House of Lords
Monday, 12 October 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
Deaths of Members
My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the deaths during the Recess of Baroness Chapman, Lord Gregson, Lord Buxton of Alsa and Lord Plummer of St Marylebone. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to their families and friends.
Libya: Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi
My Lords, the decision to release the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing on compassionate grounds was solely for the Scottish Executive to take. As the Prime Minister said in his statement of 2 September, he respected the right of Scottish Ministers to make that decision.
I am very grateful to the Minister. Will she confirm that there is absolutely nothing in the Scotland Act to prevent the Government from expressing their view on this matter? Will she acknowledge that it is deeply regrettable that on an issue of such public importance our Government took no position either in public or, apparently, in private for reasons of pure expediency? Will the Government please allocate urgently time in this House for a full debate on this matter in the interests of all those who lost their lives in the Lockerbie murders?
On the last issue, I am advised that it is the usual channels that need to be consulted. I totally reject the view that the UK Government have in any way not been doing their duty. Throughout the whole process, we have said that it is the business of the Scottish Executive and the Scottish judicial system to make decisions on this. We did not put any pressure on them at any time, which was the correct thing to do.
Does the Minister agree that the decision to release the Lockerbie bomber was quite wrong? According to the Justice Secretary, the Prime Minister was involved in discussions about compensation for UK victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism but not in discussions about al-Megrahi during the negotiations over the UK-Libya prisoner transfer agreement. It is clear that this overwhelmingly affected the national interest of the United Kingdom. Why was the Prime Minister not involved?
I repeat, the Prime Minister did not take any part in the decision that the Scottish Executive chose to make. There was no cover-up, no double-dealing, no deal on oil and no attempt to instruct Scottish Ministers. This is what our Prime Minister has said and I believe that to be the case.
My Lords, let us hear from my noble and learned friend and then from the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
My Lords, international affairs are not a devolved matter, although the actual decision in this case was for the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, should the external interests of the United Kingdom be affected, would it not be open to the Government to take whatever action is necessary to protect those interests either by way of comment or in some other way?
The Government always take interests into account, whether they are those of British nationals, of business or of many other concerns. But it is the case, and I shall repeat it, that the British Government played no part in the decision taken by the Scottish Government. It was absolutely the right of the devolved authority to make the decision, and that is what they did.
My Lords, I should declare a professional interest as the former co-counsel for Mr al-Megrahi in his unsuccessful application to the European Court of Human Rights. In the interests of justice and for the sake of the Lockerbie families, would the Government now seek to persuade the Scottish Executive to set up a full judicial inquiry into the matters raised by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission and the UN observer, Professor Köchler, about a possible miscarriage of justice and abuses in the investigation, prosecution and trial?
My Lords, as yet the British Government have made no decisions on these matters. The Lockerbie investigation took place and the result was that al-Megrahi was imprisoned in Scotland under that legal system. That remains the case and nothing can change in terms of what is possible from the investigation. The Libyans paid substantial compensation to the Lockerbie victims, but we accept that that is no justification.
My Lords, have the Government established to their own satisfaction that the medical opinions delivered in respect of the release of al-Megrahi were the result of proper examination? At that level, surely they are able to talk to the Scottish Executive to check the facts? It would have allowed the appeal to go forward, which would have resulted in a much more satisfactory outcome.
My Lords, I am sure that full medical examinations did take place. Under Scotland’s system of compassionate release, they take place when it is considered that the person concerned will live for another three months. That decision was taken on the basis of clear evidence. The Scottish Justice Secretary set out the process by which he decided to refuse a prisoner transfer, but as noble Lords know, then decided to grant compassionate release.
My Lords, is it not a reality that any representations as suggested would almost certainly have been resented by the Scottish Executive and therefore totally counterproductive? If we believe in devolution, and there is now a consensus in favour of the devolution settlement, we must allow for the consequences of devolution—which is the decision by the Scottish Executive.
My Lords, the point is that no pressure was exerted on the Scottish Executive. That was made clear by the Justice Secretary in the statement he made on 20 August. It would have been absolutely wrong for us to intervene in the case on foreign policy grounds because we would have been criticised very severely for doing so. Foreign policy was not among the criteria used by Scottish Ministers to reach that decision and that is an important factor. Clearly, as the noble Lord said, it was right under the terms of the devolution arrangements that all decisions on prisoners in the Scottish prison estate are taken exclusively by Scottish Ministers. Therefore, that was the recourse that we took.
My Lords, would the Government agree to invite and encourage the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to publish its 800-page report in which it recommends that an appeal should be carried out by the Scottish judiciary into the verdicts and the sentences? That report has not been published; do the Government agree that it should be?
Nursing and Midwifery Council
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of how the Nursing & Midwifery Council and its judging panel, the Professional Conduct Committee, is carrying out its duty to represent the public interest with reasonable punctuality.
