other place, John Healey suggested that it was inappropriate for us at this stage to put forward the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has proposed to deal with this matter because they would create a constitutional innovation. However, it is the other place that has created the constitutional innovation in asserting financial privilege where so little of what would be covered by the regulations is a matter of financial privilege as it is conventionally understood. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was driven to introduce what might be regarded as innovative in constitutional terms simply as a device to enable us to have a say, and how right he is to insist that we should.
The Minister in another place also said that it was inappropriate to raise this matter at Third Reading, but, as Jacqui Lait said there yesterday, the Conservative Opposition raised a preliminary concern about issues relating to the CIL even at Second Reading. These issues have been ventilated at different stages in the passage of the legislation in both Houses, very particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, from Committee stage onwards.
It is not too late, even now at 11.59, for the Government to draw back from using the legislation inappropriately to sap powers of this House, which from time to time has the temerity to challenge the monopoly of wisdom by the Government and the other place. It is the Government who are creating the constitutional innovation, and it is only right and proper that we should express our concerns, courteously but vigorously, because this is a matter of great moment for this House.
My Lords, I am a Member of both the Delegated Powers Committee and the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee which, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, is in session. However, its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, has accepted my apologies and encouraged me to speak in this debate.
I defer to others on the matter of privilege, but some have not seen that this Commons-only proposal is a serious threat to the proper conduct of scrutiny in this House. Scrutiny is agreed on all sides to be one of the principal contributions that this House makes to the public good. Now that my noble friend Lord Jenkin has provided that regulations as to liability and amount, in Clauses 200 and 201, shall be excluded from his amendment, there can be no further reason to shortcut scrutiny.
This is where the Merits Committee comes in—the committee that dealt with the Manchester casino and the home information packs. It reports weekly to your Lordships and has no equivalent in the other place. I hope and believe that it provides the right balance of information and advice to the House, yet the Government’s proposal puts it completely out of play.
Nobody will have missed the proposal in subsections (2A) and (2B) of my noble friend’s amendment that,
“before approval by the House of Commons”,
the power is there to,
“refer the regulations to any committee for a report”.
That, of course, could put the Merits Committee back into play, with its duty to provide an even-handed commentary on controversial regulations. Is there now any justification for bypassing the Merits Committee? I cannot see that there is.
My Lords, I have been listening very carefully to this debate. This is the second day running in which the privilege amendment has been raised by the House of Commons. That is rather worrying. I have a little experience of this because, when I was a Whip in another place, I occasionally sat on the Reasons Committee. At that time, the idea that on a matter of this sort the privilege amendment should be used would have been frowned on and not accepted. A sort of ratchet is being wound by the Government to eliminate the powers—or not powers but privileges—of this House to debate matters that come before us.
I have said before in this place that what we have in this country is not a bicameral but a unicameral system. In the last analysis, the House of Commons will have its way, because of the Parliament Act, which it often uses—or perhaps not too often, but it does use it—to show that in the last analysis it has the ultimate sanction. That is right and proper, as it is the elected House. But what is now proposed—and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, is to be congratulated on bringing it to this House—is the removal of this House even from discussing and advising. That is something entirely new and outwith what has gone before.
This House has the ability and power to have the Finance Bill, which is absolutely a matter for the Houses of Parliament, brought to this House and for it to remain here for a month, during which time it can be discussed, amended and sent back to the House of Commons. After that, nothing happens except that the Finance Bill is passed, but at least on the Finance Bill, which is the most important Bill of the parliamentary year, this House has the right to receive it, discuss it, amend it and send it back. The other House has the right to say, “Well thank you very much for your discussion. Now we will apply for Royal Assent”. However, in this case, the House is being told that it should not have the right to discuss orders emanating from this Bill. This House is entitled to make strong objections to the Government. If the Government are wise and really do believe that this House has some worth in giving them good advice, they should accept that advice. They should consider what they are doing and ensure that they do not use the privilege amendment lightly. They should reconsider the whole attitude towards the powers and future of this House.
My Lords, I do not propose to discuss the planning issue, but I want to ask my noble friends on the Front Bench a simple question. Let us assume that after the next general election there may be some adjustment in the nature of government. Any Minister at that stage might find it extremely convenient for controversial regulations to be swathed with the financial privilege embargo. Would my noble friend be happy if, as a result, virtually all social security regulations were not debatable by this House because they came with a flag saying financial privilege?
I find this the beginning of an extraordinarily slippery slope and I am profoundly worried. I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House can find a way through this. I would almost like to say modus vivendi given the Question earlier today, but I hope that my noble friend can find a way through because she must see that there is deep unease, irrespective of party alignment, around this House about where the principle may go. Some regulations under the guise of financial privilege may not be debated or scrutinised by this House.
My Lords, throughout the passage of this Bill, I have listened very closely and consistently to arguments that have been made on all parts of it. It has been a long and complex Bill. Noble Lords have been very generous in the tributes that they have paid at previous stages about the extent to which the Bill has been improved because we have listened and responded—not least, for those noble Lords who were not part of our debates earlier, to give a greater role to this House in the scrutiny of national policy statements, for example. We have been pleased to listen and we are absolutely sure that the Bill is better for that. I pay particular tribute, as I have done previously, to the interrogation that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has applied to the Bill. In the short debate that we have had today, we have rehearsed many of the issues that arose in the course of the Bill, particularly the community infrastructure levy.
Now we come to the stage of the Bill where we are in conversation with the other House on an issue about which I am constrained in what I can say and on which there are limits to what I can do. Noble Lords who have been in this place far longer than I have will understand that. However, we do not shelter behind privilege. We guard our conventions in this House very jealously and one of those conventions is that Ministers do not comment on reasons from the Commons and we do not anticipate them either. That is quite proper and the House be would be right to challenge me if I did otherwise. I therefore have to walk a careful line in what I can say in reply to the issues raised. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, returned to the argument that he made on Third Reading. He reminded your Lordships that this House rejected and soundly defeated the substantive argument that this House should have a voice in the making of affirmative regulations under the CIL. His argument now—described by my noble friend Lord Howarth as a device—raises very complex issues about the nature of the regulations governing the CIL and proposes the creation of new procedure for dealing with regulations under the Bill.
My noble friends and other noble Lords have spoken about the implications for this House of not abiding by the decision of the other place. This amendment sets a very serious precedent. We debated these regulations throughout the Bill’s passage, and the noble Lord has paid tribute to the fact that we worked hard in response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendations in an attempt to ensure that the House knew the substance of what we were debating. We had many long and detailed discussions. The committee’s recommendations were not specific but gave an indication of what it thought were the issues. We tried extremely hard in every other respect to meet those.
We are now at a very late stage in the Bill’s passage. It is a very significant Bill—a strategic Bill that will guarantee that we will have the infrastructure that we need for the future and that is so heavily dependent on energy security and climate security. The House, to its great credit, has supported the Bill and been assiduous in its interrogation. Although I can appreciate the noble Lord's frustration with this element of the Bill, and the frustration voiced by other noble Lords around the House, I can only say, as I said at Report and Third Reading as well, that this is not the time to raise such complex and far-reaching issues of procedure. I think that many noble Lords will agree that these matters are far too substantial to be resolved at the tail end of a complex Bill. They raise issues that go far beyond the Bill’s narrow limits in the precedents they raise. This House is always very careful about its procedure and the creation of precedents.
I do not want to weary the House by repeating what I said at Report and Third Reading. However, I hope, noble Lords having made their concerns clear, that the noble Lord will share my urgent desire to ensure that we pass the Bill. I hope he will feel that the issue has been debated.
Noble Lords have made various constructive suggestions this afternoon, and I am glad that my noble friend the Leader of the House is beside me on the Bench; she will have listened to what has been said in the House today. However, there is a point at which I can go no further in reply to this argument and the amendment. I hope that the noble Lord feels that he has been properly listened to and that he can withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords, not only those who spoke in this short debate but also the many others who stayed to listen. I think that there is a widespread recognition that we are dealing here with something a great deal more significant even than Part 11 of the Planning Bill: the whole question of the relationship between the two Houses; the respective rights, roles and privileges of the two Houses. That issue has been raised by almost every noble Lord who has spoken and been recognised in all parts of the House, and for that I am grateful.
When I started down this path and tabled the first amendment on Part 11 in Committee, proposing that this should be a matter for both Houses, not just for another place, I did not realise that it would raise such profound—I use the word advisedly—issues of constitutional importance. Like a clause that appeared earlier in the Bill—the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, will remember it—I thought that it was, as it were, an aberration. Earlier in the Bill, she tabled an amendment to ensure that a provision that had applied specifically to another place should apply to both Houses. In my innocence, that was what I thought I was doing as regards Part 11. However, as the debate has shown, the matter goes much wider than that.
I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her intervention just after I had spoken. She acknowledged that the House authorities had recognised that my amendment did not breach the conventions of the House, did not simply repeat what was in an earlier amendment and did not simply invite the same response, as it were, from another place and therefore that it was entirely in order. I am grateful to the House authorities for having made that clear to me and to the Leader of the House.
We have had a hugely important short debate, but this must not be the end of it. I listened to the points made by noble Lords in all parts of the House. As I told the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, when I met her and John Healey in the office upstairs, I have been made aware that concerns about this are not confined to this side of the Chamber. Several people have pointed out to me that if the circumstances were different they would have supported my amendment, perhaps even the amendment on Report, which we lost—not “soundly”, I must point out, but by six votes. Therefore, I think that this matter concerns the whole House. I was interested to hear the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who asked where this left social security regulations, a subject dear to the hearts of many noble Lords and noble Baronesses in this House, not least those on the Bishops’ Benches, who frequently make interventions on that matter. Is that an implication of the interpretation that the other place is putting on financial privilege? Wide issues are involved here.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde said to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that we should not allow the rights of this House to be whittled away and asked her to consider where this is taking us. Several noble Lords have suggested that this subject should be referred to the Constitution Committee of this House under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Goodlad. There certainly is a place for a significant and substantial debate on the Floor of this House to consider the matter. That is one of the options that I think we should pursue. However, I come back to my first point, that these constitutional issues are very much greater than the specific issue about the CIL regulations.
The noble Baroness told the House this afternoon that this measure is presented at the 59th minute of the 23rd hour of this Session. Certainly, noble Lords on this side of the House—myself in particular—have no wish whatever to defeat the Bill, as so much in it is important to the future construction of our infrastructure in this country and such a step would create dismay outside the House. Therefore, what do we do? I have listened to the concerns. We have established that these wider constitutional concerns are felt in all parts of the House and, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde said, this issue cannot be allowed to rest. This is unfinished business and we have to return to it in the next Session of Parliament. I leave it to wiser heads than mine to decide how that might best be done.
In the mean time, do we invite another rejection by another place on the ground of financial privilege, simply in order to make a point? I do not think so. If we can have the kind of discussions that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench are having, we will all recognise that we have to pursue this issue on another occasion, free from the specific problems of this Bill. In those circumstances, it would not be right for me to ask the House to express a view in the Division Lobbies. We should recognise that we are where we are—the last two days of a Session of Parliament. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
On Question, Motion B agreed to.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend James Purnell in the other place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on employment.
“Unemployment began rising in January, as we, like so many other countries, began to feel the shock waves of the credit crunch rippling out from the US banking system. Each and every job lost is a personal tragedy for the individual involved. Our goal is to ensure that newly unemployed people do not fall out of touch with the labour market. For those who have been out of a job for some time, we will do everything we can to bring them back closer to the world of work. So we will continue to reform the welfare state to help people back into work now and to prepare for the upturn.
“Britain starts from a strong position. The number of people in work reached its highest ever level, 29.5 million, this summer. Earlier this year, we experienced the lowest claimant unemployment level since the 1970s. There are over half a million vacancies in the economy. In the 1980s, claimant unemployment was above 3 million for 17 months and, between 1979 and 1997, the number of people on incapacity benefits trebled to over 2.5 million. We all know the human cost behind these figures. Communities were scarred and still carry those scars today. Whole families were left without work not just for years, but for generations.
“For the first time since 1945, the global economy is predicted to shrink next year. No country can be immune. But all Governments have the same goal—to make the downturn as shallow and as short as possible. If this had been done in the 1990s, the recession then would have been less costly to communities, less costly for individuals and less costly for the economy as a whole.
“Yesterday, my right honourable friend the Chancellor set out details of a £20 billion fiscal stimulus package to support our economy—the right action to reduce as far as possible the human and financial cost of the downturn. The money means help for small business, a timely boost to the economy and capital projects to maintain employment.
“The money also means a significant boost for older people in this country—a basic state pension of £95.25 for individuals and an increase to the guaranteed credit, which will ensure that no pensioner need live on less than £130 per week. My right honourable friend said yesterday that he wants to see pensioners benefit as quickly as possible. As we are not able to increase the pension and pension credit rates before April, we therefore announced that an additional £60 payment will be made to 15 million people from January. This is in addition to the £10 Christmas bonus, which will be paid as normal. These measures represent a significant increase in government support for older people, which will really make a difference to pensioners, particularly if prices fall as expected next year.
“The Chancellor also announced extra help for my department next year. This £1.3 billion package will ensure that we can respond to the higher number of people claiming benefits. Over the past decade, we have reformed the welfare state to match more support with personal responsibility. Yesterday’s announcement will enable us to continue with our reform of welfare to offer real help to people in these tough times.
“We will be able to maintain the service that we provide and strengthen our response in three key ways. First, we need to make sure that the right support and conditionality are in place for all who need it. We need to ensure that Jobcentre Plus can deliver as good a service as today to more people. In the past, Governments have cut back on the support and conditionality as the claimant count has risen. We want to do the opposite and do more to help people, rather than less.
“Over the past 10 years, we have modernised our employment services almost beyond recognition. It used to be that, in the past, people got benefits from one agency and job advice from another. Now you cannot sign on without looking for work. Jobcentre Plus takes 80,000 calls a week and gets 350,000 visits to our website. The National Audit Office reports that,
‘the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found significant improvements in unemployment levels in the United Kingdom … related closely to the adoption of active job-seeking measures’.
“Our first priority remains to ensure that everyone continues to receive this top-quality service and I am pleased to say that the system is coping well. Our target for jobseeker’s allowance is to process all new claims within 11 and a half days—in the year to date, we are processing them within an average of 10. For our crisis loans, demand has gone up but processing times continue to fall—1.8 days against a target of two. Also, budgeting loans are being dealt with 17 per cent quicker than their target time.
“But with higher levels of claimant count, we need further investment. The extra money that the Chancellor announced yesterday will ensure that we are able to maintain and expand our offer during a time of increased pressure on our services—help with CV writing and job search and time with personal advisers to develop action plans, to identify skills needs and to get support with training, childcare and interview techniques.
“We need to ensure that we have the right capacity. In the last spending round, the department reduced its staffing by 31,000 and has increased productivity overall by 12 per cent, as confirmed by the National Audit Office. We have saved money in back-office processing and used this to invest in the front line. There are now 1,500 more personal advisers in Jobcentre Plus than two years ago. In the current economic circumstances, we need to ensure that these changes do not affect our front-line services, so we are today announcing a moratorium on Jobcentre Plus closures. I can also confirm that the PBR will mean 6,000 more front-line staff in place in Jobcentre Plus next year.
“Secondly, we need to make sure that we reach as early as possible people facing redundancy. The Insolvency Service now informs Jobcentre Plus immediately of redundancy notifications that it receives. We had already doubled the funding for our rapid response service. Yesterday, the money available was doubled again, allowing us to help all companies facing 20 or more redundancies. This service will bring people swift access to the £100 million that the DWP and DIUS announced last month to help people to retrain and to develop their skills so that they can move quickly back into sustainable work—people such as the workers at Butler and Tanner in Frome, Somerset, nearly 300 of whom lost their jobs when the printers closed in April this year. With the help of rapid response service funds and training programmes, it is estimated that 90 per cent have now found new jobs.
“We know that local employment partnerships, which help to match the unemployed to employers looking to hire, have been successful. Already, over 70,000 of our most disadvantaged customers have started work under the initiative. Now we will be able to extend this to include those who are newly redundant, too.
“We have also announced the National Employment Partnership. This group will be chaired by the Prime Minister and will include heads of business and public sector bodies with a remit to ensure that employers work with the Government to enable people facing redundancy to be moved as quickly as possible into new jobs.
“Thirdly, over the past 10 years, we have also opened up our service to private and voluntary sector providers. As David Freud recognised, this allows us to get the best of both worlds, with Jobcentre Plus providing the core support and processing, and specialist providers helping the harder-to-help people to find work.
“Despite opposition to them from some parts of this House, the New Deals have been effective, but they need to become more personal to the individual rather than be based on their age. So we are introducing the flexible New Deal. Some concerns have been expressed about the viability of these contracts in new economic circumstances, but I am glad to report that we have compliant bids from 24 organisations and a minimum of four organisations competing for each of the contracts on offer.
“It is important that we invest more in the flexible New Deal to give the providers confidence but also to make sure that this time people who are further from the labour market are not abandoned. Some people say that there is no point in helping people furthest from the labour market in the current circumstances. We say the opposite—that when times are harder, we should be giving people more help, not less.
“This Government are taking action—action on the economy and action to help people to face the effects of the global crisis. That is the right thing to do for this country, for individuals and for jobs. The £1.3 billion will help those who are newly facing redundancy and those who have been out of work for longer. There will be more front-line staff and more money for our private and voluntary providers so that we can maintain our active regime. For those who have been out of work for some time, we will maintain and accelerate our overhaul of the welfare system to do everything that we can to bring them back closer to the world of work. There will be more help now to prevent individual tragedies today from becoming the scars of communities tomorrow. I commend this Statement to the House”.
That concludes the Statement.
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating this Statement on employment. However, I am afraid that I cannot be as ecstatic as I was the last time he and I debated a Statement. In summary, this one states what the Government are going to do for employment in response to the worst recession that this country has seen since the war—a recession already so deep that it will inevitably take longer to work through than any in my or his lifetime. What price, then, the Chancellor’s claim in his Pre-Budget Statement yesterday that he is,
“forecasting that output will continue to fall … for the first two quarters of next year. But then … I expect it to … recover”?—[Official Report, Commons, 24/11/08; col. 492.]
Can anyone seriously believe that that will happen quickly? No. What will happen is that all of us will start to pay extra taxes in 2010, when the country is still in recession. The whole plan in the Government’s mini-Budget might be summed up in Arthur Daley’s phrase, “Live now, pay later”, but not when you can afford it.
How will that affect employment prospects? Yesterday, the Chancellor made play of the fact that employment remains at a record high. What he does not say, and what I ask the Minister now, is: of the new jobs created since 1997, how many were in the private sector and how many in the public sector? We know, because the Office for National Statistics obligingly told us last week, that 300,000 private sector jobs were created this year and 50,000 public sector ones. The days may be long gone when Labour Governments created jobs by packing nationalised industries with people off the unemployment register, but it seems that the basic premise remains. Furthermore, is it not true that most new jobs have gone to migrant workers and not to British-born benefit claimants, and that the number of young people not in education or employment is 20 per cent higher than a decade ago? British jobs for British workers?
However, to get back to the real economy—the wealth-producing one. It is a sine qua non that to achieve an increase in employment you need firms of all sizes to be not only optimistic for the future but profitable. Neither of these conditions seems achievable in the near future, no matter how much money the Government pump into the economy or, as the Pre-Budget Report made clear, delay taking some away from employees and employers. The enormous sums that the Government have pumped into the banking system both through the nationalisation of two banks and the recapitalisation of most of the rest have clearly not had the desired effect. Banks are not lending to each other, nor are they lending anything like enough to business to maintain the cash flow that they need to survive. The Minister will no doubt reply, “Not yet”, but when, dear Lord, will we see bank lending back on a level footing?
