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Lords Chamber

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

House of Lords

Thursday, 15 January 2009.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Northern Ireland: Bill of Rights

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to consult on the advice received from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission concerning a possible bill of rights for Northern Ireland.

My Lords, the Government intend to consult publicly on this issue. We will decide on the timing of this consultation, and the form that it will take, once Ministers have given due consideration to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s report.

We recognise that there is a diverse range of opinion on this issue and look forward to hearing all views during our consultation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I draw attention to the fact that my wife is a member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The noble Baroness will know that my wife, together with another member of the commission, dissented from its report on a matter of principle: that the commission had failed to abide by its remit to advise on rights that reflected the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland and the principles of mutual respect and parity of esteem.

My question is whether, in re-entering the consultation, the Government can ensure that due regard is paid to the views of the dissenting minority and that there is consultation on that, together with the views of the majority. I also hope that, in considering the consultation, the Government will treat with proper scepticism the self-serving statements that will emanate from the various special interest groups on this matter.

My Lords, I am aware of the noble Lord’s wife’s role in the commission and the fact that she dissented. All I can say is that there will be a very wide consultation, in which we look forward to hearing the widest range of views possible.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Lord President aware that, in 2001, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission issued a similar report to the one that we are confronted with today? That was rejected at that time on behalf of the Government by Desmond Browne, then a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, for being outside the commission’s remit. Is that the Government’s position today?

My Lords, I am aware of the views expressed by my right honourable friend Des Browne at that time. We have a new report, which we are currently considering. We will be consulting on it in due course.

My Lords, will my noble friend join me in congratulating the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on the great job it has done for the people of Northern Ireland? Will she furthermore confirm that what it has done is entirely in line with the Good Friday agreement, which said that these rights,

“taken together with the ECHR … constitute a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland”?

Will my noble friend confirm that that is what the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has actually done?

My Lords, many have expressed the view that the commission has exceeded its remit. However, the Belfast agreement did not set a definition of what constitutes the particular circumstances in Northern Ireland, and nor have the Government. The commission has clearly given very detailed consideration to how to interpret its remit and circulated the methodology in June. We have now received the report, for which we are grateful. We look forward to the consultation and to whatever happens in the future.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in praising the way in which the commission has gone about its work. When does the Minister anticipate the Government fulfilling their obligations under the Belfast agreement and implementing a bill of rights in Northern Ireland?

My Lords, we made a commitment in the Belfast agreement that we would explore the scope for a bill of rights for Northern Ireland and we are engaged in that process. We have received the report from the Human Rights Commission. We are grateful for the work that it has undertaken and we will consult in due course.

My Lords, many noble Lords share the concern of the noble Lords, Lord Dubs and Lord Smith, to see the full implementation of the Belfast agreement, and I certainly share that concern. However, the concern about mission creep in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission reaches into that group, particularly in the light of the opinion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, in the case of Child E on 12 November, where he seemed to locate an example of mission creep and inappropriate action by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. Does the noble Baroness understand that those of us who wish to see the Belfast agreement fully implemented with respect to human rights also have concerns about mission creep?

My Lords, as I said, the commission’s work has been much praised. However, the way in which it has worked has also received criticism. We are now considering what the commission had to say. We will make our views clear and consult in due course, but I recognise the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bew.

My Lords, since there is much mention of the Belfast agreement, does the noble Baroness recall that the requirement for human rights applies not only to Northern Ireland but to the Republic of Ireland, where there has been little progress? Will she make representations to see that the human rights requirement in the Belfast agreement is honoured in both jurisdictions?

Transport: Public Lavatories

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will extend the provisions of the Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act 1963 to include lavatories provided by transport operators at bus and rail stations.

My Lords, arrangements for providing public toilets at stations are the responsibility of station operators and, for rail stations, are governed by a robust code of practice. More generally, the Government have taken concerted action this year to promote access to better quality public toilets for all people, including the publication of a strategic guide and more detailed guidance for local authority partnerships on innovative approaches.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply but this is a long-standing problem. In 1961, luminaries of the day such as Barbara Castle, Irene Ward and Fenner Brockway participated in a debate advocating the removal of turnstiles at lavatories operated by local authorities. It took a further two years for the ban to be approved, but now, 46 years later, they are still in place at some lavatories provided by transport operators, often to the great inconvenience of people with luggage and baby buggies, many women who are pregnant and a great many older people who have immense difficulties. It is rather sad when the noble Baroness is so committed to lifetime neighbourhoods. Does she agree that it is now time to take steps to ban turnstiles on public transport?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has raised an important issue. I absolutely recognise that a lack of access to toilet facilities at stations is a real barrier to people feeling confident about travelling. It is an issue that we take seriously. I do not think that a ban on turnstiles is the way to speed things up. There are three things happening at the moment. First, turnstiles are being phased out as stations are being modernised. Secondly, there is a modernisation programme of £150 million to make stations and toilets more accessible. Thirdly, there is the code of practice that I referred to, which means that licensed train station operators have to observe the code on accessible train and station design whenever they install, renew or replace facilities. That means that they must provide alternative arrangements for passengers who are unable to use turnstiles, that an accessible manual gate should be permanently available, and so on.

I recognise that this is not always satisfactory. If the noble Baroness has examples that she wants to draw to my attention, I can pass them on to the Minister at DfT and we can look again at what is urgently needed.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister is aware that when I contested the election against Barbara Castle in 1970, her recent glory was that she had managed to remove the charge for women. This was in the days of British Rail, when men always had free railway toilets, but women had a slot that they had to put a penny in. She ensured that equality of charges, meaning removal of the charge for women, applied. I am aware that now charges are applied. Is the same principle still followed; and do men and women pay the same charge for the use of these facilities at stations?

My Lords, the loss of the House of Commons was the gain of the House of Lords in relation to the noble Baroness. I am pleased to say that we have addressed the issue of inequality in charging. It was an historical anomaly that enabled local authorities to charge for toilets for women but not for urinals. The strategic guide that we put out last March removed that anomaly, so now local authorities can, if they so choose, charge for all forms of lavatory provision. That is an opportunity for a revenue stream that we hope will provide additional provision and facilities.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when I was mayor of Cambridge I abandoned the payment by women and afterwards was known there as “mother of the free”?

My Lords, I would expect no less from the noble Baroness. Cambridge has always pioneered a lot of good practice. Now, we are looking to places such as Richmond which have developed community schemes that mean that local shops and businesses also offer free lavatory provision, which makes more choice available for everyone.

My Lords, in her answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about railway facilities—we are talking about facilities at transport interchanges—the Minister made reference to the fact that there is a code of practice and said that when stations are renewed things will be improved. The Government have been in office for more than 10 years and we are waiting for many of these improvements to happen. Can it not be made a condition of railway franchises that anyone taking a franchise will maintain good standards of public lavatory facilities?

My Lords, the noble Lord is so expert in this that I am sure he will know that, if train and station operators fail to follow the code that I referred to, they are in breach of their licence conditions and action can be taken by the Office of Rail Regulation. They can be fined, for example. His point is important. We have in place a programme of additional funding for modernisation, which means that 700 stations have had access to funding to improve access, and there have been high levels of applications for improving lavatories in the latest bidding round. Clearly, this is something that both DfT and the train operators know is of real concern to the public, and they are acting on it.

My Lords, further to my noble friend’s previous answer, is she aware that a number of train operators are facing financial difficulties and are announcing the early closure of stations? One of the consequences of closing a station early in the evening is that all the facilities on that station are locked. Does she believe that it is necessary for her colleagues to talk to the Office of Rail Regulation about ensuring that some basic lavatory facilities are maintained, even if the station is unstaffed?

Yes, my Lords, that is an important point and I will take it away and talk to my colleagues in the DfT about that. Providing information about the location of the nearest accessible toilet is very important. Noble Lords might like to know that Westminster has something called a Sat Lav service, whereby you can text to find out where your nearest lavatory is.

My Lords, noble Lords may have noticed that the clock was inadvertently stopped after the first Question. There is a precedent, and we shall start the clock again, so there will be 15 minutes for the final two Questions.

Debt: Interest Rates

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent lenders charging interest at annual percentage rates of over 100 per cent.

My Lords, the Government share concerns over excessive interest rates charged by some lenders, and we have strengthened the regulation of credit markets to address them. We continue to monitor the issues closely, including latest research. However, we are not currently persuaded of the case for an interest rate cap, which risks forcing low-income consumers into the hands of illegal lenders. Experts, including Citizens Advice, supported this position during the passage of the Consumer Credit Act 2006.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer, but it appears that in the existing situation people are being exploited. Before Christmas, leaflets were put through people’s letter boxes offering loans of between £50 and £500 at an interest rate not of 100 per cent, but at a typical APR of 189 per cent. Does he agree that this is extortionate and likely to lead to serious problems for vulnerable people? Is this being done by people who are not licensed and, if so, are they being prosecuted? Or is it being done by people who are licensed, but the licensing authorities impose no restriction whatever on lending of this kind?

My Lords, the form of credit that we are talking about is home credit or doorstep credit; shorter-term credit is also offered through Money Shop and the like. It is not always clear which type we are referring to. Basically, if lenders are unlicensed, they can be prosecuted. We strengthened through the 2006 Act the ability to do this. We created the ability to make complaints through the ombudsman for finance and of course we are trying to do all that we can to support laws in such situations.

One has to be careful about the APR. It looks extremely high, but companies that lend for very short terms argue that the cost is quite high. The APR can be deceptive. For example, if the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, were to loan me £25—that is not a request—and in two weeks I were to repay him and offer to buy him a pint costing £2.50 in the bar, on the grounds that that would be a reward, that would look quite reasonable, but it would be an interest rate—an APR—of 4,000 per cent. We have to be careful about this, but we have strengthened regulations and we will continue to monitor the situation.

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House what the Government are doing to support the spread and development of credit unions, which, where they have been established, are very valuable for people who are poorly served by conventional sources of finance and which in present circumstances could have a particularly useful part to play?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The Government strongly support the use of credit unions. In 2004, we set up a growth fund, which is spending some £80 million up to 2011. It has made 120,000 loans, amounting to more than £52 million. Credit unions are a major source of low-interest loans, relative to those that we have been talking about, and we hope that that area of activity will expand considerably.

My Lords, if the Government’s declared policy is to try to make available more credit at as low a rate of interest as possible, why are they persisting in charging penal rates of interest for their own provision of credit to the banks?

My Lords, the noble Lord uses the pejorative term “penal”, but it has been explained in the other place and here why those rates of interest are being charged—they are part of the Government’s response to the credit crunch. In that sense, I doubt whether many people who are borrowing money from lenders in this area are too worried about the situation in the major finance industries. With all due respect, I think that the noble Lord’s question goes a little off the area of the Question on the Order Paper.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the MoneySense advisory board. Are the Government satisfied that enough action is being taken on financial literacy among children and adults so that they understand interest rates and so that, when they are given the opportunity to purchase various sorts of financial services products, they can take an informed view of what they are buying?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point: we need greater financial literacy among the whole population. In the past, people received an offer of finance, in a leaflet or other form, but had no way of finding out whether it was the best offer on the market. That situation changed in October last year with the launch of lenderscompared.org, a new website that allows individuals to make a comparison. Although children may not be as financially literate as we would wish, they are all, so far as I can see, IT literate and they will therefore be able to make use of that site.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, with more and more families falling into debt through no fault of their own, there is the strongest possible case for a thorough review of how the position of the vulnerable debtor can be further protected? Will the Government give particular attention to the possibility of extending the powers already vested in judges to strike out or amend unconscionably unfair and unjust provisions in loan agreements? I support the point about credit unions; at this moment, the most important contribution may well be to take more and more people out of the clutches of pawnbrokers and loan sharks by way of credit unions.

My Lords, the last part of the noble Lord’s question concerns an area in which the Government are actively proceeding—that is, tackling the whole area of illegal money lending. Independent research suggests that 165,000 consumers and households in Britain are using illegal lenders and that some £40 million is loaned but £120 million is having to be repaid. In 2007, the money lending project was rolled out and the Government have committed £11 million to it. Since then, 410 illegal money lenders have been identified. Formal investigations have been commenced into 319 of those, 48 proceedings have been instituted, 28 prosecutions and enforcement actions are in the pipeline and a further 90 will be investigated shortly. The estimated value of the loan book total is £6 billion. Two hundred and forty-three victims have been referred to alternate legal sources of financial support and more than 10 victims have required other support, such as rehousing and protection. Therefore, the Government are taking action on this and, of course, the Consumer Credit Act 2006 considerably strengthened the OFT’s action in this area.

My Lords, for all his protestations of sympathy, the Minister is surely aware that just before Christmas it was slipped out on the DWP website that the Government were planning to scrap interest-free emergency loans for the unemployed, replacing them with loans with a store-card level of interest of up to 27 per cent. Does he accept that he cannot blame this on the market?

My Lords, I think that there has been some mischief, not so much in that question but in the questions posed before Christmas. People’s memories may be selective but I recall that, immediately after that announcement was made, Ministers in the other place went on record saying that that was not the case and that Social Fund loans via credit unions would not be subject to interest.

Israel and Palestine: Gaza

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking with the international community to address the current situation in Gaza.

My Lords, with more than 1,000 people now dead in Gaza, many of them civilians and children, the urgent need for a diplomatic solution is clear. We, along with the international community, will continue to call both publicly and privately for an immediate halt to all violence and urgent action to alleviate the humanitarian situation, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1860. Robust and immediate ceasefire is the only way in which the current situation in Gaza can be addressed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and for his directness not only today but also on Monday. As the deaths in Gaza now surpass, as he said, 1,000, one-third of whom are children, and with the bombing today of the headquarters of the UN relief organisation UNRWA, does he agree that Israel’s actions are utterly disproportionate and completely counterproductive to its long-term interest; and that, for the sake of Gaza, the region and the wider world, we need not only an immediate ceasefire, to which he referred, and an end to the blockade of Gaza, but a far stronger and fairer international pressure to work with all parties, without preconditions, to bring forward a just resolution to the situation in the region, thus reducing the likelihood of further deaths on either side?

My Lords, let me first assure the whole House as well as the noble Baroness that we utterly condemn what has happened today to the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza city. There is absolutely no excuse for it. It reminds me all too well of a similar attack in 2006 on a UN observation post in Lebanon. This does nobody any credit. Our sympathies go to the families of these victims as they do to all the victims of this conflict. On her second point, it is evidently the case that achieving a ceasefire—and beyond that, a lasting peace—requires that the issues and causes of both sides are fully addressed.

My Lords, given the rejection of the latest UN resolution by Israel, will Her Majesty’s Government seek the suspension of the EU-Israel trade and association agreement? Further, will they stop the export from this country of military goods regardless of whether they are lethal or non-lethal or dual-use? Finally, will they withdraw Her Majesty’s ambassador from Tel Aviv?

My Lords, as I said in the previous debate here on this matter, our military exports to Israel are of a non-lethal kind. Israel remains an important ally and partner; so withdrawing our ambassador or in other ways cutting off our ability to dialogue with Israel would, I think, be utterly counterproductive. We have to find a way of working with Israel on this. I also have to add that Israel has its own very large arms industry. So I do not think that taking steps beyond what we are already doing would have the effect that the noble Lord would wish for.

My Lords, I was in the south of Israel just a short time ago, and rockets and bombs were falling everywhere. We were rushing in and out of air raid shelters; people were being killed, and properties destroyed. In my view, at that time Israel had to take action in order to protect its people and in order to deal with this. It was an utterly unacceptable situation. I commend the key role played by the Foreign Secretary in drafting the UN Security Council resolution to help end the violence. But what assurances can my noble friend give that a new ceasefire agreement will be better than the previous one—that it will achieve a lasting calm, improve the chances of peace in 2009 and save people on both sides from suffering in the way that they are?

My Lords, all in this House agree with my noble friend that the circumstances of Israeli citizens in those towns are tragic and those people deserve to be protected. In that case we have never argued that a proportionate response was not legally available to Israel to defend its citizens. The issue is the current disproportionality of the response. Secondly, as my noble friend rightly says, it is critical that any ceasefire is backed by steps that will remove the causes of this—both arms smuggling and the humanitarian blockade of Gaza from the other side. We have to address in a major way the short-term and long-term roots of the conflict.

My Lords, a statement was issued in the Times yesterday by Jews for Justice for Palestine, signed by almost 600 leading Jews. What is the Minister's assessment of that statement?

My Lords, my assessment of the statement is that I feel very happy to be living in the UK this time. I was living in the US when this last happened, and everyone took much more predictable positions. People were not willing to look at the conflict itself to see that, however strong a supporter of the state of Israel one is—I include myself in that number—it does not justify this kind of attack, which sets back Israel's situation in the world.

Health Bill [HL]

First Reading

A Bill to make provision about the NHS Constitution; to make provision about health care (including provision about the National Health Service and health bodies); to make provision for the control of the promotion and sale of tobacco products; to make provision about the investigation of complaints about privately arranged or funded adult social care; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Darzi, read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (Disclosure of Pupil Information) (England) Regulations 2009

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

Moved By

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

Moved By

That the debate on the motion in the name of Baroness Shephard of Northwold set down for today shall be limited to 3 hours and that in the name of Lord Lucas to 2 hours.

Motion agreed.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, with the leave of the House, we will have two Statements repeated today. Immediately after the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, my noble friend Lord Adonis will repeat the Statement on Britain's transport infrastructure, followed by my noble friend Lord Myners’s repeat of the Statement on Equitable Life.

Local Government: Children’s Services

Debate

Moved By

To call attention to the functioning of children’s services departments in local authorities; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am delighted to have the chance to open this debate. I am delighted, too, that so many distinguished and experienced speakers have chosen to take part. We will certainly benefit from their collective wisdom, as is customary in your Lordships' House.

I should perhaps declare some interests in that I have in the past been a teacher, an education administrator, schools inspector, local authority chairman of education and social services, health authority chairman and magistrate. More recently, I have had relevant ministerial responsibility. All in all, I have been involved at the interface of health, education and social services for the best part of 40 years. In the whole of that time, I have consistently believed that although structural change in public services is sometimes imperative, it is at our peril if we heap change that is too frequent, ill thought-out or introduced for its own sake on to the professionals on whom ultimately all public services depend for their functioning. If we do that, we risk also undermining their self-confidence and expertise.

The tragic case of Baby P in Haringey, which was reported last month, shocked the nation. It was all too reminiscent of the equally tragic case of Victoria Climbié, who died, also in Haringey, in February 2000 from torture at the hands of her carers and in the full view of social services, health services, housing agencies and the police. The Government responded swiftly and with all-party support to the Climbié case. They appointed the noble Lord, Lord Laming, to conduct an inquiry into what had gone wrong.

The inquiry report, which was published in 2003, was exemplary in its insight, thoroughness and expertise. It found evidence in Victoria’s case of failures in accountability, leadership, management, communication between agencies, and professional skills. It proposed, among much else—I will be brief on this, because I know that it is familiar to noble Lords—setting up at national level a children and families board and a national agency for children and families, and at local authority level an interagency committee for children and families and a management board for services to children and families, chaired by the council chief executive and with a director accountable to it. It also proposed that:

“The relevant Government Inspectorates should be jointly required to inspect the effectiveness of these arrangements”.

The report did not propose a wholesale reorganisation of local government. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, is markedly cautious in the report about structural change. He said:

“I am convinced that it is not just ‘structures’ that are the problem, but the skills of the staff that work in them … I am satisfied that organisational structure is unlikely to be an impediment to effective working. What is critical is the effectiveness of the management and leadership”.

However, what we got after the Climbié case was structural change and the reorganisation of local government on a huge scale. The Government were determined to respond not only rapidly but visibly to the inquiry. The Children Act 2004, following the 2003 Green Paper, Every Child Matters, required local authorities to set up children’s services departments by merging their education and children’s social services functions with some health functions. Authorities were also required to set up children’s trusts and local safeguarding children boards and to appoint a director of adult social services, thereby splitting social services. It was a thoroughgoing, costly and energy-consuming reorganisation of local government, although I am bound to say that it was never acknowledged as such. I think it was called restructuring, regrouping, re-emphasising: anything except what it was—a reorganisation.

Despite all that, I really do want to be fair to the Government, because such was the emotion surrounding the Climbié case that any Government would have wished to do, and to be seen to do, as much as possible to prevent a recurrence of such horror. The Government had all-party support. No other political party would have wished to impede what was a sincere attempt by the Government to encourage—indeed, to enforce—effective interagency working to protect children.

There have been improvements in joint working and communication, but we now need, in the light of the Baby P and Shannon Matthews cases and the recently reported Doncaster cases, to ask whether such enormous structural reorganisation was justified and whether there might have been adverse effects on other services and on the effectiveness of the professionals involved.

Some things are already clear. First, 150 authorities now have children’s departments. So far, in 10 of these there has already been a reorganisation of the reorganisation; namely, the creation of mega-departments including, within their children’s departments, adult and children’s social services. The rationale for that is professional in that many have argued that if you are looking at the interests of a child, you have to involve yourself in the child’s family, who may fall into the remit of adult social services. Of course, I see that. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, who is in her place, writing in the Guardian on 25 November, said of these arrangements that,

“two things concern me. First, the size of the departments that have been created and second, the danger of forgetting that it is individuals, not structures, who make decisions”.

How I agree with the noble Baroness who, as ever, is full of common sense. That is one of the first results of this reorganisation.

Secondly, children’s trusts were meant to facilitate interagency working. But they were described by the Audit Commission last month as getting in the way of such working. The commission report found that there is,

“little evidence that children’s trusts have improved outcomes for children … There has been a lot of legislation and guidance, but a failure to communicate the changing emphasis effectively has led to local confusion”.

Thirdly, last month, Ofsted reported that thousands of children are at risk because the number of local authorities that are failing to protect young people has doubled in a year. All this follows that huge reorganisation, which was meant to solve many of the problems. Fourthly, and even more worrying, the number of children dying from neglect or abuse seems to have increased. On 19 October 2001, replying to my adjournment debate on the subject in Westminster Hall, Hazel Blears said that one child per week was dying from abuse. Obviously, that was already an appalling figure. But in uncorrected evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee on 10 December 2008, the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, stated that between 1 April 2007 and 31 August 2008 210 children died from abuse. That is more than three a week. Those figures, even if they refer to an atypical period, which they may, are nevertheless extremely alarming, especially if we consider the effort and the cost of putting the Children Act reforms into place.

Fifthly, Ofsted has been the subject of enormous upheaval. In 2007, it was already responsible for the inspection of childcare providers, maintained schools, FE colleges, provision for children and young people in secure settings, and services for children and young people. After the Education and Inspections Act, it took on the work of three other inspectorates, and now has responsibilities ranging from social care inspection to adult learning and FE, from fostering and adoption agencies to children’s rights. Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee, said in another place that there is a feeling that Ofsted,

“might have grown too quickly and that assimilating all those responsibilities is a bit too much for one organisation”.

I also agree with that, although time is young.

Following the Baby P case, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, has been asked by Ministers to produce a further report. His remit is to examine good safeguarding practice and its application across the country, professional development and key legal and other barriers to progress. No one could bring greater expertise to the task. But the remit is not wide enough. We need a far wider review, which will in the first case examine the effects on public service professionals of the unremitting number of policy initiatives, directives and reorganisations heaped upon their heads by this Government. In the past 11 years, there have been no fewer than nine NHS reorganisations and 17 Acts of Parliament requiring some form of reorganisation in education and social services, while three more await in the gracious Speech. Even as we speak, councils are devoting hours of time to discussing the requirement to reorganise yet again, this time to become unitary authorities. Sadly, the Department for Children, Schools and Families was unable to give the House of Lords Library a list of the White and Green Papers published in these policy areas since 1997. The Minister may have more luck in getting the information, although since according to my research there have been 69—surely a record—the department may be too busy producing the next dozen or so to answer the question. She might like to check this.

The bad professional practice and incompetent management that failed to prevent the tragic deaths of these children is obviously totally indefensible, and indeed no one here would seek to defend such practice and management. But Ministers should beware of confusing activity with action, and above all, ask themselves if overloading professionals with new initiatives and upheavals is the best way to encourage good professional practice. It is already obvious that social worker morale is at rock bottom. We need to realise that in practical terms and on the ground, constant reorganisation means while teachers, social workers and other professionals are delivering the services, those who should be leading, appraising and monitoring them are tied up in meetings.

It is high time for an appraisal of the effect on education—its ethos, standards and rigour—of the abolition of local education authorities. Some will argue that the new children’s departments enhance understanding of the whole child, but that is not the problem faced by education services today. Rather it is how well our children will be equipped by their education to face the challenge of competing in today’s tough world. Rigorously high standards and qualifications have never been more important. What effects will the enormous change of emphasis created by children’s departments have on those? We do not know, nor, as far as I know, has the question even been asked. The professional cultures of education and social services should overlap, not coincide. We have made some gains from children’s departments and we now need to ask what we may have lost.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on introducing the debate so vigorously. Her commitment to getting the best for children is well known and we have much in common on that. It is always a pleasure, even when difficult issues have to be faced, to discuss children’s welfare in your Lordships’ House. There is unfailingly across the parties a deep concern for the welfare of children, and between us we have significantly influenced legislation on many occasions. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children and I will be referring to the outcomes of one of our meetings later in my remarks.

I want to address two specific issues in relation to children’s services. The first is the importance of collaboration and co-ordination across the diverse interventions focusing on children and families, which was the basis of the creation of our new children’s services. The second is in relation to children in the youth justice system and how that relates to the new children’s services. But as an introduction, let me say that I am proud that this Government have put children so firmly on the agenda. In the debates following the gracious Speech, I quoted the Children’s Commissioner for England—no government lackey, he—who said that more has been done for children by the Government in the past 10 years than in the previous 50, and I think that that is so. There have been terrible examples of child abuse, revealed most recently in Haringey and Coventry, but simplistic blame is not a solution. I look forward to the progress report by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the implementation of effective arrangements for safeguarding under the children, skills and learners Bill in this Session of Parliament, which will strengthen children’s trusts arrangements. We must keep trying, but we must not keep revolutionising in panic mode—the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, made reference to change earlier. After the Climbié case, reformation and reorganisation were essential.

A significant recent statement from Barnardo’s said that there is no need for further reform of children’s welfare policy, and it is worth quoting:

“The key to keeping children safe is to assist local authorities and partner agencies through local safeguarding children boards … to continue to develop services and processes in line with Every Child Matters and to enhance practice skills and support staff in frontline services”.

How true. The Local Government Association identifies the recruitment and retention of high calibre individuals, particularly in children’s social work, as a key issue. Of course nothing will work if the individuals in a system on the front line are not of a high calibre and prepared to talk to each other.

Inspection should be not simply about performance indicators but about the quality of interventions and the identification of support and training needs and the follow-up. It is a matter of looking at processes within the services, not just outcomes, because the processes will influence the outcomes. That is one reason why I, among others, am concerned and somewhat doubtful about Ofsted inspecting children’s services.

It is still early days for the new children’s services, and much has been achieved. Every local authority must now establish a children’s trust board and bring together a range of front-line providers into the duty to collaborate to improve children’s well-being. This collaboration is essential for the improvement of services: health through PCTs, education in all its forms, social services and, where necessary, the youth justice system need to be talking to each other at a front-line level.

I shall give an example of how a determined individual in all this can make a difference. A wonderful head teacher from Woolwich attended one of our All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children meetings. She described her school as being in an area of high deprivation and a crime hotspot. When she arrived, the school had low expectations and major behavioural problems. She says she was driven to breaking point but decided that she must do something drastic. She put together a plan for the school, collared the local director of children’s services on his way to work and went through her plan. She got the local authority on board, she got investment in the school and she involved extended services including Sure Start, parenting classes provided by the local college, a drug awareness programme, family therapists, sports organisations, drama, music and art, ICT, health, social services and so on.

The result has been an excellent recent Ofsted inspection, good staff retention, a lack of complaints and what she described as “a real buzz” in the school as a centre for the community. She believes that the success of the scheme is down to working with all the partners and giving ownership to staff, parents and pupils. The school in Wandsworth where I am a governor has a similar story. That is how services should work together, talking to each other—not necessarily based on schools, of course.

Now, a word about youth justice. Many children’s organisations, including the National Children’s Bureau, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, express appreciation that the DCSF and the Ministry of Justice are taking a joint approach to youth justice. I, too, applaud that. There must be a relationship between the children’s trusts and the youth offending teams. Once the youth offending team becomes involved, children’s services sometimes seem to become disengaged, believing that the child will be catered for. Some young people, of course, remain outside the integrated children’s services structures. Young people who are seeking asylum, for example, should surely also come under the remit of the DCSF and of truly integrated services in order to receive care and support.

Justice has to be linked to welfare. Many children who offend have had difficulties in early life and can pinpoint the trigger for when things have gone wrong—the death of a parent, for example. Intervention has to come early, and at crisis points. The use of custody for 10 to 14 year-olds has increased by 550 per cent since 1996. More children are being locked up for less serious offences. Custody is expensive, at almost £186,000 a year per person. Children who offend or are at risk of offending and their families respond well to early interventions such as family therapy, restorative justice, and support through education, housing and mental health services. Custody is so often ineffective and expensive. Nearly 80 per cent of 10 to 14 year-olds will reoffend within a year of release. The recent Barnardo’s report, Locking Up or Giving Up—Is Custody for Children Always the Right Answer? is well worth a read on this topic.

There are, of course, good intentions. The youth crime action plan has proposals to improve access to education, training, health services and planning for resettlement. I should like reassurance from the Minister that youth offending will be approached in a more holistic and rehabilitative way than simply through punishment. It is good that her department and the Ministry of Justice are working together and that youth justice is being taken seriously by the DCSF, but can she assure us that this will be an effective measure to help these young people in the youth justice system? I look forward to her response and hope that this important debate, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, will be a focus for future action.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for initiating this very important and timely debate. My interest in children’s services departments stems partly from the fact that my noble friend Lady Walmsley and I were involved in the passing through this House of the Children Act 2004, which set up children’s trusts. We expressed at the time some reservations about the composition and restructuring that was necessary for children’s trusts. Furthermore, I live in Guildford, in Surrey, and in this past year, Surrey has been named, along with Haringey, Doncaster, and Milton Keynes, as an authority that failed its joint area inspection of children’s services. I gather from my honourable friend Bob Russell that Essex has joined this infamous quartet.