My Lords, the assessment carried out by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, CHRE, in June 2008 on the Nursing & Midwifery Council, NMC—I apologise for all the acronyms—raised a significant number of concerns, one of which was the length of time the NMC was taking to deal with its fitness-to-practise cases. The report noted that significant improvements have been made in the past 12 months. It expects further improvements to be made and will continue to monitor closely progress in the next 12 months.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her helpful Answer but is it not appalling that six years after serious allegations of abuse and neglect in an old persons’ home came before the NMC, the case has not yet been heard? The patients concerned have long since died but their relatives are entitled to at least a verdict in this case and six years is simply not acceptable.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for sharing these concerns with me. I absolutely agree that it is completely unacceptable that the proceedings in this particular case have taken so long. It is unfair on both the complainant and the staff in question. I am pleased to say that the NMC and its new leadership are well aware of this matter and have a plan to address these issues. Improvements can and will be seen and will continue in the coming years, including resolving the issues that the noble Baroness has raised.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, the CHRE, which has already been mentioned. Is my noble friend aware that one of the ways in which CHRE operates is to encourage co-operation, information exchange and shared learning between the healthcare regulators to help improve their practices? Are the Government now giving consideration to implementing that section of the Health and Social Care Act which places a duty of co-operation on regulators?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point about sharing information across healthcare professional organisations. I am pleased to say that the consultation on the duty of co-operation is imminent. I will write to my noble friend with further details but we are expecting the date very soon.
My Lords, at any one time about 2,500 fitness-to-practise cases are being considered by the NMC—that is, 0.2 per cent of the number of registered nurses and midwives. We are talking about a very small number. It is disappointing that there are still a small number of cases which are taking longer than they should. I think there are eight cases still outstanding which have taken more than five years. We are very unhappy about that and the matter is being pursued by both the regulator and the CHRE.
The Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery in England has been hard at work over the summer; I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, who is a member of that commission, has spent a large part of her holidays doing this. Last week it published its 10 hot topics that it intends to pursue, and I note that number nine is taking responsibility and bringing to account the quality and safety of patient care—that is, how well nurses and midwives are supported in the job that they do, and whether the performance development supervision systems are fit for purpose. The commission will be looking at that.
My Lords, in its June 2008 report the CHRE criticised,
“the quality, comprehensiveness and variability of information and statistics provided by the executive to Council members on fitness to practise cases”.
Does the council of the NMC receive, as an automatic part of its council meeting papers, an aged analysis of fitness-to-practise cases?
I do not know the answer to that specific question, but the average time that cases are taking is coming down. When the special report was published, that time was 29 months, which is clearly unacceptable. The average age of cases is now 13 months, and the aim is that, within the next two years, 90 per cent of cases should be settled within a 15-month period. I will ask about the specific point that the noble Earl has raised.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a previous chairman of the UKCC, now the Nursing & Midwifery Council, and I have experience of the professional conduct and fitness-to-practise systems. What concerns me is that there are 2,500 cases still waiting. Is there any information on the progress in implementing a new computerised system that will assist case management? That seems to be one of the aspects that is holding things up.
I thank the noble Baroness for her record of helping to improve nursing practice in this country. She makes an important point. The NMC has appointed a permanent director of fitness to practise. The electronic case management system has been developed for that, and will be implemented by the end of the year. These are complex cases and better monitoring of them, improved agreement for the provision of services for their investigators, additional staff and the redesign of their fitness-to-practise processes are all in hand. I hope that by this time next year we will have seen some significant improvements.
My Lords, before turning to the Question, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed in operations since the House last met: Guardsman Christopher King, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards; Bombardier Craig Hopson, 40th Regiment Royal Artillery; Warrant Officer Class 2 Sean Upton, 5th Regiment Royal Artillery; Trooper Phillip Lawrence, Light Dragoons; Craftsman Anthony Lombardi, The Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers; Private Kyle Adams, The Parachute Regiment; Lance Corporal Dale Thomas Hopkins, The Parachute Regiment; Corporal Kevin Mulligan, The Parachute Regiment; Private Jason George Williams, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment; Rifleman Daniel Wild, 2nd Battalion The Rifles; Lance Bombardier Matthew Hatton, 40th Regiment Royal Artillery; Captain Mark Hale, 2nd Battalion The Rifles; Private Richard Hunt, 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh; Sergeant Simon Valentine, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Fusilier Louis Carter, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Fusilier Simon Annis, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Lance Corporal James Fullarton, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Private Johnathon Young, 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment; Serjeant Paul McAleese, 2nd Battalion The Rifles; Fusilier Shaun Bush, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Sergeant Lee “Andy” Houltram, of the Royal Marines; Private Kevin Elliott, The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland; Sergeant Stuart “Gus” Millar, The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland; Lance Corporal Richard Brandon, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers; Private Gavin Elliott, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment; Corporal John Harrison, The Parachute Regiment; Kingsman Jason Dunn-Bridgeman, 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment; Trooper Brett Hall, 2nd Royal Tank Regiment; Acting Serjeant Stuart McGrath, 2nd Battalion The Rifles; Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett MC, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment; Private James Prosser, 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh; Acting Corporal Marcin Wojtak, 34 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment; Guardsman Jamie Janes, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards; Lance Corporal James Hill, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.