That has not worked as fast as we were led to believe, so what is next? There is to be a temporary reduction in the rate of VAT, from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent. On sales of £250,000 this amounts to a tax saving of £6,250. Does the Minister really imagine that that will encourage a firm to take on even one extra worker, especially when the employer knows that national insurance charges will be increasing from April 2010 and that VAT will resume its 17.5 per cent status from January the same year? I have already heard reports of firms that pay half the amount in tax and national insurance that they pay individual employees in wages. That is not a happy situation. To get back to VAT, does the Minister really expect that a 2.5 per cent reduction will generate one extra sale when there are discounts of 20 per cent and more in the shops? What confidence can business have when it awaits a £2.8 billion tax rise through national insurance charges? What gives the Minister confidence that deferring the small business corporation tax rise and business rate relief will persuade businesses to employ more people?
I can find, as I often do, something with which to agree in the Statement, such as that all Governments would want to make the downturn as shallow and as short as possible. I am sure, therefore, that the £60 payable to pensioners in January will be most welcome. But the Minister must realise that this will help businesses, and employment, only if the money is spent. There is another point. Since the money will be taxable and will reduce pension credit, what is the net cost to the Treasury of this measure? How many jobs will come from this apparent largesse?
As I hinted during Question Time, I believe strongly that the Government should continue with welfare reform, including progressively shifting single parents with children under 16 from income support to jobseeker’s allowance. As long as the Government do not bottle out. I therefore await the publication of the next Session’s welfare reform Bill with great interest. I also agree that this is no time to be shutting the one-stop shops we now call jobcentres, and I am glad that the closure programme has been halted. Unfortunately it is a little late because it is almost at the end of the programme. I understand that there are only three more centres to be closed. It is right that more front-line staff will be recruited, but what a topsy-turvy world jobcentre staff live in. One moment there are cuts, and the next there are increases. Is that not proof that the Government did not see the recession coming? Is not the extra money for jobcentres a panic measure?
Lastly, the Government cheat by using claimant count to measure unemployment. The only true measure of the changing nature of employment is the economically inactive count. Will the Minister give us the figures for 1997 and 2008 when we next discuss the matter in January?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Although I share a good deal of the scepticism of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about how effective the measures announced yesterday in another place will be, and tempting though it would be to have an action replay, I do not propose to go there. I shall focus a little more on the employment and pensions aspects of this Statement.
The Statement is pretty complacent. Does the Minister accept that the problem now is that many of the long-term jobless that we are so concerned to help will in this new, dramatically changed world have to compete with hundreds of thousands of newly jobless people who in many ways will be more obviously attractive to employers? Many people are now being thrown out of work purely because of the refusal of banks to lend to perfectly sound businesses so, by definition, many of these people will be extremely employable and powerful competitors, if I can put it that way, to the longer-term unemployed.
What can we do to address the fact that long-term unemployment is increasing so fast and that under the flexible New Deal people will be left for 12 months before getting intense support back to work? Can some of the extra spending be directed so that personal advisers can have more time with claimants to get them back to work quickly? We have also heard about the rapid response service helping companies that have to announce more than 20 redundancies. How many companies does the Minister expect to announce more than 20 redundancies in the next year? What steps are the Government taking to shift the backlogs of unprocessed JSA claims? They have risen from 30,000 last December to 66,000 in September 2008.
The Statement also talks about pensions. In fact, the pensions paragraph reads rather more like a general DWP press release. Will the Minister explain why in table B16 of the Pre-Budget Report net expenditure on public service pensions is shown as more than trebling over three years from £1.2 billion in 2006-07 to £2.3 billion last year, to £2.9 billion this year and £3.8 billion in 2009-10? Why is the estimated cost for this year—£2.9 billion—almost five times the cost of £600 million that the Treasury predicted for this year as recently as the 2005 Pre-Budget Report? Why has the Treasury persistently underestimated the future cost of public sector pensions in the PBR year after year? Is it incompetence, wishful thinking or both? How on earth can the total public sector pensions bill be allowed to rocket through the roof when private sector pensions are being cut to ribbons and ordinary taxpayers are losing their jobs and tightening their belts? Is not the real reason for the ballooning public sector pensions bill that the Government bottled out of raising the retirement age in the public sector for many years to come, so public finances are now being savagely squeezed by the refusal of the Government to ensure that something is done about people retiring at 60 for many years to come and the unlimited indexation of pensions in payment?
The Minister has answered for the Treasury and the DWP in recent years. I trust that he will either get these answers from the Treasury and write to me himself or will ask the noble Lord, Lord Myners, to do so. We discussed this at considerable length during the passage of the Pensions Bill. Unfunded, unfair and unaffordable public sector pension liabilities are the real time bomb ticking away, even though they are buried on page 210 of the Pre-Budget Report. That is the real time bomb, not the tax rises that we all know about.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions. I understand the basis on which they made them. I shall start with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about the position in which the Government find themselves. The economic situation that we face is unprecedented over decades. It is a global crisis. As said in the Statement, it is the first time since 1945 that the global economy has been projected to contract. These are new and different circumstances, but notwithstanding that, the position we start from is strong. To repeat part of what was said in the exchanges yesterday, we have nearly 3 million more people in employment than 10 years ago. The employment rate is something like 1.7 percentage points higher. Unemployment is 227,000 lower on the ILO measure and 638,000 on the claimant count.
That is not to diminish the challenges that we face, but we need to be fair and realistic about the context. The noble Lord was sceptical about the projections for output GDP presented to Parliament yesterday. He may be sceptical, but those are the figures. They show, in the latter part of next year, signs of recovery and, in 2010, a return to positive GDP growth. Treasury forecasting stands well by comparison with many independent forecasters.
The noble Lord said that most of the jobs that have been created have been in the public sector.
My Lords, perhaps I may help the noble Lord by putting it this way. Overall, the private sector accounts for three-quarters of the growth in employment since 1999.
The noble Lord referred to migrant workers and their impact on the economy. We are clear from independent analysis that economic migration has been good for the British economy; it has certainly been good for public services. I think I am right in saying that 8 per cent of those in employment are foreign nationals, so UK nationals account for more than nine out of 10 people in employment. About 47 per cent of the increase in employment since 1997 is accounted for by foreign nationals. By implication, therefore, 53 per cent is accounted for by British nationals.
The noble Lord asked what I believed would be the impact of the proposed reductions in VAT; I believe that it is as the Chancellor set out in the Statement before Parliament. We believe that that is an effective way to produce a fiscal stimulus for the economy. It is in stark contrast to what the noble Lord’s leader proposed, which was some reductions in national insurance contributions, the costing of which was totally chaotic and a lot of which was perceived as a dead weight cost.
The noble Lord asked about the net cost of the £60 payable to pensioners. I do not have that figure to hand, but I will certainly write to him on that. He challenged us on using the claimant count as a basis for counting unemployment. There are two different bases for counting unemployment, which have been recorded routinely and used by Governments of both parties. He asked me specifically about the number who are economically inactive. You need to drill down into the figures to get a clear picture on that. If you extract students from the statistics for the economically inactive—it is right that we do and right that we have a substantial increase in the number of students in our country today—you will see that the rate has declined under this Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said that the long-term jobless will be competing with those newly redundant. Obviously, if more people are out of employment, that must follow. That makes it doubly important that we continue to support those people who have been furthest from the labour market. The resources that the DWP now has and can deploy through Jobcentre Plus mean that there will be more people at the front line to help both those made newly redundant and those who have been long-term unemployed. The flexible New Deal is an effective way to do that. The New Deal has been successful over the years, but probably less successful as time has gone on. It has been more difficult to get those harder-to-reach people into work, which is why the flexible New Deal is so important.
The noble Lord asked how many companies we believe will declare 20 or more redundancies. I do not have a figure, and I doubt that there is an estimate, but the resources that have been made available to the rapid response service mean that we can give national coverage to the service and support those situations, wherever they arise.
The noble Lord also asked about JSA claims and the clearance backlog. As I said when I repeated the Statement, we are dealing with those claims faster than the target rate of 10.5 days. This shows that we are on top of them and that the changes that have been made to Jobcentre Plus to make it more efficient—in many ways to move people from the back office to the front office—are paying dividends.
The noble Lord challenged me on, I think, table B16 and public service pension costs. I am bound to say that I have not had a chance to study that table in detail but will certainly do so. The important thing about public sector pensions, as we have discussed before, is that we need to look at affordability over the long term. The long-term financial forecast is the right place in which to look for affordability. It is also important to recognise that we have not bottled out of the challenges with which public service pensions have confronted us. Each of the big schemes has been the subject of negotiations and change for new entrants. The retirement age has been raised, and there have been negotiations on cost-capping and cost-sharing for each of those schemes. The costs have thereby significantly reduced.
I think that I have dealt with the key points that noble Lords have made, but I will be perfectly happy to try to answer any further questions if they think that I have not done so.
My Lords, as the president of the National Training Federation for Wales, I thank my noble friend and particularly the Chancellor for the extra support that he has given to jobcentre and jobseeker programmes in the light of the new economic and employment threat. Although we entirely endorse the wonderful work that jobcentre personal advisers have done, we also confirm that a host of local training providers have delivered these programmes over the past decade or so and made them such a success.
In that context, I draw my noble friend’s attention to the considerable concern expressed by a host of such providers that the flexible new deal, whatever its virtues, has the potential to destabilise the existing provider network. Will he therefore convey to fellow Ministers that, whatever the future of the flexible New Deal, we will need every possible support from the local providers, who have delivered so well in the past decade, if we are to deliver and to meet the new challenges of the high unemployment that we are facing?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point. It is right to say that there is a host of providers, particularly local ones, who have served us well and have helped to get people into employment and to sustain them in employment. However, the challenges of where we are lead us in the direction of broader, longer contracts with providers. As I said when I repeated the Statement, we have had bids from a whole range of would-be providers, but we need to ensure that local providers and specialist, niche providers do not miss out. We are engaged with the Office of the Third Sector to see that sub-contracting arrangements can be put into place with these broad overall contractors. It is an important strand of the work that we have to do.
My Lords, the ever patient Minister has not been entirely clear in some of his responses to my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale and the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. Is he aware that £4 in every £5 that the 80 per cent of people who work in the private sector put aside for pensions is invested in the contributions of the 20 per cent of people who work in the public sector, and that only £1 is invested in their own private sector pensions? This is an unacceptable ratio. Is he also aware that the OECD has stated that one reason why this country will have the deepest recession of all the leading economies and will be the last out of recession is that the markets see the off-balance sheet debts, of which public sector pensions is a key one, as a reason to have little confidence in the strength of sterling?
Is the Minister further aware that the number of public sector jobs has increased in recent months, while the number of private sector jobs has diminished? Of 600,000 vacancies that now exist, what percentage is in the public sector and what percentage is in the private sector? Is he aware of the article in yesterday’s Financial Times, which showed that nearly 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the new jobs being created in this country are in the public sector and that in many parts of the country, including the West Midlands, the majority of new jobs are in the public sector and not the private sector? Does he believe that these background figures give international investors hope that the Government’s figures produced yesterday for our recovery are accurate?
My Lords, it seems that we have had a fairly full-frontal attack on public sector pension provision from the noble Lord, which is regrettable. We need to see public sector pension costs in the context of the public sector pay bill generally and total public expenditure. I come back to the point that if you look at the long-term forecast—these are generally unfunded pension liabilities and are not like a funded scheme—their affordability is judged by looking over the long term to see whether in cash-flow terms they can be afforded. I have not yet looked at the 2008 data, if they are available, but certainly the last data I looked at indicated that the total cost would increase from around 1.5 per cent of GDP to 2 per cent over a 50-year period. I do not accept that they are not affordable.
On off-balance-sheet debt, whatever funding arrangements are in place, how they are recorded in the national accounts is not at the whim of the Government. There are clear international guidelines to cover this. The noble Lord shakes his head, but that happens to be the truth. The Government cannot simply decide by whim whether they will put something on the balance sheet. The National Audit Office has a role in this and we apply international criteria in making that judgment.
The noble Lord asked what percentage of vacancies is in the public sector and what percentage is in the private sector. With respect, that misunderstands the nature of that figure. We have a dynamic labour market. It is not a fixed number of vacancies which gradually go up if people are made redundant or down when those vacancies are taken up. There is a whole interaction of people moving from employment to another job, from employment to unemployment and from unemployment to employment. You cannot simply look at that number and say that this is a fixed stock of vacancies. That is not how it works.
The noble Lord asked whether I read the article in yesterday’s Financial Times about the extent to which job growth has been in the public sector or the private sector. The answer is, yes, I did. I thought that I had dealt with that question in response to an earlier point raised.
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2008
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 13 October be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order will reclassify cannabis as a class B drug on 26 January 2009. On 7 May, I repeated to this House the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the other place announcing the Government’s decision to reclassify cannabis. This is a measure which we are taking to protect the public, particularly the future health of our young people.
While the use of cannabis remains widespread, it has, none the less, fallen to its lowest level in 10 years. It is crucial that this trend continues. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has consistently advised that cannabis is a harmful drug that poses a real threat to individual health and to society. There is clear evidence that it can produce physical harms as well as immediate and long-term mental health harms. It can worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders.
However, there remains considerable uncertainty about the role that cannabis plays in the onset of psychotic illness and the increased risk to mental health from the use of stronger cannabis—commonly known as skunk—which is more so if young people start to use at an early age or binge-smoke. The council’s view is that the evidence has become more, rather than less, confused over the past few years but, in the words of the council, the possibility of increased harm “cannot be denied”. Young people must be protected, particularly where there is such uncertainty. Efforts need to be made to encourage abstinence, particularly among those with underlying mental health problems.
Against this background of uncertainty, we have clear evidence that skunk, with an average potency of 16 per cent, now dominates in the UK with a market share of 80 per cent of street-seized cannabis, compared with an estimated 30 per cent in 2002. This increase is the result of a massive growth in the commercial cultivation of cannabis by organised crime groups.
As the House will be aware, in April 2008 the advisory council reported to Government that based on its assessment of harm, the majority of the council’s members took the view that cannabis should remain a class C drug. I wish to make it clear that we do not dispute the council’s findings on harm, nor have we rejected its advice on classification lightly. However, within the statutory process, there are distinct roles and responsibilities. It is the role of the council to provide advice on harms and for the Government to consider that advice, take an overview and make a decision based on all the relevant factors, including wider issues such as public perceptions and the needs and consequences for policing priorities. It is then for Parliament, as it does today, to scrutinise that decision and ultimately change our law.
Reclassification is only one of our actions. In accepting the 20 other recommendations made by the advisory council, we continue to implement our comprehensive public-health-based programme of work to tackle cannabis ranging from education through to specialist treatment. This sits within our new 10-year drug strategy. We will continue to pursue all routes, whether through campaigns, guidance or research, to make progress to further reduce the use of cannabis, increase awareness among young people of the harm that cannabis can cause, and provide rapid access to effective treatment to those who are dependent on it.
The FRANK drug awareness campaign plays a crucial role in empowering young people with the knowledge of the effects of drugs use. Over the past five years of FRANK, the availability and quality of advice to young people has greatly improved. Recent research confirms that FRANK is now recognised by 89 per cent of 11 to 21 year-olds. It is also vital that parents are central to our efforts to educate children and young people about cannabis. Parents are now a core audience for FRANK. We will launch the new phase of our FRANK cannabis campaign in the new year through a variety of media channels including television, radio and online advertising.
In agreement with the Association of Chief Police Officers, we are stepping up our enforcement response to cannabis. Those who produce and supply cannabis should be left in no doubt of our intentions. We are already bearing down on organised crime groups involved in cultivation, with the latest statistics showing a significant increase in the number of seizures; most notably, the number of cannabis plants seized has increased by 65 per cent, up to 80,000 seizures, between 2005 to 2006-07. This action will be stepped up through the joint efforts of ACPO and the Serious Organised Crime Agency with better understanding of the problem, co-ordination, intelligence-sharing and targeting of organised criminal groups.
The activities of these criminals and their use of trafficked children will not be tolerated. By shutting down so-called cannabis farms, we will reduce the availability of stronger cannabis in our communities, disrupt organised crime, ensure that these criminals face long sentences and, where appropriate in the case of foreign nationals, are deported. We will further create a more hostile environment for those selling cannabis seeds, cultivation equipment and paraphernalia for illicit purposes. Practice advice on how existing legislation and powers can be used more effectively by the police, local authorities and other partners through local, targeted action will be provided by the National Policing Improvement Agency in March 2009.
To reinforce how serious we are about the harm of cannabis to individuals, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has accepted ACPO’s proposals for a strengthened and escalating enforcement approach for possession in England and Wales, targeted at adult repeat offenders. Positive action must be taken when someone is found in possession. We want to ensure that police officers exercise discretion where appropriate and that police bureaucracy is kept to a minimum. However, it is not acceptable for someone to receive more than one warning or for individuals repeatedly to flout the law without any sanction.
Subject to the introduction of penalty notices for disorder, PNDs, for cannabis possession by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, and notwithstanding that arrest must always be considered, a person caught in possession will face an escalated response, with the likelihood of a cannabis warning for a first offence, a PND, which imposes an immediate and financial criminal penalty, for a second offence, and a third offence normally resulting in arrest with the prospect of further action. Subsequent offences are likely to result in arrest. This provides incremental sanctions and a better deterrent, with a potential positive impact on an offender’s behaviour but without unnecessarily criminalising people. It provides an enforcement policy which will bring those whose offending continues unabated before the courts.
Effective recording is important. PNDs for cannabis possession will be recorded on the police national computer. The new PentiP fixed penalty database due to be available from 2010 will have a facility also to record cannabis warnings. Until then, it is the responsibility of individual forces to determine how they record cannabis warnings. ACPO will ensure that all forces are fully aware of the importance of more accurately recording cannabis warnings locally.
Young people under 18 will continue to be dealt with under the statutory process set out in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. This already offers formal escalation, with a referral at any stage to a youth offending team for a substance misuse assessment and an appropriate intervention.
Class B status reflects the significant increase in both the market share of higher-than-average-potency cannabis and its actual potency. It takes full account of known risks and uncertain impacts on health, where the evidence may not be clear for some years. Accompanied by our information campaign and strengthened enforcement, it reinforces our national message that cannabis is harmful and illegal and helps to drive enforcement priorities to tackle commercial cultivation. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary made clear that there is a compelling case for us to act now to reclassify rather than risk the future health of the next generation. Where there is a clear and serious problem, we must err on the side of caution. We make no apology for that. I commend the change proposed in the order. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 13 October be approved. 28th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord West of Spithead.)
rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert “but this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to follow the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that cannabis should remain a class C drug and to delay implementing the order pending a further review by the advisory council”.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, our amendment calls on the Government to do two things: first, to follow the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that cannabis should remain a class C drug; and, secondly, to delay implementing the order pending a further review by the advisory council.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to a letter published in the Guardian today which urges Peers to maintain the trend to evidence-based policy-making by supporting my amendment. The letter is signed by a formidable selection of Britain’s scientific establishment, including two former government chief scientific advisers. There is a long list of people, including, for example, the chair of the Academy of Medical Science’s working group on brain science, addiction and drugs, and also the president of the Royal College of Physicians. That is to name just a few of the people on the list. One would think that they might have a good grip on the scientific evidence on this issue.