In addition to being involved with the Surrey issue, I became interested in this area because last spring I became the special educational needs governor at the local primary school where I serve on the board of governors. The school serves one of the more disadvantaged areas of Guildford; some 30 per cent of pupils are judged to have some form of special educational need. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, indicated, behaviour in school is a key warning sign of problems at home. That is why it is so important that there is integration of the education services with health, social services and the youth offending teams, something that has been implicit in the setting up of children’s services departments.

I have for a long time been a firm advocate of the view that if only we can get help to some of these children early, we can prevent many of the problems of school failure, dropping out, drugs, vandalism and youth offending down the road. This cumulative building up of risk factors over a child’s life is now well documented and underlies the preventive strategies implicit in the Every Child Matters agenda and the Children’s Plan. To quote just one statistic, the KPMG Foundation last year calculated that the average cost to the taxpayer of a child failing to read by the end of primary school is between £48,000 and £53,000. By these standards, the £2,000 a year required for an Every Child A Reader programme, or the £26,000 required for an extra teacher to run nurture groups or a placement in a school, is insignificant compared to what could be saved.

Last spring, wearing my newly acquired hat as a special educational needs governor, I spent some time with the school’s special educational needs co-ordinator, or SENCO. Talking through the issues with the SENCO, I was shocked to discover how little help the school received from the local education authority, Surrey County Council—indeed, how the lack of support from the local education authority was positively constraining the help that the school could give. That was mainly because such help depended on an assessment of the needs of each child, which the school could propose but which had to be verified by the county experts—the educational psychologist, the behaviour management people and the language and learning experts. Here, we had a tale of missed appointments, constantly changing personnel—and therefore having to go back to square one with explanations—repeated suggestions of actions already taken by the staff and buck-passing between the child and adolescent mental health services and the LEA. The overall result was that some half a dozen children who needed extra, specialist help were not getting it. The school was doing its best, but where children needed, for example, extra speech therapy or specialist psychological help, they were just not getting it. This view was cemented a little later in the summer term, when I participated in hearings for exclusion of a nine year-old whose behaviour, which in all ways seemed to indicate some problems in the autistic spectrum, had led to a permanent exclusion. That would probably not have been necessary had his problems, flagged up by the school throughout the time that he had been at the school, received the attention that they needed.

I was not surprised, therefore, when, in July last year, Surrey failed its joint area review in relation to children’s services. The findings rang bells: poor completion of SEN statements with target timescales; insufficient analysis of needs; key shortages of health specialists, especially educational psychologists, occupational therapists and speech therapists; inconsistent and high thresholds for access to services; and high rates of permanent and fixed-term exclusions.

Perhaps more worrying, though, were failings in safeguarding, which ring bells in relation to the Haringey failings. They included: lack of robust procedures for checking that staff had CRB clearance; high and inconsistent thresholds for intervention by social services; poor quality and timeliness of initial and longer-term care assessments; high numbers of cases waiting for assessment; inappropriate closure of social care cases when another agency—for example, the NHS—got involved; significantly high numbers of special case reviews and a failure to learn lessons from them; poor management and limited auditing of case files; inconsistent provision for mental health needs; and major problems in recruitment and retention of staff.

These are major failings, but it is important to keep the issue in perspective, both in relation to Haringey and Surrey and to other local authorities. There has been extensive reporting following the Baby P and Karen Matthews cases, but I was much moved by a quote in the Guardian of 8 December from the team leader of social services in a northern city. She said:

“Our thresholds are now terribly high, compared with 15 years ago. We get literally thousands of referrals every month, and we have to check them all out. Huge numbers of children, for instance, are living with parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. We want to help the parents access services, drug treatments, things like that. But—depending on the impact—it's not enough reason to give the children a protection plan. We have to decide how resilient the children are. It's hard to assess. Sometimes, 10 or 20 years on, you see the impact was much harder than you thought at the time”.

She continued:

“Worst of all … is the effect of government targets. Councils that assess a lot of children quickly score … highly. But there's a correlation between speed and the danger of superficiality. Councils also score worse in performance indicators if there is a rise in the number of children taken into care. They lose points … if they keep children on the equivalent of the at-risk register for more than two years. All the pressure is to get children off the system and to downgrade their needs”.

One has to be sympathetic to those who are at the front line and have to deal with these issues.

A number of lessons arise from my experience, along with the experience in Surrey and generally, looking across the whole perspective. First, staff recruitment and retention is a key issue and needs to be given priority. In Surrey, for example, the person in charge reckoned that she had 30 to 40 vacancies, but she was confronted by budgets being cut and staff vacancies being frozen. Then there is the sheer difficulty, given housing costs in an area close to London, of recruiting young graduates without experience, who need to be housed and kept in such an area, when there are many jobs available for them elsewhere. Staffing is a key issue.

There is a need for social services departments to link up with universities and perhaps offer apprenticeship places. We need graduate apprenticeships, so they can grow their own and develop their own social services. Then there is the using of key worker housing, and so forth, and what are called golden handcuffs—offering big bonuses for those who stay within the department for a certain length of time.

Another issue is the one raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard—the avoidance of permanent revolution in departments. It is extremely bad for staff morale for staff to have to reapply time and again for their own posts, as has been happening. In Surrey, that was exacerbated by the fact that the county council itself went through a major restructuring review. You have to recognise that departments work much better when there is evolution and not revolution.

I wonder whether we are really making the best use of our resources. In special educational needs teachers and many head and deputies, we have a wealth of experience. Would it not be sensible to devolve more of the decisions down to the school level, or perhaps work as schools now do, within federations, to have an accreditation procedure within the federation, rather than constantly having to go to the local authority expert?

Finally—and this has been a general picture across many social services departments—there has been quite good integration between education and social services in many cases and with the youth offending teams. That point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. But there has been constant failure to work with health services, in particular the children and adolescent mental health services. That is so important. Could the Government not help to get the integration of those structures?

There are so many gains to be had. Children’s social services are important because they are an important slice of our future lives. The gains from earlier intervention and preventive action are so obvious and great, and the losses from the continuing fudge, muddle and making do so huge.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving us this opportunity to talk about the functioning of children’s departments, where I believe some very serious errors have been made. We are just beginning to count the cost of those errors, both in the lives of children and the functioning of local authorities themselves.

It is inevitable that ghastly cases like that of Baby P grab the headlines. Investigations by the press and the Select Committee in another place have focused on how the reorganisation of children’s services has impacted on the social services and their care for deeply disadvantaged children at risk.

I should like to spend a few minutes thinking about the other side of the coin, which is the impact this reorganisation has on education and its knock-on effect on social services. As a former civil servant, I have great sympathy with civil servants who look at the problems that arise. Some were highlighted—failure of communication between social services and education, and, indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, between health services. Then they say to themselves, “It is all about children and there has been a failure of communication, so why do we not put them all together? Let us move social services and education into one great big parcel, and that will surely get them talking together”.

That is just not a correct way to think. Apart from the difficulties that creates and the time it wastes, you do not necessarily get people communicating better with each other simply because you have created different structures for them to do so. The real problem, which I have seen at close hand in my work with two local authorities in the past 12 months, is that these two specialisms of education and social services come from totally different cultures, quite rightly so, and speak entirely different languages about children, quite rightly so.

Social workers deal with some of the most distressing and difficult cases within our society. Their focus is on rescuing children who are in the extreme danger that we have seen, alas, in so many recent headlines and heartbreaking stories in the press. Educationalists think about things like the shortage of science or maths teachers, or the need for a revision of examinations to allow the brightest as well as the least bright in our schools to perform better.

The two bodies have different cultures. Bringing them together causes enormous difficulties in getting them to talk to each other. I do not for a moment say that of course they should not be talking to each other, but I repeat that simply slinging them together into one department and trying to mix them up in the way they work—and we shall come to the issue of inspection in a minute—is not how to solve the problem of communication. After a reorganisation like this, a lot of time is wasted in trying to get new ways of working, with endless meetings discussing how the new department should operate and who should do what, and there are the hard feelings of people who have not been promoted or who have lost what they saw as their importance.

I remember the days when departments of education and directors of education were huge, towering figures nationally. Their concern and knowledge of what was going on in their schools was a priceless gift to their local authorities and the children in those schools. That has now been so downgraded that it is sometimes difficult to know. Most heartbreakingly, many local authorities appoint only social workers at the head of the new departments. I have worked with one local authority where all three senior posts in the new department were given to social workers. Then they wonder why the head teachers find it difficult to communicate with them, and why the teachers feel neglected, unloved and uncared for by their local authority. It is just a wrong way of going about it—mixing them up and trying to get them all to work together, instead of using the huge specialisms of education and social work, and all that they bring in their experience and expertise to the problem.

The issue is not only at local authority level, although that is what we are concentrating on today; it is just as disastrous at national level. The Department for Children, Schools and Families no longer even contains the word “education” in its title, after over 100 years—from the early days of the Board of Education onwards. We now have only children, schools and families, which is not the totality of course. Further education and adult education feel left in a limbo. This is not just about schools. Vocational education and 14-to-19 issues are, in their own ways, just as pressing as the issues of child neglect. Just because there is a direct link between the issues of disadvantaged children and the way we shape our curriculum, it does not—I repeat again—mean that we have to deal with them in one department, either nationally or locally.

I find it difficult to understand why part of the reorganisation had to put together the two inspectorates, the children’s department and Ofsted. That seems to one of the key issues that has caused the problems of the past couple of years. I have enormous respect for the chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, who has dealt as well as she possibly could with the difficulty of bringing these two different cultures and ways of working together. But what a terrible indictment of the new climate of box-ticking it was when the chief inspector herself admitted to the Select Committee that the officials in Haringey had been able to hide behind the data. Less than a year before Baby P was so horribly tortured to death, the authority’s children’s services department had received a golden assessment of excellence from Ofsted because it appeared to have ticked all the boxes. Only when the inspectors went back after Baby P’s death and looked at what was actually going on did the faults and deficiencies become apparent.

I was struck by the fact that Christine Gilbert herself, in giving evidence to the Select Committee, said that when she had been a chief officer in a local authority she had not relied on Ofsted. She had gone and looked for herself. Well, right on! Absolutely! Surely we need an Ofsted that goes and looks for itself and does not just rely on box-ticking for every other assessment that it performs.

We need people conducting inspection into the social services aspects of children’s lives who are expert and experienced in that field. A criticism levelled was that an educationalist was in charge of the inspection of the social services for children in Haringey. Equally, how ridiculous it is to put a social worker in charge of an inspection of schools. I know I sound nostalgic, but thank goodness we still have HMI in Ofsted. There you have people who have been successful and senior in the job themselves, which is what you need. They go in and look at the teaching of history or physics, and understand whether it is being done well or badly from their own professional knowledge. They look at how a school is being managed and governed and know from their own experience whether it is successful or not. These are the kinds of people who should be conducting inspections, not this extraordinary mishmash—this amalgam—of people from different disciplines and with different expertise, all of whom can bring an enormous amount to bear if they are allowed to work in their own specialism.

The merger has distracted the attention of both the social workers and the educationalists at all levels: government department, local authorities and in the inspectorate. I ask the Minister whether it is too late to put this right, and to concentrate on ways of ensuring good communications and collaboration while leaving the experts to work in their own field of expertise for the benefit of the children we all care so much about.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on securing this debate. Indeed, she has cajoled me and insisted that I should be here today and, out of my huge respect for her, I am. However, I say to her and to the House that my speech will be more from the heart than from my intellect. Having no time to restructure your speech gives you time to realise how you feel about something, rather than what you think about it. I thought that today the House might for once benefit from my feelings rather than my thoughts.

I declare my interests. Having been the deputy chair of CAFCASS for five years, I am now its chair. I have been a director of social services and consider myself a social worker of 40 years’ standing. I was an inspector in the National Care Standards Commission and am connected to a number of voluntary organisations.

Two professions now work together under one department, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, so clearly outlined. I wish to compare the roles of teachers in schools and social workers on the beat. Usually we do not expect teachers to have classroom sizes that are beyond their capacity to teach. We expect them to have a planned training programme to develop their skills and they usually work in a school environment with colleagues around them giving an element of security. With government initiatives, the teaching profession now has a highly skilled workforce with measurable levels built in. The latest initiative is to award £10,000 to teachers who are prepared to work in the most challenging schools. I commend the Government for taking those initiatives and for making sure that our children have the best possible teachers, but contrast that with social work. At 25 you can have a totally unmanageable workload. If you are lucky, you can fit in your own training to meet the General Social Care Council requirements. You will be out alone, knocking on the door of the dangerous and the vulnerable. When things go wrong, few people will support you and the media will eat you alive—all this with hardly a living wage. Do the Government seriously consider that any able, thoughtful, intelligent young person will want to become a social worker? No wonder there are problems with retention and there are vacancies in most of the social work services. If you talk to anyone involved in social care, they will tell you of the extreme difficulty of maintaining a consistent service when the one thing that you need in social work, working with people, is consistency.

When the departmental changes were first suggested—I saw through the Act, alongside my colleagues—I spoke against them, not because I am against change but because it was the wrong change at the wrong time. I said at the time that structural change is always disruptive, with more concentration on the place to sit or job security than on the relationship with those allocated for help or intervention in family life. What was needed was a programme of change in practice, driving through professional development and changing image. We can learn much from the education and police programmes in this regard. The departmental changes came at the wrong time and, I believe, for the wrong reasons.

As I often say, however, we are where we are, which is waiting for yet another Laming review. If I were the noble Lord, Lord Laming, I would ask what had happened to my previous report. Why did the Government initiate this change rather than dealing with some of the other issues that he raised concerning practice, bureaucracy and leadership, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard? There might be virtue in giving the new children’s directors more focus in the social care area. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, mentioned that some education leaders are social workers, but I have to tell your Lordships that almost 80 per cent of leaders are educationalists. Just think how that makes those involved in social care feel.

One of the things lost in the reorganisation and in the universal safeguarding approach of the Every Child Matters agenda, which on all other fronts I support and applaud, is child protection. The issue is in the language. I could not have put it better than the British Association of Social Workers, of which I am a founder member. It states:

“It is our contention that the current safeguarding agenda does not assist practitioners to identify individuals who pose a serious risk to children. The assessment framework is a clear example of this, given that it is based on identifying and assessing children in need, rather than children at risk. Even the recent updating of the Working Together guidance seems to have dispensed with terms such as child protection and risk assessment, which we think is detrimental to effective practice in this area”.

I might add that although one of the dimensions of the assessment framework is safety, it is not a domain in its own right. In Working Together, the differentiation between referrals for need and those for protection is blurred into one for referrals. While there is good theoretical justification for this approach, reports from around the country suggest that it has made the system less safe. Will the Government look again at this guidance?

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that there are many ways in which the situation facing vulnerable children has improved with the years. However, the problem is much more the lack of consistent implementation of sound practice and processes by some practitioners in some places. There is an increased focus on partnership working across services for children, although the health agenda continues to leave gaps and frustration. Increased focus on prevention, in the development of services such as Sure Start children’s centres, has benefited many children, as this is a universal service. But these services need to be sustained long term, as does the funding provision for third sector services, which are still bedevilled, despite many central and local government reassurances, by short-term funding arrangements. What are the Government doing to improve the continuity and consistency of support services, especially those provided by the voluntary sector for children?

I want to spend a few moments talking about complexity. As the chair of CAFCASS and previously as its deputy chair, I am acutely aware of just how difficult it is to move from the relatively simple concept of skilled practitioners, working at a high level in a demanding system with good supervision and leadership, to achieving that on the ground. The day-to-day work wears people down and all this has to be achieved in addition to heavy workloads and constant change.

Take the present situation that we face in CAFCASS in public law. The new Public Law Outline, which was not about cost, despite the rise in fees for pursuing care proceedings, but about good assessment and early intervention, had some impact on referrals and, I believe, on work with families. However, since the Baby P case, figures have shot up way beyond anything that we have known previously. The question for CAFCASS is how we manage this increased workload and the continued improvement programme. Extra funding from DCSF has been welcome, but it may well not cover both. It is a problem often faced by local authority children’s services, which also have fluctuating demand.

Time is running out, so I am not going to be able to say what I would like to have said about the complexity of the cases that I see day in, day out, which sometimes absolutely befuddle and bemuse one’s thinking in terms of behaviour and the family structures in which parents and children find themselves. Nor will I have time to speak of the problems of training, where we seem to have lost in our courses the capacity to teach people about emotional interaction. One of our workers who recently did a course talked about how she had a lot of tick boxes to finish her course, but the course never talked about her feelings and the feelings of those for whom she was responsible.

The temperature in which social work is carried out needs to be calm and measured, but the environment is becoming noisier and more threatening. Social workers are more fearful every time they leave their homes to visit another. It is clear that, if there were a health and safety test on social work, it would fail. However, this complex, emotionally draining and dangerous job has to be done. Child protection is everybody’s business, so whichever department the social worker ends up in we all have a responsibility to promote and support the best work possible. Even if we do not owe it to the social worker out there on the street on our behalf—and we do—we owe it to the children whom she or he is trying to help.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on this important topic. The two of us go back to the years when she was deputy director of social services in Lambeth and I used to sit as the juvenile court chairman—when I was not sitting with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who was part of yesterday’s debate. There are many in this Chamber whose experience and understanding go back many years. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about juvenile justice and taking the opportunity to reinforce a more enlightened approach to juvenile justice and the rehabilitation of children and young people who have usually faced appalling circumstances, are important for us all.

Above all, I commend my noble friend Lady Shephard for initiating this enlightened, thoughtful and timely debate. It is a critical subject. Her comments, like those of my noble friend Lady Perry—both of whom come essentially from an education background—chime so strongly with my own perspective, which is based very much on a social work background. I know what it is like to visit families on the North Peckham estate at 9 o’clock at night. I know what it is like to have some of the most difficult conversations with a family, where you have been trying to maintain a therapeutic optimism that that family can be a good parent but somehow those bruises do not go away. Once you have challenged that family about the reality of the bruises, you have broken a bridge of trust and confidence.

Teaching is a completely different skill. Teachers teach; social workers listen. Papers from the Children’s Society are urging again that children’s voices should be heard. This involves persuading children to articulate the most embarrassing, sensitive, taboo events that may have taken place in their family. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, could have spoken for another 10 minutes about her experiences as the director of Childline, an organisation which performed an extraordinary service by helping children to begin to say the words that they could not articulate. I remember visiting Childline and being told that they would often have a false call. In other words, a child would ring and put down the phone, then ring and put down the phone, but then, gradually, be able to articulate the words they knew would light an explosive device. Once whatever taboo and cruel behaviour had been taking place in the family became public, then—in their imagination, their thought, and maybe in reality—that would be the end of their family life as they knew it.

Teachers are quite different. No one will ever thank a social worker, because social workers come into people’s lives at a time of wretchedness and misery. Imagine being the social worker trying to assist Victoria Climbié’s family, Shannon Matthews’s family, or Baby P’s family, and initially not knowing whether this is a family that is so psychopathic, disturbed and sadistic that it would be completely inappropriate for those children to remain there. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, heard the case of the children where the view was taken that the social workers had removed them without remotely appropriate justification or evidence. Families had been broken up and the damage could hardly be restored, leaving them with a sense of shame, humiliation and distress.

I am concerned about the changes that have taken place. During my time as Secretary of State for Health—and I know there is a danger in this House that, in our anecdotage, we might crack on too much about our experiences—I spoke to the Chief Inspector of Social Services every week at my top of the office meeting. I spoke every week to the Chief Medial Officer, Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Inspector of Social Services. Sir William Utting, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and Denise Platt all had privileged access to the Secretary of State. Can the Minister tell us how often the current Secretary of State speaks to the chief social services inspector? Indeed, who is that person now that the responsibilities have been so divided? Who says, “This is how it really is. This is what we need to do”?

It is not only that Secretaries of State, at the top of government departments, lack this informed advice, opinion and judgment; most MPs and politicians do not really understand the reality of being out there at 9 o’clock on the North Peckham estate. On one occasion my Mini was turned over and set on fire, and it is a lot worse now than it was in those days. At the same time, what does this issue mean for people in the profession? There are all sorts of grand doctors; some may even end up in the House of Lords. Psychology and teaching are certainly well-regarded professions. But who are the champions of the social work profession? How can we ensure that social workers are heard and respected?

In Haringey—Victoria Climbié’s local authority—a quarter of social work jobs were vacant. There are, as has been said, no £10,000 bonuses there. This is a hugely important subject. It was therefore to my great surprise that, thinking I should do my homework before speaking today and ask what the Conservatives have been saying on this subject recently, I turned up a paper by Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing, my noble friend Lady Morris, and Terry Butler, former social services director in Hampshire, on whom I used to rely a lot, which says that we need a chief social worker. I believe that we do need a chief social worker alongside a Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Medical Officer. I was delighted by this document, No More Blame Game, and its enlightened and thoughtful view on social workers and their views, reputation and leadership.

There is another professional group which, extraordinarily, has not yet been mentioned. The first Private Member’s Bill that I tried to introduce after coming to this House addressed the issue of who had the opportunity to see a child without their clothes on without a great deal of difficulty. Who is entitled to remove a child’s clothes? I do not think that a teacher or social worker is. However, the person who can just whip a child’s clothes off with no trouble at all is the health visitor.

I am again pleased to tell noble Lords that my enlightened, new Conservative Party colleagues—who are doing all the work now that people like me are doing other things—have written an absolutely brilliant paper about the importance of health visitors. More older and professional women are having children now and they need health visitors, too. It is a lonely business. They lose their flexibility and are isolated from their families. For the most deprived families, however, health visitors are the ones who can say, “I wonder if there is nappy rash?”, or give a wonderful medical reason why they want to see and weigh the child. In no case of a child who has died of child abuse would the abuse not have been absolutely obvious if they had had a preliminary medical inspection in the final three months.

For some reason health visitors have been lost by the wayside. The figures are appalling. It has been estimated that there should be no more than 300 children to each health visitor. I am delighted that in Hull—I can never speak in this place without mentioning Hull; I am chancellor of the university there, and my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth is in the Chamber—there is one health visitor for every 200 children. However, in Hackney, Camden and Newham, there is one health visitor for roughly 531, 551 and 565 children respectively. The noble Baroness spoke about Surrey, for which I was privileged to be an MP for quite a while. When I first became the MP I went out with a health visitor there and asked how many children were on the at-risk register. She said, “I think we used to have one in Chiddingfold, and there might be one in Godalming”. When I used to work with health visitors in Peckham they had 20 children on the at-risk register. We desperately need health visitors, and we must ensure that they are recognised.

The worry about the structural change is that it will affect the most vulnerable families. It was easier to create an integrated approach when mental health services, children’s health services and all the social work services were delivered alongside health services. But the change has happened and we must learn from it. A moment ago I saw the noble Lord, Lord Myners, who has been talking about banking and other financial institutions. Many think that when the Bank of England was made independent, the fault lay not in the announcement of the new initiative involving the Bank, Treasury and FSA but in the integration. In the commercial world—and many noble Lords here are from that world—what matters is not the acquisition but the integration. We have to look again at how these changes have been integrated.

I must pass on one brief further comment from my professional life in search. There is a real concern about who these directors of children’s services departments will be. As has been said, the evidence is that education is winning over social services. However, we are not training a cadre of directors with the competence and skill to manage these services. I urge the Government to look again at real management training programmes. If they are going to stick with the structure they have set in place, they must be sure that they are investing in the leadership of the future. I again congratulate my noble friend.

My Lords, I join other Members of the House in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on introducing this timely debate. From the comments that we have heard, there seems to be a range of views. Although the reorganisation of the departments and children’s services is three years old, the debate about how the reorganisation is going and the next stages should go on for a long time. I very much welcome the opportunity to speak.

I suppose that what we are discussing affects every person in the land. There is not one family who is not touched by the actions of people in these services, either through education, social services, health, the juvenile justice service or all of those. I was discussing this with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, in the Library; she informed me that departments of children’s services now account for 8 per cent of local authorities’ budgets. This is big-time stuff and the issues that come out of it are vital.

I will be honest: I am not sure whether I would have been persuaded about this structural change if I had still been a Minister. I was a Minister in DCMS at the time and did not get involved in the Bill, as others did. However, I would have asked some real questions and I do not know what my conclusion would have been. It is no good speculating, because I did not go through that process of discussion. However, I might have been persuaded. I am now wholeheartedly behind the change, because we have to be, and I am conscious of what the reasons for change would have been. I accept them and, despite my reservations, I shall go over them today.

People have talked about child safety, but two other issues have not been mentioned as much. If we are not careful, we talk as though the relationship between old education and old social services was good. It was not. There was huge fragmentation. There was huge failure to work together and to talk to others. There was a huge inability and unwillingness to create a shared agenda and a shared culture.

I remember an example from when I was a Member of Parliament. A junior school head in my constituency called me in because she had a child in care who was top and in front and with whom she had made much progress after much hard work. The foster place was about to be changed and the child was to be moved to the other side of the city. In Birmingham, that is a large move. When I looked into the case, I found that there was nothing on the social services agenda or the housing agenda that put the need for continuity of education in the same school anywhere near the top of the considerations. Each was doing his job. Those in housing looked at the housing needs of the child and those in social care looked at what was available and what would match the child’s fostering needs. She just wanted continuity but nothing brought that about. Therefore, we must not pretend that we had a system in which the needs of the child and the family were always at the centre of considerations, as they were not.

Secondly—a point that has not been mentioned—we have to accept that, no matter how brilliant our schools or teachers or how good our pedagogy or education system, sometimes barriers outside education get in the way of a child’s learning. That could happen in early years learning or in care, or it could be down to parental aspirations or the breakdown of a family. It could be anything. We cannot ask schools to deal with those matters as well but we ask them to carry the consequences when those things are not right.

One pressing force in children’s services is that of removing the barriers to achievement in schools that are not the responsibility of schools. In that way, children’s services can be an agenda for closing the education gap between children from advantaged backgrounds and those from less advantaged backgrounds. To me, that is the case for this change, and it is a powerful case. The challenge that lies ahead is to achieve that aspiration and prove that it can work.

Perhaps I may set out what I see as the risks. Many of them have been mentioned but I shall quickly go over them again. One is the size of the organisation. There is a real risk that it will be so big that the best minds spend their time ensuring that it runs smoothly rather than ensuring that it delivers effectively. There is a difference between the two. Leadership in depth is needed but I do not think that we have taken that on board. Some of the team leaders and junior middle managers will now run organisations with budgets as large as those of directors of education in small and medium-sized local education authorities. We have not yet heard enough about leadership in depth.

Another risk is that in big organisations local knowledge gets lost. Professor Alan Middleton, formerly of the University of Central England, has done some good work on this. His analysis is that you get strategic decisions by the top management, local knowledge by the person on the front line, and someone in the middle who fails to bring the two together. Having, in my former roles, helped to put the focus on education, another point that I worry about continually is that that focus will vanish. If it did, that would be a great tragedy.

However, let us move on. There are cases for and against. Now that the decision is made, the challenge is to ask what we need to do to move on to the next stage of reform. There are five areas that I think the Government now need to address. They are looking at all of them but I take this opportunity to raise them.

The debate about the new shared agenda is happening here, and Ministers are having the debate, as are directors of children’s services, but I am not convinced that the debate is happening in depth. Is it taking place in staffrooms or in the equivalent of staffrooms for social workers? It is no good the leaders having a shared agenda and integration if those are not at the heart of the agenda of the people delivering the service. Therefore, my first point is that we should get the agenda to delivery level and move it on from strategic level.

The second area concerns training for leadership in depth. I particularly welcome the decision by the department to ask the National College for School Leadership, under the excellent leadership of its chief executive, Steve Munby, to prepare a series of training programmes for directors of children’s services. That needs to happen, but my message here is a need for leadership in depth.

The third and, for me, key point is that the trick will be to keep individual professional skills and not lose them in a soup where the view is, “Let’s integrate everything”. The trick will be to develop an ability to work together. We do not want teachers being social workers again in the way that they were in the 1970s and we do not want social workers pretending that they know about teaching. We need each person to enhance his or her professional skills but also to learn a new skill—that of working together. That has not been the case but perhaps this new structure provides the opportunity for it to happen.

My next point is that evidence of successful practice is all around us, and children’s services and the Department for Children, Schools and Families must become evidence-informed. We do not have to reinvent things. Just because something is given a new name, that does not mean that it needs to do new things. Any director of children’s services who thinks that he has to go out and discover new practices is starting from the wrong end; he should seek out the people with a proven record of success. The challenge to leaders is to see how effectively they can move throughout the system.

I conclude with my fifth point, which is to remind the House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and others have done, that this is a marriage of professions at different stages of their development. By raising teachers’ morale, their standing in society and the levels of their pay and training, this Government have helped to raise standards. I give credit to the previous Government for setting the accountability framework for schools. Both Governments have concentrated on teachers and the results are there to see in terms of time, money and priority. However, that has not happened with social workers.

I should like the Minister to reflect on what we can learn from what has been done with teachers in relation to raising the status of social workers. I have some questions. Where is the equivalent of the academies programme for social workers? Academies are a brilliant way of attracting some, although not all, of our best teachers and leaders to the areas of greatest need. There was the £10,000 incentive for teaching maths but where is the offer of £10,000 more for becoming a social worker in Haringey? It is great that two people were made knights in the recent Honours List, but how many heads of social services were at that senior level in the Honours List as a sign that society is beginning to recognise their work? Teach First is a brilliant initiative but where is “Social Work First”?

All those initiatives and the resources that have been put into them, which have helped to raise the status of teachers and to get our best teachers into the most difficult schools, now need to be repeated for social workers. It is doable but the challenge is immense. I hope that today’s comments will assist the Minister in taking this vital agenda further forward.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Shephard for asking me to speak today on education and social services. The Harris Federation has seven academies: three in Peckham, three in Croydon and one in Bexleyheath. One academy is shared with the Church of England, six special schools and four primary schools. These account for 18,500 children in south London sponsored by the Harris family.