I am sure that the thoughts of all of us are with their families and friends and with all those serving in that conflict on our behalf.
Our Armed Forces in Afghanistan are operating under United Nations resolutions and with over 40 other nations in support of and alongside the Afghan national security forces against the insurgency as part of a wider international civil-military effort to help Afghanistan become an effective and accountable state. To this end, over the summer, British forces along with Afghan and ISAF allies undertook Operation Panther’s Claw, which extended governance into the Babiji area of central Helmand.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, and for reading out and honouring before us the large number of fallen in this campaign. I associate myself with that, as many of them were from my own regiment. Does she agree that, if our Armed Forces are highly relevant to our strategy, it is vital that the public are kept fully informed of the continuing purpose of those military operations and the progress being made? Otherwise they—particularly the bereaved—will find it so much harder to come to terms with the very considerable casualty list, which of course does not include all those seriously wounded? Can the Minister also assure the House that in the immediate future the Government will really give this campaign their very best shot in terms of resources, aid, intelligence, co-ordinated direction and dynamic diplomacy, so that before too long there can be a chance to achieve that extra stability to enable us to hand over the bulk of security to indigenous forces? As a famous Chief of the General Staff in the First World War once said, “I’ve ’eard different”.
My Lords, I indeed think that the list of names is a salutary reminder of the price being paid. As the noble and gallant Lord says, it is important that we should remind the public from time to time exactly why we are there, which is why I mentioned the United Nations resolution and the fact that 40 other countries are also involved in the campaign in Afghanistan. We are there for our own security, because Afghanistan was the heart and centre for those who sought to participate in and plan terrorism, which has affected this country and many others. It is right that we should be totally committed to that campaign. The number of people that we have there and the resources that we are spending show that we have a very significant commitment. The absolute objective must be to get to a situation in which Afghans themselves can take control of a country that can be free from terrorism and not a safe haven for those who seek to do us harm.
My Lords, we on these Benches also pay tribute to the memory of all those 34 brave soldiers. Our thoughts are with their families and friends and also with the many soldiers who have received life-changing injuries.
As the noble Baroness said, the sooner we get Afghan security forces trained and on the front line, the faster we can begin to bring our own troops home. With that in mind, does the Minister agree with General McChrystal’s assessment that the Afghan National Army can be increased to 134,000 by this time next year?
My Lords, we will respond to General McChrystal in due course, but the basic aspect of this in terms of getting the Afghans themselves to take control is a significant priority. The word “Afghanisation” has become current in recent weeks, but for a long time we have been trying to build up the capacity of the Afghan national security forces—both the army and the police. At the same time we have tried to develop better governance in Afghanistan by creating institutions that are capable of taking on responsibility. That remains our objective and that is the basic intention of our strategy there.
My Lords, first, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute to the tragically long list of those who have fallen in Afghanistan in this ghastly and complex conflict. I have a question for the Minister about the wounded. We all acknowledge the outstanding work that is done at Birmingham Selly Oak Hospital in the treatment and care of those who are seriously wounded and brought back from conflict, but are we making maximum use of all our other centres of national medical excellence where, in appropriate circumstances, specialised treatment would be made available? Is there any fast-track mechanism for those wounded to have that opportunity?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, is right to mention those who have been injured, as have others. I know that many Members of this House have visited Selly Oak and Headley Court and seen the fantastic treatment available there. It is possible, where appropriate, for those who have been injured to be transferred to other parts of the health service, and that is done when it is in their clinical interests. It is important to remember that we should also make provision for their families. Therefore, when we have to transfer someone to a hospital other than Selly Oak because there is more expertise elsewhere, we try to create a military bubble so that the injured person has support from military colleagues but also has the facility to have their family with them. We provide for injured personnel to go elsewhere if that is where the expertise is, but we also try to make sure that the military and family bubble that we support at Selly Oak, which has been most successful, is there if someone is transferred.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that she replied to a Written Question that I put to her in the Recess about the fatalities of our partners and allies in Afghanistan? Her reply, in terms, was that it is not the British Government’s practice to list other than British fatalities. Does she agree that it might be appropriate for the Government and certainly for the press occasionally to pay tribute to the many sacrifices that our allies and partners are making in Afghanistan?
My Lords, as I mentioned earlier, this is a commitment that is supported by more than 40 other countries. There have been significant casualties from the major contributors. It is totally appropriate to pay tribute, particularly of course to those who are working alongside us in Helmand, such as the Danes and the Estonians, both of whom have taken considerable casualties.