So how did we get here? In July 2007, the Home Secretary asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review the classification of cannabis. The council undertook what it describes as,
“a most careful scrutiny of the totality of the available evidence”.
None of us denies that there are certain harms connected with cannabis, but the council concluded that,
“the harmfulness more closely equates with other Class C substances than with those currently classified as Class B”.
The advisory council therefore recommended, as the Minister said, that cannabis should remain a class C drug. It also recommended convening a further review of cannabis in two years’ time.
The order flies in the face of all this international evidence and, of course, the recommendations of the advisory council. I have always regarded our Prime Minister as a person who respects science and wants policy to be evidence-based. I appeal to him directly to heed our words today and, more particularly, those of his scientific advisers, and even at this late stage to defer implementing this order, pending a further review.
What, then, is the evidence? The Beckley Foundation found that despite the contemporary patterns of cannabis use—that is, the widespread use of skunk—the harms caused are modest by comparison with those of other illegal drugs or, indeed, alcohol. We all know perfectly well that alcohol is far more dangerous than cannabis. Alcohol abuse leads to violence, suicide, liver cirrhosis, mental illness, dependence, addiction and lasting effects on the foetus. In marked contrast, the only health effect of cannabis referred to in the Government’s Statement on the reclassification is the possible causal link with schizophrenia.
Studies of trends in cannabis use and psychosis over time form the most reliable research on this issue. The rest of the research, to be honest, is very confused and difficult to understand, with many key issues not taken into account. However, if there were a significant causal relationship from cannabis use to psychosis, you would expect—and would, in fact, find—a steep increase in cannabis use over time to coincide with a clear increase in the incidence of psychoses. The research has shown no such finding. We can therefore be confident that there is no significant risk of that kind.
The conclusion of the advisory council is that if there is a link, it is so weak that to reduce the incidence of schizophrenia by one single case it would be necessary to prevent 5,000 men or 20,000 women ever smoking cannabis. But will reclassification achieve even this minuscule result? No, it will not. There is not a shred of evidence that tougher penalties under class B would achieve even a reduction in the incidence of schizophrenia by one single person. Four studies in Australia produced strong results supporting this assertion.
We discussed this issue with the noble Lord, Lord West, and I am most grateful to him for meeting us. The important point is that these longitudinal studies adjust for differences across states. It is striking that in the more lenient states the level of cannabis use grows significantly more slowly than in those with strong criminal penalties. We can only assume that the states which saw cannabis as a public health problem—which is what it is—rather than something to be demonised, had better public health campaigns. This finding was replicated in the UK: after the downward reclassification of cannabis from class B to C, the use of cannabis fell more quickly—it had already been falling a little—than had been the case under the tougher penalties of class B.
The advisory council rightly points out that, whatever the criminal justice measures, they will have only a limited effect on the usage of the drug. The UK Drug Policy Commission goes further, saying:
“Domestic and international evidence suggests there is no direct link between the enforcement of drug law controls and the prevalence of drug use”.
“It is extremely unlikely, therefore, that reclassification back to Class B would have the desired effect of further deterring young people from using cannabis”.
Reclassification of cannabis to class B, according to all those scientists, will achieve no significant positive results.
The order will, however, cause serious, lifelong damage to tens of thousands of young people. About 46 per cent of our 20 to 24 year-olds have taken cannabis, and a very large but declining number of those people will continue to take it, though in decreasing numbers over the years, regardless of the class of drug. The evidence is perfectly clear on that.
The Government’s statement emphasises that police officers will be able to arrest for a first offence, albeit that the Minister has suggested that it will not be the norm, and that penalties for adults from the age of 18 must be escalated following any cannabis warning.
The research evidence shows that criminalising regimes generate employment problems for about a third of those penalised. That compares with an employment effect on only 2 per cent with civil penalties. More and more employers regard an enhanced CRB check as a necessity. This will of course reveal cannabis infringements. Young people will be excluded from jobs. Relationship difficulties and homelessness will also increase, according to the research. A more criminalising regime will simply add to the social consequences of our deepening recession.
I shall respond briefly to a few points made by the Minister. He mentioned that, despite upgrading cannabis to class B, the Government will not for the time being increase the penalties for children. The tougher penalties and criminalisation will take effect from the 18th birthday. Does that mean that the Government accept the argument that cannabis is not dangerous, and that it is not right to criminalise children for a relatively harmless activity? If so, might not those arguments apply also to people aged 18?
The Government’s statement focuses mainly on the need for tougher action against cannabis suppliers. This order is not necessary for such action. The maximum penalties for the supply of class B or class C drugs are the same: 14 years’ imprisonment or a fine. The Government have argued that the public want to see cannabis use taken more seriously. When I talked to the Minister in the other place, that was the only argument that he was left with by the time we had finished our discussion. However, a public attitude survey published in the Observer nine days ago showed that, although the public’s attitude to drugs in general has hardened, they do not support raising the class of cannabis from C to B.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs rightly said that it hopes that,
“the government, parliament and the public appreciate that the use of cannabis is, ultimately, a public health problem; and that it requires a public health response”.
That is the scientific view of this matter. With cannabis at class C since 2004, the Government have achieved a steady fall in the number of people taking the drug. I urge them to continue that approach, to listen to their own scientists, to act on the evidence and to avoid any further costly criminalisation of young people. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, at end to insert “but this House calls on Her Majesty’s Government to follow the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that cannabis should remain a Class C drug and to delay implementing the order pending a further review by the Advisory Council.”—(Baroness Meacher.)
My Lords, I rise briefly to support the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in the attitude she is adopting towards this order. I have only three points to make, and I shall make them, I hope, relatively briefly.
I was fascinated by the Minister’s speech. With what he said about the enforcement of the law against cannabis suppliers I have no problem at all; indeed, it is absolutely admirable. Where the weak point came in his case was the linkage between the action that he suggests the authorities should take against cannabis supply and the classification of cannabis in the Act. Whether it is classified B or C does not seem to make a great deal of difference; it does not make any difference at all with regard to the actions that the Minister is contemplating.
On the proposal to re-grade cannabis from class C to B, it is worth looking at the maximum penalties. For a class B drug there is a penalty of five years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine for possession. For supplying, there is a 14-year imprisonment and/or a fine. For class C drugs the number of years’ imprisonment for possession is reduced from five to two, while the proposal for an unlimited fine remains unchanged and the penalties for supplying are precisely the same. Not only is that what the law says, but the way in which many people brought before the courts are dealt with also indicates that the penalties for class B and C do not differ greatly. In many courts, one has had the experience—and I see people in this Chamber with greater experience of this than me—that a sentence of three months for possession of a class B or C drug is probably about the tariff. For supplying, the penalties will be considerably greater.
That similarity between the punishments for class B and C drugs raises one immediate question: why is this being proposed now? I did not hear anything in the Minister’s speech that answered that question. Why is this the moment to reclassify the drug? I assume that the argument must be deterrence. We heard a certain amount from the Minister about the declaratory function of law, that it was important that the law should declare this. I have never been a great one for regarding the law as having a massive declaratory function; it should have a functional function. Merely to declare that the drug should be class B rather than class C does not seem to take the argument much further. If the argument is, in essence, deterrence, is it seriously argued that, if the penalty is two years for possession rather than five, it will encourage people to use the drug? Is it seriously argued from the other side that, if the penalty is five rather than two years, it is actually going to deter people from using the drug? I just do not believe it. All the evidence is in the opposite direction.
The practical evidence, such as it is, seems to discount that basic assumption. There have been a number of recent studies of cannabis use in places where the laws on cannabis were liberalised, which seemed to indicate that states that introduced reforms did not experience a greater increase in cannabis use among adults or adolescents. Secondly, these studies established that increased cannabis use was actually greater in those states in which it was criminalised to a larger extent, and the greatest proportion of increased use was in the states with the severest penalties of all. The third thing that these studies showed was that liberalisation states did not show more favourable attitudes towards cannabis use than those maintaining a strict prohibition with criminal penalties. Finally, decriminalisation of cannabis in 12 states was actually accompanied by a significant decrease in A&E episodes involving drugs other than cannabis and an increase in cannabis episodes. Since cannabis was decriminalised, drug users tended to stay with the use of cannabis and move away from the use of more harmful illegal drugs.
One must look at the evidence on this; there is no point in looking at this very difficult problem on the basis of not liking the effects of cannabis supply. A study of the social impact of civil versus criminal penalties found that those penalised under the criminalised regime of Western Australia were more likely than those in the more liberal state of South Australia to report adverse employment consequences, further contact with the criminal justice system, relationship problems and accommodation difficulties that could be attributed to their apprehension for the cannabis offence. There is a consensus that the de facto legalisation of cannabis use in the Netherlands has not, in itself, led to increased cannabis use among adults or young people.
If there is no evidence that greater penalties act as a deterrent, and the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction, are there any other reasons for the reclassification? We have heard a little about the medical evidence. I will not go into it in any great detail because neither am I qualified nor is there time in this short debate, but the medical evidence is, at its highest, equivocal. It is said that there is a causal relationship between cannabis use and the subsequent development of psychotic symptoms, particularly schizophrenia. There have been various studies on that. A recent Australian study, for example, concluded that, despite a rise in the prevalence of cannabis use, there was no evidence of a significant increase in schizophrenia. Again, one has to ask the same question I asked earlier on: why do this now? What is the urgency for this reclassification in the face of the evidence that we have?
Finally, there is the recommendation of the Government’s own advisory council that cannabis remain a class B drug. It is not binding on the Government. An advisory council report does not commit the Government to do anything and it is not binding on any Administration. I totally accept that. But it is strong persuasive evidence, which the Government should ignore, in my view, only if there is clear evidence to the contrary. There is not. I therefore come to the conclusion that the Government really should have another look at this.
I do not intend to vote. Perhaps I should make my position clear: if there is a vote, I do not intend voting, not because of anything to do with this particular order but on the basis of my experience as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the House at one time that this House does not divide on orders. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot follow my noble friend Lady Meacher into the Lobbies if there is a Division; however, I shall be there in spirit with her, let me put it that way.
The merits of the argument are clear. There is no good reason why this reclassification of cannabis should take place now. Indeed, the evidence, such as it is, is in favour of leaving it exactly as it is at the moment. The noble Baroness’s amendment points the way forward. We should not take this decision now. The advisory council should have another look at the matter and come back in two years’ time and then we can take a firm view on the issue. I am fortified in that view by the letter in today's Guardian, which has already been referred to. It is a powerful letter written by a powerful group of eminent people. I really think that the Government ignore those opinions at their peril.
My Lords, I think it is this side’s turn.
Shortly before 23 November 2003, when the House passed the order making cannabis a class C drug, an event occurred that perhaps throws some light on the attitude of too many people claiming to be champions of the young. Almost unbelievably, Connexions, an advice centre set up by the Department for Education and Skills, published a pamphlet treating cannabis use almost as if it were a joke. The pamphlet said that cannabis makes you feel relaxed, chilled out, giggly, sociable, chatty and likely to get an attack of the munchies. That was the advice put out by that advisory body. But cannabis was not then, and is not now, a suitable subject for a good giggle. In 2003 it was already all too obvious that it was not the recreational, relatively harmless and non-addictive drug talked about by some. It was already well known as a substance that was dangerous and mind-altering in effect. It is no use the noble Lord shaking his head. Research by the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands had already shown that people who used cannabis were nearly three times more likely than non-users to develop psychotic disorders.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord; perhaps I can answer him. There is a mass of scientific evidence showing that if there is a causal link, it is a very tenuous one and the number of people involved is very small. I think that the noble Lord should go and read the report of the advisory council.
That was a surprising intervention, my Lords. I think that the noble Lord will appreciate when he has heard my address that I spent rather more time studying this than he appears to have done.
I referred to the position in 2003. Despite the evidence at that time, Ministers were determined—and, judging by the Home Office press release of 23 October 2001, determined, before they even got the views of the advisory council—to put cannabis in the same category as tranquilisers. They were happy to risk young people thinking that they could smoke it without risk. It really is of some significance. You can see from that press release that at that time, back in 2001, the Government were minded to go ahead. They said that they thought that classifying cannabis as a class C drug would be the right approach and were hoping that the advisory council would agree with them.
On 12 November 2003 I told the House that, two months earlier, the newspapers had reported the suicide of Charles King, a student of 23 who developed a mental illness induced by cannabis use. He left a note before he died saying,
“cannabis has ruined my life”.
I went on in these terms:
“I have to tell your Lordships that I personally know only too well that cannabis does ruin people's lives. It has come close to ruining the life of someone very close to me who has suffered from schizophrenia as a result of cannabis use. That is the diagnosis. So, do not tell me that cannabis is pretty harmless”.—[Official Report, 12/11/03; col. 1484.]
That is what I said then and that is how I feel now. That is why I am speaking this afternoon.
I confess that I have gone on about this for many years. On 28 January 2003 I drew attention to evidence published in the British Medical Journal which established a clear link between cannabis use and psychiatric illness. I returned to the charge on 14 January 2004. I said that it was madness to put cannabis in the same category as tranquilisers and tell young people it was relatively harmless when Professor Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry and the Maudsley Hospital was saying at that time that cannabis use was the leading problem faced by the country’s mental health services—when Professor Murray was telling us all that inner-city psychiatric services were nearly at crisis point, with up to 80 per cent of all psychotic cases having a history of cannabis use.
Professor Murray was supported by Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, a charity of which my wife was once a trustee. Marjorie told those prepared to listen that many psychiatric units had become little more than “cannabis wards” because of the huge number who had been turned psychotic by the drug, with patients with non-drug-related mental illness being turned away from such wards because of threats of violence from psychotic cannabis users.
In the following months, study after study in Holland, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden hammered home the message that use could cause schizophrenia, and few weeks passed without reports in the press of violent assaults and killings by cannabis users, and of users committing suicide. By now we had got to 2005 and an election was looming. Charles Clarke, who had succeeded David Blunkett as Home Secretary, ordered a new inquiry, but once the election was safely out of the way, all we got was an announcement that there was to be another campaign to warn people about cannabis use. The absurdity of that was pointed out by the former drugs tsar Keith Halliwell, who said that we now had a Government spending taxpayers’ money to highlight the dangers of their own policies. You cannot get dafter than that.
Eventually, common sense has prevailed. I support what the Government are doing but do not rejoice at some of the reasons given for the change of heart. It is said that cannabis has become stronger, but it had become very much stronger by 2003. Only the Government were refusing to accept the abundant evidence to that effect of people such as Dr Ian Oliver, independent consultant to the UN Drug Control Programme.
It is said—the Home Secretary said this in her letter to the advisory council—that new evidence now links cannabis use to mental health problems. Surprise, surprise; that link was absolutely obvious back in 2003. We all know about there being more joy in heaven over the one sinner who repenteth, and the Government should get praise, not brickbats, for bringing forward this order. In so doing, they have rejected the advice of the advisory council. In a letter in today’s Guardian, kindly drawn to my attention by the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, it is suggested that it is wrong for the Government not to follow the expert scientific advice they have been given. But let us be clear: all sorts of worthy people, whom I respect, are on the advisory council and speak with authority on, for instance, social attitudes and policing matters. However, they are certainly not all scientists and the advisory council is not a scientific advisory body. That was highlighted a little while ago by Professor Murray, to whom I referred in a different context. He pointed out that there was nobody on the advisory council with expertise in psychosis. It is a Home Office body made up of well-meaning people, many of whom are associated with bodies committed to the liberalisation of drugs policy. The Government should pay attention to what they say, but are perfectly entitled to say that there is other evidence which far outweighs the conclusions reached by the advisory council. The Government can claim today that they have listened to the real experts, and for that I give them at least two cheers.
My Lords, I oppose the amendment. I do so as the former head of a drug squad with which I witnessed at first-hand the debilitating effects of cannabis misuse by young people and old people alike. I agree wholeheartedly with the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.
The cannabis that I dealt with as a young detective many years ago was far less dangerous than the modern version. The level of the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, in modern skunk cannabis is multiples higher than in the old form and therefore the modern form is stronger. Therein lies the danger to those who use it. Before 2004, cannabis was a class B drug. I opposed its reclassification then because it was not a less dangerous substance; it was more dangerous. We now have an opportunity to correct that mistake. We should confirm the change and reject the amendment.
I know that in January 2006 the classification was reconsidered by this body of the great and the good, the advisory council; again, I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, about the council. I could produce a list of people who would put the opposite view; it would be as long as the Guardian list of eminent people, so I do not think that the Guardian list carries a great deal of value. Opinion is divided on this vexed subject. The vast majority of right-thinking people believe that the council’s decision then was wrong.
Research shows that one in 10 cannabis users has unpleasant experiences, including confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia. Cannabis use also interferes with a person’s capacity to concentrate, to organise information and to use it. Any drug that distorts perception is self-evidently dangerous, particularly when people use machinery or drive.
I cite the case of an acquaintance of mine, Lisa Voice, who lives in St John’s Wood. Three years ago, she was attacked by a house guest and dragged from her bed; her head was stamped on and she almost died. The house guest was described as having cannabis psychosis. He is serving a sentence in prison where, alas, he is still using cannabis, I understand.
In New Zealand, researchers found that those who smoked cannabis regularly and had smoked it before driving were more likely to be injured in a car crash. That might seem obvious. A recent study in France of more than 10,000 drivers involved in fatal car crashes found that, even with the influence of alcohol taken into account, users were more than twice as likely to be the cause of a fatal accident than be one of its victims.
Cannabis, as has been said, is linked to schizophrenia and psychosis. It was a dangerous drug when I was a young man and it is a far greater danger to society now, because of its increased strength. The lowering of its classification sent a signal to the young—worse still to the police—that it was not an important issue. It is an important issue and we owe it to the youngsters, who may be tempted to embark on the road to despair by taking cannabis, to illustrate clearly the danger of its use. We can do this by decisively rejecting the amendment.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Meacher. I, too, believe that the Government are wrong to seek to reclassify cannabis from class C to B against the advice of their own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
Since cannabis was reclassified down from B to C there has been no increase in cannabis usage—indeed, there has been a reduction in usage—and there is no evidence that usage will be reduced by reclassification back from C to B. Cannabis is still used by more than 1 million people in this country and reclassification makes them all potential criminals. The higher the classification, the more the criminal fraternity can charge for supply and the greater the incentive for them to produce more potent forms of cannabis, as higher potency reduces the bulk, and hence the risk, associated with distribution.
The advisory council’s report concludes:
“The Council hopes that the government, parliament and the public appreciate that the use of cannabis is, ultimately, a public health problem; and that it requires a public health response if current use and the associated harms are to be substantially reduced”.
The campaign against smoking has been very successful without having to make tobacco illegal.
The evidence for the supposed damaging effects of cannabis on mental health is inconclusive and further research is necessary. This is happening all over the world and it therefore makes sense for the Government to at least postpone reclassification pending the proposed further report by their advisory council in two years’ time. I hope that the Government can be persuaded to agree.
My Lords, before coming here this evening, I took the trouble to read the debate that we had a few years ago, when we declassified cannabis. It was in many ways like our debate this evening—it was rather too emotional and not based on facts. I happened to believe at that time that the Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett, was doing the right thing for the wrong reason; I happen to think this evening that the Government are doing the wrong thing for the right reason. It is important to look at that reason.