I should like, first, to talk about a school that was failing in 1992. It was one of the worst schools in the country. Then, its pass rate of five A to C grades stood at 9 per cent; today, the figure is 93 per cent. Back then, the number of applications for 180 places at the school was 45; this year, the number is 1,920. Attendance in 1992 was 70 per cent; today, it is 96 per cent. This school has changed to become one of the top 100 state schools in the country. People say to me that the principal picks only the best pupils, but that is not the case. Fifty-six per cent of our pupils come from the ethnic society and 25 per cent from the Caribbean society, and they are the most difficult children to teach. Their pass rate over the past four years has been between 85 and 90 per cent.

I am dyslexic, and every year at this school we take 20 per cent of the pupils to the dyslexic centre. The same woman, Dorothy Hart, has taught these children for the past 18 years, and her pass rate last year was 84 per cent.

We are very proud of our sixth form. Last year, out of 92 students, we got 81 to university. We had two of the top 10 students in art and design out of 6,000 pupils throughout the country. In modern languages—noble Lords should remember that we are teaching pupils from all over the country with different first languages—over the past four years we have had a 100 per cent pass rate.

Our vision for all our academies is to have the best principal and back them 100 per cent, the best teachers—we use Teach First, which supplies us with very good teachers—and, more important, the right support staff, who never get talked about. They help the schools very much and can tell the teacher and heads what is going on.

Every pupil from our school has to wear a uniform, which we pay for when we take over the school from the state. The uniforms have to be worn from the time the pupils leave home in the morning until they get back in the evening. We have pretty strong discipline records. People are not allowed to fetch telephones in; phones are confiscated until the end of term. We are very strong on attendance and seeing that children get to school on time. Children who are not in school within half an hour of opening time are phoned at home or at their carers’. Motivation is one of the most important things in schools and we are motivated by the belief that all can achieve. It is not only about work; it is about wanting to work and wanting to come to school and do well. Sport plays a very important part in our academies.

Attendance in all our academies is 94 per cent. Across the federation the average increase in the number of students gaining five A to Cs including maths and English was 7.5 per cent. This is more than eight times the improvement made on average by other schools in the country last year. The applications for 1,290 places was 5,686, so on average our schools were four and a half times oversubscribed.

I shall refer to two schools that we have taken over in the past two years. Since becoming an academy in 2006, Harris Academy Merton has improved its added value from the bottom 72 per cent in the country to the top 3 per cent. That has happened in less than two years. The school has 29 per cent of its students on free meals, 68 per cent ethnics and 24 per cent with special needs. In the past two years, the proportion of students receiving five A to C grades has gone from 29 per cent to 74 per cent, and in English and maths from 23 per cent to 38 per cent. The average attendance has gone up from 78 per cent to 95 per cent.

Children want to be motivated to go to school and will do better if they are so motivated. There were 682 applicants for 180 places this year. Last November we were classed as “outstanding” in the Ofsted report and the school became the fastest ever to go from special needs to outstanding. We congratulate the head, teachers and staff on changing the lives of many children in the Merton area.

The Bermondsey academy is an all-girls school. It has a first-class principal, excellent staff and teachers. Sixty per cent of its students are on free meals, 74 per cent are ethnics, 36 per cent have special needs, 148 are known to social services and a large number are under police protection. Many of the students live with people other than their parents. We monitor students’ behaviour; should it suddenly change, we have people to step in, as it usually means that there are outside problems. In the past two years, the achievement of five A to Cs has gone up from 47 per cent to 58 per cent; in English and maths, the change has been from 26 per cent to 41 per cent. Attendance is now 93 per cent. This year the school had 453 applicants for 180 places and was the top school in Southwark as parents’ first choice. In the past year the academy in Bermondsey has created a special centre, the Apple Centre, where students receive a bespoke education programme tailored to their needs.

The Harris Academy Merton now offers a full-support education special needs department, which provides a range of support and evening classes. Local crime figures show that burglaries have reduced in the area now that the academy offers after-school community activities. Four of our academies provide safer school police officers, who are welcomed and respected by the staff, parents and students and who provide a confidential link for reporting matters of concern. In the next 12 months, we will be opening two new academies—another one in Peckham and one in Croydon—which we hope will be as successful as the others. We believe that every child deserves the best possible education.

My Lords, we have had an extraordinarily well informed debate with many speakers who have enormous knowledge of the inside workings of children’s services. I regret that I cannot compete and can only call in aid the fact that I am chairman of the All-Party Group on Families and Children as an excuse for talking a little bit about the role of families in working alongside professional workers from the social services and education departments.

We all recognise that the number of problem families has increased in recent years and is still growing. Children’s services departments are overloaded and even present levels of service may not be sustainable without major injections of long-term funding. We all know that the welfare of children is not well served when staff are overstretched. Many previous speakers have referred to staff being overstretched and stressed. Lack of experience and good leadership are also real problems, which the Government will not solve by tinkering only with structure and procedures. Either children’s services will need a great deal more money in order to be able to train the right people and have the right ratios or we must find creative new solutions.

One such solution must be to reduce the demand for social services. There is a case for doing more to encourage and empower families to do the job that they can do best—to provide their children with a secure and supportive family life. If more families were providing their children with the family life that they need, it would relieve the current pressure on social services and allow them to concentrate more on the difficult cases. We need to rebuild commitment to stable family life for this nation’s children. It is high time that we as a society took a long hard look at the state of families in our society.

The majority of families give their children the family life they need, and they deserve more help and encouragement than they sometimes get today. At the other end of the spectrum a relatively small number of disadvantaged families will never succeed in delivering family life unaided. They are the ones for whom children’s services are essential. In the middle is a group of families who might be persuaded to do more if they received more encouragement and recognition. Let us look a little more closely at that group.

Modern research increasingly shows that some kinds of family structures are more likely than others to lead to relationships within the family that are advantageous for children. We should be doing more to recognise, encourage and empower, and less to discourage those parents and families who try to provide the kind of family life that their children need. Such families are providing, or potentially could provide, an important service to the nation.

The Government’s policies on families are ambivalent. On the one hand they urge parents to do more to accept their responsibilities, and rightly so, but on the other they fail to state clearly what those responsibilities are or to offer much encouragement to those who accept them. For example, government policies on tax and benefits are seen as penalising young parents with a child who want to live together. If a parent decides to leave full-time work to provide childcare for their child they are disadvantaged. Housing policies, too, are unfriendly to couples who want to build a family life together when they have their first child and government policies largely ignore grandparents.

In the past 50 years, major changes have taken place in our society's perception of the responsibilities of parenthood. In particular, there has been a change in our perception of the importance of parental commitment. Fifty years ago, parental commitment was usually expressed in the commitment of marriage. Today we are in the 21st century, and it may be right that marriage may not be the most appropriate structure for committed parenthood for everyone. For those who reject marriage for whatever reason, there ought to be alternative ways for parents to make a public commitment to their child and to one another. What matters from the child’s point of view is the long-term loving commitment of, preferably two, adults, the adults who are going to care for him. Parental commitment should not be regarded just as a moral value, as it used to be 50 years ago; it is a social issue of the greatest importance.

The Government have stated from the Dispatch Box on many occasions that they do not believe that it is the job of Governments to interfere in the way that adults choose to live their lives. I do not believe that that is a tenable position for any Government today, now that research shows clearly that parental commitment and quality of family life can seriously affect a child's chances in school and in later life.

I hasten to say that I am not suggesting that this or any other Government should try to lay down all the ways in which families should be run. Fortunately, today there is a growing body of research showing that prohibitions and punishments may not anyway be the most effective way to change public behaviour. It seems that the establishment of positive social norms, linked to recognition of those who comply with those norms, can often be more effective. If our society were to place a higher value on stable, supportive family life, more parents and more families would be likely to make the sacrifices involved in giving their children the kind of family life that they need.

We as a society perhaps need a change of heart. There is a strong case for some sort of contract between parents, families and the state. Frank Field recently suggested that that might take the form of a sort of Highway Code for parenting, a guide to be studied, learnt and respected by all parents and by all those involved in supporting them. In a perfect world—I speak from the Cross Benches—I should like cross-party agreement to promote stable family life and to encourage long-term commitment to their children by both parents and families.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Shephard on initiating this important debate. In the time available, I shall raise two points. The first reinforces what several noble Lords have already said, albeit with an eloquence that I cannot match; as the noble Lord just mentioned, we have heard some very powerful speeches in the debate today.

There are clearly problems with the structure and operation of children's services departments. As we have heard, recent tragic cases have highlighted serious problems. I do not propose to go over those. Other problems, which do not make the headlines, derive from the incapacity of departments to cope with the responsibilities placed on them. They go down to the level of basic routine functions. The Ofsted annual performance assessments of last year showed that, although there were councils that were outstanding in the provision of children's services, in most cases, there was the capacity to improve.

There have already been various proposals for changes, coming not least from the Audit Commission and the Government. Those changes focus primarily on improving the overall structure and processes in respect of child welfare. A particular problem has been identified with interagency co-operation. I do not want to take issue with the proposals but rather to reinforce the point made by my noble friend Lady Shephard that although they may be necessary, they are not sufficient. As the noble Lord, Lord Laming, identified, structures and processes are dependent for their effectiveness on the people who operate or work within them. One can create processes that look splendid on paper but which are useless if those responsible for them are not prepared or not able to make them work.

As we have heard, children services departments are large bodies. As my noble friend Lady Perry so eloquently described, they are also extremely disparate in nature. They require strong leadership as well as highly qualified staff to deliver services. The problem was well expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, in her article in the Guardian last November, when she noted that some of those who work with our most vulnerable children are the least qualified and the most poorly rewarded. We need to acknowledge the relationship between those two points.

The problem cannot be tackled solely by revising structures. There has to be investment to ensure that we have highly able and well motivated professionals dealing with the welfare of children, professionals who are sufficiently well motivated to remain in post. Retention is crucial; that is clear from several of the speeches that we have heard today. There must be leadership in depth; I very much endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said. I also endorse the observation of the General Social Care Council that more needs to be done to encourage employers to offer their staff opportunities to undertake post-qualifying training.

I emphasise, reinforcing what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was arguing, the need to recognise that the need for professional development applies across the board, encompassing not only children's care services but those responsible for education. Local government now finds itself in a difficult situation. It has to cope with a range of responsibilities, some of them—as in this case—allied with structural change, at a time when the resources available to fulfil those responsibilities are declining. My fear is that, given limited resources, the focus will be principally, possibly exclusively, on those services that are the cause of controversy and hit the headlines. The danger is that services that are essential to the development of young people, but which are less contentious, may be neglected, or at least not receive the same attention and requisite level of support.

I therefore contend that while we must respond to immediate and obvious concerns of the sort that have arisen in places such as Haringey and now Doncaster, we should not lose sight of the problems that result from failing to ensure adequate leadership and professionalism in delivering services in all parts of what now constitute extremely large departments. The enormous challenge that that poses is clear from the speeches that we have heard today.

My second point is different and concerns evaluation. There have, quite rightly, been calls for inquiries into how the child protection system is working. I put the need for review in a somewhat broader context.

The Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House, in its 2004 report, Parliament and the Legislative Process, recommended that there should be systematic post-legislative scrutiny. In response to the report, the Government invited the Law Commission to examine the proposal. As a result of the commission's report, published in 2006, in March last year the Government published their proposals in Post-Legislative Scrutiny—The Government's Approach. They accepted the need for reviewing Acts, typically three to five years after enactment, to ensure that they had fulfilled their purpose. I understand that reviews are now under way and that the first has just been completed and submitted to the relevant departmental Select Committee in the other place.

The Children Act was enacted in 2004. Its provisions have been subject to commencement at different points. Those that we have been discussing today took effect in 2006. I therefore presume that a review of the Act will be undertaken in the not too distant future. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case? When the review is undertaken, it is important both that it is not too narrow and that it is published. I gather that the first post-legislative review to be submitted is rather legalistic in approach and has been submitted as an unpublished paper, rather than as a Command Paper, as envisaged in the Government’s 2008 paper. It is essential that reviews are thorough, not overly narrow and legalistic. It is also important that they are published, or at least made available to Members in both Houses. There is a danger that if they are sent solely to the appropriate Select Committee in the other place—which may be extremely busy and not able to pursue the matter further—others, including Members of your Lordships' House, may not be aware of it.

My point has applicability that goes beyond the Children Act but has particular force in relation to that Act. One particular aspect that will be important is that relating to reviews undertaken under the provisions of Sections 20 to 24. When the Constitution Committee published its report The Regulatory State: Ensuring its Accountability, it drew attention to the need to review those who engage in regulation. In essence, it raised the question of who regulates the regulators—or, in this case, who reviews the reviewers. Ofsted, as we have heard, assumed a new existence on 1 April 2007, bringing together in one body four previously separate inspectorates. As has already been mentioned, it is a remarkable burden. In its first year, it carried out more than 45,000 inspections and regulatory visits.

The annual report of the Chief Inspector for Education, Children’s Services and Skills draws together the results of Ofsted’s work but is not in itself an evaluation of Ofsted. Ofsted cannot be expected to review its own performance. There is a need for external evaluation of its work. Post-legislative review of the Act may be sufficient for this purpose, but I put in the Minister’s mind the possibility of a separate evaluation of how well the new review arrangements are working. I am less concerned with the mechanism and more concerned with establishing the principle that a review is desirable.

To conclude, the 2004 Act created new structures, the rationale for which is clear, but structures have created the problems that have been clearly adumbrated this afternoon. We should focus not just on individual cases and generalise from those; we need to look at the new structures holistically. We also need to bear in mind the need to ensure high standards throughout and that delivering such standards has resource implications. Saying, “Do this, do that”, will not by itself be sufficient.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for calling this timely and important debate. I recall us sitting together some years ago in a room in Portcullis House, listening to my noble friend Lord Laming announce his findings on the Climbié case. At that meeting, I recall the contribution from Debra Shipley MP: she made the passionate and persuasive case that that incident highlighted the immediate and critical need to raise the status of social work and to invest further in it—to do all the things that we have been discussing today.

I have also been reminded in this debate of a couple of conversations, the first of which was with a general practitioner who was seeing a girl of 12 or 13. He was concerned that she might be being abused sexually by her family, and he was determined to avoid so far as possible referring her to a social worker because he did not trust the social worker partner who worked in his area and wanted to send to her a paediatrician, whom he felt would be the best professional to deal with the case. I was also reminded of a young social worker who said that he would never refer a child to a children’s home. Many factors are involved, such as partnership working and working together to improve the outcomes for children—strong professional identity is very important. That involves teachers, social workers, residential childcare workers and staff in children’s homes; they have strong professional identities and can respect the identity of the other person and trust their professionalism. That is important in helping people to work together effectively.

Debra Shipley brought through the Protection of Children Act. I am very sorry that she had to retire from the House in 2005 because of ill health. She made a very important contribution when she was in Parliament.

It is important to retain experience in social care and childcare, to build on that wealth of experience over the years and to build a culture of understanding about social care and childcare. That happens in other countries, but we in this country have done that very poorly. It is important to attend more to children’s homes, to build a cross-party consensus for what needs to be done, to work in the long term and to avoid continual change, as the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, said.

Experience is the foundation of success in improving outcomes for children and young people. It is important to recruit and retain for long periods the best staff at the front line and line managers. That appears to be what happens on the continent. They do not appear to be so interested in measurement or narrow evidence-based approaches. They are very interested in expertise and experience and in retaining people—people pass on experience and use their professional judgment, and they make their professions popular. For instance, in Denmark, the profession of working with vulnerable children is one of the most popular courses at Danish universities. Working in a children’s home is a popular profession and has a very low vacancy rate. That is in complete contrast to our experience in this country.

The noble Baroness referred to Tim Loughton’s very important work on social work. I thoroughly endorse the call for a chief social worker to be a powerful voice for social workers. Mr Loughton visited children’s homes in Denmark and was very impressed by the quality of provision there. That is a particular concern for him because there are a number of children’s homes in his constituency.

On the continent, residential childcare workers make their work attractive; there is a framework to support those workers. They are encouraged to reflect and can build up experience and understanding over many years. Many of them then move into administration or policy areas so that the best experience from front-line practice can be built into policy at all levels—central and local government. One sees that to a small extent in this country. Peter Wilson, who is a child psychotherapist and who founded the children’s mental health charity YoungMinds, of which I am a patron, brought to the national stage his very deep professional development and practice with children. His wife continued working with children as a practitioner. He had his finger on the pulse of what was going on on the front line, and he could talk to policy-makers. I also mention Paul Ennals, who is the chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau and a residential childcare worker, and Hilton Dawson MP, who was for several years the chair of the parliamentary group on children and young people in care and who was a residential childcare worker.

I remind noble Lords of my experience of meeting guardians ad litem some years ago, when they had concerns. They were escapees from authorities; they preferred not to be bound by the restrictions of bureaucracy and pressures from local authorities, and moved into the public arena. The culture was so unattractive to the best professionals that they moved away from local authorities and child protection and into public law. We must ask why we are making local authorities such unattractive places for the most experienced practitioners.

I met the then chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service. He said that those guardians ad litem were angels. That might be idealising them a bit too far, but they were vastly experienced practitioners who were prepared to give up higher rates of pay in preference to working with children as they wanted to do rather than how they were told to do by local authorities. They had the tenacity to stick with children when they wanted to and did not have to work against the grain—against the local authority.

I very much welcome the White Paper from the Government on the best strategy for the children and young people’s workforce, which was published in December and is entitled 2020 Children and Young People’s Workforce Strategy. I hope that it will continue the good work undertaken by the Government to put into social work what they have done so effectively for teachers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, we need to give the same commitment to social workers as has been given to teachers. I welcome particularly paragraph 4.13, which states:

“Social workers themselves have also told us that they want initial social work training programmes to prepare them better for working with children and families. They also told us that they wanted better access to ongoing professional training, more reflective supervision and support once in employment”.

I am grateful for the Government’s drawing on the expertise of the contributors to this report, which has not always been the case with government policy. They have not always paid strong attention to those practitioners and I welcome this development.

Recently, the New Economics Foundation published a report, A False Economy, on failing to invest in children in care, which highlights concern about children’s homes and the fact that commissioners were basing their judgments principally on cost and not on quality. The principal cost of social care and childcare is that of the workforce; that is, the carers. If one thinks only about cost, one reduces the pay and withdraws continual professional development, and the quality of care for children goes down. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at how children’s homes are being commissioned and do what she can to rectify that. I look forward to hearing her response.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Shephard for introducing this timely debate exceptionally well. I do not really need to say very much because, with her long knowledge and many years of experience, she said it all. My experience extends for almost the same length of time. I have spent 38 years in local government and, although I have not held the esteemed positions that my noble friend has held, I have been involved in children’s services of one kind or another throughout those years. Now I am the leader of Essex County Council, one of the largest local authorities in the country. Today, I am speaking from the Back Benches because I am speaking from personal experience. I apologise for rushing around: unfortunately, I have to return to my Front-Bench position to respond to the Heathrow matter in about one hour. It has been a rather busy morning.

I should also like to compliment my noble friend Lady Perry on her extremely valuable contribution. She said exactly some of the things that should be said today. As the leader of a large local authority I live with these issues every day. We have 250,000 children in schools and we have a new school initiative virtually every week or fortnight—for example, “coasting” schools, challenge schools and all sorts of schools. Officers and members have to put a lot of time and effort into those issues, which is quite right because we want to raise the standard of education and the performance of our youngsters. In Essex, we have just over 1,000 children in care and these issues are not compatible.

Four years ago in this House, as my noble friend Lady Shephard said, we all supported the Laming report. In my contribution I said that, however good the report was, the work needed to happen on the ground, we did not need lots of bureaucracy and we needed more social workers. At the time, there was something like a 20 per cent shortage of social workers in London and about a 12 per cent to 15 per cent shortage around the rest of country, which still applies today.

Quite honestly, after a lot of what has been said in the media recently, who would want to be a social worker? From experience, I know that some of our social workers—I would not say that Essex is one of the most difficult places to work—are subject to physical abuse when they go into homes. Sometimes five or six social workers have to go together to deal with parents. Recently, the media has been difficult. We need to encourage social workers and we need to put a lot of effort and support into that profession, rather than lambaste it the whole time. When the Minister replies, I hope that she will support social workers at this difficult time. It is now even more difficult to recruit them. In Essex, we are looking to the United States, Australia, New Zealand and all sorts of other places to recruit social workers to support our children’s services.

As the leader of a council, one of my main problems, and one of the biggest problems with the media, is when we want to take children into care, against which there is tremendous resistance. An analysis of media comment over the past five years would demonstrate more comment about local authorities snatching children away from their families than about the Baby P case. Judgments on families tread a difficult, fine line, which, again, goes back to the importance of the social worker. In this debate, we must not forget the other side of things. As leader, I am more involved in dealing with families who are fighting decisions about their children going into care.

I also support those who criticise. I was very reluctant to bring together the two departments. I took a lot of persuading by my chief executive and others. I tried to keep the departments separate because I thought that they were functioning well. One department supported the vulnerable children’s service and special needs children, et cetera, and another department dealt with school improvement. I fought that merger, although we merged them in the end. Inspection reports show that Essex is supposed to have deteriorated since we merged them, which I would dispute. All the reports, which are mainly box-ticking reports, show that our services are supposedly not as good as they were before the two departments were merged, which shows that some things noble Lords have been talking about are probably right.

I talk to social workers all the time. I do not always agree with my Liberal Democrat colleagues but, as the leader of the Liberal Democrats said at the LGA, social workers spend half their time filling in forms and a quarter of their time travelling between one family and another. Therefore, they spend only a quarter of their time dealing with cases. There needs to be a different way for them to work. I support my noble friend Lady Perry. It was wrong to merge and the box-ticking system is wrong. This is more about quality of service than about targets.

I would be the first person to do all I can to ensure that the various agencies work together. But if you talk about family problems involving physical abuse of the wife, the police are more concerned about convicting the criminal, whereas we are more concerned about supporting the family. Therefore the targets for the police are different from ours. Last night, I spoke to the head of our children’s services, who is very good. We work fantastically well with the police, but they have different objectives. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will look at that. Health authorities have different targets too. We all have to deliver lots of financial targets and time targets. In Essex, we have created 29 task forces where the police, the probation service, our service and the health service—multiple agencies—sit together. We try to do more preventive work, which I think we would all agree is most important.

As these groups have different targets to deliver in order to tick all the boxes—so that they can come out with three stars or four stars in government terms—they cannot always solve those problems. For all the legislation and all the discussion that we have had, the situation behind the scenes is probably worse than it was five years ago. It is a disappointment and I live with it every day, so I want to make certain that we improve the situation. That is why I have rushed in my contribution today.

As the leader of a local authority, and one who puts a lot of effort and energy into it, my preoccupation is always to ensure that we safeguard very vulnerable children, and that is extremely high on the list of priorities of the members of my authority. However, we must not forget all the other children in our schools who have just one chance of an education. We have to put effort into that as well, and therefore we have to find ways of dealing with both streams in the right way. I hope that I have been able to add something to the debate. I thank my noble friend Lady Shephard for her fantastic opening contribution and tremendous analysis, and particularly my noble friend Lady Perry for her remarks.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, for introducing this important debate and for all the important points that she made in her speech. What I shall remember the most is her admonition not to confuse activity with action.

Today we have heard about many failures, and it is easy to concentrate on those, but we must also recognise the successes. The trouble is that, whereas a teacher’s successes are often reflected in exam results, those of a social worker are mostly hidden. They are the things that do not happen: the dogs that do not bark in the night. We must find ways of recognising social workers, because they are doing one of the most difficult jobs there is. Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that it is important not to forget the less contentious areas of children’s services, I am going to concentrate on social services in my contribution to the debate.

My principle for children’s social services is to keep a child with their family where it is safe and in the interests of the child to do so, and to provide the family with the high-quality support that it needs to give the child a good life. But when you have to take a child into care, you must provide high-quality services to compensate for the effects of past experiences. Children’s brains develop in such a way that their personalities and behaviour reflect their experiences, including those that are no fault of their own. To do all this, you need information. You need to know which families have the risk factors, so that you can do preventive work, and which children are at risk, so that you can move in and protect them. That means that you need enough knowledgeable pairs of eyes and ears on the ground and you need good leadership; in other words, you need high standards of training for social workers and their managers, compliance with standards of conduct and manageable case loads.

The General Social Care Council has briefed us about its code of practice, which has been developed by experts. However, the council points out that, while compliance with the code is mandatory for employees, it is not a requirement for employers. If it were so, perhaps it would be easier to recruit and keep social workers. As the GSCC points out, putting the code of practice on a statutory footing for employers and within the Ofsted inspection framework—although there are doubts about Ofsted, as I hope we will debate before too long—would give employers more responsibility for raising standards and would improve leadership in the sector.

To give the Government their due, I was delighted to hear about the new leadership training for directors of children’s services led by the National College for School Leadership. I wish that well, because the college is a great facility, but I ask the Minister whether all directors will be expected to take this course in the fullness of time.

My noble friend Lady Sharp and others mentioned that recruitment is in a terrible state, with some authorities having a high percentage of vacancies. Of course we need bodies on the ground, because case loads are too high, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, pointed out, but I cannot believe that a Hungarian or even an Australian, New Zealand or American social worker, however well qualified, is the best person to understand the culture of inner-city Britain. We need to recruit and retain more of our own British social workers who understand our culture and we should support and pay them well.

Children and family social work is one of the most difficult jobs I can envisage in society today. The judgments that social workers have to make are crucial and difficult; they would give me many sleepless nights, I am sure. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, pointed out, there is a fine line between the right decision to leave a child with its mother in a home that is not satisfactory but not dangerous and the right decision to take a child away because the risks have exceeded what is acceptable. No one can really know the truth of what goes on in the minds of parents, boyfriends and lodgers, or what factors may arise that drive them to violence or murder. Social workers can only conscientiously gather information and use their good judgment and experience. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, said, they will never please everybody.

However, one thing is absolutely crucial: social workers must see the child and they must listen to the child. It is also a very good thing if appropriate people actually undress the child and check over their body for signs of abuse. Indeed, social workers must be trained both in how to listen to children and how to recognise, through what those children say and do, the signs of abuse. If that is neglected, disasters can happen. They must see the child and not be put off by excuses from the parents. Furthermore, teachers and health visitors should also listen to children carefully. I have been in the House a little longer than the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, but ever since the day I arrived I have been shouting for more health visitors, because I agree with her that they work right on the front line, provide a universal service and should stay with families at risk for much longer than they are allowed to at the moment.

To have the knowledge and confidence to do all the things that a social worker needs to do, good initial and ongoing education and training are vital. The first cohort to study for the new social work degree completed their courses in 2006 and the Government are currently examining how the qualification is working. How is this review progressing? Has it reached any initial conclusions? How are any lessons learnt to be fed into the system, and will there be a report to Parliament?

Advanced and ongoing training is also vital to keep social workers up to speed with the latest thinking and to maintain the standard of their practice. A range of new post-qualification awards were introduced in 2007, including one in working with children, young people and their families. It is important that enough social workers become specialists in this important area, but it costs money. Given the state of the finances of many local authorities at the moment, can the Minister say whether the funding for this work will be protected in any way? I know that there are difficulties during a recession, but this is absolutely vital and can save lives. I learnt recently that 6 per cent of local authority children’s services have already experienced an increase in demand because of the economic downturn, while a further 30 per cent anticipate a heavier workload. So there is already considerable pressure.

It was reported yesterday on the BBC that one in seven local councils is already cutting jobs, and the Government’s threats of capping are preventing them from raising the money that they need to keep up the level of services. I know that there is a quandary here, but we have to keep the interests of children right at the top of our agenda. At the same time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, mentioned, there are additional pressures on budgets for child protection since the case of Baby P. People are now being particularly cautious, even though the cost of taking a child protection order to court has risen dramatically of late. Indeed, before the Baby P case, many people were concerned that the number of cases being taken to court had fallen dramatically because of the high cost of court fees. That is surely not a coincidence. It is interesting to note that the number of cases has now risen since the sad case of Baby P hit the headlines. That must have an effect on the budgets of children’s services departments.

I return to training. Currently, there are no national standards for training in safeguarding and therefore a lack of consistency and focus. Are the Government planning to address this so that we can be confident about the qualifications and accreditation of individual social workers’ competence? In order to renew their registration every three years, social workers must provide evidence to the GSCC that they have met the training requirements set down in the registration rules. A review is currently going on into whether more formal requirements about the content of this training should be set down. Personally, I believe that they probably should be, but I would be interested in the opinion of the Minister, as well as in hearing from the GSCC about the results of its review. A number of individual local authority reviews are also going on, both internal and external. It is important that the lessons are learnt not just by those authorities but nationally. What plans do the Government have to ensure that that happens?

I shall now say something about nurture groups in schools and the work of another third sector organisation, Place to Be. These are not new organisations; the nurture groups have been going for 40 years and there is plenty of evidence of their success. Both organisations work in schools in different ways to tackle the effects on children of failures at home and failures of the system to help them earlier in their lives, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley.

Your Lordships may have seen the “Dispatches” programme on TV last week that showed the wonderful work of the nurture groups. There is hardly a school in the country that would not benefit from one or other of these organisations working in it, yet schools struggle to pay for them. Will the Government do something about that? The investment is very cost-effective. This work saves many thousands of pounds.

Crucially, these organisations work closely with the parents. It is easy to blame the parents, but many of them were not well parented themselves. They start off determined to do better for their children than their parents did for them, but they do not know how to because they have never had an example and so eventually they give up. I was most moved by a particular aspect of the “Dispatches” programme. One parent was given a little award by the nurture group because she had regularly come into school to liaise with it about her difficult child. She burst into tears because, she said, it was the first time she had ever been recognised as a success in anything at all. That image should inspire us to focus on the families. If we do not, we forget that, if we focus on a parent of a particular child in a school who is showing problems, we are benefiting the other children in that family and the children who may come along, possibly even by a different father but in the same difficult situation. If you focus on the families, you get real value for money and you are helping the children.