Air Passenger Duty
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced in the 2008 Pre-Budget Report that air passenger duty would be reformed from this November. That decision is not being reconsidered. If the noble Lord is referring to the effect of APD on the Caribbean, I can tell him that my honourable friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury has asked officials to continue to consider this carefully. This consideration is still in progress. Any carve-out for the Caribbean with respect to this tax, such as a specific exemption or provisions, could raise questions about both legality and potential distortions between comparable destinations.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, I declare an interest as chairman of an all-party parliamentary group for one of the British Overseas Territories in the Caribbean. It is over three months since the Exchequer Secretary made the statement on 7 July. First, does my noble friend not believe that the matter should have been resolved by now? Secondly, does he not believe, as I do, that it is unfair that those travelling to the Caribbean have to pay a higher duty than those travelling to Hawaii, Alaska and the whole of the west coast of America, when going to the Caribbean is half that distance?
My Lords, on the Labour Benches nothing is closer to our hearts than the Cayman Islands. The Exchequer Secretary said that a reply would be given after due consideration. The new tax bands are due to come into effect from 1 November. Clearly, I expect a reply before that date.
On the bands for identifying travel distances, it is the convention to use the location of the capital city of the country. It is the good fortune of people travelling to Hawaii and Alaska that the capital of the United States is on the east rather than the west coast.
My Lords, the Minister says that the convention is to take the capital city as the basis of such a duty; does that not just prove that the convention is ridiculous and stupid? In this case, as the noble Lord has already said, one pays a lower rate of duty to go to Hawaii than to the eastern Caribbean—a series of countries that is suffering considerably with the downturn in the tourist market, and with which we have a long and strong historical link. Could the Minister ask his officials, when they are considering this, to look not at the precedent but at what makes sense now?
My Lords, the convention is one adopted by the airline industry. We seek to avoid a proliferation of different tax rates, which would represent an unreasonable burden on the air travel industry and on those taking advantage of the facilities offered by it. We have therefore gone for a model that is simple. The only exemption to the capital city rule is Russia, which divides into two zones to the west and east of the Ural mountains. The situation in the Caribbean economies is one of the factors being considered in the current review, the outcome of which will be announced prior to 1 November.
My Lords, will the Minister reflect on whether air passenger duty is levied basically as a tax-gathering exercise or whether there are real environmental concerns? Is the ability of the airline industry to play with fare rises and look at the elasticity of demand for air travel negating much of the effect?
The purpose of the air passenger duty is primarily fiscal but gives a strong nudge towards environmental considerations and will, we believe, lead to a reduction of some 0.6 million tonnes of carbon per annum as a result of the increase in the rates that is proposed with effect from 1 November. However, it is primarily a fiscal strategy and that, of course, is why it was introduced by the Conservative Government in 1994.
My Lords, the Minister confirmed to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that the Government are not carrying out a review and has now confirmed that the only reason they have the measure in the form that they have it is fiscal. Does the Minister agree with me that those who care about the environment, and who therefore see a “per plane” duty as the only logical way to proceed, should now vote for the party that is committed to that; namely, the Conservative Party?
We consulted widely in 2007-08 on whether we should make a change to per plane or per passenger duty but, having listened very carefully to the detailed, vociferous and consistent representations from the business lobby, we concluded that a per passenger duty—it had been introduced, as I said earlier, by the Conservative Government in 1994—was the most effective way of introducing taxation in this area. Of course, a per plane duty would have an injurious effect on international commerce, when we—on our Benches, at least—are doing everything we can to ensure that economic activity recovers as quickly as possible. I am sure the electorate will bear that in mind when they decide how to vote in the forthcoming general election.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lady Kinnock of Holyhead will repeat the Statement on Libya at a convenient point after 5 pm. Immediately after the Libya Statement my noble friend Lord Myners will repeat, as a Statement, an Urgent Question allowed in the other place on the proposed sale of government assets announced today.
City of Westminster Bill [HL]
Motion to Resolve
That this House resolves that the promoters of the City of Westminster Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House on 22 January 2009 should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150A (Suspension of Bills).
Legislative Reform (Dangerous Wild Animals) (Licensing) Order 2009
Groundwater (England and Wales) Regulations 2009
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill
Committee (6th Day)
Amendment 124C had been retabled as Amendment 124D.
124D: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—
“Youth detention: Sentence planning
( ) Sentence planning for persons subject to youth detention must have regard to the suitability of provision of specific education or training courses in particular establishments.
( ) The sentence planning should have regard to the desirability of the fact that no young offender should be moved between establishments while attending a specific course of education or training.”
Perhaps I may first wish all noble Lords involved in this Committee a warm welcome back after such a long break.
Our Amendment 124D highlights two problems in particular with the present provision of education in youth accommodation, and suggests solutions. Noble Lords are aware of the many problems facing those in youth accommodation. Education, of course, is only one way of addressing the issues faced by these young people—which include health problems, psychological concerns, substance abuse and family background difficulties—but it is important to ensure that the education provided for these young people does as much as it possibly can to make sure that the transition to life outside youth detention is as smooth as possible. To this end, it is important to find educational courses that will help those who have perhaps been excluded from school or for whom academic courses have never really sparked their curiosity or held their interest.