I listened with great care, as I always do, to my noble friend Lord Waddington. In difficult debates such as this—this is clearly a difficult and confusing debate for a lot of people—it is important to try to find the middle ground: the area on which we all agree. I suspect that the most important point on which all noble Lords agree is that on the whole we would like cannabis use to decrease, we would like all the harms associated with cannabis use to go and we would like to restrict crime. We can all agree on the bad bits of cannabis, and most noble Lords have done so. However, we have to debate how to do this and whether the methods that we are using are right.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, and my noble friend Lord Waddington, I, too, could tell noble Lords harrowing stories about people—particularly, young people—who have had tremendous problems as a consequence of cannabis use and who have been ill. I, too, know of people who have committed suicide as a consequence of their drug use, including cannabis use. I know that families and communities have been destroyed by cannabis use. However, in the groups of drugs that people take in this country, there is no getting away from the fact that alcohol and tobacco, neither of which is classified, have caused a great deal more harm—I refer to mental health, physical health and the effect on families, communities and crime—than cannabis ever has. That is not to say that cannabis is good; cannabis is bad—it is probably very bad. But in my opinion—I have worked for more than 25 years in providing treatment to drug addicts—alcohol is significantly worse. We have to bear these things in mind. This is not about right and wrong; it is all about shades of grey and shades of rightness and wrongness.
The Minister talked about the tough measures that the Government will take when they move classification from C to B—I have no doubt that they will succeed in doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, made some powerful points about criminal law and cannabis. Despite what the Minister said, I do not think that this is really very tough. If you get stopped by a policeman, you can be warned in relation to cannabis, but that is not really very tough. If you get stopped a second time, you get fined. However, that policeman does not know that that is being done a second time because, as the noble Lord pointed out, most police forces do not register the first time. Unless you are stupid enough to be stopped by the same policeman, the police will not know that you are being stopped a second time, so you will not get a fine.
Let us think about how incredibly tough the Government’s new penalty, which the noble Lord mentioned, will be. It is a fine of £80. Let us look for an equivalent. Most noble Lords spend time in Westminster. If you park your car on a yellow line, you get fined £40 and, if you forget to pay or you are on a double yellow line, you get fined £80. So this really tough Government believe that it is really tough to equate cannabis use to parking on a double yellow line. I do not think that that is tough at all. It is important to try to use the right language. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, research shows that throughout the world being tough—using criminal sanctions against drug users, particularly cannabis users—simply does not work. We might like it to work and we might think that it was a good idea if it did work, but the evidence plainly shows that it does not.
Let us look at the Government’s reasons for doing what they are doing today. Most of them have been discussed, so we can nip through them quickly. The first concerns the strength of cannabis. The noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, talked about the cannabis that he knew as a young policeman not being half as strong as the cannabis that we get now. That is true to a certain extent. Skunk has been around for 30 years, so it is not new, although it was not around very much.
Incidentally, we have skunk in Britain because of the Government’s failure to control the drug market. Because people no longer wish to import it, 50 per cent of the cannabis smoked in Britain is home-grown. It is grown mainly by Vietnamese criminal gangs hydroponically under roofs, which leads to it becoming stronger. How much stronger is it? The United States drugs tsar said that it is 30 times stronger—well, Americans are allowed to exaggerate—but the science tells us that it is between two and a half and three times stronger. In your language and mine, that is the difference between beer and wine. It is a big deal but not that big a deal.
Furthermore, there is a concept that, because it is stronger, it is worse, but that is not true. If I am given a pint mug and it has brown liquid in it, I presume that it is beer. If I take a large mouthful and discover that it is whisky, which is rather stronger, I think to myself, “I don’t think I’ll have so much”. If you use alcohol, you get used to the strength and you know what is too much. Do your Lordships really think that all cannabis users are so stupid that they cannot work out how much to take? The advisory council’s report makes it clear—and the Government have accepted—that cannabis is mixed with tobacco. People know how to mix it; they are not that stupid.
The other thing to bear in mind—the Government have produced this and the Home Office is very keen on it—is called binge smoking. I have been in the drug treatment field for 25 years but I have never heard of binge smoking. There is a huge difference between binge drinking and binge smoking. If you binge drink, before you pass out you get to the nasty stage where you go around clouting policemen, smashing your car up and generally being a nuisance. If you smoke too much cannabis, you go to sleep. That is a bore but it is not a really big health hazard. Therefore, we should be careful about using the term binge smoking; it is a bit sensationalist.
We have talked a lot this evening, and rightly so, about the other reason why the Government are keen on reclassification—that is, mental health problems. There is absolutely no doubt—we have known this for 30 years—that there is a strong causal link between cannabis and mental health problems. However, we now also know that cannabis does not cause mental health problems. If those who have a propensity for mental health problems, with the possibility of becoming psychotic, smoke cannabis, that will accelerate those problems. There is no doubt at all that cannabis linked to mental health problems is difficult to deal with and causes all the problems that my noble friend Lord Waddington and the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, talked about. Luckily, such problems are few in number, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, the overriding fact, which it is worth pointing out, is that there is no evidence of an increase in psychosis anywhere in the world. The Australian studies, in particular, are hugely important because they are so longitudinal. There has been no increase in mental illness but, at the same time, cannabis use has increased. Those two facts cannot be divorced. New evidence is always coming forward from scientists, but there is nothing yet that one can put one’s finger on and say, “That absolutely settles the matter”. The link is there and we know more about it, but to say that cannabis causes mental illness is simply not true. It does not.
The Government are right to talk about the precautionary principle. We should always be careful when making changes. I do not think that this is a huge move, so there is not much to be precautionary about, but it is important to bear in mind the fact that, following the declassification of cannabis from B to C in, I believe, 2003, we have seen a decrease in cannabis use. Therefore, if the Government really intended to adopt the precautionary principle, they certainly would not be doing what they are doing today.
It is also true to say that you have to be careful about the numbers. Over the years in your Lordships’ House, I have noticed that, whichever Government are in power—my own party is just as guilty in this—when the numbers go up, the Minister says, “You have to be careful. You mustn’t trust the British Crime Survey; it’s not entirely accurate”. However, when they go down, the Minister is frightfully keen to trumpet that and says, “It’s marvellous. Our policies are working”. Therefore, I take the numbers with a pinch of salt, if not a large bowl of Saxa.
It is interesting to note that, while cannabis use is apparently going down, the amounts being seized by the police and circulating in the system appear to be going up. Do we take it that fewer people are smoking more? I do not think so. We just need a bit of healthy scepticism.
The Government talked about the public attitude. I was completely fascinated by the Statement made in another place, which was repeated in your Lordships’ House on 7 May, when the Minister, in col. 616, referred to a report stating that 58 per cent of the people in this country were in favour of returning cannabis to class B. It stretches my credulity a little that 58 per cent of people in this country really understand the difference between classes C and B. I have spoken to policemen, magistrates and people involved in the drugs field and most of them do not understand the difference. The idea that 58 per cent of British people are hanging on this evening’s debate is difficult to accept.
More important, the advisory council’s report, which is backed up by quite a lot of data, suggests that most people realise that cannabis is illegal. The figure for those who do not is about 4 per cent, which is not bad. Quite a lot of people think that driving through town at 60 miles an hour is legal. You cannot expect people to get everything right. We find that the vast majority of people in this country accept that cannabis is harmful. Of course it is. They do not know the details, but most people do not know the details about these things.
The bit that frightens me about all these debates is when the Government start talking about sending messages. If I were a schoolteacher, which thank God I am not—and thanks from the children, too, I should think—the first thing that I would say to every child is: do not believe any government message you are ever told by any Government. The idea that children, young people and adults in Britain are hanging on every message that the Government send out is absurd. The Government are not a PR company; I know that they think that they are and behave as such sometimes, but they are not a PR machine. The purpose of government is to adopt policies that are right for the British people even, occasionally, when they do not sound very nice. Brave Governments do brave things. This evening, the Government are doing a cowardly thing.
The key to our debate is in that horrible, oft used phrase “evidence-based policy”. When a Minister asks for that, he is really saying, “Will some expert give me the answer to the problem that has just arrived on my desk? I don’t want to do what you have elected me to do, which is to exercise my political judgment. I am feeling a bit chicken”. The answer is not usually available, because it is a recent problem and the research has not been done.
To a certain extent, I am on the side of Ministers, because nowadays some of these problems are so tricky that you cannot expect everyone to know the answer to every difficult problem that crosses his desk. Parliament recognised that when it passed the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We set up the advisory council to produce the information about cannabis and classification that no Minister could be expected to know. That is why what is happening today is so extraordinary.
The chronology is that the Prime Minister, who has never made a speech or written about drugs, or declared a particular interest in this area of policy—I have done some research—suddenly announced that he was reclassifying cannabis from C to B. Presumably somebody told him the rules and, about four days later, the Home Secretary said that she would be consulting the advisory council, so we have the council’s report. The Prime Minister made his decision without any evidence from the advisory council. I suspect that the only evidence that he had came from, say, the Daily Mail or from somebody who lived next door. I have no idea where it came from, but it certainly did not come from the advisory council. He got it wrong, so I suspect that to avoid judicial review of his decision he got the Home Secretary to put out a Statement and the advisory council to do its report, which turned the policy back the right way.
The reality is that this is the Prime Minister’s decision. We read it in the newspapers long before it came to your Lordships’ House from another place. If the Minister wants to satisfy the real concerns that have been raised in this debate, he needs to explain to this House exactly why the Government have overruled the advisory council’s strong evidence and exactly why the Prime Minister thinks that he knows more about cannabis, its strengths and medical consequences than all the experts who are paid to advise him and his Home Secretary. I do not think that this is the biggest deal in the world; I do not think that anybody cares much whether cannabis is classified C or B. However, on balance, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is right and the Government are wrong.
My Lords, I rise to support the Government, perhaps exceptionally on some of these matters. I voted and spoke with my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids against the downgrading. In my professional life, I have seen so many changes in the way that possession of cannabis is handled, from very strictly in my earlier years to the current extremely lax way. At this hour, I am not going to enter into the degree of harm—after all, it is only a question of degree—but what happened when cannabis was downgraded in 2004 was that the priorities of the police were altered. Legislation was introduced in the face of opposition from the Member of Parliament for Vauxhall, Miss Kate Hoey, who knew about the problem in Lambeth. I have a house in Lambeth, and I have seen the problem for myself on the streets. The change created an expanding market for cannabis, which was tolerated. With those few words, I support the Government in their change of heart.
My Lords, it should be pointed out that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is a bit different from the advisory councils that other departments use. It was expressly created by Section 2 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which requires that any Order in Council, such as the one we are debating, making amendments to the list of drugs controlled by the Act may be made only after consultation with or on the recommendation of the ACMD. As many noble Lords have pointed out, the order we are debating directly contradicts a recommendation by the ACMD, even though the Government expressly asked it for its opinion on reclassification from class C to class B last July. The Government are overruling a statutory body set up to advise them. The ACMD is uniquely qualified by its membership and remit to make such a recommendation about classification.
In this case, it has carefully gathered, sifted and analysed a large amount of evidence. Some of the evidence covers the link between cannabis and psychotic illness, which has been referred to by a number of noble Lords, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, who made a moving speech. On this issue, the ACMD report states:
“On balance, the Council considers that the evidence points to a probable, but weak, causal link between psychotic illness and cannabis use. Whether such a causal link will become stronger with the wider use of higher potency cannabis products remains uncertain”.
It recommends a further review of cannabis in two years’ time when it anticipates that further information will become available specifically relating to the causal relationship between cannabis use and psychosis and whether the stronger cannabis preparations now available are more likely to precipitate psychosis. That is not yet confirmed, although it is a hypothesis. That is one of the main reasons why a further review is suggested.
As other noble Lords have said, it will not follow from reclassification to class B that cannabis use will go down. The signal claim is that skunk or sinsemilla—the female flower before fertilisation—is much stronger than the resin or the leaf. Skunk or sinsemilla—“without seeds”—has almost no cannabidiol, which is an important component of cannabis. It is thought that it has a calming effect. It is a little bit like some antipsychotic drugs in its effect. The form of cannabis with a higher proportion of cannabidiol is less likely to cause psychosis. That needs to be much further investigated, which is why a further review was recommended by the ACMD.
One reason why use will not drop if cannabis is reclassified to class B is that heavy or dependent users will continue to use it. They will take risks to obtain their illegal drug supplies and are less likely to seek medical help when they need it because of fear of prosecution for possession. Costs to the police will inevitably rise. Although applying an £80 fine does not seem very much, across the board, police costs are bound to rise.
During 25 years in an inner London practice, I dealt with many patients with drug and alcohol problems, but I rarely had to treat anyone because of their cannabis use. Some heavy users of cannabis were temporarily mentally slowed sometimes, and that affected their performance at work, school or university, but they usually came to the doctor for reasons unrelated to their cannabis use—perhaps partly because cannabis was not available on prescription. Death as a result of cannabis is extremely rare and occurs only in combination with alcohol or other drugs. On the other hand, in my practice, several heroin or multidrug users died from overdoses, or developed abscesses, thromboses or HIV infection from the use of contaminated or dirty needles.
To reflect the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the addictive substances that cause far and away the most harm are tobacco and alcohol, both of which are perfectly legal and are not classified as drugs at all. They are loosely, perhaps too loosely, regulated, as the trail of death and destruction left by tobacco and the social mayhem caused by alcohol when it is abused far outweighs that of all narcotic drugs taken together; but that is a topic for another debate.
I very much hope that my noble friend will be able to take the order away, as suggested by my noble friend Lady Meacher. If he cannot, I will support her in the Lobby if she decides to divide the House.
My Lords, I shall briefly take the issue slightly away from the scientific discussion and the question of who is worse and who is better than whom. I remind the House that the former Prime Minister reminded us that we were at war on drugs before we were at war on terrorism.
In war, you must identify your principal enemies and take action against them. I have been privileged, if that is the word, to see some of those enemies in Her Majesty's prisons, people who have made vast amounts of money—millions of pounds—from preying on our young people by selling drugs such as cannabis, with which they have successfully ruined their lives. Unless we take the war to the people who are really causing the problem, we divert ourselves from the main purpose of Acts such as the Misuse of Drugs Act.
For 30 years now, we have tried to fight drugs by not going down the route that the Americans had to go down in the 1920s when they realised that prohibition was wrong. Prohibition is not working; we all know that. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, wondered what the motives were behind this measure. The Prime Minister’s one utterance on drugs that I have heard was that prohibition remains the policy of this Government. We will not crack this problem of drugs—if that is not a pun too far—without thinking the unthinkable and going down routes that include legislation, decriminalisation and all that goes with that. Unless we do something like that, we will only make the situation worse by doing more of the same.
One reason why I am strongly behind my noble friend Lady Meacher on this issue is that I hate the thought of large numbers of our young people being wrongly criminalised for being in possession of cannabis, with all that a police record means for their future. Therefore, in a way, the amendment is irrelevant to the war in which we are engaged. I simply hope that if the Prime Minister is basking in the reflected glory of leading the world out of the credit crunch, he swallows his words about prohibition and sets about leading us out of the drugs crunch.
My Lords, when we get to the nub of the issue at hand, we find ourselves in a rather odd situation, with the Government’s appointed advisory body in disagreement with the Government’s policy. This year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—I declare that I sit on the council as a sub-committee co-opted member—carefully considered the evidence against a framework of harms. The conclusion was that, overall, the harms caused by cannabis to individuals matched more closely those of drugs in class B. I also declare that I am on the UK Drug Policy Commission.
Yes, cannabis has adverse long-term effects, with social as well as health implications. The moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, demonstrated these clearly. They were considered as part of the ACMD’s framework, and the decision to go against its advice strikes a blow at the credibility of the whole process of classification. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, we are dealing with shades of wrong when we deal with drugs.
Downgrading cannabis from class B to class C did not send an adverse message—cannabis in the UK has continued to decline—so what will the reclassification achieve? The Minister outlined the police actions proposed, but will this alter the maximum sentences for production, trafficking or dealing? Will these sentences remain the same as they are under the class C classification?
Discussion of cannabis is heated and political and acts like a lightening rod for media headlines, so sober and objective scrutiny of scientific evidence is essential. In fact, it is really all that we have. Public opinion is not helpful. It is notoriously difficult to assess, it depends on the question put, and it is led more by media headlines than by the science.
We need a review of the entire drug classification system to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that future decisions are truly independent and evidence-based. The system was established in 1971 in the Misuse of Drugs Act and was meant to provide a simple framework for sentencing. It may now be appropriate to classify drugs in different ways for different purposes. It may, for instance, be appropriate to consider the levels of societal harm when determining social or criminal policy and the levels of harm to health when determining health policy. Let us not forget that some use cannabis to relieve the symptoms of their physical illness, such as multiple sclerosis or during chemotherapy, but, sadly, some with early mental health problems dangerously self-medicate with it.
In the past decade, several reports have pointed to the need for a review of classification. It was promised and then shelved by the Government in 2006. It is long overdue, so now is not the time to play ping-pong with the classification of a dangerous substance. That is why I support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Meacher.
My Lords, I wish to reassure the Minister that there is some support on these Benches for the Government’s proposal and that there is some opposition to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. If my noble friend Lord Tomlinson was here, he would share my view. In November 2003, we spoke against the then proposed statutory instrument to declassify cannabis from class B to class C. Unusually, there was a Division against the statutory instrument. But, at the 11th hour and 59th minute, we pulled back and did not vote against it, although we were very much exercised as to whether or not we should.
We were against it because we believed that the change would create confusion in the minds and the perception of the public, including among young people and the police. It could be argued that that confusion has not been created, but there is confusion in spades around cannabis, as we have heard from a variety of quarters, particularly in relation to the effects on health.
Let me labour this point a little: in 2003, perhaps most importantly, we were strongly opposed to the change in classification because we believed that the cannabis on sale, being advertised and increasingly being used in the UK was different from that which many noble Lords talked about so gently when they referred back to that which they knew as students in the 1970s and 1980s. The big difference that has taken place, which my noble friend did not address, is the changing strength of cannabis and how that is having an effect.
I asked my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland a number of questions about the strength of cannabis. After she had consulted the appropriate bodies, she replied that, from the samples pulled in by the police, there was no evidence that the cannabis was any stronger than it used to be. I could not understand why I had been complaining, but I had looked on the internet and had constantly seen on a widening scale the advertising of stronger and stronger cannabis readily available for purchase.
It is now generally agreed that the cannabis being used and being smoked in this country is stronger. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will address one big change that has taken place: since 2003, according to all the evidence, much more cannabis is being grown in this country. We should be asking why it is now being grown on this scale. There are a variety of reasons, but I should like to put the point that it may be the declassification of cannabis from class B to class C.
As technology develops and as people continue to deal and experiment with these plants and grow them in stronger forms, I should like to ask those who oppose the Minister’s line when there will be greater acceptance of the fact that we are dealing with a different drug entirely from that of the 1960s and 1970s. This is a much graver issue than people have recognised and we should not liken this cannabis to a recreational drug with few dangers.