Early diagnosis is important, and the Government have concentrated on that, but we need action, not just activity, based on the understanding of child development and attachment theory. Nurture groups are doing that sort of work. If the Minister has not already looked into their work, I recommend that she does so.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a provider of services in adult care. I join all noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Shephard of Northwold on this most timely and important debate. She speaks with enormous knowledge and depth in all areas of education and social services, as do other noble Lords across the Chamber.

Noble Lords will have seen that this morning the BBC’s lead story was on disclosures by a social worker that more than 60 cases in Doncaster alone of children identified as at risk from abuse and neglect were awaiting allocated case workers. That is just one borough. How endemic is this problem going to prove to be? Why, after the lessons supposedly learnt after the tragic cases of Victoria Climbié and others, and in the light of the review and recommendations by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, are the Government still having to respond on the hoof? We cannot allow these tragedies to concentrate our minds only for the period during which they make news headlines, reviews are ordered and the Government make sweeping structural changes to departments without ensuring that the underlying issues are identified and treated.

As I sat listening to contributions from your Lordships’ Chamber, the passion, the anger and the need to get things right just rang out with every sentence. My noble friend has, in her unique and measured way, provided us with a debate that has raised some very difficult questions for the Government. They have to take responsibility and share some of the blame for failing to look not just at structural change but, more importantly, at organisational change, adequate leadership and appropriate training for staff at all tiers. My noble friend Lord Hanningfield hit the nail on the head following the widespread negative media coverage of social workers. Who would want to be a social worker?

While recent cases, and cases that have gone before, stir huge emotion among us all, my noble friend Lady Shephard and others have commented that Ofsted has reported a doubling in the numbers of local authorities failing to protect thousands of children at risk. In October last year the Audit Commission published a report that looked at the governance and resource management in children’s trusts. It found that the role of children’s trusts was unclear and confusing. One of the key findings was that many representatives on children’s trust boards lacked a mandate for committing their organisations’ resources and that systems for reporting back were rarely systematic. What action have the Government taken in view of the Audit Commission’s report and its findings and recommendations?

The Conservative Party’s Commission on Social Workers, convened by my honourable friend Tim Loughton in 2007, examined how social work could be strengthened and supported. The findings of the commission, published in the excellent report No More Blame Game in October 2007, was met with widespread approval from the sector.

Social workers spend at least 60 per cent to 70 per cent of their time on administrative work as opposed to client contact. Twenty years ago, only 30 per cent of a social worker’s time was spent on paperwork. Absence due to sickness is endemic within social services—approximately 15 days a year compared to teachers, who take approximately eight days a year. In 2005 around 11 per cent of field social worker posts were vacant, while 81 per cent of social workers said that workload and pressure had become worse than over the previous year. I could wheel out statistic after statistic—noble Lords have mentioned many here today—but beneath all the numbers and calculations lie the lives of vulnerable individuals whose start in life has been horrific and painful.

We on these Benches have been consistent in asking for urgent action to limit the caseloads of social workers and for more concerted efforts to be made to promote social work. My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth is right: retention is crucial for those in the service to be able to envisage long-term career development. He is right in wanting to see evaluation and review as essential elements in raising the standards of our services.

The large majority of social workers enter the profession wishing to help and support those most vulnerable in our society—of course, there may be the odd few that are bad. However, social care for all age groups has been seen as the poor relative of care compared to the NHS and healthcare, and has been funded accordingly.

One of the immediate failings in the Baby P case in Haringey was the lack of appropriate contact with Baby P. While over a period of time a number of people had seen the child, the follow-through—the line management support—was inadequate. The other services involved also failed to see that the overall performance of the department was falling very short of satisfactory, and yet Ofsted had provided the council with a three-star rating. What support is being given to those councils in England that were deemed inadequate at keeping children safe in making the appropriate urgent changes needed? Is the Minister satisfied that those councils that have received three-star ratings will be revisited if the Government feel unsatisfied with the council’s overall performance? Will she also comment on the large volume of agency workers used within the sector and the impact on the quality of service provision? I am sure that she is aware that 5 per cent of local authority budgets—around £110 million—was spent on agency workers in 2006. That rose to 10 per cent of the budget in London.

My honourable friend Michael Gove rightly says that the public are tired of hearing that “the correct procedures have been followed” when a child dies in agony at the hands of parents or other adults. The public are both astonished and outraged that a director of children’s services can say, after the death of a child, that in the light of the good performance a scrutiny review would not be beneficial or add value to the service. The public are rightly insistent that we act swiftly and comprehensively to hold all those responsible to account and make the necessary changes to improve child protection across the country. Can the Minister say whether the findings in the serious case review of Baby P and others will be made publicly available?

My noble friend Lady Bottomley referred to the importance of health visitors. Does the Minister agree that until the huge shortage of health visitors is addressed, it adds to the deficiencies of the service provided in the sector? What are the Government doing to keep their pledge of ensuring that all children have an allocated health visitor?

It has been a great privilege to have contributed to this very important debate. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the concerns raised and recommendations made may help improve a sector that is there to protect our most vulnerable citizens. I suspect that it is a topic for another day, but the difficulties and concerns are equally shared in adult services, where we address the most vulnerable at the other end of the age scale.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, raised a number of important points that were constructive and helpful. I hope that the Government will examine her suggestions more closely, particularly those on how we elevate the position and perception of social workers and their work.

Will the Minister now agree to support our calls for offering much greater assistance at the front line of social services to ensure that adequate training, and time and line management are available to all field and front-line staff? What consideration are the Government giving to the size of children’s services departments and the number of children for which those departments are responsible?

My noble friend Lady Perry rightly addressed education through the reorganisation of the services and the department. My noble friend is right that the culture and language of social services and education are completely different. Communication has become more difficult, not easier. While the main body of my speech has covered social services, my noble friend expertly highlighted a number of important points I would have wanted to expand on had time permitted. I refer particularly to the point about an inspection being an inspection—thorough and face to face, rather than a tick-box exercise.

In her passionate and graphic way, my noble friend Lady Bottomley supported the experiences described by my noble friend Lady Perry, which brought home the difficulties and dangers facing social workers. I am so pleased that my noble friend is supporting our call for a chief social worker.

My noble friend Lord Harris of Peckham has to be congratulated on the enormous success of his academies, where there is shared belief partnered with discipline, order and commitment by all involved in raising standards. Where services integrate successfully, children are confident and will thrive.

Following consultation with Conservative councillors in Conservative-run councils, my honourable friend Michael Gove has asked that the director of children’s services be different from the person chairing the local safeguarding board. Will the Minister ask all children’s services departments to follow the Conservative Party’s lead, a move supported by the noble Lord, Lord Laming?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on securing this debate. This could not be more timely for the House; it has been extremely thought-provoking. I have listened carefully and found every contribution to be very important. I will read the debate again and think carefully about everything that noble Lords have said. I will make sure that I go through the contributions systematically, and where I have not picked up a point I will write to noble Lords and circulate those letters to those who have taken part in this debate.

It almost goes without saying that recent tragic events have brought children’s services to everyone’s attention. It is a characteristic of this House that we are able to have an intelligent and thoughtful debate that will help us to move forward and learn lessons. It is right that failings in children’s services should be brought to public attention. As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, the public are concerned about this, as are we. Of course, publicity seems only to attend bad news; the work that children’s services do day in, day out, year in, year out, can go unacknowledged, but not in this House.

I believe that services are improving. I hope to explain what has been happening in the work of the Government in recent years and what is still being done to improve further services for children. Because children’s services are at the heart of the Government’s agenda, I will take a few moments to go through some of the important achievements.

Spending on children’s social care has increased by 90 per cent in real terms between 1997-98 and 2008-09, while total funding per pupil has increased by 97 per cent. More than 1.3 million childcare places have been created, there is a free entitlement to early education for three and four year-olds, and more than 3,000 children’s centres and 14,000 extended schools are in place. Teacher numbers have increased by 40,000 and those for teaching assistants by 100,000.

Last year, 107,000 more pupils left primary school secure in English and maths than in 1997. While today’s GCSE results show a further increase in the number of pupils achieving five or more good grades including English and maths, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, described eloquently how many schools are outstanding in their progress.

In 1997, more than half of all secondary schools were below our benchmark of at least 30 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, including English and maths—that is more than 1,600 schools. Today that figure is down to less than a fifth of all secondary schools—around 475. That is important progress.

We are investing £430 million to improve the lives of disabled children, something this House cares passionately about. We are investing more than £200 million to transform youth facilities and £235 million in new and improved play spaces, something I had the privilege of launching before Christmas. This is the biggest ever investment in play—an unsung transformation around the country.

Teenage pregnancies have fallen to their lowest level for more than 20 years, and 600,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty.

We have begun to transform the care system; we in this House played our part through the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, which finished its proceedings just before Christmas. We introduced the first Children’s Commissioner for England to champion the rights of the country’s 11 million children and young people. Only this week we published the New Opportunities White Paper, which sets out a new package of support to help all children reach their potential. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, on her appointment to the panel on fair access to the professions announced in the White Paper. We have heard yet more today about how professions need to be developed, and I will come to that.

It is more than five years since we published Every Child Matters following the inquiry into the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. As the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, said, we benefited at the time from a significant all-party consensus on the right way to go. I start here because the Every Child Matters reform programme provided the framework for looking holistically at children’s well-being. That framework means that we are in the position today to have a holistic debate on children’s services—not just on education or children’s social services, but on children’s services altogether. These reforms have been significant. According to both the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and the joint chief inspectors, they have significantly strengthened the framework for children’s services. It is important that we take account of that. Across the country, much good, innovative work is being done to keep children safe and ensure that they are healthy, do well at school and are able to make a positive contribution to their communities, as codified often in Every Child Matters outcomes. For example, South Hunsley School in east Yorkshire is open from 7 am to 10 pm on weekdays and from 7 am to 5 pm at weekends, providing a range of activities for children as well as courses for parents and year-round community access. It is a universal service promoting access to targeted services for individual children. Our 2007 Children’s Plan set out a vision for continuous improvement of children’s services and the children’s workforce, and for a world-class education system for all over the next 10 years. Our progress report in December set out significant progress over the first year of our Children’s Plan and our priorities for the coming year.

We have heard concerns raised today by many Peers about the performance of local authorities. In the annual performance assessment of each local authority’s children’s services, published in December, more than 70 per cent of all councils were judged to be good or outstanding in their contribution to improving services for children and young people. We can be proud of that, but it is nothing less than we should expect. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, that too many councils were judged to be inadequate in key areas. Eight were judged to be inadequate in their services to keep children and young people safe, while four were judged to be inadequate overall for children’s services. While it is possible to interpret the figures as going up and down, it is clear that we cannot put up with that kind of poor performance and need to see improvement. We are taking action and, yes, there is activity, too—activity and action are linked. We are making interventions. It is important that we are able to act decisively and swiftly to ensure that children and young people are properly safeguarded. During the last five years, we have intervened in more than 12 councils. We are not afraid to step in and take direct action when there is a clear need, but we must not overstep that mark and go in too soon.

Clear need was identified in the case of Haringey, as it has been in Doncaster and Surrey. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, raised her concerns about Doncaster. As she knows, we are concerned about Doncaster and have already initiated a diagnostic review. My right honourable friend the Children’s Minister has sent in a diagnostic team. Following the review, she and Ministers in our department will consider what steps need to be taken. The noble Baroness asked about the publication of serious case reviews. In line with government statutory guidance, Haringey published an executive summary of the serious case review. The full overview report and other associated documents are not required to be published, as doing so would be likely to compromise the very purpose of the serious case review. They would not attract the full, open and honest participation of individuals within relevant agencies and lessons would be less likely to be learned. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has already written to the Secretary of State to make clear his view that the published summary of a serious case review has to be a good representation of it. That is an important point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked expressly about concerns over Surrey. Following a joint area review, we have issued Surrey County Council with an improvement notice, setting out the targets for improvement that we expect it to meet. This includes a series of targets for the most vulnerable, including those with SEN.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, spoke about a perceived loss of focus on child protection and asked about guidance in particular. Working Together and other guidance such as What to Do if You’re Worried a Child is Being Abused are very clear about the processes to protect children from harm. It is right that immediate action to protect children should be taken when needed, but also that children’s needs can be identified in circumstances prior to their being exposed to the risk of significant harm, which the current assessment framework and guidance do. As noble Lords are well aware, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, is looking at the barriers to good safeguarding practice in the production of his report. I do not want to second-guess what he will say, but I am sure that questions about paperwork and the use of the ISA will be looked at.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly reminded us of the need to listen to the child. I fully recognise the importance of seeing and listening to the child. That is why government guidance states clearly that safeguarding should be child-centred and that a child’s reasons, perceptions, wishes and feelings should be ascertained and taken into account, with nothing less being acceptable.

Many references have been made to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. It is right that we look at the situation nationally as well as at significant local concerns. Local safeguarding boards in particular have an important role in ensuring that children and young people are properly protected. As we have heard, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, is producing a report on progress and considering the operation of local safeguarding children boards, including the governance, accountability arrangements and the independence of LSCB chairs, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, was concerned. The report will consider also whether statutory guidance needs to be revised. The noble Lord is also looking at what more can be done to improve the quality, consistency and impact of serious case reviews. I hope that we can maintain the important cross-party consensus that was initiated all those years ago after the tragic death of Victoria Climbié when we consider the outcomes of his report.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, talked about the need for review. The Laming report announced on 12 November will assess progress made with implementing the reforms introduced following his original inquiry. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, explained, the Children Act 2004 is very much a part of that. We expect to receive the report by the end of February. I am sure that noble Lords will want to discuss and review it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and a number of other Peers spoke about Ofsted and the importance of a robust inspection regime, which is of course crucial. From April, a new comprehensive area assessment will be introduced with two main changes regarding children’s services. The first is a three-yearly programme of inspections, led by Ofsted, focusing on children’s safeguarding and services for looked-after children. However, there will also be an unannounced annual inspection by Ofsted of each local authority to assess front-line social care practice; that front-line practice is something that has come out of this debate. This will inform the annual CAA report and it means that in future annual assessments will no longer be purely desk based, as was the case with Ofsted’s annual performance assessments up to 2008, and will involve direct inspection. There will be no paper exercises or hiding behind data, which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, was so concerned about. Ofsted will go and look for itself, and it will be unannounced. I hope that the noble Baroness will be reassured at least in part by that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, was concerned whether Ofsted has the right skills, given its new role inspecting children’s services. I remind the House that Ofsted has expertise across its range, in education and childcare, social care and adult skills. When it took on children’s social care in 2007, 269 social care inspectors transferred from the Commission for Social Care Inspection, along with other professional staff. Just as services for children must work together, so it is right to have a single inspectorate that looks across children’s services. Ofsted is the Every Child Matters inspectorate now. The recent inspection of Haringey shows its expertise in social care. The inspection report was incisive, clearly pointing out what needed to be done. The inspection was carried out by highly experienced professionals who are experts in their field.

The noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, was concerned about the numbers. The difference between the statistics cited by Ofsted and our department is caused, as she suspected, by definitions. Ofsted’s figures include cases of children dying from causes such as anorexia nervosa or suicide, or where local authorities and local safeguarding children boards have concluded that abuse or neglect were not the main cause. Ofsted’s data capture all these cases, including where causes of death are yet to be determined. It is absolutely important, as other noble Lords have stressed, that we have the right evidence base.

Local authorities have the main responsibility for children’s services, working with their partners in children’s trusts. This is a key area of discussion. We intend to legislate further to put children’s trusts on a stronger footing by including maintained schools, academies, sixth forms, further education colleges and Jobcentre Plus as relevant partners to the children’s trusts. I am sure that we will debate that in future sessions. Children’s trusts are a very important way in which to draw in health, as many noble Lords have identified; the role of health visitors is key in this.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Verma and Lady Shephard, referred to the Audit Commission report. The headlines did not properly reflect what the report actually said. It said clearly that partnership working was improved and that local agencies were aligning their resources better. We have made a lot of progress since the field work was done a year ago and have taken steps.

My noble friend Lady Massey talked about the importance of tackling youth crime through effective partnership and by working with different agencies. The youth offending teams are key parts of the children’s trusts. They supervise young people who have offended and ensure that they have access to the services that they need to prevent reoffending. We see this as extremely important work—and I would wish to talk for much longer on that point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred to the increase in care applications. We are monitoring that very carefully; in fact, I met with the MoJ only this week to look at that.

I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and many others have welcomed the publication of the Government’s 2020 Children and Young People’s Workforce Strategy. We see this as absolutely crucial, as we need to support the work of social workers. As many noble Lords have identified, there are key concerns; we are putting in £73 million over the next three years for better training, professional development and support for recruitment and retention, which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, stressed again is so important. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that we need to put on record again our support for social workers.

I have come to the end of my time. I wish to stress again that this has been a very helpful debate. I look forward to working with noble Lords to take the debate further in a considered, intelligent and systematic way.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have so expertly contributed to the debate today. It has been an example of the House working at its best. Colleagues have approached the subject from different perspectives, but the degree of consensus has been remarkable. With respect, I suggest that the Minister has not addressed that consensual view in her characteristically full and sincere response. That view, as expressed today, is that it would be timely now to review the principle behind the Children Act 2004—the principle that merging social and education services would be in the best interests of all children. I believe that the view today, as put forward by noble Lords, has been that we should have another look at that. I hope that the Minister might accept the view of her colleagues from all parties in the House today. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Transport: Infrastructure

Statement

My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport on the Government’s plans for transport infrastructure.

“Effective transport links are vital to our economic competitiveness and our daily lives. Britain's prosperity is increasingly defined by the quality of its links to other great trading nations, by the way in which we move people and goods around the country, and by our ability to meet the needs of businesses for gateways to the global economy and to enable people to see their families and friends and to go on holiday.

As the economic downturn demonstrates, we live in a global age. It is critical that government make the tough choices necessary to deliver long-term prosperity to the United Kingdom, but in a way that meets our environmental objectives. It is in this context of sustainable economic growth that I want to set out a package of transport investments to prepare us for an ever more global and mobile world.

Over the past decade, we have delivered £150 billion investment in transport—more than £13 billion alone this year—and have announced that we will bring forward an extra £1 billion to stimulate the economy by accelerating our plans to cut congestion and significantly increase rail capacity. Over this current three-year period we are spending around £40 billion, ensuring that investment on transport is at its highest level as a proportion of national income for 30 years.

I should first like to update the House on our plans for road and rail infrastructure, and for carbon dioxide emissions from transport before turning to aviation, and in particular Heathrow. I am placing in the Libraries of both Houses relevant papers setting out the proposals in more detail. Copies will be available in the Vote Office at the conclusion of my Statement and on the department's website.

Motorways are essential for enabling people and goods to move around the country. Successful trials on the M42 have enabled us safely to open up motorway hard shoulders in peak periods, delivering more reliable journey times and adding a third more capacity at peak times, all delivered at a lower cost than a more conventional road-widening scheme. After further detailed work, I can announce today a programme of up to £6 billion, which includes applying these techniques to some of the most congested parts of the M1, M25, M6, M62, the M3 and M4 approaching London, and the motorways around Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. This is the first step in our strategy to provide for managed motorways across the core of the motorway network, linking our major cities over the next 10 to 15 years, and reducing congestion with fewer environmental impacts than with conventional widening.

On the railways, we are already investing £10 billion over the next five years to add capacity while improving reliability and safety.  However, given the time it takes to plan and build new rail infrastructure, we need to look well beyond 2014. Electrification is advantageous on heavily used parts of the rail network. Electric trains are lighter, accelerate faster, are quieter and emit less carbon dioxide.  We are well advanced in procuring replacement trains for the intercity routes, but before we finalise our plans, we need to decide whether new parts of the network should be electrified. Initial work suggests that the case for electrification appears strongest on the most heavily used parts of the Great Western main line from Paddington and the Midland main line north of Bedford. Alongside the work on our new intercity trains, we will analyse the value for money, affordability and financing options of the electrification proposals that Network Rail will put to me shortly. I intend to make a further Statement later this year.

Because of the need to plan for the long term, I can also announce that I am today forming a new company—High Speed Two—to consider the case for new high-speed rail services from London to Scotland. As a first stage, we have asked the company to develop a proposal for an entirely new line between London and the West Midlands, which would enable faster journeys to other destinations in the north of England and Scotland using both existing lines and a new high-speed rail network.

Our experience with Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link has demonstrated that advance detailed planning is required to progress such major infrastructure schemes.  The purpose of the new company will be to advise Ministers on the feasibility and credibility of a new line with specific route options and financing proposals. Sir David Rowlands will chair the company in the interim. I see a strong case for this new line approaching London via a Heathrow international hub station on the Great Western line to provide a direct four-way interchange between the airport, the new north-south line, existing Great Western rail services and Crossrail into the centre of London. My intention is that by the end of this year the company will have advised us on the most promising route or routes, with their individual costs and benefits.

In the 2003 air transport White Paper, the Government set out their support in principle for a third runway at Heathrow Airport, support that was conditional on any development meeting strict local environmental conditions. Heathrow Airport supports more than 100,000 British jobs.  A third runway is forecast to create up to 8,000 new on-site jobs by 2030 and will provide further employment benefits to the surrounding area. Its construction alone would provide up to 60,000 jobs.

More significantly for businesses across the United Kingdom, Heathrow is our only hub airport; it is our most important international gateway. It serves destinations that none of our other airports serves, and it provides more frequent services to key international destinations such as Mumbai and Beijing.  It connects us to the growth markets of the future essential for every great trading nation.  In doing so, it benefits every region of Britain.

Heathrow is now operating at around 99 per cent of its maximum capacity, leading to delays and constraints on future economic growth.  Heathrow is already losing ground to international hub airports in other competitor countries.  This makes the UK a progressively less attractive place for mobile international businesses. Delays damage the efficiency of the airport, but they also cause unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions as up to four stacks of aircraft circle London waiting to land. The Government remain convinced, therefore, that additional capacity at Heathrow is critical to this country’s long-term economic prosperity. We consulted in November 2007 on three options for providing additional capacity and on whether the environmental conditions could be met. We received nearly 70,000 replies.  I have now considered the responses and reached my conclusions.

Two of the options would use the existing runways for both arrivals and take-offs, known as mixed mode. This would improve resilience, reduce delays and has the potential to provide early additional capacity. It is clear from the consultation, however, that residents under the flight paths greatly value the present alternation of runway operations at around 3 pm, which gives them respite from overhead aircraft noise for at least eight hours each day. Having carefully considered the evidence, including from the consultation, I have decided not to proceed with mixed mode.   I have also decided to extend the benefits of runway alternation to those affected by aircraft taking off and landing when the wind is blowing from the east.  I will therefore end the Cranford agreement, which generally prohibits easterly take-offs on the northern runway.  This will benefit the residents of Windsor and others to the west of the airport and Hatton and North Feltham to the east. I support the continuation of the other operating procedures as set out in the consultation.

This leaves the question of a third runway. Let me first explain my conclusions in the light of the conditions on noise, air quality and surface access set out in the 2003 White Paper. In 1974, some 2 million people around Heathrow were affected by average levels of noise at or above 57 decibels. By 2002, that number had reduced to 258,000 people as the result of significant improvements in aircraft technology. In the White Paper, the Government committed not to enlarge the area within which average noise exceeded 57 decibels. In the light of all the evidence, including from the consultation, I have decided that this condition can be met, even with a third runway. Indeed, because newer aircraft are quieter, the number of people within the 57 decibel contour by 2020 is expected to fall by a further 15,000 from 2002, even with more aircraft movements in 2020. The number of people affected by higher levels of noise is expected to fall even more significantly; for example, a 68 per cent reduction—more than 20,000 fewer people—in those affected by noise averaging 66 decibels and above.

On air quality, the Government are committed to meeting our EU obligations. The relevant pollutant at Heathrow is nitrogen dioxide, for which the EU has set a 2010 target of an annual average of no more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre. As with most other major European economies, the UK does not yet fully comply with this limit, largely as a result of emissions from motor vehicles.  The area around Heathrow is by no means the worst example in the country, and the limit is currently exceeded in a number of places in the UK, in most cases by more than near Heathrow.  Meeting EU air quality targets is an issue that must be addressed across the UK, not simply around Heathrow Airport. The European Commission has agreed that member states could be allowed an extension to 2015, if member states can show that they have plans in place to meet the targets. This presents a significant challenge, but I am committed to supporting the actions, mainly in relation to motor vehicle emissions, necessary to achieve it. Immediately around Heathrow, action will be necessary to ensure that we meet the air quality limits by 2015. Our forecasts predict that, in any event, we will be meeting the limits by 2020 even with airport expansion.

Normally these decisions would be taken on the basis of forward projections and modelling. To reinforce our commitments on noise and air quality, I have decided, however, that additional flights could be allowed only when the independent Civil Aviation Authority is satisfied, first, that the noise and air quality conditions have already been met—the air quality limit is already statutory, and we will also give the noise limits legal force—and, secondly, that any additional capacity will not compromise the legal air quality and noise limits. We will give the CAA a new statutory environmental duty to ensure that it acts in the interests of the environment in addition to its existing obligations and duties and that it follows guidance from me, my right honourable friend the Environment Secretary and the Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

Moreover, in the event that air quality or noise limits were breached, the independent regulators will have a legal duty and the necessary powers to take action, or require others to take the action, needed to come back into compliance. In the case of noise, this would be for the CAA. In the case of air quality, where emissions from roads and rail around Heathrow also need to be considered, the Environment Agency will act as the enforcement body with appropriate guidance from Ministers.

The third local condition for expansion for Heathrow was the provision of adequate public transport. Major improvements in rail access have already been announced, including increases in capacity on the Piccadilly line and the introduction of Crossrail services from 2017. This will provide a maximum capacity of 6,000 passengers per hour, which will be able to accommodate the estimated demand for rail access to a three-runway airport.

The Government also welcome the lead being taken by BAA to promote the Airtrack project providing direct rail access to the airport at Terminal 5 from the south and west. The department will work with BAA and Network Rail to consider this and other schemes to improve connections from Heathrow to places such as Waterloo and Guildford, Reading and other stations on the Great Western main line.

Having considered all the evidence, I have decided that all three of the Government’s conditions for supporting a third runway at Heathrow can be met. I can therefore confirm that an additional terminal and the slightly longer runway proposed in the consultation are the best way to maximise the efficiency of a larger airport.

However, I want there to be a limit on the initial use of the third runway so that the increase in aircraft movements does not exceed 125,000 a year, rather than—at this stage—allowing the full additional 222,000 aircraft movements on which we consulted.

I have also decided that any additional capacity available on the third runway will, after consultation, be subject to a new “green slot” principle, to incentivise the use at Heathrow of the most modern aircraft, with further benefits for air quality and noise and, indeed, carbon dioxide emissions.

It is of course crucial for transport, including aviation, to play its full part in meeting our goal to limit carbon dioxide emissions. As a result of UK leadership on aviation emissions in particular, carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation were included in the EU 20 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target for 2020, agreed by the Prime Minister with other European leaders in December last year.

Under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, this reduction will occur whether or not Heathrow is expanded. With a fixed cap for aviation across Europe, doing nothing at Heathrow would allow extra capacity at other hub airports such as Frankfurt, Schipol and Charles de Gaulle. Doing nothing will damage our economy and have no impact on climate change.

The framework for reducing emissions across the EU covers international aviation and all sectors of each member state’s domestic economy. This includes emissions from domestic transport within the UK. The Government have already made clear that they will respond to the advice of the Committee on Climate Change on carbon budgets, taking into account aviation, and we will set our carbon budgets later this year.

These budgets will reflect the measures in the EU 2020 package, such as tough new limits on emissions from new cars. To reinforce the delivery of carbon dioxide savings, and to lay the ground for greater savings beyond 2020, I am announcing today funding of £250 million to promote the take-up, and commercialisation within the UK, of ultra low emission road vehicles. With road transport emissions so much greater than aviation’s, even a relatively modest take-up of electric vehicles beyond 2020 could, on its own, match all the additional carbon dioxide generated by the expansion of Heathrow.

But, action in relation to domestic transport is not sufficient. We need to take the same tough approach to aviation emissions as we are doing in relation to other transport emissions. So, having taken the lead in promoting the inclusion of aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the Government will be pressing hard for international aviation to be part of the global deal on climate change at Copenhagen later this year. I have asked the Committee on Climate Change to report back later this year on the best way in which such a deal for aviation could be structured.

I can announce my intention to promote an international agreement to secure the same kind of progressively stricter limits on carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft as are already in place for cars within the European Union. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has been in Tokyo this week setting out to a meeting of G7 Transport Ministers how this can be achieved.

But I want to go further. Work published by the aviation industry already illustrates how it could reduce UK emissions below 2005 levels by 2050. This could include the use of new technologies such as blended wings and through the sustainable introduction of renewable fuels. I can announce that we will establish a new target to get aviation emissions in 2050 below 2005 levels, and I have asked the Committee on Climate Change to advise on the best basis for its development. The Government will monitor carefully the emissions from aviation, with the help of the Committee on Climate Change.

Any future capacity increases at Heathrow, beyond the decision I have announced today, will be approved by the Government only after a review by the Committee on Climate Change in 2020 of whether we are on track to achieve the 2050 target that I have announced.

So we are effectively taking three steps to limit any increase in carbon dioxide emissions: first, we are limiting the initial extra capacity to around half of the original proposal; secondly, we intend that new slots at Heathrow will have to be green slots—only the cleanest planes would be allowed to use the new slots that will be made available—and, thirdly, we will establish a new target to limit aviation emissions in the UK to below 2005 levels by 2050. Taken together, this gives us the toughest climate change regime for aviation of any country in the world, which gives Ministers the confidence that we will achieve our 80 per cent emissions reduction target. In addition, we will make it one of our highest priorities to secure international agreement on measures to reduce aviation emissions.