Subsection (1) of our amendment, therefore, would mean that sentence planning would take into account the suitability of different education or training courses, in particular in youth accommodation establishments. Education is of paramount importance, and those held in our youth detention centres are being let down.
Before the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, resumes his speech, I should inform the Committee that my noble friend Lord Barnett appears to have recovered and has been taken to St Thomas’s Hospital for checks.
Education is of paramount importance, and those held in our youth detention centres are being let down. In 2004 the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales conducted a census of all youth offending teams, gathering asset and additional data on children in the youth justice system in relation to education, training and employment. The census uncovered statistics showing that for approximately 5,000 children in the system, from 48 youth offending teams, around 50 per cent of those of statutory school age had full-time education, training or employment arranged, while 26 per cent had no provision at all. Among those above school age, 40 per cent had full-time education, training or employment arranged, while 31 per cent had none. We must ensure that these children are receiving education—and not only that, but the right education for their particular needs.
Subsection (2) follows on from the first subsection, but deals with a slightly different aspect of the problem. Many of those in youth accommodation experience problems because even if an appropriate course of training or education is initially provided, the young offender is then moved part way through the course.
In this regard, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons’ Youth Justice Board report, Children and Young People in Custody 2007-08, stated that of a sample of 2,500 young men in a YOI, 29 per cent had been held in another YOI during their current sentence. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice has told us that most children are in custody for an average of only three or four months. Surely it is sensible, therefore, that the sentence planning reflects that very short period of time, which could be crucial to the young person’s development and education. In 2004, an NAO report found that only 6 per cent of youth offending teams said that young people were able to continue education started in custody after release. Surely we must ensure that education is not disrupted because of movement during a short sentence, jeopardising the ability to slot back into the education system outside youth detention. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful to the Ministers and the Bill team for the ongoing dialogue and debate that we have had during the Recess. We are pleased to see that some of the government amendments reflect the results of that dialogue. We have considerable sympathy with this amendment and fully support the notion that all young people in custody should have the maximum opportunity to get the skills and confidence to enable them to continue their education when they go out at the end of their time in custody. If young people have to be moved in the middle of a programme of education, it should be a rarity. What provision will there be for giving credit for the learning achieved before the move, so that they may at least carry that with them to the next place? The Minister said that an Ofsted report will cover transitions. Will that aspect be addressed in that report?
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for the care that she has taken during the Recess to keep us informed of progress, hold meetings with us and send information. It was unfortunate that something went wrong with my computer, so that I did not receive the last document that she sent us on Friday until 20 minutes past two this afternoon. I am very glad that it is there, because it is comprehensive and large.
I very much agree with the two amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. At the risk of boring the Committee, I must once again raise the point that it is all very well laying these things down, but unless the context in which they can happen is provided, they will not happen. By context, I mean the organisation of the prison system and the youth justice system within it. These sorts of sentence plans have not only to be made but have to be passed around the system to enable the young people to take advantage of them.
This problem goes right back to 1990 and the recommendation that prisons should be grouped regionally so that people never leave their region and therefore the people who are responsible for delivering the programmes, the education, the work training, the medical treatment, the drug treatment and so on are the same people who will be looking after them when they come out of custody and therefore there is some hope of transitioning from one to the other. One of the problems of having a nationally run system, as at present, is that people are sent higgledy-piggledy all over the country, not for reasons of programming but for reasons of empty bed spaces. If you look at current programmes, you will find far too many of them are interrupted because people are moved at the wrong time, before they are completed. The worst example I came across was a boy who was moved the night before he took A-levels, for which he had prepared for 18 months.
We are very glad that, at last, we seem to be getting some coherence in delivery but, as I have mentioned before on the Floor of the House, there are two key words in this: “what” and “how”. Somebody has to lay down what is to happen everywhere and make certain that it does. The “how” is left to people on the ground to deliver it appropriately with the people and the resources they have. There is an awful lot of “how” about at the moment. “How” is going down in minute detail, but nobody is delivering the “what”. Suggesting that governors of prisons should be responsible is absolutely the wrong solution because governors change and when a new governor comes in, he changes all the programmes. Until and unless someone is made responsible and accountable for what happens in all young offender institutions all over the country, including the programming, what is provided and its content, none of this will come to pass. There are far too many people with individual responsibilities not working towards a coherent whole, and we need a coherent whole in which all these things can happen. Yet again, we are discussing a Bill that is being put forward by one ministry but we are really aiming at another. I hope that the messages being transferred to the Ministry of Justice will somehow get through because it is its responsibility to see that all these things that we are talking about can happen.
My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who co-operated with us during the Recess in trying to ensure that we resolved as many issues as we possibly could. It was much appreciated.