According to the police, more and more people involved in accidents have drugs, including cannabis, in their bloodstream. We are now at a point where some action probably has to be taken. We could say that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous in their wider effects, but let us look at what we are doing. The Government have introduced legislation on tobacco that prohibits its smoking in enclosed areas, and we are starting to see the results, showing that legislation does work. On alcohol, we have to ask if we are content with the present laws. If we were starting with a blank sheet of paper, would alcohol be available in the way it is at the moment? I suspect that that would not be the case. Indeed, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that when the strength of alcoholic drinks is doubled, people respond to them differently. When the alcohol content of wine increases from 11 per cent, the level at which it was generally drunk, to 14 per cent, people get very drunk, but they are not always aware of what is happening to them. The strength of the drink and the size of the measure have an impact. I suspect that these issues on alcohol will have to be addressed in legislative terms in due course.
I come back to where we stand with the recommendation of the advisory committee and the amendment. I think that the Government are right to reject the advice and I know they have not done it lightly. But the Government and we as politicians—admittedly not accountable in this House, as in the other place—have to take into account public perceptions in this area. The Government also have to take into account the increasing availability of stronger and more potent cannabis through the massive growth in commercial cultivation by organised crime groups in this country, as well as the needs and consequences of policing priorities. I hope that at the end of this helpful debate, the House will be prepared to stand by the Government’s recantation of their earlier position and their acceptance that perhaps they did not quite get it right in 2003. We should reject the amendment and so support the Government’s instrument.
My Lords, I did not intend to speak in this debate, but I thought that a brief anecdote might be of interest to noble Lords. Some 10 years ago I was invited on to the programme, “Have I Got News For You”. Not long before I had said in public that I was pro the legalisation of drugs. The man chairing the programme, Mr Deayton, who I think later had to resign when he was caught using cocaine, said in a perky way, “Of course, Lord Onslow, you are pro drugs, aren’t you?”. I answered by saying, “I am going to respond to the question seriously because the issue is too important for flippancy. Drugs are by far the greatest social problem in this country and they result in the greatest amount of crime”.
The policy we have in place at the moment obviously does not work. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He ought to be listened to very carefully by the senior service in their places on the Front Bench. If we go on with our present drugs policies, the prisons will be full and we will produce markets for the ungodly to get rich, and thus continue to cause serious social damage. Incidentally, the whole audience clapped loudly and clearly at my answer. To think that the public take the view of the Prime Minister is not very well informed.
My Lords, the issue raised by the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, as to the case in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs is a wholly fascinating one, but with the greatest respect, it is not the issue that confronts the House in the context of this order. The issue is in fact a narrow one. There is no question of whether the penalties in relation to the importation of cannabis, the growing of cannabis, the sale and trafficking of cannabis or possession with the intention to supply cannabis should be changed at all—the maxima remain exactly as before. All that is suggested is that there should be changes to the maxima relating to possession. That is the practical effect on the maxima of a change from class C to class B for the simple possession of cannabis. The maxima under class C were two years’ imprisonment on indictment and three months’ imprisonment in the magistrates’ courts. That has not changed. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, did not make that point although it strengthens that part of his case. Indeed, there is no change whatever in regard to children and young persons under 18 years of age. So the only practical statutory change is a change in maxima which were seldom or ever used.
My Lords, it is not only that; it also affects police procedure and at what point you appear on the police national computer. The point at which you appear on an enhanced CRB check will come earlier under the new rules if it is reclassified as class B. This means that we will criminalise more people of the up-and-coming generation, which will prohibit them from working with children and mentoring and coaching children and youth teams in hockey and so on; they will never be able to work with the police, join the TA, join the Army or work in the legal profession; they will be prevented from obtaining American passports and visas without a lot of trouble; and, in certain cases, they will be unable to work in financial institutions.
The consequence of bringing forward the point at which you appear on the police national computer without a proper criminal record is much more serious than people realise. The enhanced CRB checks are now being used more widely for more purposes. It used to be that you had to be prosecuted and you either accepted a reprimand or a caution; that is no longer the case.
My Lords, I take the noble Earl’s point. There may well be wider consequences of an administrative nature than under the old system, but I stick to the point that the statutory effect of the maxima penalties will be very small indeed. The harsher penalties in relation to the other offences remain exactly the same.
In 1971, Parliament and society in general set their faces against cannabis. Some noble Lords will remember that gallant and splendid lady, Lady Wootton, whose humane and sensitive attitude towards society coloured the report she published at that time. It advocated the decriminalisation of cannabis, but that was refused by Parliament and by society at large. I was a Minister at the Home Office in 1969 when the Misuse of Drugs Bill was introduced. Indeed, I had the honour of taking that through the House of Commons—or, at least, partly through because, in 1970, before the Bill had completed all of its stages in the House of Commons, the electorate, very unhelpfully, decided that there should be a change of Government. The succeeding Government very gallantly reintroduced the same Bill in exactly the same words, the only difference being the name of Sir Richard Sharples—that most splendid of men who was later soon to lose his life in the assassination in Bermuda—as the Minister responsible. It was as bipartisan a piece of legislation as one could possibly get. The consequence was that stern penalties were introduced for the possession of cannabis.
For three or four years there was great disquiet at the fact that thousands upon thousands of young people were being made criminals and very often had to serve short periods of imprisonment for mere possession. Then, without any interference by Parliament, a British-type compromise was achieved. The police did not prosecute save where persons were defiant in their overt use of cannabis, and the courts did not incarcerate. Indeed, it became regarded as something more of a dead letter—but a dead letter that was useful in so far as it laid down a marker as to how seriously society regarded the offence but, at the same time, not bringing within the ambit of direct criminality hundreds of thousands of young people who otherwise might have suffered harsh penalties.
It was therefore very surprising that in 2004 Parliament changed a situation that had worked quite well for at least 30 years. The sanction was there but the actual punishment was not necessary in practice from day to day. I think that Parliament was wrong then; there may very well have been a desire to give a radical face to the Government, and I am quite certain that a mistake was made. Now that that mistake has been corrected, even though the Government are not admitting that they are coming to the stool of punishment, as it were, I believe it only right that this piece of delegated legislation should be supported.
I very much hope that sense will be exercised by the police, despite the policies that are announced, and by magistrates. It is magistrates, in the main, who will be dealing with these matters from day to day. It would be utterly disgraceful if, over the next few years, millions upon millions of young people were placed in jeopardy of incarceration on the basis of having perhaps on two or three occasions transgressed this particular law.
We are living in a society, are we not, where it is more and more popular for the tabloids especially to give the impression that the community at large is at war with its young people and to regard them with contempt and as worthy of castigation? That sort of chemistry has existed in every society; it was there in Greece and in Rome, and it is with us today. It is part of that chemical reaction between one generation and another. It may be part, too, of the ageing process that we all suffer from. Bernard Shaw said that youth was wasted on young people. There is a sourness in most of us, as we get older, in our attitude towards young people, but we must avoid the dangerous trap of incarcerating thousands upon thousands of young people and criminalising perhaps hundreds of thousands more when it is utterly unnecessary.
Nevertheless, marginally, I find myself in support of the Government. The point about skunk is substantial; I believe that the drug now being trafficked is a very different product from that which existed even five or 10 years ago. I believe that that will be a rising curve and that it is right and proper, therefore, that the Government should take this stance.
My Lords, it seems to me that there is a very simple question. Five years ago the Government made a decision; is there any evidence that that decision has made things worse? I have not heard any. As far as we know, cannabis use has diminished. That is in line with what we would have forecast from the experience of other countries, so why reverse the decision? No compelling reasons have been given this evening for doing so.
The issue is not whether cannabis can cause harm. Of course it can, and there have been tragedies connected with its use, although there have been many more connected with alcohol. The issue in both cases is how to diminish the harm. The most important way is to get help to the people who need it. A major problem is that stricter criminal sanctions make it more difficult for people to get medical and psychological help. They will not come forward for help if what they have done is a criminal and an increasingly criminalised act. That is one of the real problems that will follow from changing the wise decision that was taken.
Another problem is illustrated by the previous speech. It is almost inevitable that the way in which stricter sanctions are applied will be patchy, variable and unpredictable. That does not do credit to the law and will not bring credit and repute to the police either. That is another major misfortune that will result.
One of the finest things about this Government has been their commitment to evidence-based policies, but that does not seem to be the case with this proposal. I therefore urge the Minister to think seriously about the possibility of postponing the order so that we can get the right decision.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for not being present at the beginning of the discussion—my day job got in the way. I should declare an interest, first, as the chief executive of Turning Point, which is probably the second-largest provider of substance misuse services in the country after the NHS. It also provides mental health, learning disability and employment services. I feel like someone at an AA meeting in admitting, secondly, to being a member of the ACMD.
This has been one of the most fascinating but also one of the most frustrating of debates. The problem has been the contributions that have wavered between belief and fact or science. I note the point of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about public opinion, but if we were to make decisions, political or otherwise, based solely on the pillar of public opinion, I would not be here, we would never have got rid of slavery, and this House would not be here. The whole point of the establishment of ACMD was that the Government would not just go out and seek public opinion; they sought the opinion of a group of experts. I bow to the many experts on the ACMD—I refer to the psychopharmacologists and others—who produced more than 2,000 pages of evidence, which I read. I then read a carefully considered recommendation, which had taken into account public opinion, to the Government. It is astonishing that it has not been followed, regardless of whether we should legalise cannabis, which is not relevant to this debate.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, whose speech I did not hear although I have picked up the tenor of it, pushes her amendment to a vote, because I should like to express my opinion on the side of logic, common sense and science, and of the appropriate mix of public opinion with logic. Many points made during the debate assumed a direct causal link between cannabis and mental health—I cannot believe that any Member of the House believes that. If there is a link—which science shows there is not—and the Government are forced to make cannabis class B or class A, will it make any difference to the unfortunate person who becomes psychotic as a result? It will do so only in fantasy land. However, the reality is that there is not a causal link, nor is there any evidence of a massive increase in high-strength cannabis. If the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, believes everything that he sees advertised on the internet, he must be a marketing man’s dream.
I fully understand the beliefs of, and have some sympathy with, those who have spoken in the debate who have experienced the terrible impact of cannabis on young people. I strongly sympathise with the perception that cannabis, along with many other drugs, is ruining society. I have spent nearly 30 years of my life working with people who have complex needs, including substance misuse. However, this is not about belief; it is about the facts. The Government have to come up with a credible response to the research and the evidence presented by the ACMD such that they can justify ignoring its advice; otherwise they have to question the point of the ACMD.
I wasted many hours of my own time reading the reports, analysing the evidence and taking much abuse from the press, which was in search of the answer well before we had come to deliberations. The press then abused us when we came to a conclusion. It is unreasonable that having presented the evidence—even if it was measured by the sheer weight of the report you would side with the ACMD—we find that it is rejected on the flimsiest of excuses or reasons. It would be more honest to say that the political gradient that was apparent when the Government asked the ACMD to produce that report has now shifted, that the Prime Minister does not want to lose the favour of a particular section of the electorate and that therefore they are rejecting our advice. I would accept that, but to reject the ACMD’s advice without giving a clear rationale as to what happens next seems highly unreasonable. It does not just fly in the face of the logic presented by the ACMD. Many other areas of social policy and practice will be debated in this House in which public opinion will be against the science and in which it will be difficult to lead public opinion and come down on the side of common sense, logic and evidence. For the Government simply to say that the advice is inconvenient so they will ignore it sets a precedent which we must reject, not only on the issue of cannabis but on any other issues of social policy and practice.
I am no expert on constitutional policy, but we in this House have to send a signal—it is one thing that we can do—that logic and evidence should prevail. The institutions developed by the Government to provide appropriate advice should prevail. I note the remark about the constitutional position of the ACMD, which is very clear. That is one reason why I agreed to spend my free time on the ACMD. We must vote for and practise logic and advice, even in the face of the political pressures that we all understand the Government and Prime Minister to be under.
I apologise to the House for taking time. I must now go and do my day job, but I felt that I had to speak.
My Lords, I have to declare an interest in that cannabis, spliffs, pot, hash, ganja or the weed of wisdom have played a very important part in my life. I find it difficult to understand what is going on here. I am not sure that I wanted to support the Government on anything to do with this after the reclassification last time. I remember writing to the Minister, accusing the Government of schizophrenia. Now we have a form of double schizophrenia, which must be totally psychotic—but we do have a slightly psychotic Government from time to time.
My interest is from a totally different point of view. During my commercial life I was involved on many occasions in the agricultural world and trying to get people to produce good, productive crops, not least in the Caribbean, in a country in which I was conceived on the beach and where we were economic advisers to the Government of Jamaica. Part of the problem was to find an alternative crop to the weed of wisdom. The Government of Jamaica were not prepared to admit that they had drugs, and when you had to go out and find an alternative crop and try to ensure that the economy was not badly affected as that crop was replaced, you came across all sorts of strange difficulties. I wanted to go and look at the production basis, but the night before I was invited to some smart public party. I found that what normally happens there when you want to get a party under way is that your rum punch is spiked with ganja, just to make the thing come to life. Not ever having smoked any of these things, I found that it had a bad effect on me and the next day I was unwilling to fly in a single small plane up from Blue Mountain down to Negril to inspect the agricultural installation where we were hoping that the ODA might provide an alternative crop. But the price of gas had gone up and those who came to collect the crop of ganja found that on the way back to Miami they ran out of fuel and crash-landed in Cuba. The Cubans, of course, then approached the British; the high commission said that it did not have relations with Jamaica and that it was their responsibility. So it was agreed that those in the plane should claim to be archaeological students studying Cuban.
The point was that out there we set out to find an alternative crop but that it was extraordinarily difficult to do. The Dutch suggested that we grow early carnations, roses or those plastic looking German houseplants, but there was no alternative. When the signal went out from here that cannabis was more illegal than people thought, that immediately sent a signal that they should look for alternative crops and, to some extent, that has happened. In the mean time, one of the saddest things has happened in a country I used to deal with years ago—Afghanistan—which is now producing 90 per cent of the world’s illicit drugs. That has had a negative impact—or a positive impact—on ganja production in some parts of the world.
In this debate, I will support the noble Lord, Lord West, even if that means that I am not supporting the Government because I find it extremely difficult to analyse the evidence. I have come across many cases of schizophrenia and I have also been well briefed by members of my own family who have been involved in trying to address problems such as the impact of mixing alcohol and spliffs, which there is now a test for. I have talked to those who employ people to do dangerous jobs. They have said that their personnel department asks people whether they would mind having a follicle of hair tested to see whether they are on pot or not. The reason given to me for that was that if they were on pot and doing dangerous jobs on oil rigs, for example, it could affect their judgment.
Against that, in the construction industry, I became friends with one of the best tilers I have ever come across. I did not know until after he had retired that he was permanently high on ganja because he had a fear of heights and that in the lunch hour, smoking a weed, he would be running across eaves balancing absolutely perfectly.
In my earlier days, when I chaired the Greater London and SE Council for Sport and Recreation at the time of the Scarman inquiry, we tried to find a way to get the young off the streets and away from crime to play games and sport. I was lucky enough to have a team—we covered Greater London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent—of ethnic-minority group leaders. Everyone thought that ethnic-minority people were minorities rather than just people. I had a Rastafarian as my advisor. He took me up to Brixton and explained that in some cases the weed of wisdom did not do a lot of harm and that actually recreational drugs—if it is a recreational drug—in some cases could improve the performance of a sportsman. That was in the early days of basketball and other sports.
Over time, I have felt that I have seen some disasters and in other parts of the world the economic problems of drug production. I have seen things happen even at home in my own family. A young lady who had a flat upstairs and many of her age group got very interested in agriculture. Window boxes throughout London were producing a new form of houseplant. When that was discovered, the various contents of these window boxes were chucked into a really large wheelie bin not far away. Only the next day, I was told with some amusement that I had done exactly the right thing, because the wheelie bin was inhabited by a drug addict and he must have thought that Christmas had come as the pot came through the door.
There is a light-hearted element to all of this. It is extremely difficult for the Government to go back on what they did before, but I believe that they should because it is a signal that we should send to the outside world and not necessarily to ourselves here at home.
My Lords, when I opposed the Government's decision to reclassify cannabis in 2003, I felt then that I may have lost the argument because I did not take the trouble to read the books and reports that were produced. This time, I studied the reports, spoke with people and asked questions, and I am still of the opinion that the Government are right in reclassifying this drug. I will tell noble Lords why.
First, I remind the House that, to my knowledge, psychiatry is not a science. But it is difficult for someone like me to ignore the evidence on the street and in the home. Ask anyone—go to Deptford or Brixton; go to Haringey, Hackney or wherever. I do not mention the more salubrious places though I have also found that some of the rich and well-nourished smoke cannabis for recreational purposes. But what if you were in my position and had to respond to people who find when talking to their children—children for whom they have had to make great sacrifices in order to send them to university—that they are speaking to zombies: people who have no idea what they say; people so hooked on cannabis that they no longer exist in this world? You will see the pain on their faces.
Some noble Lords have said today that declassification has had no effect. Let me tell you that it has had a great effect on younger people. Very many young children have found themselves in great difficulty because they were made to sell this drug at the school gate—made to sell it for the people who came to collect. Some 15 and 16 year-olds sold the drug because it was no longer an offence. But some who sold it forgot to pay those who supplied them. We have something in this country called gun crime. At the root of gun crime are cases involving those who failed to pay. Noble Lords may remember two young girls being shot after leaving a nightclub. Inquiries have clearly shown that they were dressed in what is fashionably known as “bling”, the money for which was supplied by their boyfriends, who were of the same age. Cannabis use has not decreased. We do not know, because we no longer arrest people for it.
My Lords, I would ask the noble Lord to ask the black community. How many of them were interviewed. They are the people I deal with more than most.
The confusion which arose then persists. The Government are taking the right action. I would invite noble Lords, for recreational purposes, to go to one of the nightclubs where these young people congregate. You will see that cannabis is the most prevalent drug.
My Lords, when cannabis was changed from class B to C I said that it was an unwise thing to do; and cannabis was strong even then. Many people start drug-taking by taking cannabis. It was also a confusing message, especially to the police, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, said. There is much evidence that cannabis can cause serious and dangerous problems for people with mental health conditions. The results of the research all depend on who does the research.
Cannabis has now become even stronger, and even more of a problem. I ask the Minister: what is the current situation for those who use cannabis to relieve their long-term medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis? I see no problem in that if it helps as a medical drug, but I cannot accept my noble friend’s amendment today, as cannabis can be the start of a long, slippery downhill road to serious drug taking.
My Lords, I did not intend to speak in this debate, but, as I have listened to it, I had a growing sense that we have slightly taken our eye off the ball. I hope that I can redirect the debate a little and focus it on what we should be concentrating on.
It seems to me that the debate has become too polarised. Noble Lords on both sides of the debate have spoken with great passion. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that when passions run high it is important to try to take a step back and adopt a more dispassionate and measured approach. On the one side, there has been a tendency to take up the position, cannabis: good, reclassification: bad, and on the other, cannabis: bad, reclassification: good. However, the debate is not really of that order. There are strong points on both sides of it. Those who are worried about the effects of cannabis can point to the increased strength of the drug that we are dealing with these days and the possibility of a link with psychosis. On the other hand, those who oppose reclassification have a strong point about the danger of criminalisation driving people into the arms of traffickers, increasing traffickers’ grip on the drug business and forcing people into further criminality to feed the habit. So the issue is not clear-cut.