The airport clearly needs new capacity as soon as possible so as to reduce delays and improve resilience. Since I am not willing to allow the two existing runways to operate on mixed mode, I anticipate that the airport operator will bring forward a planning application for a new runway to be operational early in the period between 2015 and 2020, envisaged in the White Paper.

The parallel review of the economic regulation of airports is focusing on how best to improve the passenger experience and encourage investment. In the regulatory framework which results from this work, I expect the first call on new capacity to ensure that journeys are more reliable for existing passengers.  We will therefore have a better airport.

These announcements on transport infrastructure, on motorways, on railways, on Heathrow, and on carbon reductions from domestic transport show the Government taking the right decisions for the long term, delivering real help with job creation today, and creating real hope for Britain’s long-term growth prospects: real help in securing carbon reductions; real help for rail passengers; and real help in increasing the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy by creating excellent transport links to the global economy, ensuring this remains an attractive country in which to do business. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in the other House. I often agree with much of what he says, but I do not find much to agree with in this Statement. It seems that much of it is meant to cover the announcement of another runway at Heathrow. In view of everything he said, this is a very bleak day for the Government’s environmental credentials. It is a bleak day for the millions who opposed the Government’s plan to expand Heathrow, and a terrible day for the millions who live under the current flight path, and for those who will suffer from the new flight path and plans.

We have consistently been opposed to the third runway at Heathrow and feel that it will be an environmental disaster. We have consistently opposed the Government’s White Paper on aviation policy, which highlighted and promoted growth only in the south-east, and feel that it would have been better for regeneration and other things to have a more national aviation policy. As discussions in this House have shown, Heathrow needs reorganising, not another runway. We feel that the Government are—as will emerge over the next few weeks and months—on the wrong side of the argument over Heathrow, and increasingly on the wrong side of the environmental argument.

As for the Government’s assurances on the environment, there have been quite a few announcements recently. The House will need to analyse those issues and I hope we can debate them further. But the assurances lack credibility. I am interested in the idea of green planes and green slots but we have not seen them yet; perhaps the Minister can tell us more. The 2050 target is interesting but is rather a long way away. I do not know how many of us will see it happen. Perhaps he can explain the proposals a bit more. What will be the criteria for assessing whether planes are green and whether they can use these slots? There is also concern about a new runway that is only partially used. I cannot imagine a new runway that is only partially used. The Government are burdening the country’s children not only with the debt of this recession but with a climate change problem caused by Heathrow that this policy can only speed up.

The Minister also made an economic argument but that case also has not been properly put. There is very little evidence supporting the claim that people will not use Heathrow unless it expands. It is not logical. Perhaps the Government will explain it. What evidence is there to support increasing the number of runways or the argument on economic prosperity? Frankfurt has a bigger airport than London but London is a far bigger financial centre. The Statement says a lot about increasing the number of jobs. We all want that to happen immediately but, with the planning process, those jobs are many years away. It will not provide jobs now. Perhaps we can analyse that a bit more.

We are pleased with one of the Government’s changes of heart: their climbdown on the mixed mode. However, we are extremely cautious about how long the commitment will last. Perhaps the Minister will comment on it. Is it just a stay of execution? As noble Lords will recall, it was this House that, after some debate, persuaded the Government not to extend night flights over London. London is always cautious about increasing the number of flights, especially night flights.

The Government have missed an opportunity on high-speed rail. I know that the Minister is a rail enthusiast, and perhaps he has converted his colleagues in the other place—I do not know whether they were enthusiasts initially. The Government have not taken our advice. High-speed rail should be a green alternative to short-haul internal flights. It should not increase airport capacity but be an alternative to flying. If it were then we would welcome some of the Statement’s initiatives on high-speed rail. Perhaps he can expand on this issue. Perhaps the Government will acknowledge that it could be an alternative to short-haul flights.

We are not happy about how the consultation has been handled. On the second day of the Report stage on the then Planning Bill, the Minister said:

“The elephant in the Chamber is the Air Transport White Paper. That issue is giving rise to a good deal of concern and it might be helpful if I state categorically that we intend to produce a national policy statement which meets in full the policy and statutory requirements for national policy statement set out in the Bill. As part of that I can say categorically that we will consult again on the airports national policy statements in line with the Bill’s requirements”.—[Official Report, 10/11/08; col. 448.]

Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. The consultation on this process has not been adequate.

I was interested to hear that there are plans for motorway improvements, on which we agree, and an announcement on money. Will the Minister tell us the timeframe? Sometimes the money is announced but we are then told that it will be in 2025. There was no timeframe for this announcement but we would like to have one.

Under a future Conservative Government there would not be a third runway at Heathrow: it would not happen. It is clear that this Government have decided to abandon any claim they had to helping save the environment, even if this Prime Minister talks about saving the world. This new runway will undo any such claim he might make in the future. We are not happy at all with the Statement. I am sure that it will be a matter of debate many times in the coming weeks.

My Lords, I also thank the Minister for his Statement. We believe that this is a wrong decision and will do all in our power to reverse it, whatever that may take. It flies in the face of the Government’s commitment to climate change. We are anything but satisfied that the Emission Trading Scheme is a robust way of reducing emissions worldwide. While I note the Minister’s references to the Committee on Climate Change, I truly worry whether that committee can take decisions on an absolutely objective basis.

I ask the Minister to reconsider the logic of his arguments about a high-speed link that is targeted principally at Heathrow. The majority of those wanting to make intercity journeys in this country want to make them to and from London, not Heathrow. Improving the rail network so that journeys to London are faster will mean that far more people travel by rail instead of air—precisely the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, made. We want to get more people out of aeroplanes so that the available slots are used for the most necessary purposes. I ask the Minister to consider whether it is not premature to think about building a new link to Heathrow as the only connection between London and the cities of this country rather than expanding our existing rail network, which could be done far more cheaply.

Although I do not like using people’s names in the Chamber, I would ask the Minister what qualifications Sir David Rowlands has to lead a large engineering project. I looked at his CV in Who’s Who. He has pursued his entire career in the Civil Service. We would have expected the department to appoint a big-hitter with engineering experience—someone like John Armit, although I know that he is away now doing something else. However, it should be someone who is determined to drive the project through and with a track record of doing so. If the Minster looks carefully at Sir David’s past he will see that he has been concerned with the bureaucracy of a department, not with actually achieving anything.

The White Paper contains little commitment to any immediate improvement in railway services. Although it mentions studies into this and that and the possibility of something happening now, tomorrow or in 20 years’ time, the only substance is a mention of BAA working to bring forward the Airtrack scheme. That is not a major scheme. It is useful but could never be described as an excuse for going ahead with the proposals before us today.

I shall leave my remarks there except to ask the Minister whether there will be further opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of this decision. I believe that this decision would be robustly rejected by the whole House.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their responses. On the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about parliamentary debate, that is, of course, a matter for the usual channels. However, I personally would welcome a debate on the proposals that we have announced this afternoon and the opportunity to explain and debate them more fully. I would also welcome the opportunity to get into the detail of the announcement and, if I may say so, because we do things more gently in this Chamber, to test some of the rather strong claims that have been made against the actual facts that may or may not underpin them.

The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is a fair minded man and I think that he would accept—how can I put this delicately?—that his party’s policy on this issue has not been entirely consistent. This lock, stock and barrel opposition to Heathrow expansion in any form, which is now the policy that he has been required to enunciate from the Conservative Front Bench, is not the policy that his party has consistently followed in the past. Indeed, I seem to recall that when the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, was Transport Secretary—he is in his place—he said that airport expansion in the south-east of England might well be necessary, for precisely the economic reasons that we set out in the Statement. Therefore, a debate might help to bring out—how can I put it?—the diversity of views held on this matter within the parties as well as between them.

The noble Lord said that the announcements other than on aviation were “cover”—I think that that was the word he used—for the announcements. He then went on to say that he knew that I had been a strong proponent of rail investment and change. I can tell him and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that these announcements are not cover; they are absolutely sincere and serious proposals.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has misunderstood the proposal in respect of the high-speed line. It is for the development of a plan for a high-speed line from London to the West Midlands. We have asked the new company, which Sir David Rowlands will chair—I will come to Sir David in a moment, because I believe that the noble Lord’s remarks about him were very unfair—to develop the plan for that line, which will include an option for an interchange station also serving Heathrow, the Great Western main line and Crossrail. But the noble Lord is absolutely right that the principal market for any such line will be London to the West Midlands.

However, being a believer in integrated transport policy—it is something that I have believed in for many decades, as has the noble Lord, but which has been too often wanting in the past—surely the noble Lord agrees that it is sensible for us to plan our next generation of rail infrastructure in hand with our next generation of airport infrastructure. The great bane of transport planning in the post-war decades was the failure to integrate planning effectively. After all, for the first period of its existence, until the Piccadilly line was extended much later, Heathrow had no rail links whatever. I say to the noble Lord, who I thought was a proponent of integrated transport policy, that it ill behoves him to come to the House this afternoon to condemn what could be the most forward-looking exercise in integrated transport policy that we have seen in this country in recent times.

As for Sir David Rowlands, I think that the noble Lord has misunderstood the nature of the company in the first instance. There is nothing to engineer until you have a plan. What we are doing in respect of the north-south high-speed line is precisely what happened in respect of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link on the one hand and Crossrail on the other: we are establishing a small company at the outset to develop the plan for the line, after which the Government will need to take a decision about whether to proceed. At that point, of course, it becomes a major engineering project. But there is no major engineering project until you have the detailed route plan and environmental assessments in order to take it forward. Sir David Rowlands is eminently suited to chairing a company to produce the plan for the high-speed line. He is not only a former—and very effective—Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, but was head of its rail division for a long period and was the official who, more than any other official in government, saw the Channel Tunnel Rail Link through from design to completion. I see the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, nodding, so I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on those comments. Generally speaking in my experience of politics, when people are doing things with which you basically agree, it is a good idea to say so. The noble Lord and I basically agree on these rail projects. It would be good if we were able to voice our agreement.

In respect of the aviation points that have been made, there was a lot of hyperbole and not enough facts underpinning it. The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, said that this was a bleak day for those near Heathrow. I should point out that a considerable number of those near Heathrow work at Heathrow and have a significant personal interest in its success. Something like one in 10 people in work in the London Borough of Hounslow works at Heathrow. Therefore, I think that individuals will have very different views depending on their perspective.

However, we have stood robustly behind the commitments that we gave in respect of air quality, noise and local public transport access, and we have added to those commitments, on which we have consulted, new commitments in respect of climate change, which will further enhance the capacity of Heathrow to expand without unacceptable environmental effects.

I should have thought that the noble Lord might have welcomed those additional steps that we have taken in respect of climate change. They are not pie in the sky. The target of 2050 for reducing aviation emissions below their current level is one that the Sustainable Aviation initiative—the group that brings together all the key players in the aviation industry—believes is achievable. If we can generate the next generation of planes in as efficient a manner as each successive generation has been achieved so far, the next generation of planes alone will be up to 40 per cent more fuel efficient than the present generation. The current generation of jets is about 70 per cent more fuel efficient than the jets of 40 years ago.

Therefore, it is not pie in the sky to believe that, with a will and the right incentives, including the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the other measures that I set out in the Statement, we can over the medium to long term get emissions below their current level. Of course, in the short term they will rise, though proportionately much less than the increase in flights. However, the Emissions Trading Scheme is designed to cope with precisely that eventuality. There is no point in having traded emissions if you do not allow people to trade emissions. The whole basis of the scheme is that increased emissions from the aviation sector will be traded with decreased emissions elsewhere in the economy.

Like the noble Lord, I end on a slightly grand note. I believe that this is a very good day for the country’s transport infrastructure—not only for the capacity of Heathrow to meet the social and economic needs of the country, but for integrated transport planning—and an excellent day for the future of our railways.

My Lords, as someone with an interest in the future of Heathrow, I strongly welcome the third runway and, above all, the proposed link to the railway system. The Minister will know that I wrote to the Secretary of State two or three years ago saying that this was crucial if we were to get in line with our European competitors whose hub airports are integrated into rail and road. Will he reconsider one area of mixed mode? I understand why the current decision has been made, but without some degree of mixed mode, even if it is flexible for certain areas, you will not be able to prevent stacking over London, which is particularly bad for the environment. It will also be very difficult to deal with delays, which damage Heathrow’s reputation. This is a difficult area. I am not necessarily asking for an answer right now, simply that he takes this away and further considers whether there can be some flexibility to prevent stacking and delays. That is very important in the context of mixed mode.

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s support for the main elements of today’s announcement. He is right about the importance of linking the development of rail infrastructure with air infrastructure. At the moment, about 24 per cent of passengers arrive or leave Heathrow by rail. The comparative figures are about 27 per cent at Frankfurt, 35 per cent at Schiphol and 40 per cent at Oslo’s major airport. We believe that it is possible to get that proportion up higher still with the measures that I set out, including the existing expansion that is taking place in capacity on the Piccadilly line, which we should welcome. I understand the point that my noble friend makes about mixed mode, but my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made his decision in respect of mixed mode and will not be revisiting it. The points that my noble friend made about stacking are precisely parts of the argument for building the third runway sooner rather than later. The Statement made it clear that, if the relevant planning processes are satisfied, we envisage it being possible for the new runway to come into operation in the early part of the period 2015 to 2020. That is the best long-term way to deal with the congestion issues that my noble friend raised.

My Lords, I start by declaring an interest in that I believe that I was the last Conservative Transport Secretary who reported to Parliament on a review of airport capacity in London and the south-east. When we undertook that survey, we did not grasp the nettle of the third runway at Heathrow, although as the Minister made clear I did say that it was an issue that would have to be revisited, for all the arguments that he has deployed today, which were the same arguments as we had. I commend him for grasping that nettle, but I do so in the context of the comment made by my noble friend Lord Hanningfield. Those of us who offer support do so conditionally on the Government being serious about the environmental framework within which any third runway is built. That is extremely important and should not be offered, either to Parliament or to the nation, as a sop to cover a transport initiative.

Just before I left my post as Secretary of State, I initiated an inquiry into whether it would be possible to have a rail line that linked Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick with intersections with the M25, so that there could be off-site car parking and delivery, thereby reducing the overall environmental pressure at Heathrow. I left before that report was produced. Clearly, none of my successors at this point has looked at it or resurrected it, but I recommend that the Minister does so, because there is more railway interaction with airfields and airports that could be of benefit not only to the travelling public but to the environment.

Finally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that I had the pleasure and the privilege of working with David Rowlands, who offered distinguished service to our Government, as he has to this Government. I would deprecate any attempt to suggest that he was not an appropriate person to head this review.

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s comments, not only in respect of Heathrow, which made it clear that there is a diversity of opinions on this issue. If I may put it again gently, those who actually have responsibility for the national well-being may sometimes take a different position from that taken by those who feel that they have to make shorter-term political points. The noble Lord is now an elder statesman and has no responsibility to persuade anyone of the need to vote for him in the short term, so his judgment is probably better than anyone’s in the House. Those who have responsibility for these issues have tended to come down in favour of expansion, with appropriate safeguards in respect of environmental considerations, particularly for those near the airport, to meet the economic and social needs of the country, and the noble Lord set out why.

I also greatly appreciate the noble Lord’s comments about Sir David Rowlands, who is a very distinguished public servant. I cannot think of anyone more suitable for taking forward this project or who would give me as a Minister more confidence that the work will be done well and will give us a basis on which to make a good decision afterwards.

The noble Lord said that it is important that our commitments in respect of CO2 are real. The EU Emissions Trading Scheme is for real. Under the scheme, aviation emissions cannot increase from 97 per cent of average 2004-06 levels in 2012 and 95 per cent in 2013 without our trading carbon savings elsewhere. The European Commission has forecast that this will lead to an EU-wide carbon saving of 194 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020. That was the EU Emissions Trading Scheme that Her Majesty’s Government played a critical role in bringing into being. There are other issues that I mentioned in respect of green slots, the next generation of lower-carbon aeroplanes and the international emissions standard, which we will be pressing in respect of new planes, just as happened with the standard recently agreed for new cars, to further limit emissions in the generation ahead. For all those reasons, it is absolutely credible that we can during the period to 2050 get carbon emissions from aviation below their current level, even allowing for the expansion of aviation, which is manifestly to the benefit of our economy and society.

My Lords, is it not clear that the Opposition had absolutely nothing to say about the three European airports mentioned by my noble friend? They had nothing to say about jobs in or around Heathrow Airport. They had nothing to say about the new generation of aircraft that are coming on line. Are these not highly relevant as far as the issue that we are considering is concerned? Has not the expansion that is envisaged by the Government regarding high-speed rail networks and road networks been advocated by BALPA and me over many years? Is that not relevant to this issue as well?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right about the importance of jobs and looking at wider international experience in respect of aviation. I have always regarded it as a good maxim of public policy that, when our major European partners are conducting major policy initiatives, we should at least take serious note; we may not agree with them, but we should at least take serious note. That has been a significant factor in my own thinking on high-speed rail. There was a lot of scepticism about high-speed rail when the Japanese first started their bullet trains in the 1960s. I remember that people thought that it might be suitable for Japan but would not be suitable for us. Now that most other major European countries are building or have completed high-speed rail networks, it is clearly sensible for us to look at extending our high-speed network beyond the short stretch that we have from London to the Channel Tunnel.

My noble friend is also right in stressing the importance of looking at the experience of other major European countries in respect of aviation. Frankfurt has three runways and is currently building a fourth. Frankfurt serves 262 international destinations, against only 180 for Heathrow at the moment. Schiphol has five runways and Charles de Gaulle has four runways. Munich, which is the second airport in Germany, has two runways and is planning a third. It now serves more destinations—244—than London Heathrow. Those must be relevant factors in our decision. Noble Lords may choose to reject them, but it is not right to fail to address them squarely, as I believe we all have a responsibility to do.

My Lords, on the subject of motorways, I am surprised that the trials on the M42 were successful. Can the Minister say how often the hard shoulder was already occupied by stationary vehicles during the trial? My second question is about the railways. I welcome the glimmer of hope for a high-speed line leading ultimately, perhaps, to Scotland. Will the Minister reconsider how far the initial part of the line should go? I strongly recommend that for credibility in Scotland it is necessary that the railway be planned to go to Preston. North of Preston, the west coast main line is less used than it is down south.

My Lords, I note the noble Earl’s comments on the first stage of any high-speed line. In fact, the most congested part by far of the west coast main line is south of Rugby. Being able to significantly improve that line would have a hugely positive impact for all destinations further north. However, I appreciate the noble Earl’s concern that we build it to reach as far as possible towards Scotland. I would only point out that with the high-speed line that we are talking about, it will be possible to run high-speed services to destinations significantly beyond, with commensurate time savings. It will be possible to have significant time savings to destinations in Scotland. I know that to the Scots that will be a very attractive feature of the scheme.

I was very careful in the Statement to talk about the first stage. As with other countries that have developed high-speed networks, one would hope that one stage will lead to another. We have High Speed 1 and we have just created a company called High Speed 2. I can tell the House that the Government have also taken over new company names and lodged with Companies House the names High Speed 3, 4, 5 and further large numbers. That may be of some comfort to the noble Earl.

Regarding the hard-shoulder running pilot on the M42, the best way of dealing with his question would be if he and I went together on the M42 to see it at first hand. He would then understand that the points he has raised have been entirely met. The area where the hard shoulder has been opened for running in periods of congestion, which is most peak periods, is only opened after the cameras which monitor the motorway through a control centre have cleared the hard shoulder as being safe to open, so that there are no vehicles on it. There are also regular refuges in lay-bys along the route, whereby cars that need to leave the motorway, including those that are running on the hard shoulder as a running lane, can do so easily and safely. Because the lay-bys are monitored from a control centre, as soon as cars pull into them, that is immediately noted by the control centre and assistance is offered, either by telephone from a helpline point at the lay-by, or, if necessary, a patrol car is sent out to help. The safety record of the part of the M42 that is subject to this managed motorway running is better than was previously the case there. Therefore, the scheme is a highly positive step forward which has been popular with motorists. It helps to reduce congestion and it has helped to improve safety levels.

My Lords, I have commented on my noble friend’s commitment to the railways, and I have commended him for it. I warmly welcome what he has said about railway electrification, the construction of High Speed 2 and the improvement of local access around Heathrow. I know that he has recently been to Japan, where he has seen the success of a high-speed railway there. Based on that experience and those in Germany, France, Italy and Spain, does he accept that for journeys of up to 400 miles or less than four hours, passengers prefer to take a reliable high-speed train than to fly? Would it not make more sense to build High Speed 2 first, rather than waiting until, perhaps, 2027, and then judge whether it is necessary to have a new runway at Heathrow?

My Lords, I take any comments from my noble friend very seriously, and I strongly welcome his comments in respect of the high-speed line. He is absolutely right that the experience of Japan and of our European partners is that for journeys of under about three hours, where there is a reliable and effective rail service, air traffic is substantially displaced. However, that does not meet the argument regarding Heathrow at all, because only a very small proportion of Heathrow flights are to domestic destinations. Only 3 per cent of flights to and from Heathrow go to Manchester or Leeds, so the arguments that I have set out in favour of the expansion of Heathrow are not materially affected by the movement to rail of passengers using existing air traffic to Manchester or Leeds—although I would welcome any growth that rail could make in its market share as a result of a high-speed line. It would be possible to get a larger modal shift if there were to be substantial cuts in journey times to Scotland, but the traffic implications of that for Heathrow are very small and do not materially affect the judgments which have led us to believe that it is in the public interest that Heathrow should expand.

My Lords, regarding the railway aspects of the Statement, I declare an interest as an adviser to the Japan Central Railway Company and the Shinkansen system, and as one of the rather numerous ex-Secretaries of State for Transport under the Conservatives.

I am sure that the Minister appreciates, but will he ensure that High Speed 1 appreciates, that for this high-speed system to work, the tracks have to be completely and totally dedicated—that is, no level crossings, no other freight, no other users—and fully security protected? That is the only way that really effective high-speed systems will work, and their construction will produce enormous challenges, as I am sure he recognises. Among the options, will High Speed 1 look at the possibility of magnetic levitation—the maglev system—in line with the Yamanashi project now being developed and built in Japan between Tokyo and Osaka? He has probably seen the project. The amount of money involved is enormous but the speed is amazing and the environmental improvements huge.

Finally—this has already been mentioned by your Lordships—does the Minister accept that the joy of high-speed systems and the way in which they can defeat and eliminate all domestic air travel and, indeed, even air travel to continental links is if they go from city centre to city centre? There is no point in having any kind of diversion to other hubs in other areas; it is the easy access, city to city, that makes this kind of travel infinitely preferable over shorter hauls to trailing to an airport and airport travel.

My Lords, I was well aware of the noble Lord’s expertise and experience in this area. When I visited Japan, he was specifically mentioned to me by the chairman of the Japan Central Railway Company. I know that that company has greatly valued the advice provided to it by the noble Lord over a number of years.

I take note of the noble Lord’s points in respect of the design of high-speed lines, and I think that probably the best response I can give is that it would be extremely worth while if the noble Lord and Sir David Rowlands were to meet at an early date to discuss these issues.

Alas, when you compare different systems, not one single model becomes apparent. I know that some nations developing high-speed lines take it as an article of faith that there should be very few stations on those lines—only in city centres or close to cities. However, that is not the experience of Japan. On the Tokyo to Osaka line, which the noble Lord mentioned, there are frequent stations, and trains alternate. Some run almost non-stop and some stop at a large number of stations. Therefore, the question of whether to have intermediate stations, as, for example, we suggest might be possible for a line serving Heathrow, needs to be considered properly as part of the design work.

Of course, the more stations there are and the more complex the running requirements of the line, the greater the challenge in providing the high level of reliability of service that we wish to see. The Japanese have certainly shown how that can be done, with levels of reliability on their rail system which are truly mind-boggling. I know that Network Rail is keen to see what more it can do to learn from them.

I have to be frank with your Lordships and say that we are not attracted to the maglev system, although I noted the development taking place and the plan of the Japan Central Railway Company to build the maglev between Tokyo and Nagoya as the proposed first leg. However, the operating and building costs of the maglev are very high. By definition, it is not possible to integrate it with the existing high-speed line, and its carbon emissions are also extremely high—significantly higher than those of conventional high-speed rail lines. All those factors have meant that the Government do not wish to see a maglev proposal considered further.

Finance: Equitable Life

Statement

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement in response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report into the prudential regulation of the Equitable Life Assurance Society from 1988 to December 2001.

This is the ombudsman’s second report and was based on a four-year inquiry, and I would like to thank the ombudsman for her thorough and extensive consideration of all the issues involved. The Government have carefully considered this substantial report over some months, as it has raised complex and important issues.

We agree that there has been maladministration in particular areas and that government action is merited as a result.

As the ombudsman’s report sets out, Equitable Life is a mutual life insurance company whose policyholders share in the profits or losses of the business. Equitable had established a business which involved high volumes of policies with guaranteed annuity rates and a well advertised policy of distributing earnings as bonuses without building reserves for the future.

After market conditions changed and the level of liabilities rose significantly relative to its assets, Equitable Life attempted to resolve this through its differential terminal bonus policy. However when this was found unlawful by the House of Lords in 2000 and Equitable Life was unable to find a buyer to cover the additional liability of £1.5 billion, the society closed to new business in December 2000. As a result of these events many policyholders now hold policies worth significantly less than they had originally expected. Lord Penrose’s forensic report into all the events around Equitable Life concluded that the society’s own actions ultimately precipitated its financial difficulties in the summer of 2000. He said:

‘Principally, the Society was author of its own misfortunes. Regulatory system failures were secondary factors’.

In addition he found significant problems with the then regulatory regime, which was reactive and unintrusive. Since then we have introduced major regulatory reforms. But it is also right to look at the role of regulators within the regime that applied at the time. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has looked specifically at this issue, the role of the society and others being, of course, outside her remit. Her extensive report includes 10 findings of maladministration and five findings of injustice as a result.

The Government have considered the report in some detail. We have also considered the report of the parliamentary Select Committee on Public Administration published in December. We agree with the ombudsman that there was maladministration by public bodies in several areas. In particular, the Government agree that Equitable Life’s regulatory returns from 1990 to 1996 in some cases raised questions that should have been resolved by the public bodies but were not. In some cases, we recognise, this may have led to injustice for policyholders, although in several we believe it did not in the context of the different regulatory regime which applied at the time.

The Government also agree that the regulator should not have been satisfied that a reinsurance treaty entered into by Equitable Life justified the credit taken for it from 1998 to 2000. Equitable Life’s regulatory returns gave a materially different picture of the society’s regulatory solvency position because of the credit taken for the reinsurance treaty. We agree that certain statements made by the FSA after 2001 had the potential to mislead and may have caused injustice as a result. The detailed response to each finding and the reasons supporting these conclusions are set out in the Command Paper. The ombudsman’s report states:

‘I am very far from concluding that everyone who has complained to me about the prudential regulation of the Society has suffered a financial loss’.

Nevertheless it is clear that people have been affected and have experienced significant distress due to events at Equitable Life. I think that the whole House regrets the mismanagement of the society that caused problems. I apologise to policyholders on behalf of the public bodies and successive Governments responsible for the regulation of Equitable Life between 1990 and 2001 for the maladministration that we believe has taken place.

We also need to consider the fairest way to respond to policyholders now. We have looked in some detail at the ombudsman’s proposal for compensation. As the House will be aware, Parliament has recognised over many years that it is not generally appropriate for the taxpayer to pay compensation even when there is regulatory failure. The responsibility to minimise risks and to prevent problems occurring in a particular financial institution lies first and foremost with the people who own and run that institution.

The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 reaffirmed the long-standing exemption of financial regulators from liability for negligence in the courts. The ombudsman’s framework covering maladministration is of course different from the courts’ approach to negligence. Nevertheless, we believe that the underlying principle remains important; it has informed the approach of successive Governments and we believe that it should be sustained for the future. It would have serious repercussions for the taxpayer, for the relationship between Governments and financial markets, and for the nature of regulation were the taxpayer to provide a remedy for all losses every time the regulator failed to prevent a financial institution getting into trouble.

Nevertheless, we are concerned by the representations that we have received from Members of this House and others, both directly and through debates, that some policyholders have been disproportionately affected by the events at Equitable. It is on that basis that we believe that it is right in this case for the Government to set up an ex gratia payment scheme to help.

To do this in a fair way, there is a series of important issues that we need to take into account. In particular, we need to take account of the role and responsibility of Equitable Life and other parties. As the Public Administration Select Committee said in its report published in December:

‘The current board of Equitable Life and many others have acknowledged the legitimacy of Lord Penrose’s conclusion; few people dispute that its former management were primarily to blame’.

Even where there was maladministration, there was also a responsibility on the part of the society. Take, for example, the case of the reinsurance treaty. Although the FSA failed to follow up problems with the treaty, it was still the society’s decision to enter into the agreement in the first place and it was the society which had primary responsibility to ensure that the treaty operated in the way intended. The Select Committee also said:

‘The fairness of requiring taxpayers to compensate Equitable Life’s policy holders depends upon making sure that public funds do not pay for loss that is fairly attributable to the poor performance of the stock market or to the mismanagement of Equitable Life’s former directors that could not have been prevented by adequate regulation’.

Secondly, as the ombudsman herself has said, the Government also have a responsibility to taxpayers generally to balance competing demands on the public purse. Her report states:

‘I recognise that the public interest is a relevant consideration and that it is appropriate to consider the potential impact on the public purse of any payment of compensation in this case’.

It is important to note that neither the ombudsman nor the Government have been able to estimate the cost of her recommendation, as we do not have detailed information on the relative losses experienced by different groups of policyholders, nor on the factors affecting the losses of different groups.

Thirdly, we also want to focus on those who have been hardest hit. As the ombudsman herself has noted:

‘The particular circumstances of each complainant vary enormously—in terms of their age, their involvement with the Society, the amount that they claim to have lost as a result of that involvement, and the degree of reliance that they have now, or had in the past, on income derived from their investments in the Society’.