I agree that we must aim to ensure a learning experience for young people in custody that is as consistent as possible. We are building a system where education is given the priority it deserves, where, when young people are moved, they do not go back to square one in their education. The education they were receiving and the knowledge and understanding of their needs that have been built up about them will move with them. Let me explain in detail how this will happen.
New Section 562E places a duty on local authorities to provide on request any educational information that they hold which a receiving local authority needs in order to perform its new duties. Importantly, if a receiving authority requests that information, the previous authority must provide it.
On the question of ensuring that the information is distributed around the system as quickly and effectively as possible, I am sure noble Lords will be pleased to know that the national rollout of the eAsset electronic system was completed in March 2009. So this is not now a paper system chasing young offenders; the information should now be on this national electronic database. That ought to improve efficiency and prevent papers getting sent to the wrong place or getting lost, and is a useful, practical step towards resolving what is after all a complex problem.
Alongside this, new Section 18A provides that in securing suitable provisions for persons in juvenile custody, local authorities must have regard to the desirability of enabling persons to complete programmes of study or training which they have already begun. This will help to ensure that, wherever possible, young people will be able to continue with education programmes which they have already started, and we will make this clear in guidance.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, asked how we will achieve this. One of the things that we hope will occur at the moment is the reduction of moves in custody. The reduction in the under-18 custodial population in recent months means that young people no longer have to be transferred to free up places in establishments operating at full capacity. This means that where transfers still take place, they are for reasons connected with the needs and circumstances of the individual young person. Again, we hope that that will also assist the situation.
Young people are not moved around the system without good reason. When they move—I am sure many noble Lords are aware that they do move—a range of factors based on the person’s needs must be taken into account. This already includes education needs alongside other factors—such as the young person’s age, any identified risk factors and closeness to home—in determining the best placement for the young person. However, we will work with the Youth Justice Board to see whether the existing requirements in relation to the potential impact on the person’s education can be strengthened in the transfers protocol.
The provisions in the Bill will help to raise standards of education across the secure estate, so that, where transfers occur, the person will not lose out on their education. Ofsted inspections of provision in custody will ensure that this happens, and its annual report to Parliament covers the whole of its remit, including a section on young offender education. In the longer term, we are also working to reduce the number and frequency of moves needed across the secure estate.
I want to ensure that I have covered all the points. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, asked about credits for work that has been completed. That ought to take place with the updating of the individual learning plan, and now that we are conveying this in an electronic fashion I hope that that will indeed be the case.
I hope, with those assurances, that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendment. We all share exactly the same objectives: to ensure that the vital educational needs of young offenders are met, and that when they return to their local authority—whichever one that is—those needs continue to be met.
My Lords, I am not sure that I recognise the prison system as the Minister portrays it. He seems to think that by waving some political magic wand he can make things happen. He seems to think that an electronic system will automatically make people behave in some way or another—as if you can treat people in an educational system as automata that you can switch. Could he imagine switching his own child to another school, even with the best information provision possible, and not disrupting that child’s education? That does not happen. There are friendship groups to re-form; there are different teachers; the children are at a different point in the curriculum. It is an immensely disruptive procedure.
If the noble Lord has a magic wand, as he seems to think he has, there is an easy way to apply it. There should be an instruction that someone undergoing a course of education cannot be moved until it is completed. That would set out the priorities. It is simple and can be effected.
I do not think that the Minister addressed the other part of my noble friend’s amendment. The courts should have some knowledge and understanding of the available educational provisions in particular establishments so that they can make a reasonable decision of where a young person should be sent, under what conditions and the length of sentence. I am terribly disappointed that the Minister did not address that fundamental issue. We have these kids for only three or four months. If they are sent somewhere at random before we find out what they need, there will be the disorganisation, chaos and lack of education that we find all too commonly at the moment. There has to be progress in making this an integrated function to set these kids back on the right road. It is crucial that the courts should have access to assessments of a young person’s requirements when the first decisions are made about their educational needs. I hope that the Minister is able to address that part of my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I do not think that I suggested I have a magic wand. I sometimes feel that I am not much bigger than Sooty who did. We have tried to ensure that it is responsibility of the Youth Justice Board to facilitate the placement of remanded children and young people into juvenile custody, including the placement of the most sentenced children, and that it is managed nationally. The Youth Justice Board has a range of criteria on which placement decisions are made. The priority factors for a person’s placement are their age, vulnerability and closeness to home. Obviously, closeness to home will help in terms of education.
The noble Lord is correct. The priority factors for a person’s placement are their age, vulnerability and closeness to home, which is where usually a person would receive their education. No one likes to move people. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked me to address two things. The first is the importance of the first placement, with which we would agree and which is one of the factors. His second point is what happens when you have to transfer a young person.