The advisory council is not taking a clear-cut position and asking us to form a final view on the matter one way or the other. It is still in some doubt about the matter. It apprehends the possibility that there is an increased link with psychosis. It says that the evidence on that is not strong but that the possibility exists and that it ought to be investigated further. As I said, it is not asking us to take up a position on the issue one way or the other; it is advancing the essentially moderate proposition that the jury is still out and that we do not have all the evidence we need to make a rational decision. It advocates that evidence should continue to be collected, that research should continue to be undertaken for another couple of years and that we should then review the matter again when we have a bit more evidence and, we hope, will be able to come to a more definite conclusion on the matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, pitched it absolutely right when she said, like the advisory council, that we should leave things as they are for another couple of years and then come back to the matter when we have more evidence. So we are not being asked to take a clear-cut, definitive position on the matter one way or the other. We are not being asked to say that cannabis is good and, therefore, reclassification is bad, or that cannabis is bad and reclassification is good. There are obviously arguments in both directions and one pole or the other may be stronger in a couple of years, which will incline us to come down more decisively one way or the other.
However, we do not know enough at the moment. Therefore, it seems only sensible, and the only rational course, not to come down decisively one way or the other this evening, and to leave things as they are for another couple of years in the hope that we will at that point be able to take a better-informed and more definitive position.
With that in mind, I urge the Government to stay their hand, refrain from insisting on a clear-cut decision this evening and allow things to run for another couple of years until we can take a more definitive decision in the light of further and better evidence.
My Lords, from these Benches, we shall be supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, because we believe in evidence-based policymaking. The evidence from the advisory council is very definite. It does not, as many speakers have said, come down one way or the other; it is simply asking for more time.
I wish to make three points—on the effect on young people, the effect on society and the effect on policing and criminals. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, asked what has changed since cannabis was reclassified last time. In one way he was correct in his supposition that not much has changed, but the fact is that use is falling among young people and in general. That is one beneficial change. Secondly, the Government have run an advertising campaign, which is a good thing, because the more information that is out there for our young people, the better. There is a risk of putting those benefits into jeopardy unless all of the campaigning and messages are very consistent and honest.
One of the difficulties with this debate is the very use of the term “cannabis”, which actually encompasses a wide number of things, including marijuana or grass, cannabis resin and skunk. They are all different substances with different strengths. I am sure that young people who use it know that better than we do. The fact is that unless we are clear in what we are talking about and clear about where the dangers lie, young people will simply switch off.
I was particularly struck by some contributions, especially that of the noble Earl, Lord Errol, who talked about what the effect would be on a young person who gets an enhanced criminal record. It would be harder for them to get a job in the first place and harder to move jobs. That young person would not be able to work with many groups, just because they had been caught a couple of times doing something that, I suspect, a large number of MPs in the other place and Members of your Lordships’ House have actually done over time. In fact, President-Elect Obama was honest enough to say that he, too, had done this. Are we really going to condemn our young people to higher penalties and deny them all sorts of positions in life once they have an enhanced criminal record? Above all, we need to be honest about this.
I underline what the council said about the risks involved. It found that the evidence does not suggest that cannabis use is a substantial cause of acquisitive crime, that anti-social behaviour is much more likely as a consequence of alcohol consumption than of cannabis use and that the risk of progressing from cannabis to a class A drug is less than that associated with the use of alcohol or tobacco. Those very important facts should be borne in mind.
In the Home Secretary’s Statement on reclassification she gave, as other noble Lords said, only the evidence of public perception as a reason to change. If she had referred to the adverse effect on society, that might have been a very strong reason to reclassify. However, the effect of cannabis in that regard is much less than that of alcohol.
In July 2004, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, was asked about what has happened since reclassifying the drug from B to C. She replied:
“The signs are very encouraging. The release of police time from policing the cannabis issue has enabled us to concentrate on class A drugs and other matters”.—[Official Report, 21/7/04; col. 217.]
What will be the effect—I am sure that there will be some—of reclassifying it the other way round? Will the Minister come to this House in six months’ time and give the reverse opinion to that of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland; namely, that the effect on the police has been very deleterious? That is the logic of this.
ACPO said that the 2004 reclassification did not alter its approach to enforcement. That suggests that it will carry on in the same way whatever the classification. There is a slightly confusing message there, and we need some clarification from the Minister tonight. When surveyed on this matter, 67 per cent of the public were in favour of unchanged or abolished penalties, which is very surprising.
We see the way forward as a health matter and an education matter. We have read no evidence from the advisory council or heard any evidence this evening that shows that reclassification will help either health or education. We will support the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and we hope that the Government will think again.
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords agree that this debate has been in the highest traditions of this House, with an impressive spread of views, all sincerely held.
My noble friend Lord Waddington gave the House an impressive account of my party’s attitude to this problem, which has been absolutely consistent since the declassification of cannabis to class C in 2004; that is, total opposition to its removal from class B. It will come as no surprise that we shall support the Government’s Motion this evening.
The ACMD has done much admirable work but little has been said this evening about the minority report in the document. However, I draw noble Lords’ attention to paragraph 13.5.1. It contains a comment on recommendation 3, which is that cannabis should remain a class C drug. It states:
“A minority of members of the Council remain very concerned about effects of cannabis on the mental health of users, especially in the light of the (now) wide availability and use of sinsemilla”—
that is, skunk. It continues:
“In their view the balance of harms more closely equates to substances in Class B than Class C”.
I suggest that we can assume that the minority on that committee was as impressive in composition as was the committee overall. That is just one point that reinforces the Government’s attitude to this matter.
Before concluding, I take this opportunity to mention my party’s attitude to the problem of drugs. Although we support the order, we differ from the Government in our general approach to the problem, which the current Government see as one of maintenance and management rather than of trying to break the cycle of addiction. Drug treatment and testing orders have failed to tackle addiction, with 80 per cent of those given the orders reoffending within two years. If elected, we propose to introduce abstinence-based drug rehabilitation orders with residential abstinence-based programmes and, where appropriate, day-care programmes. Returning to the Motion under consideration, however, we on these Benches will support the Government.
My Lords, we have had an absolutely fascinating and very useful debate, which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said, has been in the best traditions of this House. The way in which these matters are debated and the knowledge that people have are most impressive. Indeed, that knowledge is amazingly detailed. I was slightly surprised by how many members of the Government seem, at one stage, to have smoked—perhaps inhaling or perhaps not—these substances. I come from a background where that is not allowed at all. In the Navy, we had positive drug testing and, if it was found that you had touched drugs, you were out. That seemed to work quite well.
It was interesting to hear such a variety of views. Marvellous historical backgrounds were given by the noble Lords, Lord Waddington, Lord Mancroft and Lord Elystan-Morgan. All three were totally different, which was interesting, but I am sure that they all contained a strand of truth. They illustrated differences in perception depending on how one looks at these things. However, we know—and perhaps I am more positive about this than others—that we can succeed in tackling drugs and reducing the harm that they do to families and communities. Notwithstanding what the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said, the past 10 years have seen progress and some notable successes. However, we must also be prepared to respond when the nature and force of the problem change. As part of that response, we have to look at our drug laws. The reclassification of cannabis, accompanied by the strength and enforcement approach, will reflect the alarming fact that skunk now dominates the cannabis market.
There was mention of the Guardian letter, which I have read. I do not dispute the qualifications of the ACMD but what really comes over—the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, touched on the minority who gave a view on this as well—is that the evidence is confused. That was mentioned also by the noble Lords, Lord Waddington and Lord Low. The fact is that there is great uncertainty about the real impacts and, as a Government, we must always err on the side of safety. We also need to get the right message across—something that I shall come back to in a moment.
I shall deal with a few of the points that were raised. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, mentioned the problem of a PND being on someone’s record. A PND is recorded as non-conviction information and therefore, during a CRB check, is not included on the police certificate, although it is up to the responsible officer to assess whether an extended PND should be included. It does not appear on a certificate relating to a visa or overseas work. When the noble Earl and I discussed this matter prior to the debate, I promised him that I would clarify that, but I have only just received the information.
I also wish to refer to a point of fact that I got wrong concerning an increase in the number of seizures. We seized 344,360 cannabis plants in the past year, which was an increase from 208,000 in the previous year. That is quite a dramatic number.
The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who has a lot of knowledge in this area, asked what the advisory council says about mental health harms. There is confusion about this. It says that there is clear evidence that cannabis can produce immediate and long-term harms to mental health. The evidence supports a causal association between the use of cannabis in adolescence and the later development of schizophrenia. However, the relationship is clearly more complicated than when the ACMD considered the matter previously and most likely cannabis plays a modest role in the development of psychotic illness in the general population. Whether such a causal link will become stronger with the wider use of high-potency cannabis products remains uncertain. The possibility that the greater use of cannabis preparations with a higher THC—tetrahydrocannabinol—content might increase the harmfulness of cannabis to mental health cannot be denied, but the behaviour of cannabis users in the face of stronger products, as well as the magnitude of causal association with psychotic illnesses, is uncertain. That shows that, although we are not absolutely sure, there is probably some risk. It is therefore important that the Government take some action.
A number of noble Lords mentioned a delay, but again the increased potency of the drug, for which we have evidence in the form of a Home Office potency study, means that we have to err on the side of caution. Delaying a decision for two or three years would be reckless. It is the Government’s duty to take action to protect the public, particularly when there are uncertainties. I repeat that I think that there are uncertainties. That point was made clearly by my noble friend Lord Mackenzie. Will we make a commitment to review this in two years? Well, the ACMD has recommended that it convenes a further review on cannabis policy in two years, which is probably a good idea. It is a matter for the council. The Government will keep their position open. We continuously review it, as we do for all drugs. We monitor the situation through the British Crime Survey, criminal justice surveys, other relevant statistics and new evidence from the ACMD and others. It is open to the Home Secretary to ask the ACMD at any stage to review classification.
Laws are not driven by scientific advice alone. Much wider issues, such as public perception, are involved. That is important. Public perception was touched on by my noble friend Lord Mackenzie. I know well from my children that they had a perception that this was not really serious. That is not a good perception. We need to make it clear that it is a serious issue. Equally, like my noble friend, I do not believe that the police pursued it as much as they should have, because they felt that the message that we were giving was that it was not so important. However, it is important in terms of policing priorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked why we were not changing the enforcement regime for the under-18s. We are sending out a clear message to young people that cannabis is illegal now—more so with this order. A statutory process is set out in the Crime and Disorder Act for young people under 18. It already offers formal escalation with referral at any stage to the youth offending team for substance misuse. I believe that that continues to offer an appropriate and proportionate response. We are not avoiding that issue.
My noble friend Lord Richard said that changing the class of a drug had no impact on use. We make no claim that a change in a drug classification on its own will act as a deterrent. However, there is evidence that illegality of a drug may affect an individual’s decision to take it in the first place—I know jolly well that one of my sons got a bit of a slap about this; he is well aware of it and it has made quite a change—or to stop taking it. We accept that the reasons for taking or not taking a drug are most likely to be multiple, varied and interrelated, but this is one aspect of it. The increase in severity of disposals associated with our proposed enforcement response for repeat offenders is intended to impact on offenders’ behaviour and to support the steady decline in use. That is why we are doing this.
My noble friends Lord Richard and Lord Layard asked: why now? The ACMD says that evidence is more uncertain now than in 2006. I go back to that uncertainty point. We are taking a precautionary view in the light of this uncertainty, given the dominance of skunk in the UK. It is now very dominant and dangerous. I have seen its huge impact on my children’s friends. My noble friends Lord Mackenzie and Lady Howells made strong and moving speeches on this.
The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, said that we have 1 million or 2 million—I cannot remember how many—users in the UK, but it is against the law so they should not do it. There are so many users because that has not been made clear enough. I mentioned that there is random drug testing in the Navy. If you are positive, you are out. That works. Part of the reason why people have not taken the issue so seriously is that we have not made it clear enough.
The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, made a seemingly persuasive but dangerous speech about alcohol. Of course there are historical reasons and reasons within this country and Europe why alcohol is used so much more. It has been used for hundreds of years. If as many people were using skunk at the same level, we would rapidly see what a horrendous impact it has. My experience of children is that they often seem to be smoking this dreadful stuff and drinking rather a lot as well. They are then a complete waste of rations in terms of doing anything, and it is very bad for them.
The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that we are not being that strict with people. We will now make sure that we register offences. That is part of the idea behind this. We intend to make sure that the police do it. We had sort of given them the message not to bother to record these offences. Smoke one spliff in Brixton, then go and smoke the next in Hackney, and you will never be caught because they will never be linked up. The point is that they are now recorded and noted. We are going through a fixed route of a warning, then a PND and then a conviction. However, there is always flexibility. I know that some people do not know this, but I have a certain amount of faith in the common sense of our police in applying these things. Now there is a graded way of doing it. That is an important message. I go back to my point: my experience with my youngsters and their friends is that they thought that cannabis was not that important because we had done what we had done. They need to realise that it is extremely important.
Commercial cultivation is not just a UK phenomenon. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported a move by organised crime in developed countries to rely on domestic production. The SOCA threat assessments make it clear that cannabis farms in the UK are predominantly run by Vietnamese criminal gangs. They are a real worry to us and part of the reason why we would like to make this clear.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned the medicinal use of cannabis. I have a long and complex answer but, bearing in mind the time, I shall write to her. We have sympathy, but there are difficulties in clearing cannabis as a proper drug.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, mentioned war. I see that he is dressed for war now. I do not like the phrase “war on terrorism”. There seem to be wars on too many things. It should be rather more specific. I think of it as excising a cancer. The noble Lord said that prohibition is not a good way of doing things. Prohibition was touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, too. The Government believe that regulation of drugs will never be an appropriate response. Drugs are controlled for good reason. They are harmful to health. Their control is necessary and a legitimate means of protecting individuals and the public from the harms caused by their misuse. While prohibition has not eradicated availability, it has been a crucial element in restricting it and keeping the level of drug use under control. UK drug laws cannot be expected to eliminate drug misuse, but there is no doubt that they help to limit use and deter experimentation.
Drug misuse wastes lives, destroys families and damages communities. That was eloquently explained by my noble friend Lady Howells. We have to face this problem head on. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, pointed out, skunk is now a huge and unpleasant part of this market. As a Government, we have to err on the side of safety. We must give out the right message about how dangerous these things are and what harm they cause. That is not at all clear and, until we are clear, it is right that we should err on the side of safety. I commend the changes proposed by the order. I believe that we must act now.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, but I especially thank those many noble Lords who have supported my amendment to the Motion. I mention the noble Lords, Lord Richard, Lord Cobbold, Lord Adebowale, Lord Rea, Lord Mancroft, Lord Layard and Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Miller—I probably have not mentioned all—who have held to the evidence behind the amendment. I tabled it because it seemed to me that, if the Government lose the contact between the scientific evidence and the decisions that they make in policy, this country will indeed be lost. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have upheld that good and fine tradition and I seek to test the opinion of the House.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
My Lords, as the House will no doubt be aware, my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons has already announced our intention to prorogue no later than Thursday 27 November. Following the earlier business today, I am now in a happy position to inform your Lordships that we intend to prorogue at the conclusion of business in both Houses tomorrow evening.
Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules
rose to move, That the statement, laid before the House on 4 November, be disapproved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Phil Woolas says, “We have to bloody well talk about immigration”, so I am sure he will be pleased that we have managed to secure time for this debate just before Prorogation. There is no shortage of talk about immigration in this House where, although the points-based system was supposed to be a simplification, so far this year already we have had two debates on the fees and this is the second debate on changes to the rules.
An EDM has also been tabled in another place by the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the Opposition disapproving this statement. We look forward very much to hearing the Tories’ reasons for their disapproval and to having their company in the Division Lobby at the end of the debate, if any of them are left.
This statement amends the provisions that have already been decided for tier 1, which were agreed with some reluctance by your Lordships last March, and implements tier 2 for skilled workers and tier 5 for temporary workers. It creates a totally new category for business and special visitors who do not belong in any of the five tiers. It amends the general grounds for refusal and curtailment provisions related to sponsorship of tiers 2 and 5, and raises the age for spouses, civil partners and fiancés from 18 to 21. The statement contains 35,244 words, not counting the Explanatory Memorandum. The haste to produce it is shown by the simultaneous publication of an erratum sheet and a page of corrections to the Explanatory Memorandum.
Up to now, this system has been developed below the waterline of formal recognition in law, as ILPA puts it. This is the first opportunity that Parliament has had to look at sponsor licensing under the points-based system. Sponsors, who are largely employers and universities, but include also those who are bringing in sports people and entertainers, have to master the 100,000 words of the Immigration Rules. After reading 130 pages of guidance, they have to fill in an application form of 35 pages and 58 questions. If they make an error of judgment in relation to the candidate, employee or student they risk being fined or ultimately struck off the register. If that happens, anyone else whom they sponsor—not just the candidates who were taken on in error—may lose their job, their student place or contract as an entertainer or sports person.
The London Chamber of Commerce says that the system imposes new burdens on employers who are now being used as the first level of immigration regulation, which is happening at the wrong time, economically and otherwise. The time taken to register as a sponsor and to maintain all the required paperwork is a formidable additional cost which goes straight to the bottom line. London still has particular skills shortages, and yet in spite of the fact that it accounts for 19 per cent of GDP, there is no separate list of skills shortages here as there is in Scotland. The CBI says that the launch on 27 November will be “soft”, with,
“plenty of understanding for a couple of months as employers find their way”.
Can the Minister explain what this means? How are the rules going to be interpreted in a way that benefits those who have to grapple with the difficulties in the first few months of operation?
Among other concerns, the CBI says that the requirement that every dependant of a tier 2 applicant must hold £533 in a UK bank account for at least three months before their arrival in the UK is totally impracticable for candidates from developing countries and will lead to split families or dependants entering on tourist visas which are inherently less controllable. For the maintenance of dependants, I suggest that the Government should rely on a guarantee by the sponsor, as they do for the principal applicant, and as they have done for years for spouses under Section 113 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
The CBI is concerned with the drafting of the business visitor proposals as they affect a person seconded from an overseas company which has a contract with its UK opposite number. It creates a two-tier approach with some firms using the business visitor route to bring in people for six-month visits while others have to use the more tightly controlled points-based system because the individual needs a longer period in the UK. The CBI says that business people who enter under tier 5 used to have a fast-track renewal facility under the old rules which is important for staff who travel regularly, but that is not in the statement or in the Explanatory Memorandum. We understand that it is not to be reintroduced until some time next year, leaving those facing renewal in the mean time with the loss of their passport for six weeks, with consequent personal inconvenience and perhaps additional costs from a business point of view.
The term “business visitor” also includes a category described as “academic visitor” which allows the candidate to stay for 12 months. However, Universities UK says that sponsored researchers, who make a vital contribution to our research activities and to international collaboration, will all have to enter under the tier 5 category called the “government authorised exchange route”, requiring a third-party organisation to act as the sponsor and not the higher education institution itself, and that it will have to be demonstrated that the mobility is linked to government department objectives. Although these changes come into effect the day after tomorrow, there is still no organisation capable of acting as a sponsor for these sponsored researchers, and it does not make any sense for a new body to be created especially for the purpose, even if that were possible, because the universities themselves are able and willing to do the job as they always have done in the past—without it ever having been suggested that an irregular route into UK employment had been created thereby. Transferring the obligation to a new quango is a criminally stupid piece of bureaucracy and weakens control because the quango will have no direct contact with the researcher, as the sponsoring universities have done until now. Universities UK has asked me to put it to the Government that the implementation of these proposals should be put off until the matter has been sorted out.