Fourthly, we need to take account of important practical considerations. Neither we nor the ombudsman currently have much of the important information or assessments that we need to implement a payment scheme. The ombudsman, commenting on her own proposals, said that,

‘the creation of such a scheme would not be straightforward by any means’.

We have considered all these points and we intend now to set up a scheme to make ex gratia payments to those who have been disproportionately affected. To do so, we have today asked Equitable Life to make available its detailed policyholder information. We have also asked the former Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal, the right honourable Sir John Chadwick, to look at the information and to advise us on the following points: first, the extent of relative losses suffered by Equitable Life policyholders; secondly, the proportion of those losses that should properly be attributed to the maladministration accepted by the Government and the actions of Equitable Life and others; thirdly, which classes of policyholder have suffered the greatest impact as a result of maladministration accepted by the Government; and, fourthly, the factors arising from this work that the Government might take into account when reaching a final view on determining whether a disproportionate impact has been suffered. Sir John’s terms of reference are published today.

The ombudsman recommended that a payment scheme should be completed two and a half years after the decision to pay out. The parliamentary Select Committee said that it could not assess whether that was viable, and certainly our initial assessment of the ombudsman’s approach is that it might have taken significantly longer than that to fully implement.

Many honourable Members have raised concerns about the length of time that policyholders have had to wait for a resolution of this case. Given that many have already retired, we believe that it is important to set up a scheme that can pay out as swiftly as possible, taking account of the difficult practical considerations involved. We have therefore asked Sir John to advise as quickly as he is able, including providing interim updates and conclusions on an ongoing basis, so that work can progress on the practical issues in parallel without waiting unnecessarily for all his work to be concluded. The Government will therefore introduce a fair payment scheme for policyholders who have suffered a disproportionate impact, with the benefit of Sir John’s advice and taking account of the position of the public finances as well as practical considerations.

For the reasons that I have explained, we do not believe that it would be right to set up a compensation scheme in the way that the ombudsman proposed, but we believe that this is the right response. I hope that the House will recognise that there is no easy solution to the problems of Equitable Life and the faults that were found.

The events of Equitable Life have been very difficult and complex, and have caused problems for policyholders across the country. Consideration of these events has already informed substantial regulatory reform since then, as well as wider reviews of corporate governance. Today’s response sets out plans for new help for policyholders, which we believe is fair to both policyholders and taxpayers and continues to support a sensible approach for the future. I commend it to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement that was made in another place, but I have to say that it is difficult to thank him for very much more than that. We should make no mistake about it: this is an inadequate Statement from a Government who have tried for years to avoid responsibility for the failures that occurred in Equitable Life. It falls far short of the ombudsman’s recommendation for a compensation scheme; it even falls short of the version being briefed to the press in the past few days; but it does not fall short of our expectations of this Government.

The Statement comes just one day short of eight months since the ombudsman reported last July. To say that the whole story of the Government’s response to Equitable Life was a tale of foot dragging would be a massive understatement. Since Lord Penrose reported, the Government have quoted like a mantra his finding which singled out Equitable Life for blame, which the Minister has done again today. Let me remind the House that Lord Penrose also concluded, although this was not the purpose of his report, that it was regulatory failure which allowed Equitable Life’s management to undermine the interests of members.

It took Herculean efforts by my honourable friend in another place, Mr Andrew Tyrie, to get the ombudsman to be allowed to look at the issues of regulatory failure. The Treasury tried to hide behind technicalities about jurisdiction. The terms of reference for the review did not come out until the end of 2004. The Treasury then started its campaign of information overload, which was successful in delaying the review’s completion. Eventually, by last July, it could delay the report no longer.

If there was ever a doubt about the value of the ombudsman’s work and the need to give that office wide powers, this case has provided all the evidence that is needed. The ombudsman did a splendid job in very difficult circumstances. As the Minister said, she made 10 determinations of maladministration and five findings of injustice. We wish to place on record our admiration for the work of the ombudsman.

It is all too clear why the Government have tried to avoid dealing with this. The findings of the ombudsman reflect directly on the regulatory competence of the bodies for which the Prime Minister was responsible when he was Chancellor. In particular, half the 10 findings of maladministration were laid at the door of the FSA, a body which was a pet project of the current Prime Minister and did not exist until after 1997.

In today’s Statement, the Government have said that it is not generally appropriate for the taxpayer to pay compensation even when there is regulatory failure. We are not talking about ordinary regulatory failure; we are talking about 10 findings of maladministration and five findings of injustice. The Government simply cannot hide behind a version of caveat emptor to avoid accepting the ombudsman’s clear findings. We have accepted her findings that there should be a compensation scheme. It is a pity that the Government cannot bring themselves to do so.

According to their Statement, the Government have accepted only three of the findings of maladministration, but they say nothing about the findings of injustice. We have had very little time to look at the command paper referred to in the Statement. But from a brief examination, it looks as if the Government are merely using this as a way of arguing against the ombudsman’s findings, even in those few cases where they appear to have accepted them. If the Government think that this has given them the last word on the subject, they will find that they are mistaken.

I have some questions for the Minister. The Statement talks about some form of proportionate liability with the Government paying out for only the amount attributable to maladministration. What is the purpose of this, other than to leave policyholders with no remedy or a reduced remedy? As I understand it, there is no spare money, no reserves, in Equitable Life available for any further claims. The organisation has already settled quite a large number of claims which have been pursued through other routes. Remaining funds are, in effect, allocated to policyholders. Is it not the case that the Government’s use of proportionate liability is nothing more than code for saying that Equitable Life members will not get compensation on the relative loss basis recommended by the ombudsman? Why have the Government not pursued the ombudsman’s recommendation that an independent scheme should be set up along the lines of a tribunal or an adjudication panel?

I do not doubt the competence and integrity of Sir John Chadwick, but he appears merely to have been an adviser to the Government. Are the Government saying that there will be no independent body in the sense put forward by the ombudsman involved at any stage? Will the advice given by Sir John Chadwick be made public? Will he seek evidence from interested parties? Will he have open hearings? How will his work be made public? The Government cannot expect policyholders to have confidence in outcomes if the work of Sir John is to be intermediated through the Treasury and not conducted in the public domain.

Compensation, according to the Statement, will get a double hit. The first comes from the proportionate liability route, but the Statement goes on to refer to finding out which classes of policyholder have suffered the greatest impact and talks in terms of setting up a hardship fund, the so-called “fair payment scheme”, which will apply only to those who have suffered a “disproportionate impact”. Will the Minister explain what these terms are intended to mean? How is “disproportionate impact” to be measured—relative to losses incurred on policies or relative to a policyholder’s financial circumstances? Do the Government intend to inquire into the personal circumstances of policyholders and use some form of means testing? The Government must have some ideas in this regard, having had so long to consider the ombudsman’s findings.

What will be done for those who have already died? The Equitable Members Action Group, which has worked so hard to keep the plight of the losses incurred by policyholders to the fore, estimates that 30,000 have already died and that at least 400 are dying each month. Will the estates of these people be given priority?

Lastly, I expect that the policyholders will not be happy with today’s Statement and will want to examine further ways of getting what they see as justice. Can the Minister give an absolute assurance that if payments are given on an ex gratia basis in due course, they will not come with strings attached, such as not supporting any other action around the ombudsman’s report?

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We on these Benches are pleased that the Government have accepted the principle, at least to a degree, of compensation from public funds for Equitable Life policyholders. However, I am afraid that that is far as I can go in keeping company with the Government in approving the approach they have adopted. On timings, why has it taken well over six months for the Government to do little more than accept a principle and appoint an adviser? Why could not this Statement have been made when Parliament resumed in October, or even before? When we briefly debated the issue a couple of months ago, the Minister replying at the time said that the Treasury had other priorities. But having read today’s announcement, it is clearly not the case that the entire Treasury—officials and Ministers—has been taken up in reaching such an incomplete conclusion. It is thus very difficult indeed to avoid the conclusion that the Government are stringing out the process to minimise the amount that they eventually have to pay out.

However, given where we are, have the Government given Sir John any indication of how long he might take? Have they specified when they would like to receive updates? If, when he starts looking at all the documentation, he finds it is extremely difficult and gets bogged down in it, what pressure will the Government seek to apply to try to ensure that months and months of silence do not pass as poor Sir John tries to deal with this issue? What resources has he been given to help him? Does he have a support team, and who are they? As the noble Baroness asked, what do the Government mean by “disproportionate impact”? Do they have a view on what proportion of Equitable Life policyholders might be included in that definition, and does that, by definition, mean that the bulk of policyholders who suffered equally will get nothing?

The Government say that, alongside Sir John’s advice, they will take account of the position of the public finances. We hope that the advice will be forthcoming in a matter of months rather than years. But the Government know about the position of the public finances—they are shot through. Why can they not make a Statement at this point about what the phrase means? Does it mean, in effect, that if at the time the finances are as bad as we expect them to be—and as the Government expect them to be—they could simply disregard all Sir John’s advice completely? It is advice and the Government have given no indication of whether they will accept it in whole or in part.

Why can the Government not set at least an indicative timetable for even initial payments? When the ombudsman originally reported, she said that the whole process should take two and a half years. The Government imply in their Statement that they do not want to follow the route she proposed because that would take too long. If that is the case, what view do they have about what would be an acceptable period? If they believe that we are talking about a matter of years rather than months before the whole process is completed, is there any reason why there cannot be an interim fast-track system of payments to start the process of meting out justice to those who have suffered—or are we going to find ourselves in the same situation as with the miners’ compensation scheme, where it takes decades to make payments and as a result, in many cases, justice is actually negated?

When this issue was raised earlier in your Lordships’ House I contrasted the lack of speed of payment in this case with the speed of payment of depositors in Icelandic banks. The Minister chided me, saying that that was an unfair comparison. I disagree. The truth is that if a Government want to act quickly, they can. If they had wanted to act quickly—or at least significantly more quickly than this, in the case of Equitable Life—they could have done so. They could now have started making payments, as the ombudsman suggested and believed was perfectly possible. The Government’s failure to do so and the further delays that today’s announcement will set in train simply demonstrate an unacceptable lack of urgency in dealing with a problem created, albeit in part, by regulatory failure.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has placed on record her admiration for the work of the Parliamentary Ombudsman. I support that. I note, however, that no apology has been forthcoming from the opposition Benches with regard to the maladministration that took place when they were in office, a serious omission which, I fear, was also the case in the other House.

The noble Baroness accuses me of repeating the “mantra” of Lord Penrose’s report. It is not a mantra but the core of his recommendation that Equitable Life’s problems were brought upon the society by its own board and management, that being a particularly interesting feature of a mutual. In many cases these policyholders were also the members or owners of the society. Penrose was right to identify that factor and to make it clear that regulatory failure was a secondary factor, while still an important one.

I reject the suggestion that we overloaded the ombudsman with information. Far be it from us to suggest that she would be capable of having her timetable so influenced. It seems to me that the quality and thoroughness of her report reflect the information that she received and the representations from many places, including from the Government, because there are many important public policy issues here that required recommendations.

We have accepted the findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman in a number of respects, and we have properly made an apology to the policyholders of Equitable where they suffered as a consequence of that maladministration. We have proposed the establishment of ex gratia payments—a model which, I may say, was also adopted in the case of Barlow Clowes when another Government were in office.

The use of proportionate liability and its relevance is a concept recognised by the ombudsman, who acknowledges that there are matters of public policy interest here. That is the point that I would refer to when responding to the good and balanced contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Newby. The Parliamentary Ombudsman made clear her view that public policy considerations had to be taken into account. I note that that view has also been strongly endorsed by the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, asked about Sir John Chadwick’s processes. Sir John is an eminent lawyer. His terms of reference do not limit his processes; they do not specify the manner in which he will work; they do not in any way limit the evidence that he may seek in the pursuit of his duties and responsibilities. If Sir John, of his own volition or in response to recommendations, decides that he wishes to issue public reports on an interim basis, or if he chooses to take evidence, that will be for him to determine and for him to report. In answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, we have said that Sir John should press on with this as quickly as possible.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord both asked about disproportionate ex gratia payments. This will be a matter on which we will seek to be advised and informed by Sir John, but we envisage that he will take into account the features of different policies. Holders of certain policies may well not have experienced as much damage as others. He will certainly take into account the contribution to any damage that was as a result of maladministration as opposed to any other circumstances, including investment market conditions. He will also, quite rightly, take into account the circumstances of policyholders. This is a matter on which we ask him to reflect; it is a matter on which we ask him to tender advice.

In response to another of the noble Baroness’s questions, it will be for Sir John to advise us whether any conditions should apply to the payment of ex gratia amounts. I note that conditions were applied in the case of Barlow Clowes.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked why this has taken such a long time. I understand his frustration, but these are extraordinarily complex issues. The commendable work of the ombudsman, which was endorsed by the noble Baroness, took four years. We took six months to consider her response. I think that that was an appropriate period, given the importance of the issues resolved. In so considering matters of this complexity with the care shown by officials and Ministers, we have managed to achieve a good position in which the apology that she sought has been tendered and the payment of ex gratia payments can be made. We are certainly not stringing this out; the language in the Command Paper indicates that Sir John has been asked to reply as quickly as possible. I am sure that he will ensure that he is appropriately resourced; I would not wish to see him in any way frustrated in that respect.

Whether an interim payment can be made is a matter on which we would seek Sir John’s advice. In another place, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury quite correctly drew attention to the possibility that the making of interim payments may lead to delays in final payments. That needs careful consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, made an observation about the Icelandic banks. The core difference is that the payment in that case was to protect against systemic risk, to ensure that we did not see the consequences of a complete collapse and failure of the banking system. Those steps were appropriate. I suggested earlier that there was a conflation of investment and depositors. The concepts are different, but the noble Lord was quite right to challenge me on the point. It is why one payment could be made swiftly and executed almost overnight. Here, we are looking at something which the Parliamentary Ombudsman has said will take two and half years using the model which she recommends, but about which the Public Administration Select Committee had some doubts.

I commend the Statement made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to the other place. I hope that I have answered the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, if not to their satisfaction then at least in terms of completeness.

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s Statement and declare a financial interest—I, possibly like others, have suffered a financial loss. Does my noble friend agree that, the House of Lords judgment notwithstanding, a mutual society cannot privilege one group of members over another, which is why so many of us were taken aback by that judgment? Will he also confirm that the Parliamentary Ombudsman could investigate only the conduct of government, as she made clear, and not the conduct of the society—unlike Penrose—and that there is therefore no way so far of estimating proportionate liability or for what fraction of loss government are responsible, hence the need for Sir John Chadwick’s inquiry? Will he confirm the distinction, therefore, that needs to be drawn between ex gratia and full compensation payments? Does my noble friend agree that, as the noble Baroness pointed out, just because the Government alone have financial resources, unlike Equitable Life, it does not necessarily mean that they should take full responsibility for all losses?

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, again evidences her accomplished grasp of these complex issues. I shall not be tempted to comment on the Hyman judgment or preferential treatment between one set of policyholders and another. However, I absolutely endorse the correctness of her observation that the Parliamentary Ombudsman was limited to a review of the performance of public bodies and therefore could not have done the further stage of work which Sir John Chadwick will now do; namely, to seek to allocate proportionately the contribution of various bodies to any loss suffered, which is quite right and proper. Anything short of that would be an extraordinary abuse of the public purse, which is acknowledged by many, including the Member of Parliament for Tatton in another place.

My Lords, I should declare an interest as a former reinsurance broker and that I am now the honorary president of a medium-sized firm of reinsurance brokers, who are not, however, specialised in this sector. In that capacity, I ask the Minister to say a little more about the circumstances surrounding the reinsurance treaty, which does not appear to have performed satisfactorily. This factor was mentioned twice in Her Majesty's Government’s Statement.

I cannot pretend to have followed this saga with the attention that it may have deserved, but I think this is the first time that I have heard of a reinsurance treaty playing a part—perhaps a major part—in this unfortunate case. The simple question is why this treaty did not perform. If the noble Lord does not have the details at his fingertips, could he write to me? I am sure that his answers would be valuable to the whole sector.

My Lords, as with the noble Lord, I also have some experience of reinsurance, having been involved in establishing a reinsurance company in 2001, which subsequently went on to be listed on the New York stock exchange. I believe that this was in nature a time and distance policy, which did not involve appropriate risk transfer. As such, it failed to perform the purpose that was expected or claimed to be covered by the policy.

While not in any way wishing not to write to the noble Lord on this subject, he may find it helpful to read Lord Penrose’s report. It is a lengthy document that goes into this matter—finding 6 under the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report—in excruciating detail.

Local Government: Traffic Regulation

Debate

Moved By

To call attention to the practices of local authorities in setting parking and traffic regimes, in levying penalties for violations and in the enforcement of those penalties; and to move for papers.

My Lords, I must declare some interests. In the part of the motorist, I am a trustee of the Motorists Legal Challenge Fund and chairman of the London Motorists Action Group. As an impartial chairman, I chair the Enforcement Law Reform Group and, in the part of local authorities and the civil enforcement industry generally, I chair the Civil Enforcement Awards. So I have experience of looking at this matter from all sides.

This is a matter of great importance to us. Dealing with local authority parking regimes and their enforcement is one of the main ways in which citizens come up against local authorities and enforcement generally. Whether that is done in a way that makes us all happier and increases our sense of fairness and well-being or whether it is done unfairly, with an attitude to revenue that was shared by the Sheriff of Nottingham, matters a great deal to us.

The legislation was well intentioned when we passed it. Looking back at what we sought to achieve when we set up this regime, I believe that we were very much focused on the proper use of the streets, the fair apportionment of that benefit between the various users of the streets, and safety—those sort of attitudes. I do not think that money came into it, but money has come into it in a very big way over the past 20 years or so, to the point where it has come to dominate the thinking of many councils. The reason why it has come to be so prominent is that the Government over that time have failed to use their powers to curb the growth of that influence and to bring practice back to where it should have been.

In some parts of this country, there is, relatively speaking, no problem. Essex springs to mind—I wonder why—as does Manchester. There are some councils with seriously good practices, but there are many that do not have them. There is a basic principle here, set out in regulation, that the civil enforcement of parking and traffic regulations should not be run with a view to profit, but no mechanism was set up to enforce that rule and the Government have made no effort to enforce it. The result is that many councils have allowed their thinking to become dominated by money.

I think that the worst example must be Camden, where the whole regime and tenor of enforcement have been designed to raise money. The council currently makes a profit equivalent to a 25 per cent increase in council tax and puts tens of thousands of its residents into the tender care of bailiffs every year. That is an outrageous denial of the intention of the law. The council is acting immorally against the social interests of its area and against our intentions when we passed the legislation.

Many other councils have been corrupted to a lesser degree. Were Westminster to look back at its practice four or five years ago, it would recognise that many things that it was doing were governed by a desire to raise funds. It has improved a great deal since then. I particularly welcome its decision to use bailiffs as little as possible. It has abolished clamping and done many other worthwhile things, although one could look at the decision to introduce mobile telephone-only parking systems as being driven more to protect and increase revenue than to be convenient for its citizens.

The Mayor of London has sent me a programme of changes that he wants to make to the previous rapacious regime. He is considering issuing warning notices rather than penalties. That “Don’t do it again, please” attitude is wonderful. It is producing a human relationship between the local authority and the people with whom it is dealing. There will be a system where you can register to pay the congestion charge automatically; all you need to do is put your details online and then you need no longer worry whether you have remembered to pay by 10 o’clock. The previous regime, certainly to begin with, was aimed at raising as much money as possible by fines. There are many other things that the Mayor of London is setting out to do, and I welcome them, although he has a way to go. Last year, 140,000 tickets were issued by the mayor in respect of loading bays. Traffic wardens are waiting for three minutes to see whether a commercial van is actually loading or unloading, when the allowance in legislation is 20 minutes. The mayor is moving in the right direction, but the authority has a long way to go.

The fundamental cause of this problem is lack of government oversight. The rules are there, but the Government need to do something to make local authorities pay attention to them. All they need to do is give the district auditor an instruction that it is his responsibility to look at this. Then the public would have someone to complain to, councils would have someone to beware of and we would see things moving in the right direction.

The worst examples of the influence of money amount to theft, if we define theft as taking what is not yours and keeping it. Many councils make honest mistakes in their signage—the way in which they sign cameras or design yellow box junctions. After a process in the court or in negotiation with the Department for Transport, they are brought to recognise that what they have been doing is illegal. They are faced with a situation in which they have extracted fines from tens of thousands of motorists, many of them their own residents, illegally.

In commercial life, if a clearing bank were found to have charged too much for letters telling customers that they had gone into overdraft, you would expect such an institution to pay that money back without question and to seek out the people whom it had extracted money from and pay it back to them. Councils up and down the land do not do this. There are some that do. I offer bouquets to Sheffield, South Tyneside, Sandwell and other councils that recognise that, where they have got things wrong, they should pay the money back. However, many others do not. They hang on to that money. Indeed, Haringey has gone as far as to have a vote. The members of the council voted to keep money that they know is not theirs as if they were not told when they were young that theft was not the thing to do. So corrupted have they become in public office that they think that theft is the right thing to do as a councillor. That is not how things should go on.

The system continues because the public have no way of doing anything about it. No public authority or body will accept a complaint about this. You can go to the courts only in respect of your own ticket. The council just repays the money, so it does not owe you any more. The police, the Local Government Ombudsman and the district auditor will not accept an objection. We have tried immensely hard to get people to deal with this, to bring councils to book and to end this practice. Even government ministers have proved unhelpful.

The appeals system is another area corrupted by money. It was designed to deal with a low level of appeals. When the system was set up, we did not imagine that there would be the volume of appeals that we have now, so perhaps it was not set up with the care and attention to detail that it deserved. The structure is not independent; it is funded and managed by councils—the councils that the appeals system is making judgments on. There is no balance in the relationship between motorist and council regarding appeals. Motorists face a doubling of the payment if they lose an appeal, whereas the council suffers no penalty.

The appeals system is not allowed to pay any attention to common sense. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, lost a famous judicial review when the High Court ruled that adjudicators were not allowed to pay attention to common-sense arguments and were restricted to narrow grounds of appeal. When councils serially misbehave and keep appealing on the same point, which keeps being overruled by the adjudicator, the adjudicator can do nothing about it. He cannot set precedents. Perhaps a court that low should not be allowed to set a precedent, but it should be allowed to do something to deter councils from serially abusing the system. Abuse is what it has become.

Councils rely on the disincentive that motorists face—the time involved in an appeal and the doubling of the penalty if they lose. Motorists just shrug their shoulders and pay the fine, even if they find it unjust, and leave it at that. Councils have not been taking their duty to review properly the representations made by motorists and to make sure that the system is fair. We need a way to redress that.

It is not just I who feels this way. I have an excellent quotation from the British Parking Association, which is as concerned as I am about the proper working of the system. It says:

“The BPA seeks a PCN defined by Statute plus bilateral proportionality”—

that means equal penalties on both sides—

“with Adjudication services as a mechanism for effective communication to establish ‘benchmark’ decisions which will enable fairer parking enforcement. Rationalisation in rules and regulation, consistency in the meaning of signage and disregard for trivial deviation by everyone will also support fairer parking control”.

The industry wants it and the motorist wants it; it is only the Government who are turning a deaf ear to this.

We should move to a system of adjudication where there is a proper tribunal for which the scales are level and which is the guardian of common sense and, indeed, of government guidance. The Government issue guidance to local authorities on what they should do. One of their clearest bits of guidance is that cameras should not be used to enforce parking regulations, except where it is dangerous for wardens to operate. There are 150 cameras, mostly in quiet streets in Westminster, and the Government have done nothing about them. If it were possible for such matters to be taken into account by the adjudicators, such drifts from the proper practice could be brought up.

While we are hoping for a system that I suspect is some years away, we now have a system that should be enforced. We have a clear system of regulation of lines and signs, which are meant to make it possible for motorists to know what rules apply to them in any instance. However, the system is in chaos. Local authorities have widely disregarded it. The concept of controlled parking zones, which were meant to apply to a single street, has been stretched for miles. Travelling around London, you are meant to know from a sign stuck at the side of the road somewhere that you are moving from one borough to another and the rules have been changed. But the signs are not right anyway. I do not believe that a single CPZ in the whole of Westminster is properly signed. The concept needs radical review.

Still, while that is the law, it should be enforced. The Government have the power, under Section 70 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, to enforce these regulations and ensure that local authorities are properly signed and, if they are not, to go in, change the signage and bill the local authority. Have they taken any such action? No.

As I said, legislation came with good intentions. There was in the making of it a failure of prediction. Well, even economists fail to predict sometimes, and 20 years is a long time ahead. Things have gone wrong and abuses have grown up. The Government have had the power to do something about them but have done nothing. We need a simple system of bringing accountability to local authorities—not major changes, just little things that would allow the balance to be reset and the direction of travel to be reversed.

I think back to when I was young and we could sing happy songs about “Lovely Rita meter maid”. That may not be impossible in the future. I gave an award to Tunbridge Wells last year for its work in training and improving the role of traffic wardens, which is heading in exactly the right direction. Many of the things that Boris is doing in London have that trend, too, but to be effective and to get where they should they need government support and action. That is what I am looking for. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for initiating the debate. I shall deal with the issue under two headings: first, the difficulties facing all road users who want to park, especially in London; secondly, the difficulties facing disabled people with blue badges.

There are two general problems. First, particularly in London, where the boroughs are so close, parking controls vary from one borough to another. It is simply not possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, to know in which borough one is. People are not as conscious of boroughs as are local councillors, who are attuned to elections and so on. Those who are not local councillors are not aware that they have moved from one borough to another and the control system has changed.

Secondly, there is very poor signage of what is required of people when they want to park. It is sometimes simply not possible to discover what the control is for a particular bit of road. One can walk or drive around to see what it might be. My plea, which runs through a lot of what I want to say, is that there should be proper signage so that motorists can know what the rules are. Of course, the problems in London are much starker because it is all too common for those of us who drive to move from one borough to another.

I shall outline one or two difficulties. The new system of having to use mobile phones to park has difficulties, particularly for those who do not have mobiles or who are deaf and cannot easily manage them out in the street. I am not clear what the position is on yellow lines. I understand that the only way to know about them is to look at the parking meter hours and, outside those hours, one can park on a yellow line. However, residents’ parking may be controlled differently and extend longer than the parking meter hours. In parts of Westminster, I think that the parking meters stop at 1.30 pm on a Saturday, but the residents’ parking goes on until 10 pm. The yellow lines are okay to park on from 1.30 pm, so it is confusing. I have had people come to me and ask, “Are we allowed to park here?”. I am not an official; I just happen to live, when I am in London, down a particular road in Westminster so I tell them what the parking situation is there. It should not be up to me; there should be proper signs. The situation is even more confusing as regards double yellow lines.

Parking meter hours vary from borough to borough but they also vary within a borough, sometimes from street to street. So, again, one has to stop and see whether one is controlled by the parking meter or whether one is able to park there anyway. In some instances the residents’ spaces are available for people who also pay; in others they are not. In some the bay changes from one to another without a perceptible difference so that one thinks that one is in a resident’s bay when one is actually in a parking bay.

There is a further difficulty that varies from borough to borough. If one happens to need a plumber or a builder to do work in one’s home, in some boroughs one can get a parking permit for that. In Westminster, one cannot, so it is very hard to get a plumber or a builder because they do not like being there as they know they will have either to move their car at intervals when the meter warden comes, or they will have to pay a fine from the money that I pay them for doing the plumbing or building work. The situation is a bit of a shambles, frankly, but I do not think that it would be difficult to straighten out.

As regards the difficulties facing blue badge holders who need to drive from one borough to another, I was totally baffled about the rules but I discovered a very helpful booklet, Blue Badge Parking Guide for London, published by the PIE Guide organisation, which helpfully sent me a copy of the London and national guides, which I received this morning. They are jolly useful but I wonder how many people know about them. It is not appropriate to ask noble Lords to put their hands up, but I bet that very few people know these things exist. They are a mine of useful information but you cannot expect everybody with a blue badge to have the guide by them all the time, even if they know it exists, and to work accordingly. However, I commend the guides to all blue badge holders, especially in London where they are certainly invaluable.

The headings on the front of the London guide cover hospital parking, accessible toilets, location and duration of stay for all blue badge bays and a clear guide to parking rules for all London boroughs. These are invaluable bits of information which I had no idea was publicly available until I received the guide this morning. The PIE Guide shows four types of blue badge parking bays: unlimited ones; ones with a three-hour control; ones with a four-hour limit or the rather vague ones which state “Please check signs locally”. Again, variations occur across and sometimes within boroughs; for example, where there are disabled bays only, where there are pay and display bays permitted for disabled people, resident bays which disabled people can use, and where there are single yellow and double yellow lines. Four boroughs, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden and the City, differ from the rest of London, and it is extremely confusing, particularly as many people may want to park or move about in those areas.

A couple of years ago I wrote to Ken Livingstone when he was mayor. He agreed with me about the confusion across the four boroughs. His reply stated:

“However, to change this either requires the boroughs themselves to adopt this policy—

the policy being to have a uniform system—

“or legislation to be passed. In this respect the Government is critical to delivering these much-needed changes. I am aware that the Mobility and Inclusion Unit of the Department for Transport is currently co-ordinating an investigation into this matter, which I hope will result in the necessary changes being made”.

I appreciate that there are other difficulties with blue badges such as the amount of fraud in connection with them, and that there have to be tight controls. I am not arguing against that. But sometimes wardens can be a little insensitive. For example, I was told that a person wanted to take a blue badge holder to hospital by car. He stopped the car, went into the house to collect the blue badge holder, who needed help, and by the time they got out of the house he had received a ticket. The council concerned refused to accept that the penalty did not have to be paid. That was not a particularly sensitive way of approaching things and such conduct leads to ill feeling. It seems very unfair, when someone can demonstrate that they have a blue badge and they were getting it out of the house at the time, that the penalty was imposed only a couple of minutes or so later.