Of course, as a parent, that is the last thing you ever want to do, but there are occasions on which it happens; for example, when the safety of the young person or the young person’s behaviour makes it a requirement that they have to move. In considering those moves, the Youth Justice Board follows a protocol which covers all transfers made across the entire secure estate for children and young people, and prescribes a process for each type of transfer. There are four main types of transfer; namely, vulnerable and at risk, discipline, planned and overcrowding. Now that the young offender institutions are not so full, we hope that overcrowding will not be such a problem.
Other types of transfers include emergency transfers, mental health transfers and transfers within the individual case management process protocol where the person is being particularly disruptive.
As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, education is not mentioned in those criteria. Although I am sure the Committee accepts that where there is a mental health problem or a danger to the young person, that should have a certain priority in decisions about moving the young person, I think that the issue of completion of education should come higher up the list than overcrowding. In a case of overcrowding, the governor will have some discretion as to which young people will be moved. Surely, education and the stage a young person has got to in his or her course should be in that list of criteria. I would point out to the Minister that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, simply asks that regard should be had to that.
The noble Baroness makes a valid point and I shall address what we are doing to improve the situation. We will work with the Youth Justice Board to see whether the existing requirements regarding the potential impact on a person’s education can be strengthened in the transfers protocol. The point will be taken into account. We will also deal with these issues when the guidance for England is published for consultation before we reach the Report stage. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for their support, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for continuing to emphasise what he calls the “what”. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton who raised the idea of the “who”, and I thank the Minister for his response. As my noble friend Lord Lucas said, one hopes that the national electronic database will work in the way the Government intend. The Minister says that it ought to solve the problem, but while of course it ought to do so, we look to the Government to ensure that it does.
The Minister also said that guidance will be forthcoming to give effect to continuity of training and education. Every effort should be made to show us at least a draft of the guidance before the Report stage; it would be extremely helpful if that was possible. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for his request for a response on the sentence planning aspect, as well as to my noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for their interventions. We will need to think carefully about the Minister’s response, but until the Report stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 124D withdrawn.
Clause 48 : Persons detained in youth accommodation: application of provisions
125: Clause 48, page 30, leave out lines 34 to 36
This amendment seeks to leave out a sub-paragraph. In the third paragraph of the letter sent by the Minister last Friday evening to interested Peers, she wrote that the reforms set out in this Bill to make local authorities responsible for the education and training of young people in youth custody,
“are central to ending the disapplication of education law for young people detained in youth custody”.
Currently, young offenders in youth custody are excluded from education law, and this Bill will change that. The purpose of my amendment is to try to make the change complete. Perhaps I may explain.
In the Bill as drafted, new Section 18A(1) set out in Clause 47 requires local authorities to provide education to those aged under 19, while new Section 18A(7)(b) restricts the requirement so that it applies only if the young people are being held in what is described as “relevant youth accommodation” in their area. In Clause 48(3), new Section 562(1A)(b)(ii)—if your Lordships can follow me—specifically excludes accommodation used “wholly or mainly” to hold people aged 18 or over. In a letter dated 6 October, the noble Baroness quoted the Youth Justice Board as having reported that in the year to April 2008, only one under 18 year-old was moved to young adult accommodation, and only four months before his 18th birthday. Even if there were no more than one or two of these cases a year, a principle is at stake here, one almost certainly recognised by the European Court of Human Rights, so there is some backing to the case. But it is stronger than perhaps noble Lords imagine because the reassurance given by the noble Baroness relates only to young adult accommodation as described in the YJB letter, while the accommodation I am concerned about is all of that subject to the exemption in Clause 48 which I have just described. It seems inescapable that that would include not just those places built specifically for young adults, but the whole of the adult estate into which, as some of us remember all too well, not tens or scores but on occasion hundreds of young people of this age were decanted when a real pinch was felt through the pressure on accommodation.
In her letter the Minister said that she was considering an amendment to address the plight of the rare birds of passage that she is planning for. After she has considered what I have said, will she confirm that she will table an amendment to agree that the Bill should make provision for the much larger, possibly non-migratory flocks, that I fear we may be destined to see perched in adult accommodation in the future? I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to add to my noble friend’s comments about the gratitude we feel towards noble Lords who have been generous with their time over the past few weeks to help us in focusing our work in preparation for Committee. I am grateful to noble Lords across the House for the help that they have given us.
In response to the noble Lord’s remarks, I understand his concern. As I said in my letter, which he has described clearly and carefully to the Committee, it is a rare event for a young person aged under 18 to be held in the young adult prison estate. As the noble Lord explained, the Youth Justice Board report for April 2008 pointed out that only one young person under the age of 18 was moved from juvenile custody to young adult custody.
I should like to think about the noble Lord’s concern about a future situation in which large numbers of under-18s could be decanted into adult accommodation. This is not something that we on these Benches would envisage—I hope it is not something that anyone on any Benches around the House would envisage—but I shall explore what guidance we can give to the chief executive of Skills Funding and how we can work with Welsh Ministers to produce that guidance. I shall happily continue the dialogue with the noble Lord between now and Report to ensure that we can provide the reassurances necessary to meet his concerns. With that, I hope he will consider withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I echo my thanks to her for the time that she has spent and, more particularly, the time that her Bill team have spent, some of them on Saturday mornings, which is far beyond the call of duty. It is much appreciated.