Apart from the universities, I invite the Minister to let us know what other organisations are affected by the requirement that a third-party sponsor has to be in place for tier 5 migrants coming in on government authorised exchange schemes. I know that it applies to authorised medical graduates coming here for further training where, until now, the process has been, first, for a check to be made on their qualifications by the relevant royal college, then for them to be registered with the GMC, and finally for the employing PCT to apply for a work permit. Now the PCTs are not going to be allowed to act as sponsors, and the royal colleges are still in discussions with the UKBA on the way forward. They say that there simply has not been time to work this out, and indeed an official from one college told me this morning that they would like to continue with the existing system until a new procedure is agreed.
The National Campaign for the Arts tells me that in the case of orchestras, theatre troupes and entertainers the sponsor is the organisation that arranges the visit and, where there are multiple venues, there is provision for group sponsorship. This sounds a lot simpler but it says that the process of negotiation with the UKBA has been very frustrating. The last meeting it had with the UKBA was a week ago—with two days to go there are still many unanswered questions—and it is constantly picking up things that are incorrect or out of date, particularly in the guidance.
A week ago, a Welsh arts organisation trying to register as a sponsor reported being asked for evidence of submitting returns to the HMRC Foreign Entertainers Unit even though it had had an e-mail from the Home Office on 7 October saying that this was no longer mandatory. Even the UKBA cannot fight its way through its own documentation. To save time, I have sent a document which the NCA e-mailed me this morning so that I do not have to go through all the points that it has raised.
One of the requirements for a person to be granted leave to enter as a business visitor is that he intends to carry out a “permissible activity”, but the definition of this at the bottom of page 5 of the statement states that it means,
“a business activity of a type listed in United Kingdom Border Agency guidance specifying the activities that a business person may undertake during a short-term business visit to the UK”,
and if you search the UKBA website you will find a page on business visitors which states that full details of permissible activities will be available shortly. That is not the only reference to UKBA guidance which does not yet exist, making it impossible for users to know whether their intentions are lawful.
There are two other examples that I shall give briefly—a person who intends to take part in sporting events and those intending to employ a tier 2 migrant, who must offer only allowances specified as acceptable in UKBA guidance which is still to see the light of day. In sub-paragraph (b) at the top of page 26 there is a reference to this guidance that does not exist.
In these cases, employers will have issued a certificate of sponsorship in good faith, but when the worker gets to the port or when the UKBA subsequently pays the employer a compliance or audit visit, it may transpire that the certificate of sponsorship was incorrectly issued. If users do not have the guidance, or even know when it was issued, how are cases under this heading going to be determined?
The TUC also has cogent objections to the scheme. It points out that when an employer who breaks immigration or company law can be refused a licence, those with a track record of worker abuse or exploitation cannot. The Home Secretary has given some assurances that exploiters might have their licences revoked, but there is nothing in the rules about that. In Australia, as the TUC points out, the employer must demonstrate that he is of good standing, including compliance with immigration law and good workplace relations, before he is issued with a licence.
The TUC and Kalayaan expressed concern about the changes affecting domestic workers and particularly those employed by diplomats. Kalayaan was a referral body on the Home Office pilot scheme to detect human trafficking for forced labour held between May and September this year. Of the 12 referrals it made, three were domestic workers who had accompanied diplomats to the UK. The competent authority for the pilot decided that there were reasonable grounds to believe that all the referred individuals had been trafficked for domestic servitude. Surely this demonstrates that we need to strengthen the protection of domestic workers generally and those employed by diplomats in particular. Kalayaan says that the undertaking given by the former Minister, Liam Byrne, in June that the protection of migrant domestic workers would be maintained outside the points-based system until the two-year review should be upheld and that domestic workers in diplomatic households should have the same rights to change employer as all others.
One final concern is about religious workers, particularly those coming to stay in monasteries. I declare an interest as patron of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organisation, whose spiritual director, the venerable Ajahn Khemadhammo, OBE, is also chair of the Theravada Buddhist Sangha UK and abbot of a monastery in Warwickshire which from time to time hosts visiting monks from Thailand. There has never been any problem with monks coming to Theravada monasteries here, but now abbots are having to plough through reams of paperwork to become sponsors, a severe distraction from their lives of meditation and teaching the Dharma. The Sangha was not consulted until we prompted the Minister last April, and the guidance on Tier 5 shows that UKBA still has not understood that Buddhist monks are not employed.
It looks as though monks can enter, either as ministers of religion under tier 2, or as temporary religious workers for up to 24 months under tier 5. Tier 2 requires fluent English, and that is not usually spoken by monks when they first arrive from south Asian countries. But under tier 5, they are barred from engaging in many of the normal activities of monks, such as chanting at funerals, or any pastoral duties, including counselling. It may be very hard for monks to qualify at all if these restrictions are interpreted rigidly.
At the only meeting that the Theravada Buddhist Sangha UK had with UKBA on 15 July, it was apparent that there was no scope for varying what had already been decided, including the fees, which will hit small monasteries very hard. It costs £400 for the licence for tiers 2 and 5 and £175 for each certificate of sponsorship, plus the cost of the visa.
The introduction of this phase of the points-based system should be postponed. In its present form, it is a labyrinth of anguish, expense and errors both for users and the UKBA. We hope that the Government will agree with our Motion, giving themselves time to iron out the worst of these problems, only some of which I have been able to identify this evening. I beg to move.
Moved, That the statement, laid before the House on 4 November, be disapproved.—(Lord Avebury.)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for introducing the debate this evening. As he indicated, the TUC feels quite strongly about these changes in the Immigration Rules and has sent me a very substantial brief about it.
As already indicated by the noble Lord, the TUC has three principal concerns with regard to the proposed immigration reform. First, it thinks that licences to provide work permits should be restricted to people it calls good employers. Secondly, it is concerned about the rights of migrant domestic workers and thinks that those should be guaranteed in law to prevent abuse. Thirdly, it is seeking greater transparency in the intra-company transfer scheme, greater protection for those covered by the scheme and greater protection for the jobs of those who might be displaced by it.
On licensing arrangements, the TUC is very concerned that while employers who have contravened immigration or company laws can be prevented from getting a licence, employers with a very bad track record of abuse of their workers cannot be so prevented and may therefore recruit employees from abroad who, for a variety of reasons, are often, of course, more vulnerable to exploitation. Although the Home Secretary has provided some assurances that exploiters could have their licences removed subsequently, in the view of the TUC this really is a matter of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.
The TUC’s equivalent in Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, reports that Australia’s employer nomination scheme, which concerns the sponsorship of those coming to reside permanently in Australia, provides that to gain approval to sponsor a skilled worker from overseas, the employer must demonstrate, among other things, that it is an employer of good standing, which includes a record of compliance with both immigration and workplace relations law. Under the Australian regional sponsored migration scheme, which allows employers in regional areas to sponsor skilled workers where no labour is available locally, the employer must demonstrate among other things a record of compliance with workplace relations laws. An equivalent requirement in the UK should be introduced.
The TUC feels strongly about migrant domestic workers. During the summer, the TUC and others welcomed the Home Secretary’s assurances that the status that migrant domestic workers were granted in 1997 would remain unaltered. It was then disappointed to learn that, under the proposed rules, the reasons for retaining the 1997 status would be ignored in the case of migrant domestic workers in diplomatic households. The new rules will leave them more vulnerable to abuse at the hands of their employers, who may moreover enjoy diplomatic immunity from prosecution. The Home Office has agreed to issue an administrative instruction to preserve the route to settlement for those workers as part of the Government’s commitment to ensure that all existing rights for overseas domestic workers are preserved until they can be reviewed two years after the introduction of the points-based system and when the anti-trafficking strategy has been properly road-tested.
However, this is not felt to be a sufficiently satisfactory solution, because such workers’ right to change employers and to renew will not be specifically included as rights. This needs to be addressed. Being unable to leave an abusive employer without breaching the Immigration Rules leaves diplomatic domestic workers especially vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse. Finding alternative employment in a diplomatic mission where the worker has already been abused is not a realistic option; and putting the agreed limited safeguard in an administrative instruction is not sufficiently sustainable, because it could easily be lost either through administrative error or deliberate government policy. For these reasons, the rights of migrant domestic workers to escape abusive employers without being further disadvantaged need to be set out in law.
I turn finally to intra-company transfers. The TUC believes that there should be more transparency. The names of sponsors, the number of certificates of sponsorship—especially under the ICT scheme—and the numbers accepted and rejected should be published, as is the practice in Ireland. This could help to strengthen confidence in the ICT system, which according to the TUC and its affiliates is creating resentment and concern in some workplaces. It is also believed that workers brought into the UK under the ICT scheme should have greater protection; for example, the wage level set out on the sponsorship certificate should be made available to the individual being sponsored. At present, this is not a requirement. Complaints from colleagues of the TUC in India already suggest that companies are not paying the rate shown on the sponsorship certificate to employees brought into the UK under the ICT system. Some way needs to be found to ensure that individual ICT scheme workers know that the wage they are being paid is correct and that they have some means of enforcing it.
Workers brought in under the ICT scheme should not be allowed to opt out from the 48-hour limit on working hours under the working time directive, as they are not in a position to refuse to work long hours when their employer could send them back to their source country.
For all those reasons, it is felt that the new proposals should be further discussed. The TUC also states that in general it supports the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association briefing on the changes proposed. It hopes that agreement can be reached on an alternative or adjusted way forward.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for challenging the changes to the Immigration Rules and for raising the issues presented by them. I shall refer particularly to the ways in which rules based primarily on economic considerations can have deep cultural effects, which may be unintended but are nevertheless serious. That is one reason why I believe it would have been far better if these matters had been dealt with by legislation. We could have discussed and explored them at far greater length than we can tonight.
The loss of the working holiday immigration route will have deleterious effects on the ability of young people to come to this country to work alongside British young people and gain from and contribute to our culture. The youth mobility scheme, which replaces it, involves just four countries—Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand. The working holiday scheme has been a major way in which the young people of Commonwealth countries, particularly African countries, have met and contributed to their understanding of one another. I believe it to have been one way in which peace has been established, sought and developed between people of very different cultures, and I deeply regret the loss that I believe will happen as a result of these rules.
Similarly, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, the restriction on charitable and religious workers will affect how people of faith from other countries come here and experience and contribute to the life of faith in this country. Christians from abroad influence and inform our own Christian growth, and it will be much more difficult to bring Christian ministers into this country to help us and them under these rules. Christian churches are not confined to a single country. International contacts and mutual support are crucial to the life of the Christian faith. That includes the ability for Christian ministries to move from country to country; it is by no means always true that a high-level knowledge of English is necessary for preaching and pastoral work to take place here. Our own links, in Ripon and Leeds, are with the church in Sri Lanka. We have gained much from clergy and others who have given of time and skill to come to this country to share with us, as we with them, although they may have very little English indeed. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that there will be continuing discussions with faith groups and charities before the powerful rules for tiers 2 and 5 are put into effect.
There are other concerns about these rules. The refusal of marriage visas to those aged 18 to 21 is portrayed as an attempt to prevent people being bullied into marriage. That I applaud—but this blunt instrument will also catch many genuine personal relationships. There is already legislation to prevent forced marriage. I do not believe that the refusal of visas will help anyone, and it will damage couples seeking to settle here in new, perfectly legal circumstances. Similarly, closing the way of entering for retired persons of independent means, means that elderly dependent relatives of people here may be allowed to come on compassionate grounds, while independent relatives will not be able to come. The provisions in both those examples give minimal benefit to anyone while damaging what is, admittedly, comparatively few people, but people who will suffer substantially. It must be no part of our rules to cause hardship and trauma to people, however few, without good reason.
Finally, I join the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, in asking for a review of the provisions for migrant domestic workers, particularly in diplomatic households. There is real danger here of abuse behind closed doors, which will be enhanced without the right to change employer while in this country. I hope that they will be excluded from the tier 5 provisions and so retain the already very limited rights of other domestic workers.
I hope that your Lordships will disapprove these changes, thereby giving us all the opportunity to explore ways in which we can improve the humane immigration controls that the Minister and the Government desire.
My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of the universities that have been affected as one of the unintended consequences of this legislation. The right reverend Prelate mentioned that working holidays for younger people visiting this country were now effectively at an end. It should also be recognised that the long tradition of visiting fellows, whereby academics and scholars from other countries have visited this country to work in our laboratories and libraries alongside academics from this country, is now also effectively at an end. The briefing that I received from the University of Cambridge says that:
“From 27th November … there is no functional mechanism to continue to receive them, because the new regulations require a national-level body independent of the host universities to sponsor them, and no such body exists for the HE sector”.
As my noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned, under the new system, sponsored researchers are to be covered by the government-authorised exchange route under tier 5. That will be unworkable for higher education. The proposal requires a third-party organisation to act as sponsor, not the higher education institution itself, which currently acts as sponsor, and would require the mobility to be linked to government department objectives.
Despite the imminence of the new system’s implementation, there is no existing third-party organisation that can act as sponsor for these migrants. Under the current system, the universities sponsor these people themselves. There are no large-scale external organisation schemes in existence for the mobility of sponsored researchers. Universities are also very willing to continue to sponsor them and to take responsibility for their compliance, as they have done quite satisfactorily to date. Under the current proposals, it is not possible for the universities to develop a reciprocal sponsorship arrangement.
Organisations such as the British Council, research councils, learned societies, the Royal Society and similar organisations only fund a small number of these migrants in total, so have no interest in taking responsibility for all privately funded or overseas government-funded researchers—nor would it be appropriate or workable for Universities UK to act as such a sponsor. Transferring sponsorship duties to a third party, in any case, is less secure and less efficient than the universities themselves acting as sponsors. They are the people who know these scholars, know what they have been doing and can justify their visits. The third party will not be where the migrant is based and information will have to be duplicated between the university and the third-party sponsor. The creation of a new organisation to handle sponsorship of these migrants will create quite unnecessary and additional bureaucracy, as well as being contrary to the wider drive for better regulation.
I find it extraordinary. Here are a Government anxious that our universities should welcome overseas students and bring more of them to this country. They are anxious that our universities should forge links in research with industry, including multinational companies based overseas, and bring their researchers to this country to find out what we are doing, so that we can add to our research. They are anxious to promote the UK itself as a global leader in research, yet they are not only making it difficult for such researchers to come here, they are creating an almost total bureaucratic nightmare for any such researcher trying to come to this country as a visiting fellow. Universities UK has been pressing the UK Border Agency for a long time for discussions to resolve this problem, but so far such discussions have got nowhere. It has had very little co-operation indeed from the UK Border Agency. It is an absurd situation. It is not one, I am quite sure, that the Government wish to see and I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance that it will not take place.
My Lords, I intervene briefly to say that this is a spectacular own goal by the Government. The point made by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford is central: looking at the development of universities as they come to terms with global research and the global exchange of information, it seems incredibly absurd to make it so difficult to exchange fellowships and scholars between universities. Indeed it has long been the pride of the United Kingdom that it was more open to people from other universities throughout the world than almost any other country. We gained immensely from that in scientific research, in cross-cultural new ideas and innovation, and not least—and this may appeal to the Government—in very strong links with educational publishers and providers in this country who then supplied a great many exports abroad which were central to the extension of our own ideas of education to other countries, not just to a small number of highly developed countries but also to a great many countries in the Commonwealth.
The right reverend Prelate and his colleagues drew our attention to the difficulty of bringing religious teachers and religious priests to this country. I find it incredible. If one wants to cross racial and cultural barriers, the commonality of belief—in Christianity in this case, but there are other examples such as Buddhism, to which my noble friend Lord Avebury referred—is one of the central ways in which globalisation can become civilised and values become commonly held. It is extraordinarily short-sighted that we should make this so difficult as well. I know of no evidence showing that people in this situation have exploited their position, become illegal immigrants or acted as people bringing in other persons.
I refer briefly to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden. For many years I lectured in the United States, at the John F Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, on the subject of migrants who took up roles in domestic service. One of the largest groups in this category was people from the Philippines. There was a necessity for these people to find jobs outside those islands because the birth rate and the rate of job increase simply did not match one another. There were many extremely disturbing true stories about what had happened to domestic servants from the Philippines, many of them educated young men and women who went to other countries, including some very wealthy and developed countries, as domestic servants. I could regale the House, though will not, with statistics on the number of Filipino domestic servants who came back not alive but in coffins because of the way in which they had been treated by their employers. It is incredible that we should not only allow that but make it easier for people to exploit their domestic servants when—in another part of the Government, and I pay due respect to this—there has been a huge attempt to deal with the trafficking of young women for sexual or other purposes.
You do not need to know a great deal about domestic service to know that it opens the door to an explanation for trafficking that is just as bad as trafficking itself. There are many examples of misuse and abuse of domestic servants, not least in diplomatic embassies, though I hate to say so. I will not address any specific cases though some may spring to mind.
The Government have a responsibility for those who are the most vulnerable and least protected and who have the fewest rights among us. Domestic servants a round the country can continually be threatened and put under intimidating pressure so that if they complain, ask for proper wages or make it clear that they want their legal rights—to holidays, to Sundays and all the rest of it—they can be blackmailed with the threat that they will have to go back whence they came, and often they are the main supporters of their families. That case comes up time and time again. That this exploitation should be allowed to happen by a Government who have committed themselves to trying to treat fairly all groups in society is appalling.
I hope that the Government will stop and think again and that the other departments of government which have a great commitment to our own country's position internationally—the departments dealing with trade, business, foreign affairs and, not least, international development—will bring pressure to bear on the Home Office to rethink this. In the long run this will only bring a great deal of contumely, and deservedly so, on this country.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for again bringing this issue before the House. I wish to speak in the same spirit as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Williams, particularly with respect to how this legislation affects higher education. The point has already been made that by placing sponsored researchers in tier 5, there will be a requirement to find a third body to sponsor them. I accept that this can be done in certain cases—the British Council might play a role—but for the majority of cases it is, frankly, not at all practical. It creates a major problem for our universities because these regulations come into effect in a few days’ time and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, there are at present no arrangements in place by which they can see their way to reproducing the number of sponsored researchers that we currently have. One way of doing it would be to extend tier 2 to include that group of people.
Today there were discussions on this issue in Downing Street. I hope that we are on the way to reaching a benign resolution of this problem because one is certainly required. We are talking about several thousand talented people in our university system, whose work this country cannot afford to lose. Cambridge University alone has 200 sponsored researchers. The measure affects dozens of people in my university, Queen’s University, Belfast. Cambridge is also concerned that the more restrictive arrangements for academic visitors will negatively affect the work of the Isaac Newton Institute, a world-class centre for mathematics. This is not simply a Cambridge issue. Today I talked to my own vice-chancellor in Belfast, who said that throughout the world of higher education there is alarm about the implications of these new proposals.
As other noble Lords have said, there is no question about the quality of the work carried out by sponsored researchers in our universities, which is frequently of economic benefit to this country and to the world more generally. I illustrate this with what I hope is a suggestive and pertinent example. The Foreign Secretary’s Written Statement of 13 March announced, in effect, that there would be no further FCO scholarships for PhD work from the developed Commonwealth countries. This aroused controversy in a debate last week. It is interesting to note the reason given by the Foreign Secretary in the Statement; namely, the desire to shift £10 million towards engaging with China on matters such as climate change and economic development.
There is every reason to respect the way in which the Foreign Secretary has tried to focus keenly on China, and it is a realistic aspect of current British foreign policy; therefore, the idea is to transfer £10 million in favour of this new engagement. However, we should look, as I did today, at Cambridge University’s list of sponsored researchers and what they are doing. At the very top of the list is the work of a Chinese scientist who specialises in electric power, economy and management, and works on such relevant questions as long distance interconnectors for wind farms and hydro stations. That is precisely the area in which we are supposed to be spending money, or shifting resources, in order to have a dialogue, but in this particular case it is not clear what the arrangements might be to keep this person in the country or to bring such people back into the country. There does not seem to be any particular rationale for this set of policies other than to create the maximum possible infuriation in the higher education sector, which has been achieved more or less perfectly.