The issue arises not just in London, although the difficulties are more acute there. Even in other local authorities, for example, where there are local authority car parks, it is not possible to know whether a disabled bay is the only one that a blue badge holder can use, or whether a blue badge holder can use another bay without paying, or whether they are simply treated as though they did not have a blue badge in the other bays. It means that one has to stop, inquire and find out. Sometimes the signs are clear and sometimes they are not clear.

I make a plea that the four London boroughs could co-ordinate with the other boroughs so that there is a uniform system. I see the noble Baroness shaking her head; she has experience of this that we will hear about later on. It is extremely difficult. If the four inner London boroughs say that they are under more pressure for parking, at least those four could have a co-ordinated system. My main plea is on behalf of blue badge users. It really is very difficult for them to know what the system is. It could be made clearer. For example, the PIE Guide, which helpfully indicates the length of time that a blue badge user can stay at a particular place, shows that within yards there are unlimited parking zones, three-hour parking controls and four-hour parking controls. It is very difficult. One does not know what they are, and they are not always indicated clearly.

The other difficulty that I want to mention is hospital parking. If the blue badge parking bay is a three-hour or four-hour bay, that is normally fine, if one leaves a disabled person at a hospital, but the outpatient clinic may last longer than four hours and therefore they incur a penalty. It is jolly difficult and it is confusing. I make a plea on behalf of blue badge users that the system be clarified; it would be fair to them and make a lot of sense.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for initiating this debate and for enabling us to debate issues which, while not exactly on the top of everyone’s agenda of very important things to discuss, nevertheless form a kind of daily backdrop while people are trying to go about their business. It is certainly something that leads to high levels of irritation and anger.

I was thinking the other day about when I was a child in the early 1960s, and I remember the excitement when someone in our street got a car. They were the first person in our street to have a car, and it was unusual then. I gather that there were about 9 million cars on the road in the early 1960s; 40 years later there were 32 million cars on the road, and the number is higher today. Managing that sort of demand and the conflict between different groups—residents and commuters, shoppers and delivery vehicles, workers looking for long-term parking and shoppers who want to be somewhere for a short period of time, people who are on foot, and so on—is a job that falls to local authorities. It is not easy.

As a member of a highway authority for 14 years, and as chair of the Local Government Association transport committee, one of the things that I learnt is that, of all the tools available to a local authority, parking policy is by far the most effective way of managing traffic and doing something to resolve these conflicts. There are all sorts of reasons why a local authority will put parking restrictions in place; perhaps to keep traffic flowing smoothly, to manage the amount of traffic that comes into an area, to reduce safety hazards and obstructions, to deal with issues where people cannot park close to their own home unless a zone is in force. They are not supposed to use on-street parking as a way of raising revenue. However, it is interesting because, despite the anger of the noble Lord, I am not sure why we should see it as robbery to charge for a rare commodity. We charge for all sorts of things, and there is a legitimate debate to be had about charging for parking.

I feel very strongly that there is not a role for central government in micromanaging the way in which local authorities either use parking as a tool for traffic management or the way that they go about their business; that way madness lies. However, the noble Lord is right to say that the legislation is far too complex. Councils have to provide their own documentation to comply with the law. The noble Lord talked about one side of the coin, which is the very real anger and distress felt by motorists who are caught out by unfair practices, but it works both ways. A lot of people create sometimes dangerous situations through parking badly, and they get out of the fines that they should pay by the use of technicalities, “appeal busters” and people like that. I urge the Government that, for both sides of the argument, it is essential that they look at stripping out unnecessary legislation to make the law easier for people to understand and easier for councils to enforce.

Issues of enforcement cause the real anger. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, talk about a blue badge holder. We have all heard the stories about hearses, milk floats and dustcarts being ticketed. You shake your head and ask how on earth these stupid things can happen. Local authorities have told me that where stories are in the press about this sort of thing, they are usually followed by an increase in incidents of aggression toward the enforcement officers. There is an effect.

One aspect of this is the law of unintended consequences. Enforcing on-street parking used to be the responsibility of police and traffic wardens, and off-street parking was managed by local authorities. Since the 1991 Act, some 200 councils have taken on powers to take over enforcement. There are merits in one body enforcing on and off-road parking, not least that fines are kept locally and do not get sent off to the Chancellor. However, parking enforcement, like most other local authority services, was outsourced as part of the compulsory competitive tendering drive introduced by the Conservative Administration. I do not intend to enter into a debate about the pros and cons of outsourcing, but what is clear is that when you outsource, performance management of contracts is more complex in some areas than in others.

When there is a tender for, say, emptying the bins, it is relatively straightforward. Councils will set clear targets as part of the contract—percentages of bins emptied on a certain day, cleanliness of streets and so on. However, when you outsource parking enforcement, it is not so simple. How do you measure success? In the early days, the most commonly used method was pretty crude. You simply got brownie points for issuing tickets. That led to a culture of issuing tickets no matter how absurd and distressing it could be. Employees were sometimes incentivised to do that. All the opprobrium rightly fell onto the heads of the local council, and the contracting company had no stake in being reasonable.

I am glad to say that we have moved on since then. The British Parking Association has developed a model contract which measures success against a range of indicators, rather than on the crude number of tickets issued. Success is largely based on outcomes; for example, how high is compliance? How does the department feel about extending that approach to a national framework for enforcement? There is no doubt that good local authorities view enforcement in a positive light as part of the bigger picture, and guide contractors accordingly.

For example, Transport for London last year suspended enforcement at a number of locations where the level of violations was high, to determine why this was the case. Quite often it was due to unclear signage and road markings. I agree with the noble Lord that it is essential that there should be a fair deal between motorists and local authorities so that people who deliberately transgress are punished but most people have a fair deal and understand exactly what is required of them.

A further issue concerns me. I suppose that I am asking noble Lords’ indulgence, because this is a personal issue, but it demonstrates a greater problem. I refer to the use of bailiffs by outside agencies and the way in which they go about collecting money. When I moved to a property in north London some 18 months ago, along with the property I inherited the parking fines of the previous occupant. Even in these benighted times, people regularly move house. However, the two local authorities and Transport for London, which were imposing the fines, were quite unable to deal with the fact that someone had moved house and had not said where they had gone. It took me a total of 18 months to resolve the issue in a saga of lost documentation, phone calls, prevarication and being pushed around. I could bore your Lordships with it for hours but I will not.

The final straw came when bailiffs arrived. I had not realised that bailiffs have a right of entry to your home even if you are not there, and I had not appreciated that the Government had changed the law in that regard. It is a highly dangerous situation. The people involved may not be around, and if, heaven forbid, someone does not have a good grasp of English or is old, it will be utterly terrifying. It occurred on this occasion because the contractor dealing with the issue had lost three sets of documentation.

In the end, I resolved the matter in a way that is not open to many people. I telephoned the council leader, told him that I was a Member of your Lordships’ House and said that, if he did not sort it out, there would be trouble. By that afternoon, 18 months of problems were resolved. What people who are not Members of your Lordships’ House are to do, I am not sure.

I feel so much better for getting that off my chest. However, a question arises here about how the organisations to which enforcement is outsourced deal with these matters. I do not think that councils have a proper handle on how the work is done, and that, unhappily, leads to distress for those involved. It is also very bad for the reputation of the council, it creates a climate of hostility and it is extremely expensive for the local authorities.

Finally, I urge the Government to resist any clarion calls to micromanage what local authorities do. However, a look at the legal framework to see whether it would be possible to make it less complex so that it is clearer to local authorities and motorists what the deal is would be welcomed by everyone.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for raising this matter. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for offering a possible way forward for Members of your Lordships’ House who might find themselves in difficulties in these matters.

The point that I want to draw to your Lordships’ attention and raise with the Minister relates to the congestion charge administered by Transport for London. I do not object in principle to the congestion charge, although I am not sure that it is as effective as some people maintain. I suspect that it does not raise as much money as some claim because the costs of administering the charge, with all the electronic equipment required to register cars going in and out of the zone, are no doubt considerable. However, I strongly object to a system which does not allow a proper challenge to what I maintain was an incorrectly levied charge, as happened to me last year.

I confess that on two or three occasions I have failed to pay the congestion charge, and on those occasions I have hastened to pay the penalty. You need to hasten to do so because, if you do not, the charge goes up. Therefore, I immediately ring up with my card details and pay. It is my practice to pay the congestion charge on a regular basis using my debit card. I ring the relevant number, talk to the relevant person and give the details of my car and my card, and normally all is satisfactory.

However, on one occasion last year, I did just that only to receive a penalty notice a week or so later claiming that I had not paid the charge, although I had clear evidence that I had. My bank statement showed that the charge had gone through my account on the relevant day, so I wrote to Transport for London maintaining strongly that I had paid and that therefore the penalty notice was out of order. After a delay of several weeks, that was dismissed as being irrelevant. I was told that I had probably paid for a different day or perhaps a different car. I have only one car, so it could not have been that. Nor could it have been a different day because, if it had been, there would have been a different charge. If you fail to pay on the day in question by, I think, 10 o’clock at night, the charge goes up from £8 to £10. The amount that had gone through my account was £8, so it must have been the day in question.

I took legal advice and hired lawyers, who advised me to lodge an appeal. The outcome three or four months later was that case was dismissed. The wording from the adjudicator was precisely the same as that from the official at Transport for London who had rejected my initial representations. I do not believe that the adjudicator paid the slightest attention to my representations; he simply mouthed what he had been told by Transport for London.

Who are these adjudicators, who I am told are appointed by the Lord Chancellor? What are their qualifications and how many are there? How many appeals against alleged wrong application of the congestion charge were there last year, for example? How many appeals were allowed and how many were disallowed? If the adjudicators simply repeat the information given to them by Transport for London it is not a proper appeal procedure. It is a travesty of justice and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, will give some clear answers to the shortcomings of the appeal process on the congestion charge by Transport for London.

My Lords, I am pleased to speak in the debate and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for tabling the Motion. I remind the House of a recorded interest as an adviser to NCP Services, which is active in this field. I am also grateful for the brief from London Councils in this respect, but I speak for neither of those bodies.

I shall say a few words on overview, compliance and economy of the system. I agree with many of the objectives of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but differ on the conclusions. The system has matured considerably over the years. While there has been quite a learning curve for some local authorities—for instance, Westminster—most local authorities are more balanced, thoughtful and proportionate in how they go about their business. I draw a contrast with what the system was like before we had civil parking enforcement. There was no effective enforcement system because the police gave it such a low priority that parking was not enforced. Local authorities have done a much better job than was done by the police.

Previous speakers have drawn attention to the objectives of the system, which are relatively complex because parking and traffic management enforcement is about improving safety, reducing congestion and rationing scarce space on the road that is used and required for a variety of reasons. I shall come back to that later when I speak about compliance. The objective of most local authorities ought to be, and I think is, to get compliance rather than enforcement. That is what the Government should be doing generally on any regulation. They want to maximise voluntary consent rather than to have to enforce sanctions against non-compliance. The measure of a good system is the extent to which it manages to motivate and maximise compliance rather than to have to use heavy handed and usually costly measures to enforce it.

If we look at compliance on the systems that are captured within the terms of reference of the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we get a variable picture. Red route compliance used to be the worst. The joke was always that the safest place to park in London was on a red route because nobody bothered to comply. That has fortunately changed and there is a more effective compliance regime. Bus lanes are a nice example, where we have seen substantial improvement in compliance through having an effective enforcement and detection system. By and large people now obey bus lane restrictions and the system works well. The congestion charge, which clearly has notable massive failures in practice, has a relatively high compliance level. In that respect it is working. Parking is a pretty mixed picture, in that effective compliance with penalty charge notices—which of course is not the same as compliance with parking regulations—varies between about 50 per cent and 75 per cent between local authorities.

Let me say a few words about where there is a need to focus on better compliance for the future: foreign vehicles, blue badge, persistent evaders and perhaps just a word on bailiffs in passing, although I do not want to speak for them. Most people are aware that there are not effective sanctions systems for foreign vehicles. We know the law—after you have been here for six months, you must pay the road fund licence—but, by and large, if you have a foreign vehicle you can drive around London without paying the congestion charge, you can usually avoid paying the vehicle excise charge, you can park wherever you like and there is not an effective set of sanctions. It is a difficult problem technically and legally for both the Government and local authorities to introduce an effective compliance system on foreign vehicles, but clearly we must get round to doing it. It is perhaps not quite as urgent as it was; the movement in the exchange rate with the euro and the reduction in our economy may have deterred the number of foreign vehicles in the UK, but those problems will return. We need more work by government to get an effective enforcement system.

On the blue badge, I agree with my noble friend Lord Dubs that it is an important system. The Government produced its blue badge reform strategy in October, which contained steps in the right direction, but we should recognise that there is substantial fraud. The benefits of having a blue badge, whether legitimate or fraudulent, are considerable; therefore, there are incentives for people either to make fraudulent applications or, perhaps more commonly, to use a legitimate badge when they should not—often in the mistaken belief that the blue badge gives you the right to take the car anywhere you like, which it does not. I fear that this debate brings out the Daily Mail in all of us, and I am not sure that I can resist the temptation either. I have the enjoyment at the weekend of living in St Albans by the cathedral. We walk up to an historic little street full of boutique shops, expensive jewellers and clothiers—a very nice street but very narrow with double yellow lines on either side. Usually no one is parked there, except that almost every weekend there is a gas guzzler or an expensive BMW parked with a blue badge on display. Out of it usually leaps some rather fit looking chap with no one else in the car and, half an hour later, off he drives.

I am teasing the House, but there is more blue badge evasion going on than there ought to be and local authorities need to treat it more seriously, even though it is difficult and expensive to do so. It needs stamping out, not just to punish those who are avoiding fines but out of a basic sense of fairness, so that the rest of us know that those who are fiddling the system get caught and coshed.

Persistent evaders are a similar category. Getting effective systems to tackle them is not simple, but it matters if we are to have broad confidence in the system as fair and reasonable. A small number completely take the system for a ride. Again, we have seen some progressive measures by government in changes to legislation and the scheme being piloted by five London boroughs and TfL. If we think about London and what will be an effective system, an individual borough enforcing persistent evasion measures by itself does not make a lot of sense because a persistent evader will park in quite a number of authorities to flout the law.

Therefore, in principle, there is a need for London Councils as a body or London councils collectively to set up some form of collective database to allow them to detect a persistent evader wherever he is in London. Secondly, they need, when they have detected the persistent evader, to enforce against him for all the fines for all the authorities, where they are identified. Lastly, they need to be able to take a sanction against someone who is found with a vehicle, wherever it is, if it has a sequence of persistent evader penalty charge notices, not simply to do so when it is parked illegally. That is rather like saying that you can catch a burglar only when he is committing another burglary. We need clearer, tougher and better systems to deal with persistent evasion. There may be a role for London Councils in that respect, although I am sure that it would not welcome me saying so.

On bailiffs, it is important to recognise the risks of such a tough enforcement system. Clearly there are dangers of abuse. Most local authorities employ bailiffs as part of this system. Those that have never done so have often found that the level of evasion and abuse has gone right through the roof. However, sensible authorities use bailiffs only as a last resort rather than early on, because there are much more sensible ways of trying to get compliance. Bailiffs are a heavy handed mechanism, rough justice and expensive.

I will not talk about compliance and enforcement because time is tight.

On economy, one thing has not been raised so far in the debate but needs to be looked at by government and perhaps by local authorities generally. An ignored part of the system is back-office functioning. At present, most local authorities operate like cottage industries and do their own back-office processing. There is substantial evidence that there would be substantial economies of scale if they could set up shared service centres with modern technology and modern data processing. They could take out substantial costs if they did so. A cautious estimate is that taxpayers across London would pay £10 million less a year if such a system were in place. One reason why local authorities do not do so is that statutory guidance has mixed up two things. First, it says that you should not be judge and jury in a case. In other words, those who enforce the penalty should not judge the appeal. That is absolute common sense. However, it then says that as a consequence local authorities should do all the processing in-house. That goes completely against the thrust of government policy on shared services and economies of scale. I urge the Government and London Councils to look at that again.

I have said plenty and my time is up. All I mark in conclusion is that I wish that the enforcement of littering was as effective as the enforcement of parking penalties. We would have a cleaner and better society.

My Lords, I declare a couple of interests: first, as joint president of London Councils—I, too, am grateful for its briefing; and, secondly, as a member of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames for 20 years until 1998. I will say a word about Richmond in a moment. I thought that I might have to declare another interest—failure today to pay the congestion charge after many attempts—but it was a technical problem with my phone and not at the other end.

Local authorities are now very aware indeed of the reputational aspects of dealing with parking enforcement and traffic regimes. Many of us are going down the anecdotal route just a little in this debate. I recently had the experience in Westminster of writing a perfectly straightforward letter to explain that I had been ticketed when I was paying at the machine. To my great pleasure, I received a letter back from Westminster very promptly saying, “Of course we have cancelled the ticket”. I was told that Westminster was on a charm offensive as regards parking, but, however it justified the approach, it was the common-sense approach and very different from some experiences that I and other noble Lords have had.

My noble friend Lady Scott has referred to the balancing of interests. I am sure that all your Lordships have encountered the attitude, “This is my stretch of road. I have a particular entitlement to park outside my own house and to behave in my area as I want”, without appreciation of the fact that there are often more cars than can fit into a residents’ parking area in which all the residents park at the same time. There are often calls for controlled parking zones followed by concern about what happens just across the boundary of any given zone. Some authorities are showing imagination. For example, some apply very short periods of restriction in the middle of the day, which catches—I repeat, catches—commuters who would otherwise leave their cars near a station for the whole day. That is a very good approach. It allows parking for those who want to use local businesses for as much of the day as possible.

I am perplexed by the suggestion that borough boundaries are relevant. There are so many different arrangements within any given borough that it is not necessary to know which borough you are in. However, a lot of the street furniture and signage requires one to be a contortionist to see the restrictions. For those parking anywhere in Westminster and paying by mobile phone, it is very difficult to see the telephone number that has to be keyed in. Where the street furniture is less intrusive—in my borough of Richmond, this has been done fairly successfully in some new controlled-parking zones—and there is lower-level signage and better design, the restrictions are easier to see and much less offensive.

Complying with the provisions should not be complicated, as noble Lords collectively seem to be saying. It is quite difficult to know when bus lane restrictions apply. My experience is primarily in London. You have to look both at the road surface and at the signs, and you have to clock them instantly. I believe that a small number of bus lanes in London operate for 24 hours and do not allow taxis to use them. Consistency in the use of bus lanes would be helpful, provided it is in the local interest. On loading restrictions, perhaps there could be more dual use of loading bays for a short period. Some local people say, “Well, I have heard that if you leave your boot open, the camera will accept that as the fact that you are loading rather than shopping”. There is a lot of confusion about this.

I am very proud of my local borough, which is introducing a second scheme to relate vehicle emissions to parking restrictions; the first covered residents’ parking. The borough recently introduced proposals to relate parking charges to vehicle emissions. This is not about money-raising but about awareness-raising. The borough will not charge more across the board but reduce the amounts paid by the lowest-emitting vehicles. It is an admirable use of the technology available and DVLA data as well as a very proper way of drawing of attention to the consequences of high emissions.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, used strong language. However, he was careful not to refer to “every local authority” but to “many local authorities”. I do not speak as an apologist for local authorities. I think that the role of your Lordships’ House is to speak for the citizen, and I want to do that. However, I would like to counter some of the noble Lord’s points, although I cannot deal with all of them in the time available.

The noble Lord said that many of the schemes are used to make money. As my noble friend said, it is unlawful for that to be the objective. Given the interest that the noble Lord declared at the outset of his remarks, I am rather surprised that he has not succeeded in challenging what he describes as an unlawful objective. Objectives can be different. When the congestion was introduced the former London mayor, Ken Livingstone, quite deliberately did not allow registration, so that one could pay automatically on entry. He wanted individual payments made on a daily or weekly basis to be part of the deterrence.

The noble Lord talked about CCTV. Members on these Benches have an instinctive dislike of the over-use of cameras, but it has to be said that local residents will often point to a specific, discrete local problem and say that having a camera would be the solution to it.

In 2005, the Greater London Assembly, of which I was a member at the time, undertook to look at parking issues and raised in particular matters of proportionality. Given the time, I will simply quote from the conclusion to the executive summary of the subsequent report which, I am happy to say, was chaired by my honourable friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, who at that point was both a Member of the Commons and a Member of the Assembly. The summary stated:

“The committee hopes that this pace of progress [in various areas] can be accelerated. There is nothing to gain from a system which allows authorities to impose a penalty on a citizen without that citizen being fully aware of the reasons for that penalty and having absolute confidence that the fine is being imposed fairly, efficiently and transparently”.

That is quite right; and, of course, one of the remedies available to a citizen who is dissatisfied arises at the next election.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for initiating this debate. I notice that most of it has circulated around London and not much has been said about circumstances outside the capital. It is clear where we all spend the best part of our week. The matters that he and other noble Lords have raised are those which strike a chord in any councillor’s ears, so I shall start by declaring an interest as a member of a London local authority. I would say that every single issue is one that either passes our postbags or straight through our heads on a regular basis because little in the eyes of both London residents and those coming into the city strikes harder than parking and parking regulations. Indeed, nothing irks people more than falling foul of the regulations.

My experience is largely confined to London. I try not to park a car in a town outside London because doing so always causes me enormous angst and I end up becoming more cross than I like to think. But I can pass on many anecdotes, personal and received, even from London. Although I do not want to trouble noble Lords with personal experiences, one incident that struck a chord was the account of the mobile phone system here in Westminster. That caused me to give a wry smile since on the first and, I have to say, the last time I used it, I was left uttering some very unparliamentary language having parked and then not being able to access the system properly. I am sure that it was their fault and not mine, but nonetheless I had to drive off in some fury at not being able to park where I wanted.

I was going to say that there is nothing much more reassuring than having a meter in front of you and some pound coins jangling in your pocket. There are three problems with that, though: first, you normally do not have pound coins jangling in your pocket when you need them; secondly, the meter eats them without acknowledging that you have paid; and, thirdly, the meter is usually out of order. Those meters are gradually disappearing, however, and now there are nice boxes instead. Many of us feel that we benefit from something that gives you a sense that you have done something useful with your parking.

It is not just us who benefit from meters or parking machines; it is crime-ridden areas. The Metropolitan Police tell us that there are gangs galore who watch avidly as we put money into these meters so that they can smartly take it out again at a later date. Consequently, meters and parking machines are not very good value to the local authorities that have them. You can understand why other mechanisms for charging are being looked at. We are all going to have to get used to that, because the revenue loss by local authorities from meters and machines is now very high. As other noble Lords have said, the local authority needs the revenue from parking and parking enforcement to run the service. It has to be paid for, and the only way by and large that it can be is with the money the authority receives from the machines, from resident parking or from proper enforcement.

I know that parking and parking enforcement are very annoying, but, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, pointed out, anarchy would reign if these days, with the number of cars there are, particularly in London, there were not some means of ensuring that parking was regulated. You cannot have a system whereby people can just park anywhere. I know, too, from people who have contacted me about it, that Sunday parking in London—which is largely unregulated, although some local authorities are starting to regulate residents’ parking—is a nightmare, as is moving around in London. It is interesting that, maybe because of the congestion charge or maybe because people are not coming into London to work so often during the week, at the weekend the traffic in London is far greater, anecdotally and by the eye, than it is during the week. There will probably come a stage when local authorities will have to consider whether they have to enforce parking on Sunday as well in order to bring that under control.

Some boroughs are more generous than others, particularly on residents’ parking. I cite my own borough, where there is only one controlled parking zone that runs across the whole borough. As residents we are extremely fortunate—we can park anywhere. Others are not so lucky; they have very narrow controlled parking zones, and that is where a lot of trouble arises in terms of the lack of compatibility, between and within boroughs, regarding what the parking regulations are.

One of the points I want to stress most is signage. People will comply—we are not all fools; we have to live our lives, and we want to, as peacefully as possible— but you can get apoplectic in an area where you cannot find out easily what the parking control hours are. Most of us have now tumbled to the fact that you cannot count on them being 8.30 am to 6.30 pm everywhere but that, rather, they vary and you are going to have to look. In some places it might go on until 10 pm. It is incumbent on a local authority to ensure that the information about that is easily available so that people are aware of it; otherwise it is unfair. People should not have to search around to find out what the regulations are locally.

Can parking control ever be fair? Can enforcement be fair? Local authorities must recognise that there are ways of enforcing and of not enforcing. The days of the anecdotal evidence—perhaps in reality true—of local authorities having their parking wardens hidden behind a tree at 8.29 in the morning so that they popped out at 8.30 to catch the cars that were still parked overnight must come to an end. Indeed, I think that they probably have.

We need to make sure that people want to comply, that it is easy for them to do so and that even if they are being charged through the nose for parking, as they see it, they understand. The people they deal with in the street, the councils and the appeals office must have common sense and a decent attitude. As in all service areas, being treated with arrogance and dismissiveness adds to the irritation and annoyance that people feel about the system. A great deal has to go into the training of those who are on the streets carrying out the daily enforcement, those on the end of the telephone and those who have anything to do with the people who are paying.

Let us make sure that we have a good training system so that people will accept a system of parking control. They will not accept it all the time—as soon as you come up against it, you hate it, but if you also hate the people who are at the end of the phone or not answering, the whole thing becomes impossible.

My Lords, I should declare two non-interests: I have never driven a car in London, and I do not live in London, which seems unique among the participants in this debate.

The system we have has to be balanced. Any noble Lords who have been members of local authorities—there are several here—are well aware of the high cost of having an enforcement system. The good signage to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred, is expensive, particularly where it relies on paint, which has to be frequently renewed, and the staff have to have the training to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred. Training depends on two things: it costs money and it depends on the contractors not paying the lowest possible wages they can, just to get somebody on two legs, but having some selectivity about whom they choose to carry out the enforcement. You will not get one without the other.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, refer to buses. I am probably the only person in the House who actually rides on buses and speaks about them regularly. The biggest interference with bus operation is illegally parked vehicles; it costs the taxpayer huge sums of money because bus routes employ more staff and more buses simply to cover less distance each year. Whatever is suggested in response to points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, we should ensure that the fines and penalties levied cover all the costs associated with people who choose to park on the road and cause congestion. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, is absolutely right that there is a lot of scope to be had from merging data processing and not having people in various offices operating more or less on a pen and pencil basis. The system should be properly automated, as I know it can be in some places.

I do not want to prolong the debate because the day has been long enough. Perhaps the guidance wants clearing up, but I believe that it is not appropriate for the Government to take to themselves any more powers to dictate what local authorities should do. I should like some reassurance from the Minister on that point.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for promoting this debate. I have been on the Floor of this House for much of today. It shows the variety, uniqueness and strength of this House that we have gone from discussing Baby P and children’s processes this morning, through considering the future of Heathrow Airport this afternoon, to hearing anecdotal evidence about parking in London this evening.

I speak in this debate as both gamekeeper and poacher. I am a road user and have been on the receiving end of more than one fine. I have had my car clamped in Westminster. I am also the leader of one of the country’s largest authorities and therefore know the problems that large authorities face. However, I speak today from the Front Benches on behalf of the Conservative Party.

I hope that none of us wants to see a lot of detailed legislation about what local authorities should do in this respect. There is certainly a need for information and clarity on these issues—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, referred particularly to information about blue badges and consistency of approach—but I hope that no one suggests detailed legislation.

My noble friend Lord Lucas made several points. Parliament should ensure that the motorist is subject to a fair system, feels that it is fair and understands it. We have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne highlighted a matter about which he is extremely upset. He seemed to ask a fair question and I hope that the Minister can tell him how the adjudicating system works.

My noble friend Lord Lucas also said that local authorities make money out of parking and traffic regimes, and there is no doubt that some do. I do not like to harp on too much about my experience in Essex, but it is relevant to point out that it costs the county, working with the districts and boroughs, around £600,000 a year to enforce the system and that the income from it is less than that amount—we are actually looking at whether we can break even on it. Across the country, the whole system costs rather than makes money for local government.

Several interesting points came out of the debate, one of which, reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was that London Councils has a part to play. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said, all the problems that we have heard about seem to be in London, many of them around Westminster or in the four local authority areas that noble Lord, Lord Dubs, talked about—they are four good local authorities; they have four-star ratings and are generally well received. Some consistency of information would be good. London Councils, an organisation to which all London boroughs belong, could help by promoting information across London. I accept that coverage would not always be consistent, because, as others have said, street signs and information in some areas are not as evident as they should be, but London Councils could play a big part. Nationally, the Local Government Association could play a big part. Information could be put together so that local government as a whole gives people the information that they need.

There are clauses in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill, whose Committee stage in this House starts on Monday, which state that local government should give information to the public about many more things. I hope that we might all agree that a little line could go in it somewhere about information on parking. As I will be debating in Committee on that Bill, I may suggest that. A lot of the debate and discussion this afternoon has been on the lack of information about how it operates, or the consistency of the operation across London in particular.

I, too, have had quite a long day, and I do not have much more to say. However, I hope that the Minister will not go into great detail about detailed legislation. We can talk about local authorities doing their own thing, as local people want, but I hope we can move to a position where there is more consistent information and consistent operating, with fairness to the motorist and those who live and work in these streets.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for calling for this debate. I am in a wonderful position, in that I think I agree with everybody who has contributed. However, I shall make the curious point that I agree only in part.

There are a few things running through this debate. I do not think that anyone here is calling for no regulation in parking. We all recognise that proportionate regulation is absolutely essential to us. I say firmly that we believe—and we will discuss this next week, as has been said—in local government, not local administration. There is a price in terms of variation, and I shall touch on that later. All noble Lords have made some comment about signage and information, and that is indeed important. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made the point about the problem of confusion between boroughs, and so on. Yes, but there is a price for local government. In effective local government, there will be differences between boroughs; that is entirely reasonable.

On the blue badge point, we accept that there are some problems. At present, four central London boroughs are exempt from operating the blue badge scheme. These arrangements are in place because of specific congestion and security concerns. The Transport Committee in another place and some disability groups want us to extend the scheme to central London. Because we are uncertain of the impacts, we intend to ask relevant parties in London to gather evidence whether the parking restrictions currently placed on blue badge holders visiting central London should be relaxed. More generally—and I think everybody will agree with this—the blue badge scheme is being radically improved to provide a better service for severely disabled people. The changes include the Government’s comprehensive blue badge reform strategy, which will ensure that the scheme continues to support people in the manner that is right for the 21st century.