I hope that the Minister, who has an academic hat as a chancellor of one of our universities, can bring himself to feel sympathy for the genuine plight of these sponsored researchers and for this whole project and what it means for our economy. I suspect that we are dealing with the unintentional side effect of very complex new rules, which would create genuine problems for any Government, but we cannot afford to take any steps which casually damage the research competitiveness of our universities.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an academic, like the noble Lord, Lord Bew. There is little that can I add to the excellent contributions that have been made. I just want to reiterate the point about the quality of the universities in this country and how important that is. Our universities are world class in their research and they manage to be so on the basis of funding that is relatively limited when compared with that in our competitor countries. We do extraordinarily well. Therefore, to promote research, it is essential that our universities are encouraged, not hindered, in facilitating the quality of their research.
Hosting sponsored researchers is a small but important part of research in our universities. That international exchange is absolutely crucial to the type of work that is undertaken, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, mentioned. As all the speakers so far have said, the problem is that these rules hinder, rather than assist.
All the points that I would have made have been made for me, so I do not want to repeat them. However, I have three questions for the Minister. First, can he confirm that sponsored researchers are not high-risk migrants? Secondly, what have universities done so far that is deemed inappropriate in respect of sponsoring visiting researchers? Thirdly, what guidance have government departments given to develop appropriate schemes for hosting visiting researchers?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, beat me to it on this debate, although my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition has tabled an Early Day Motion in the other place, where he beat the Liberal Democrats. He put down the Motion so that this extremely important change in the Immigration Rules could be debated, because it was not going to be debated; it was going to pass through both Houses on a waft, without consideration. The fact that the Early Day Motion has been tabled, although time has not yet been found for it in the Commons, and that this Motion today has been tabled means that we at least have an opportunity to look at all these points.
The concerns raised by other noble Lords have been raised by many bodies. In particular, I have been briefed by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, which, I am sure, has written to other Members on the effects that the implementation of the changes to Immigration Rules under HC 1113 will have on the immigration system for those wishing to come to this country from outside EEC countries.
In general, from this side of the House, while having some reservations about the limitations of the new points-based system, we have supported the principles behind it because it brings some control of immigration to this country. However, it is clear from the briefings that we have received and the speeches that we have heard that the speed at which this is being done and the bureaucracy that is entangling it are causing trouble. I am sure that the Minister’s ears will have heard that tonight. The essential ingredient of the scheme is the licensed sponsor aspect, which replaces work permits. If that does not work, the whole pack of cards will come down.
Supplementary to an Oral Question put a couple of weeks ago, the Minister may recall that I asked how many sponsors had been licensed by the UK Border Agency. Unfortunately, he was unable to answer the question on the hoof—I am not entirely surprised—but he did say that he would write to me. I am still waiting for the answer to that question, because it becomes immediately relevant again today. The noble Lord need not write to me, because I now have the answer: it is 745. That needs to be set against the number of employers—I do not know it, but the Minister may be able to tell me—who currently employ people with work permits and who will need to become sponsors for future employees or further employment of those who are here.
Entry to this country is severely limited by the points-based system. Under tier 2, for skilled workers, tier 4, for students, and tier 5, for youth mobility and temporary workers—all those who would previously have applied for a work permit—it is now a requirement to hold a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor. The fact that there are fewer than 1,000 sponsors—we know that there are 745—and the expectation that tier 2 alone will have a requirement of at least 14,000 will prove to be insuperable barriers to entry to the country even for those to whom the Government are reasonably welcoming.
For tier 4, is the Minister concerned that, by 16 October this year, only 19 universities had applied for licences to sponsor foreign students, even when, by common consent, overseas students provide a handsome income for those bodies? The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made the point about our need to bring researchers into this country. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth reminded us of the need to ensure that universities are not hindered in what they do. Tier 4 is due to come into force in March next year. Does the Minister see this as being even faintly likely, in view of the paucity of sponsors?
Tier 5, which enables young people to travel, was discussed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. It will bring people to this country for cultural exchanges, working holidays and sporting events. Temporary workers, such as sportsmen and professional musicians, will have to be sponsored under the licensed sponsorship scheme. Where are the sponsors and who are they? They are not evident at the moment. I am sure that the Minister will remember from his own experience, or that of family or friends, the immense benefit to young people from being able to travel, mix and take part, with people from other countries and cultures, in projects, and have experiences. What a pity if that were denied to them because of the complexity for them and their possible sponsors in the system that has now been dreamt up.
Will the Minister also explain—possibly not for the first time—why these young citizens’ visits are limited to those from just four countries: Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand? When will the scheme be extended to other Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, or is it anticipated that those are the only young people whom we will be able to welcome to our shores?
What is the problem? Much of it seems to be a reluctance by employers to carry out the role of unpaid immigration officers because of the lack of clarity of the full extent of their obligations under the scheme, with the disincentive of having to deal with, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, 130 pages of guidance and the 35-page, 58-question application form. The new points-based system was meant to be clearer and simpler for employers and prospective immigrants, so how is it that the system has been allowed to become so bureaucratic? What ministerial oversight and approval were given to this process, or was it just left to the UK Border Agency to carry on blithely on its own? Will the Minister outline what measures are being taken to promote take-up of sponsorship licences? Are they able to address this dearth of sponsors with sufficient urgency?
Like other noble Lords, we welcome the provisions that increase from 18 to 21 the age at which a marriage visa licence can be granted. We hope that that change will help to tackle the problem of British residents being forced against their will into marriage overseas. The evidence seems to show that the vast majority of such cases occur among those under the age of 21 and decreases from that age onwards. Forced marriage and human trafficking are anathema in this country and we support all measures to counteract them.
However, much less welcome are the changes, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, which will stop retired persons of independent means who have close connections with this country—that is, family and friends—being able to apply to retire and spend the rest of their lives here, while elderly dependent relatives will still be able to come here if they live alone abroad and are in what are described as compelling compassionate circumstances.
By what logic has it been decided that there should be a difference between those who, late in life, can support themselves financially and wish to come to live close to their relatives but will not be allowed to do so, and those who cannot support themselves and will be dependent on family when they get here but will be allowed to come? The Minister will know that, in response to a question about this matter posed in the consultation carried out by the UK Border Agency—I repeat, the UK Border Agency and not the Government—nearly 60 per cent of the respondents were against this change. Can the Minister tell us what weight was given by the Home Office and the Government to these views before the policy, which now appears in these changes, was adopted?
There are a great many unanswered questions about this wholly unsatisfactory process. We believe that a socially responsible immigration policy needs proper controls to build public confidence in the system, but the flaws in what is happening under the current changes are becoming more and more evident.
We do not want to hold up the proposed changes and, if the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, takes this to a vote, I can tell him that we will abstain. However, we ask the Minister to consider carefully the points that have been made tonight and which, I am sure, have been made to the Home Office in many statements from a great many bodies. Perhaps he will be able to announce some helpful changes today. The most helpful one would be that these changes will be taken back to the Home Office and scrutinised by the department, not by the UK Border Agency. If not, I hope that he will make such an announcement shortly.
There seems to be little virtue in ploughing on regardless with a system about which so many questions are being raised and from which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, there are so many unintended consequences.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the opportunity to debate this Motion. As he said, there have been a number of debates on immigration, and it is a key and important issue. I also appreciate the views expressed by colleagues in this House on a number of wider concerns affected by the changes in the Immigration Rules.
These rule changes enable the Government to introduce key parts of the most far-reaching reforms of the United Kingdom’s immigration system for 45 years. Far from being labyrinthine or a recipe for bureaucracy, they simplify what were 80-plus routes into five tiers. If we were setting up the system now, we would consider what we have at the moment to be unbelievably bureaucratic and labyrinthine.
My Lords, although applications are concentrated within the five tiers, as the noble Lord has just said, does he not acknowledge that beneath the tiers are other tiers and then tiers beneath those tiers, so that the simplification is more apparent than real?
My Lords, I acknowledge that each of the tiers breaks down into others, but the system is certainly simpler—and, I think, more straightforward—than the current 80-plus routes.
The rules cover several areas. Taken together, they have the effect of tightening our immigration control and clarifying key provisions, and they will come into effect on 27 November. I shall briefly describe the most important provisions before going on to answer the points made by noble Lords during the debate.
The rules will enable us to implement two of the most important parts of the points-based system for managed migration from outside the European economic area. We are introducing the points-based system to ensure that only migrants that the UK needs will be able to work and study here.
This new system will create a more efficient, transparent and objective application process. It will improve compliance and reduce scope for abuse. The process of overhauling the UK immigration system began earlier this year with the launch of the points system for highly skilled migrants. The points-based system is about getting the right people the country needs and no more. It is a flexible system in which the Government can raise or lower the bar depending on the needs of the labour market, as advised by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, and the country as a whole, taking account of views and evidence from the Migration Impacts Forum.
Secondly, the rules clarify the route for business visitors to come to this country. They do so by creating a new business and special visitor category making it clear exactly what people who come to the UK on business, and for the other purposes covered, can do. These changes have developed following public consultation and in partnership with key stakeholders.
Thirdly, we are raising the minimum age of a spouse and their sponsor for a marriage visa from 18 to 21. Notwithstanding what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said, we believe it to be important to protect young people from being forced into relationships that they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as an adult through further education or work. It is interesting that information from the Forced Marriage Unit shows that the highest number of forced marriage cases dealt with in the period 2005-08 involved those aged 18, of which there were 72 cases, followed by those aged 17 and 19, of which there were 68 cases each. This is an important measure. We believe that raising the age will provide an opportunity for individuals to develop maturity and life skills and to complete their education. It may also allow them to resist the pressure of being forced into marriage. It will delay sponsorship for marriage until the age of 21 and allow vulnerable young people an opportunity to seek help and advice.
I shall now respond to the points made. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke of the burden on smaller businesses. We are moving towards a more transparent and objective system, which will enable employers to recruit the migrants they need. To recruit workers from outside the EU, employers must be registered as sponsors with the UK Border Agency. With sponsorship comes responsibility. We will be looking to employers to safeguard the UK’s workforce by showing that the resident labour market test has been met before employing a migrant. We also expect employers to fulfil other duties, such as reporting non-attendance at work, changes to a migrant’s terms of employment and in time, using ID cards to check entitlement to work. These requirements have been developed in close consultation with employers.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned that maintenance requirements act as a barrier to non-OECD countries. Maintenance is set at £800, which is the sum required for the UK. The value of that sum outside the UK is not quite so important. We have listened to concerns from stakeholders, including employers and lawyers, and now allow A-rated sponsors to provide a written undertaking for migrants on maintenance. We have also listened to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and have extended that provision to migrants’ dependants. It is now possible for migrants to meet the maintenance requirements to come to the UK without showing that they have savings.
I am aware that the issue of sponsored researchers is a difficult one. It was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Norton and Lord Bew, and noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Sharp. I have genuine sympathy as I understand the difficulties. There has been no intention directly to replace every route within the current system, but we felt that the five-tier framework broadly provides routes of entry to allow a continuation of activities benefit for the UK. In that context, I have already had discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I know that she will have another discussion with my honourable friend Phil Woolas. I understand that she had a meeting with No. 10, the outcome of which I do not know as yet. Whether there will be any change as a result, I am not sure, but we are sympathetic to the concerns that have been put forward.
Until yesterday, we were not persuaded that amending the policy for the framework of tier 5—temporary workers and those whom the Government authorised in the same subcategory to cater for that group—would be conducive to maintaining our robust immigration controls more generally. The safeguards put in place for Government-authorised exchange are particularly important as many participants will be coming to the UK essentially to work, but unlike in other parts of the system, they will not need to meet stringent tests on expected earnings or a minimum standard of the English language before entry to the UK.
My Lords, as I understand it, the problem is that that would open up this issue to a raft of other areas. We would burst into masses of independent people being sponsors rather than an organisation doing it. For example, footballers coming to this country are sponsored by the Football Association, not by Leeds United, Birmingham City, or some other club. It would open up that problem. Having said that, I do not know whether anything has come from the meetings today. I am aware of the difficulties. We have been in consultation with UUK for two years. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that the UKBA had been fairly intransigent, but there has been give and take, and an option was put forward about which we have not had an answer. There has been dialogue, and I hope we can achieve something there.
My Lords, is it not fairly clear that a university has the best awareness of its needs for the research that it and universities in other countries are conducting? A quango cannot, by the nature of things, understand the kind, depth and leading edge of research, particularly in fields such as medicine, biology and other sciences that require foreign researchers to complement what is being done in this country. A quango will not have the sensitivity that is needed for leading-edge research. The Minister has always shown an enlightened and independent attitude towards some of the things that he is given to read out. Can he reconsider whether this area should be looked at again by the Government? The UK Border Agency cannot be the right place to decide where research is advanced and with whom it is best advanced.
My Lords, whatever is picked as the central body—when I first got involved in this, I hoped that it might be UUK—just co-ordinates. The detail of the requirement would come from the universities. I realise that this is a sensitive issue. I do not know what came out of the debate at No. 10. I will have a look at this and see whether any move can be made in this area. I shall write to noble Lords who were involved in the debate on this point. That is the best I can do at the moment. As for the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I shall get back to him in writing.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the fast-track guidance on the website. We have recently updated our website with information about our premium service as well as with further guidance for business visitors, including about permissible activities. The noble Lord probably went on to the website some time ago when it was not really—
My Lords, I understand that it has now been updated and that the information on the premium service is there. The noble Lord said that it was not there this morning, so either I will shoot my Box or it is it right. I shall check and come back to the noble Lord.
The business visitor guidance on permissible activities is now available on the website. It sets out a list of what are to be regarded as permissible activities to help visitors understand what they can and cannot do. We accept that the provision for business visitors/secondees needs clarification. We made clear in the guidance the circumstances in which that applies. The provision is very specific and is for a situation that is not covered by the points-based system; namely, where a UK company wins a contract to provide an overseas company with goods or a service abroad and there is no corporate relationship between the two companies.
My Lords, I will ask my team when that will appear; perhaps I may get back to the noble Lord on that.
On the soft launch, which the noble Lord raised, UKBA will be pragmatic and understanding on the arrangements. We will offer support and advice on what needs to be done, rather than immediately punishing minor breaches. We want the system to work for sponsors. We are not looking to make an example of employers who make honest mistakes. We want the new system to work properly and achieve what we hope for.
The issue of domestic workers is sensitive, and I understand the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury and my noble friend Lady Turner. With regard to private servants, we have been in close contact with missions, which are aware of how the arrangements will work. To cut a very long briefing note down, we are committed to ensuring that future arrangements concerning those workers minimise any risk of abuse or exploitation. The current route for domestic workers in private households is being preserved, and then reviewed, as appropriate, after the first two years of operation of the new system, when we have properly road-tested our anti-trafficking strategy to try to get round the problem. If I have not said enough on that, I can get back in writing with more detail.
Moving on to ministers of religion and the Buddhist monks, there are provisions for religious workers in the new points-based system. They can enter either in tier 2 or in tier 5. I understand that officials have discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the chair of the Theravada Buddhist Sangha in the UK and will continue to engage with them on the issue. Buddhist monks will be able to use tier 2 if they meet the English language requirement, or tier 5 if they cannot. I was not aware that if they are in tier 5, they are not allowed to do chanting or pastoral work. I will follow that up with the UKBA and see what the issue is there. I know that it is in dialogue with the noble Lord and we will see where that goes.
My Lords, I did not realise that that included chanting, but I will check.
On the points raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, we have worked very closely with the churches on the PBS and will continue to engage with them to ensure that we have found the right route. My noble friend Lady Turner talked about good employees. PBS sponsorship is a much stronger control than we have today. There is no formal licence or vetting of employers under the present work permit arrangements, but all who are PBS-sponsored are thoroughly checked pre-licence and visited to ensure compliance with rules. We have sanctions against non-compliant sponsors: B-rating or we remove their licence. All that is much stronger than where we are today.
The new youth mobility scheme will be fairer than the schemes that it replaces because, unlike the WHM scheme, the au pair scheme, and so on, it will be open to the nationals of any country that satisfies the criteria. The criteria for the scheme are clear. They will always be applied transparently. Countries participating in the scheme will therefore understand what they have to do. We will be happy to talk with any country at any time about the criteria and what needs to be done to meet them.
I know that abolishing the retired persons route is a difficult and thorny issue. We consider that the retired persons route, if retained, would allow migrants to enter the UK and remain here without necessarily having earned that right. That would give them a distinct advantage over other migrants. We will, however, continue to allow a parent or grandparent aged 65 or over to come to the UK if they are financially dependent on the relative who is present and settled in the UK and have no close relatives in their country. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on ICTs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, raised the issue of sponsor licences, on which I said that I would write back. I am sorry that that letter has not yet reached her; sometimes these things take longer than I would like them to, and the facts change. So far, 6,300 applications have been made and 3,500-plus licences have been issued to more than 2,200 employers. One can see that it is on a rather larger scale than the noble Baroness was led to believe by whoever gave her that figure.
We have promoted this through a TV campaign, radio advertisements, newspaper advertisements, trade journals, and hundreds of events, which the UK Border Agency has organised or contributed to. We have extra website content and a mailshot to 60,000 employees who have to work that system.
I hope that I have answered all the questions asked. If not, I ask noble Lords to get back to me and I will write to them separately. I hope that, in the light of the arguments made today, the noble Lord will withdraw his Motion.
My Lords, I am afraid that I am not going to withdraw the Motion, for the reasons that have been thoroughly ventilated. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, says that she is not coming with us into the Division Lobby. Nevertheless, she said that she believes that the Government should scrutinise these rules more thoroughly in the Home Office. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said that the changes should be further discussed. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds said that he hoped we would disapprove the changes.
We are not against the points-based system as such but against the botched way in which these changes have been introduced. The Minister did not clear this up in his reply. We are grateful to him for the one concession that he made on dependants. This will be very useful, but it is a drop in the bucket compared with the criticisms that have been expressed by your Lordships this evening. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and my noble friend Lady Williams talked about the domestic workers. We do not have the guarantee that persons employed in diplomatic households will be permitted to change employment like everyone else, when we all know from the Kalyaan study that there is plenty of evidence of the abuse of domestic workers.
The centre of the discussion has been the muddle over the universities, which the Minister has not cleared up. Although he told us that there were discussions between the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the Prime Minister at No. 10—we are pleased to hear that—we must decide on the rules this evening. If we pass them, I do not know how the Minister will make provision for the universities to license research workers, for example, or find some other way of allowing them to enter in the large gap that must inevitably occur between now and the establishment of the umbrella organisation. He says that that organisation might be Universities UK. However, we have been told that it definitely does not want to do this, and there are very good reasons why it should not do so. We are therefore left with the problem that if we allow the rules to go through in their present form, the whole structure through which research workers come in from overseas will grind to a halt. We also find, as I explained, that the same is true of medical graduates coming in to work in PCTs who have hitherto been authorised by the work permits issued to the PCTs.
In view of the fact that the Government have not thought through the scheme and need an opportunity to amend it in the light of the criticisms expressed this evening, I wish to press the Motion to a Division.
House adjourned at 9.04 pm.