On hospital parking, the Department of Health guidance gives strong encouragement to consider concessional arrangements for those patients’ visitors who have to use the car parks on a regular basis.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, kindly pointed out that there are a lot more cars on the road—and there are. That is way we need proportionate regulation. Central government does not believe that this is an area for central micromanagement. There may be some opportunity for simplification but the role is a local government one. Outsourcing causes some problems, but it creates some efficiencies. We certainly take the point about signage. Outsourcing involves external firms coming in and the Government have helped the BPA create some national guidance for its members. We hope that that will start to have the appropriate effect.

On the matter of bailiffs, I think the noble Baroness’s experience has a resonance for all of us. The Government introduced the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. The reform package of measures will lead to a more highly qualified, better trained and professional industry. We hope some of the points referred to will not happen in future, or at least on incredibly rare occasions.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, mentioned the congestion charge. I have the harshest possible note on this, saying that it is a matter for the Mayor of London, who is responsible for setting and administrating the process. If I can say anything more useful than that, I shall write to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I am afraid the Minister is not correct. No regulations have been passed by Parliament that govern the application or the operation of the appeal system. It is his responsibility, not the mayor’s.

My Lords, I am perfectly willing to believe that the noble Lord is probably right. My problem is that I can go no further today with the brief I have in front of me.

The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, pointed out that local government involvement in traffic has been a success. Most people would agree that local government is doing a better job than the police did. He made the good point that we are looking for compliance rather than enforcement. I liked the point he made about bus lanes getting better. His compliance points were issues that trouble all of us involved in this problem. Foreign compliance is particularly difficult. Governments throughout Europe are concerned about it, and there are discussions at European level to see if we can improve foreign compliance. We accept that blue badge compliance is crucial, and we believe the new regulations we are bringing forward will ensure it. We take the view that persistent evaders are important, and we are working to improve work on the London experiment to see if we can find better ways of tackling persistent abuse and whether there is a chance for improved national legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made the point that there are reputational aspects in local authorities exercising local discretion. That is right. Local government is about reputation, being compatible to the electorate and balancing interests. It is good to hear of an occasion when Westminster has got it right. I thought the noble Baroness gave a series of good examples of where local government has adapted to local needs. There is some guidance on sign heights, so the noble Baroness will not have to look up when that guidance works. Departmental guidance to local authorities has clarified the position on loading bays, and it has been welcomed by the Freight Transport Association.

I am sorry about the meters. In many ways, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, brought out the dilemmas about them. The Westminster experiment seems to have gone well, but it may not go well for an individual. I believe there is a requirement for a limited number of cash machines, but there is a dilemma, and I suspect we will go steadily down the mobile phone road as we become more used to it. It is reliable, and it does not have the problem of cash on the streets. We feel that local authorities should do their best to co-ordinate their policies across boundaries.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is not alone in riding the buses. For two years, I had the proud privilege of being the chairman of London Transport and used buses regularly to keep in touch. I am glad there has been no push back on bus lanes in this debate. People accept that the regulation that has helped buses has been sensible, proportional and balanced. We agree with the general view that staff skills are important. We also agree with the general point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that we do not want micromanagement from national government, except perhaps in some areas.

I shall make a few general points that go back to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. When we asked local authorities to manage the traffic on their roads, we asked them to do a difficult job. Some of them do it extremely well; others do it less well. Deciding what is good and what is less good is not easy.

Local authorities set down in locally made orders the procedures that drivers must follow. A traffic regulation order, or a traffic management order in London, may prohibit, restrict or regulate, et cetera. As noble Lords point out, the objective is to keep traffic moving, improve road safety and improve the environment—or all three.

The contents of the traffic regulation order and its making is wholly a matter for the local authority. However, it must be made in accordance with legal procedures. Before an order is made, there must be consultation with the persons set out in legislation. A permanent order must be publicised in a local newspaper. Unfair or inappropriate traffic regulations should be challenged at this planning stage.

The Road Traffic Act 1991 made it mandatory for local authorities in London, and optional for local authorities outside London, to take over from the police service the enforcement of all parking. The 1991 Act helped curtail illegal parking and ensure that those who chose to break the regulations paid a financial penalty. In London, it provided the framework for legislation promoted by the local authorities to enforce certain moving traffic matters. London authorities enforced bus lanes from 1996 and measures, such as yellow box junctions, banned turns and pedestrian zones from 2003. In November 2005, English local authorities received the power to enforce bus lanes.

The Traffic Management Act 2004 rationalised and strengthened the 1991 Act. Regulations were drafted to bring its parking provisions into force in the light of a wide-ranging and well informed debate, notably a review by the Transport Committee in another place.

The department was advised by an expert group that represented all sides of the parking debate—local authorities, adjudicators and, most importantly, motorists and road users. With their help, the new framework of regulations and statutory guidance came into force on 31 March 2008.

That statutory guidance is a new part of the framework and stems from provisions added to the Act during its passage through Parliament. It sets out the matters to which local authorities must have regard and covers issues not amenable to legislation, such as having clear objectives and—as crucially mentioned by a number of noble Lords—informing the public. The objective of this guidance is to secure many of the changes that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, wishes to see.

Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 is not yet fully in force. The Government plan to put in place regulations that replace the current powers to enforce bus lanes and certain moving traffic matters. These regulations are likely largely to replicate those for parking. Therefore, before we proceed we need to assess the effectiveness of the new parking framework as well as that currently in place for moving traffic. I welcome this opportunity to assure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we will consider whether any of his concerns can be addressed by the regulations and the statutory guidance.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and other noble Lords who have spoken, that enforcement must be lawful and should be proportionate and fair. Our statutory guidance to local authorities makes this clear. I differ in how any transgressions are best tackled. In this country, we have local government not local administration. The Government do not intend to change that situation where the enforcement of parking and certain other moving traffic matters are concerned. Local government—this is crucial—is every bit as accountable for its actions as is central government. Officials are accountable to councillors, and councillors are accountable to the electorate; they are not accountable to the Secretary of State or even to the Prime Minister.

However, if a local authority does not comply with the law, either wilfully or inadvertently, procedures are in place to enable action to be taken. An adjudicator has the power to direct a local authority to cancel a penalty charge notice in a number of circumstances. More recently, and importantly, adjudicators now have the power to refer back to the local authority’s chief executive for reconsideration cases where a contravention has taken place but in “mitigating circumstances”. I hope that filters out some of these examples of unreasonableness. Having been a chief executive, although not of a local authority, the last thing you want is paper crossing your desk. You make sure that your people are behaving reasonably. Some wanted adjudicators to have the power to decide such cases. That is not appropriate, as it involves making policy and adjudicators do not have the democratic remit to make policy. The department’s statutory guidance will play a key role in these cases.

It is not unlawful for a local authority to fail to defend a case that has gone to appeal. Local authorities in London already pay a financial penalty if they do not deal properly with a representation, and so it goes to appeal. Nor is it unlawful to have a net surplus of income from parking. The Government have not said that parking enforcement should never make a surplus. We have said that revenue should not be an objective of parking enforcement, nor should authorities set targets for revenue or for the number of penalty charge notices that are served. Where the demand for parking is high, an effective enforcement regime may well make more money than it costs to run.

The department’s guidance says that local authorities should not continue to take enforcement action when an adjudicator’s decision has indicated that the provisions in place are not lawful. One of the most significant causes of unlawful enforcement action is when traffic signs are incorrect or not in accordance with the relevant traffic regulation order. The Government are undertaking a root and branch review of traffic signs, including those that indicate parking regulations, and the process of putting them in place. Following wide consultation that will include local authorities and road users, our objective is to enhance the system to meet the future needs of the road user.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggests that authorities should be made to refund any penalty charges paid when enforcement action has been taken when the local authority knows from previous adjudication decisions that the relevant traffic signs are faulty. The Government have encouraged local authorities to do this, but it is a local decision. If the authority has taken enforcement action when the provisions in place are not lawful, it may be in breach of its statutory duty. There is no specific remedy in legislation for this, but a claimant may be able to bring a civil action against the local authority for breach of statutory duty.

Legal action can, however, be expensive and there is other redress available. A member of the public who considers that a local authority has not acted properly and that maladministration has taken place can ask the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate the matter. Investigating systematic maladministration is distinct from deciding whether a correct decision has been reached about an individual penalty notice charge. The ombudsman may not look at a matter about which an appeal to the parking adjudicator has been made. The ombudsman may look at how the service has been delivered, such as if it takes too long to do something, does not follow its own rules or the rules of law, or breaks its promises.

The Audit Commission has the ability to scrutinise a local authority’s parking management performance, and has published a number of inspection reports on individual councils’ parking services. Concerns may also be referred to the district auditor, who acts as watchdog of public finance.

We will, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, examine whether there is scope to strengthen the powers of these bodies to assess whether a local authority is acting unlawfully. If an individual has clear evidence of widespread and serious malpractice in a local authority, Ministers have said that they will raise that matter with the council leader if the individual has not been able to take action through one of the organisations whose job it is to scrutinise authorities.

We have put in place a regime for parking that should mean firm but fair enforcement, and we will do the same for the enforcement of bus lanes and certain moving traffic matters. The responsibility for enforcement will remain with local government, not local administration. Helping local authorities understand and implement the policies in that statutory guidance will be one of our key tasks in the next few years. We will do more to talk with local authorities, at the official and the political level, and spread good practice. Those whose performance is generally good—it has been acknowledged that this is true of many authorities, and many authorities are improving—can set an example to those whose performance is not quite so good. The full engagement of local elected members in setting the policies and the procedures used can bring about a step improvement in a local authority whose performance is a little lacking in some respects.

My Lords, will the noble Lord be good enough to confirm that he will write to me on the points that I raised, to overcome the—if I may say so—rather inadequate reply which he gave me a few moments ago?

My Lords, I will certainly write to the noble Lord to cover those points to the extent to which I am able to do so.

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It has been, as ever, an education for me. I am delighted to find that even those who speak from great local authority experience by and large agree with the basic points I want to make. We agree that we all want effective regulation. We do not want bad back offices or to have bus lanes not enforced. I remember that it was incredibly annoying when they were not enforced. There you were being law abiding, and the people who were not were getting a great advantage on you and risking nothing. As I say, we all want regulation to be effective. We want it to be fair not only in enforcement but in appeal. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne was right to say that this has nothing to do with the Mayor of London; the rules that we have put into legislation are hamstringing its fairness. The structure of the appeals process is not independent. The people involved in that process are subject to limitations as regards the grounds that they consider. I refer to the elimination of common sense—as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, found out—through actions that we have taken, and for which the Government therefore have responsibility. This House and this Government should, therefore, address the matter and not the mayor, who is merely putting up with what we put in place for him. We also want a comprehensible system.

I am delighted that the Government are looking at simplifying the system. The British Parking Association’s support for that, the quote it gave me and, doubtless, what it has said to Ministers are a very good indication of how widespread the desire is for that on the part of both local authorities and motorists. To know what the rules are in any particular place will be an immense improvement and will make life better for all of us. It is a great objective and we will take great interest in what the Government do in that direction. If they are going to pay attention to the BPA on that, I very much hope that they will pay similar attention to its recommendations on bailiffs, which again have support all round the industry. We need a system of regulation which is fair, transparent and effective. The BPA has proposed one. The Government have said that they will bring forward regulations. They were promised for the summer. They were promised for October. They were promised for Christmas and still we do not have them. It is high time that the Government said, “Right, the road we are looking down is not effective. Let us go with the British Parking Association and see if we can make something that works and improves things from everybody’s point of view”.

I, too, agree that we do not want to give a lot of additional powers to government. I am not asking for that, I am asking for the Government to use the powers they have. I was very grateful to the Minister for what he said, particularly about the Local Government Ombudsman and other authorities to whom people might make representations. I can promise him a flow of correspondence on that. We have tried these routes and been unsuccessful, but from now on we will copy him on the rejection letters and expect his support from thereon. I particularly do not consider that whether you steal from people is a matter of local discretion. That does not apply to making profits on parking but to keeping money which you know is not yours. So far as profitability is concerned, Camden will say, “It may look like a duck. It may walk like a duck. It may quack like a duck but it is a potato”. But anyone who has any dealings with Camden knows how it is running that system. We need accountability. It is there in the legislation that it should not be making a profit out of it. There needs to be some way of making a local authority accountable for that. The Government are very proud of their guidance, but Westminster just says pooh to the guidance on cameras. Other councils say pooh to the guidance when it comes to taking seriously what the adjudicators say when they refer matters back. There needs to be some way in which that guidance can be made effective. I suggest that it be made into something which the adjudicators can take into account.

As I say, I am very grateful for everybody’s contributions. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion withdrawn.

Companies (Disclosure of Address) Regulations 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 18 November 2008 be approved.

Relevant document: First Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, we are today debating two sets of draft regulations under the Companies Act 2006: the draft Companies (Disclosure of Address) Regulations and the draft Companies (Trading Disclosures) (Amendment) Regulations. During the parliamentary passage of the Companies Bill, noble Lords were concerned that directors’ home addresses should be protected. At Lords Report stage, we amended the Bill on the basis of a scheme suggested by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. I am pleased to recall that there was cross-party support for the revised scheme.

Under the 2006 Act, when a company notifies Companies House of the appointment of an individual as a director, it will have to provide both a service address and a home address for the director. Only the service address will be placed on the public record. Addresses already on the public record will continue to be available from Companies House. The Act provides, however, for these addresses to be made unavailable for public inspection.

Clearly, it is not possible to retract information that is already in the public domain or available from secondary sources. However, these regulations provide the procedures for an address to be made unavailable for future public inspection when there is a serious risk of violence or intimidation to the person to whom the address relates. Company directors and secretaries, both past and present, will be able to make applications regarding the protection of their home addresses as they appear on the public record. Companies will also be able to make applications covering the addresses of their members. Those, such as creditors, who have registered charges against a company will also be able to apply.

Addresses that have been made unavailable for public inspection will still be held by the Registrar of Companies but will be disclosed only under a court order. For reasons relating to the technology used by the registrar, only addresses filed since January 2003 will be able to be made unavailable for public inspection. Removing older addresses is not possible without endangering the integrity of the public record.

From 1 October 2009, every address that is filed as a director’s home address will be protected information. It will not be available for public inspection. Protected information may be disclosed by the registrar only to credit reference agencies and to specified public authorities. The draft regulations also provide the conditions for disclosure of protected information to these bodies.

In addition, the regulations provide the procedures for a director to apply for higher protection for his or her home address so that it is not disclosed to credit reference agencies. This higher protection will replace the confidentiality order regime under the Companies Act 1985. Any director who has a valid confidentiality order on 30 September 2009 will automatically be granted this higher protection.

The public authorities that are specified in these draft regulations are the regulatory and enforcement bodies to which the home addresses of directors with confidentiality orders may be disclosed, plus those other public authorities that currently rely on this information being made publicly available by Companies House. Before the registrar discloses protected information, he must be satisfied that the protected information will be used only for the purposes specified in the draft regulations.

The main condition for disclosing any director’s home address to a specified public authority is that it intends to use the information only for carrying out its public functions. The registrar will disclose to credit reference agencies only the home addresses of directors who have not been granted higher protection. The credit reference agencies must intend to use the information for assessing financial status, for conducting checks for conflict of interest, for the prevention and detection of crime and fraud or for meeting obligations under the money-laundering regulations.

Passing protected information to anyone not entitled to get it directly from the registrar would be considered by the registrar to be a breach of the conditions. It would, however, be acceptable for a credit reference agency to use protected information to confirm an address supplied to its client by a director or by a company on a director’s behalf.

We are also debating draft regulations that amend the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008. Those regulations require every company to include its registered name in its business communications and documents and in signs at all its premises.

A company is a being created by law and its name or registered number is needed to identify it. Companies have, therefore, always been required to display their names at their premises. This is particularly important at the registered office, as that is where documents can be served on the company. The sign is also greatly needed at any place where the public may inspect the company’s records.

The 2008 regulations provided two exemptions from the requirement for signs: first, if the company has never traded and, secondly, if the premises are primarily used as living accommodation. This second exemption is available only if the premises are not the company’s registered office or where its records can be inspected.

The draft regulations add two further exemptions. The first is for those companies whose activities lead to a serious risk of violence or intimidation to its directors or employees. The eligibility for this exemption is based on the criterion in the draft disclosure of address regulations for a director to apply for his home address not to be disclosed to a credit reference agency. This criterion relates to risks arising from a company’s activities. Clearly, if a company’s activities lead to such risks for all its directors, it is likely also to lead to risks to its employees. This exemption is from the requirement for a sign at premises that are not the company’s registered office or where the records can be inspected. The second exemption applies only if a liquidator or administrator has been appointed to the company and that liquidator or administrator’s office is the company’s registered office or where its records can be inspected.

These draft regulations have in common the recognition of the need to strike a balance between the safeguards required and the public’s right to information. I commend these draft regulations to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations. I shall deal first with the Companies (Trading Disclosures) (Amendment) Regulations 2008. We all, I think, understand that these regulations introduce two exceptions to the requirement on every company to display its registered name at each of its premises. The first exception is in the case of insolvency, as I understand it. The second relates to the protection of sensitive locations. We understand these exceptions and are, I think, broadly happy with them.

I have one minor question, which relates to the second exception. That exception specifically does not extend to the company’s registered office or inspection place for its records. I may be missing the point, but perhaps the Minister could inform your Lordships how, if the company’s business is considered sensitive enough for it not to be required to display its registered name at its other premises, it is proposed that those locations—the company’s registered office or inspection place for its records—which are not covered by the exception should be protected.

We understand that the Companies (Disclosure of Address) Regulations are principally about protecting those who are involved with companies that might, for instance, be targets of militant animal rights groups. Of course, we all agree with that aim. However, your Lordships will be well aware that there are people, effectively serial company directors, who regularly establish or take on directorships of companies which then fail and whose creditors lose everything that they are owed, only for those directors to repeat the process time and again. This is likely to be an increasing feature of our commercial world as we go further into recession. Perhaps the Minister could inform your Lordships what procedures are in place to prevent such people from sheltering behind the procedures envisaged in the regulations to avoid the responsibilities of a director of a limited company.

My second point is related. It is claimed by those who will be directly involved in the process that the regulations could make the process of banks lending to business even more difficult than it is now, first, because of the additional steps required in the process of verifying financial standing—address checking being a key part of that process—secondly, because of the additional obstacles that will be put in the way of banks’ fraud detection teams and, thirdly, because this will clearly hinder the detection of money-laundering. All this seriously risks slowing down, yet further, the credit approval process at precisely the time when we and the Government want the banks to speed it up.

Much of this, we think, could be resolved with a very simple adjustment to what is laid down in the regulations. The credit reference agencies, which are permitted access to the restricted register for very specific purposes, and the other, mainly government-controlled agencies, such as Companies House, could be permitted to confirm an address on the restricted register to a named party if, and only if, the director in question consented in writing. Those who are going to have to work with these regulations are convinced that the current drafting does not allow that. I therefore ask the Government to consider their position on this. It is not a matter for party politics, and I know that the Government share with us a strong desire to make the process of banks lending to business easier rather than more difficult, while of course protecting individual directors.

I do not want to detain your Lordships now but I have more information on the specifics of the perceived problems and suggested solution which I should be pleased to share with the Minister if that would be helpful. In the mean time I—and, I sense, a large number of lenders—await the Minister’s response with great interest.

My Lords, I am afraid that these are rather unhappy regulations in that they have come out of a rather bad situation—that is, people effectively being persecuted by certain groups for carrying out legal activities. I think of the Huntingdon Life Sciences Company lobby. Unfortunately, extremists got hold of a cause in which there had been a respectable tradition of protest—even if you did not agree with it—and the company was then corrupted and almost destroyed in the public’s estimation. Therefore, I think we all agree that these regulations are not brought forward in happy circumstances.

The regulations are definitely a necessary evil, as has been proven over a long period for those concerned. However, the points that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, has just made are relevant in relation to the question of what guidance is available for the normal process of commerce that is allowed to take place. Has some consideration been given to that? We need to bring in these regulations but we need to ask what ways there are round them. I should be interested to know whether the Government have considered these matters.

It was suggested to me that being able to check criminality in trading practices might cause a problem. I do not think that it would be a big enough problem to outweigh the fundamental need to ensure the safety of the people behind it, but I wonder whether the Government have considered that they might have to deal with that. I realise that it is a circle that has to be squared but I should just like to hear how far the thinking has gone on that. It is a shame that the regulations have to be brought forward but I wish them well.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for their contributions. Taking them in order, I turn, first, to the question of exemptions. There is no exemption for registered offices, as their purpose, under company law, is to be the company’s point of contact with third parties. The same argument applies where companies choose to keep their records available for inspection at a location other than at their registered office. Of course, many of those are accountants’ offices and other premises not directly associated with the trading company. That possibly is the solution to the first question.

The second question concerned people who make a career out of being directors of companies that fail and then immediately reappearing as directors of other companies. The 2006 Act provides that a court may order disclosure on an application of a liquidator or creditor where necessary. I think that, until events prove differently, we would rely on that as a solution.

To turn to the third and major point made by both the noble Lords, Lord De Mauley and Lord Addington, in principle there is probably nothing between us. We do not want banking to be made more difficult in the present circumstances for small and medium enterprises—or even for large ones. The issue was brought forward by the British Bankers’ Association, but the Committee in the original passage of the legislation recognised the need to strike a balance between the register being useful to those attempting to prevent crime such as money-laundering while preventing it being useful to those attempting to commit other crimes such as serial fraud by serial directors of companies. In that sense the balance is thought to be correct. The banks are particularly concerned that they may no longer be able to link directors to the addresses used. However, dates of birth are generally more reliable for this purpose than names. The banks are also concerned about not being able to contact someone who has given a personal guarantee on an agreement. The 2006 Act provides that if the service address is not affected by a court order the disclosure of the director’s usual residence can be made.

Some of the banks’ concerns are misplaced. They will still be able to contact company directors and the public record will show where the director was appointed. If, however, as the noble Lord indicated, he has additional information, and given that we are not holding up the progress of these regulations, I shall be more than happy to speak to him outside. I commend the regulations to the House.

Motion agreed.

Companies (Trading Disclosures) (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 6 November 2008 be approved.

Relevant Document: 32nd Report, Session 2007–08, from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Motion agreed.

Local Government (Structural Changes) (Areas and Membership of Public Bodies in Bedfordshire and Cheshire) Order 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft order laid before the House on 17 November 2008 be approved.

Relevant Document: First Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, we are today considering the draft of an order which makes changes to the definition of areas and membership of fire and rescue and police authorities and valuation tribunals in Bedfordshire and Cheshire which are required as a result of local government restructuring.

These changes are necessary as the definitions of the areas of these bodies are referenced by the county area, and their members are appointed by the county councils. However, as noble Lords know, from 1 April 2009, the existing county and its council will be abolished in Bedfordshire and Cheshire and two new single-tier district councils will be established. The changes simply replace references to authorities which are to be abolished and allow members of the new councils to be members of the police and fire authorities. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that these are important, necessary and straightforward changes.

Let me take a moment to explain the provisions briefly. First, provisions in relation to fire and rescue authorities—Articles 2 and 5—provide for the new single-tier councils for Bedfordshire and Cheshire respectively to become constituent authorities of the fire and rescue authorities for their area from 1 April 2009 and, as such, they will have the power to appoint members to those authorities. Similarly, Articles 3 and 6 amend the constituent areas of the Bedfordshire Police Authority and the Cheshire Police Authority respectively to ensure that from 1 April 2009 the new single-tier councils for Bedfordshire and Cheshire can appoint members to the joint committees which appoint police authority members. Articles 4 and 7 amend the Valuation and Community Charge Tribunals Regulations 1989 to ensure that the areas of the Bedfordshire and Cheshire valuation tribunals reflect the areas of the new single-tier authorities, and replace references to local authorities which are being abolished with references to the new single-tier authorities.

The schedules to the order deal with transitional arrangements that will be in place from the day after the date that the order is made to the period ending immediately before 1 April 2009. These transitional provisions relate to the fire and rescue and police authorities. Essentially they ensure that representatives of the new single-tier councils are involved in the decisions taken by fire and rescue authorities during the transitional period that will affect the new councils from 1 April 2009.

Let me explain why the provisions are necessary. The 2009-10 budgets and the precepts for the police, fire and rescue authorities are set during the last quarter of 2008-09—in other words, before the new single-tier councils become constituent authorities of the police, fire and rescue authorities. It is important to ensure that the new councils are involved during that period and are able to influence decisions that will affect the new councils from 1 April 2009. The provisions do exactly that. They ensure that representatives from the new councils can attend meetings of their police, fire and rescue authority and that the police, fire and rescue authority must have regard to their views in considering its precept, the calculation of its budget requirement, and the preparation of its policing plan. However, as the representatives are not members at this stage, they are unable to vote at meetings during the transitional period.

Specifically, Schedule 1(1) and (2) provide for the new single-tier councils to appoint representatives to the fire and rescue authorities during the transitional period and for those representatives to go on to become full members of the fire and rescue authorities on 1 April 2009. Schedule 1(3) provides for the status of those representatives in the transitional period.

Schedule 2(1) provides that the councils that will be relevant councils in Bedfordshire and Cheshire from 1 April 2009 must establish a joint committee in accordance with the Police Authority Regulations 2008—that is SI 2008/630—within 14 days of Schedule 2 to the public bodies order coming into force.

Schedule 2(2) provides that each joint committee must appoint representatives of the new single-tier councils who will become members of the police authority for that area from 1 April 2009. Those appointments must be made in accordance with the requirements of the police regulations 2008. Schedule 2(3) makes provision about the status of the representatives during the transitional period.

I am sure that noble Lords agree that these are wholly sensible provisions. They have certainly been supported by the stakeholders. The provisions that we are considering have been framed with regard to the contributions and comments received from stakeholders during dialogue on the public bodies order. We have worked closely with stakeholders in Bedfordshire and Cheshire—not only through our regular update meetings with chief executives from the restructuring councils; I am grateful to them for their work on this. We have invited comments on various drafts of the order, but we also wrote to affected councils and bodies, as well as local MPs, outlining the proposed changes and inviting comments.

In total, we received eight responses to our soundings exercise: two responses about the membership of the Cheshire fire authority and six about the membership of Bedfordshire and Cheshire police authorities. Both the responses about the membership of the Cheshire fire authority were supportive of the proposal. We did not receive any responses about the membership of Bedfordshire and Luton combined fire authority. Of the six responses received about the membership of Bedfordshire and Cheshire police authorities, five were supportive of the proposal and one was neutral.

With that support and with the necessity that requires the order, I hope that noble Lords will support it. It is clear that it amends the areas and membership of public bodies consequential on the restructuring orders for Bedfordshire and Cheshire that the House agreed in 2008. As I said, these are transparent and sensible provisions which are widely supported by local stakeholders. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the order. She will know our view that services are important, rather than whether an authority is unitary or two-tier. The future lies in local area agreements between districts, counties and different sorts of organisations, such as health authorities and police authorities. We believe that we should allow local authority structures to grow naturally and organically. That, we feel, is the way to ensure that people receive better services. We have pointed out the high risk that arises in any restructuring in local government and our deep scepticism that the changes leading to the order will result in improved services for people in their local areas, which is what this ought to be all about.

I have one question for the Minister. Is she satisfied that the depth of consultation on restructuring with the fire and rescue authorities and the police authorities is at least as comprehensive as that conducted with the respective local authorities, or is the suck-it-and-see approach to legislating, exemplified by the local government restructuring, really as wasteful, and for the fire and rescue and police services as dangerous, as it seems to us?

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister. I agree about the common sense of the order, and I particularly take the point about the timing to enable new members to take part in budget discussions.

Try as I might, I could find few comments on the order save but a couple. The Minister said that there had been five supportive responses from the Bedfordshire and Cheshire police authorities and one that was neutral. I understand that there has been controversy as to how the places on the policy authority should be allocated between the constituent authorities. I hope, as do colleagues in the area, that this can be resolved by agreeing that representation should be proportionate to population.

There was another common sense comment about how cumbersome it would be to name all four local authorities shared by the Cheshire Constabulary if it has to be done too often. Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Halton and Warrington is a bit of a mouthful, and it would be useful if, in time, the emergency services could simply be known as Cheshire. It occurred to me when the Minister referred to Cheshire and Bedfordshire that we are already using almost historical titles. I am sure that we will go on doing so because that is common sense; that is our understanding of the geography. However, whatever the history leading to the creation of these new unitaries, we wish the authorities well.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords opposite for their responses. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, that this is and always has been about improving services. However, difficult though restructuring always is, the outcome will be better services in those areas. I pay tribute to all the local authorities that have worked so hard over the past year to make that possible.

The noble Lord asked about consultation with the fire and rescue authorities and the police authorities. He may be referring to the fact that it was not a full 12-week consultation. I referred to the work that had gone on with stakeholders, and I can tell him that we invited comments within a shortened timeframe because it was considered that there had already been lengthy consultation with stakeholders, who had the opportunity to comment on numerous drafts of the public bodies order and the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act. This order is a consequential amendment to that and so does not require us to consult fully on the proposed changes to the membership of public bodies. I assure him, however, that the outcome suggests that people have been well satisfied with the nature of the consultations.

As always the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, picks up on important points. There has been some discussion in Bedfordshire about the membership and composition of the joint selection committee of the police authority. In accordance with the Police Authority Regulations 2008, councils wrote to the Home Secretary asking her to consider and determine the relative levels of representation between Bedford Borough Council and Central Bedfordshire Council. That matter is for the Home Office and is still under consideration. The police authority of Cheshire will be known as the Cheshire Police Authority and the fire and rescue authority as the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Authority, which is a sensible outcome.

That was a useful exchange and I am grateful to noble Lords for helping to approve this order.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 6.25 pm.