I also assure the noble Baroness that no one envisages doing these things; they suddenly find themselves forced to do it. It is a force majeure and we have to prepare for it before it happens.
Having said that and in the light of what the noble Baroness said—understanding that she has taken on board that we are talking about more than just one or two a year when the shoe pinches—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 125 withdrawn.
Clause 48 agreed.
Clause 49 : Persons detained in youth accommodation: further provision
126: Clause 49, page 31, line 1, at end insert—
“( ) Section 321 of the Education Act 1996 (c. 56) (general duty of local education authority toward children for whom they are responsible) is amended as follows.
( ) After subsection (3)(d) insert—
“(e) he is detained in relevant youth accommodation”.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 128, 133 and 134. The first amendment seeks simply to make local authorities apply the same standards and supply the same support to detained young persons as they do to other persons of the same age. Amendment 134 is designed to ensure that any existing knowledge about the special educational needs of a detainee is known to the host authority and acted on by it at the earliest possible time.
The whole group, in fact, has been largely overtaken by the lengthy letter that the Minister sent us over the weekend, so I need not elaborate on the detail of this except in one respect: Amendment 128 is less of a probing amendment than the rest because it requires that there should be a standard format in which information about a child’s or young person’s educational progress is kept and transmitted. The noble Lord mentioned the e-Asset system; I would like to know whether that is uniform not only throughout England but also in Wales. I am aware that there are transfers of prisoners across the Severn as well as between regional boundaries, and it is important that the same format of document should come with the arriving inmate from wherever he has come and to wherever he is going, so that everyone knows what to look for where. I have set out a system for doing this that is perhaps simplistic but that I think none the less would work. So far as I am concerned, it could be electronic, on hard copy or both. I would advise that it was not put into service until the system for transferring, electronically or otherwise, was uniform throughout England and Wales—also, ideally, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but we will leave that aside for the moment. I await the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I put my name to these amendments because, as with so much of the Bill, there is a read-across to an aspect contained in another Bill that is linked with the intention of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I refer to the Health and Social Care Act, on which we had long discussions about the role of the social workers who were responsible for children in care who went into custody. Those social workers had the duty of being in loco parentis, overseeing all the programmes that were planned with and for that young offender during their detention and training order in custody, as well as overseeing the resettlement or rehabilitation plan that was made at the end.
Education is but one part of that process, but it reinforces the need for the local authority to be responsible for ensuring that, wherever that child comes from—whether they come from a home where a parent can carry it out or whether they need someone else, such as a care officer, to do it—someone is responsible for seeing that these programmes are overseen and are carried out. It is therefore essential that the provision should be made clear in every responsibility that is now being passed on to local authorities.
My Lords, I take the opportunity, given what my noble friend has just said, to thank the Minister for the recent meeting on the Bill, particularly for what was said in that meeting about the social workers who have been appointed to young offender institutions. As my noble friend has said, they play a vital role in ensuring that our most vulnerable children make a smooth transition back to their local authority when they move from the prison.
As the Minister knows, and as I have expressed before in Committee, there is concern that for a long time there has been uncertainty among social workers employed in these settings about their contracts; they have had short-term, one-year contracts and their current funding is uncertain. I am grateful to him for recognising that this is a matter of concern. I recognise that it is the local authority’s responsibility. I am grateful that he has said that he will write to me, updating me on the current situation. I would be grateful to hear in his response how many of the 25 posts for social workers are currently filled. I wanted to take that opportunity to thank the Minister for such a positive response on this issue.
My Lords, I also take this opportunity to thank Ministers and, indeed, the team for the time that they have given. It has certainly been helpful. Like my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, I have had problems with my computer. I hope that we will all catch up in due course.
I am attracted by this duty to establish and maintain a learning programme. It sets out exactly what should be happening. The problem is that none of us really believes that it is happening, or that it will happen satisfactorily in future, even with e-Asset coming in. Apart from the idea of people being in prison for three months or less, which immediately makes one think of how completely pointless it is to send anyone to prison for three months, it is essential that it should happen within a reasonable length of time. That worries us on every aspect of this Bill. Is it going to happen within a reasonable length of time, preferably as soon as the plan for someone to be moved goes into action? I should be grateful for a little more reassurance.
My Lords, it would be helpful to do a note to the Committee on the role of the corporate parent in this. We are placing duties and responsibilities on home local education authorities that are also the corporate parents. It would be helpful to have a note for the Committee on that matter. There are some real benefits to the approach that we are adopting, in being clear about the responsibilities of the home local education authority. I am very sorry that Members of the Committee are having problems with their computers, because we rely on the expert work of our House of Lords computer team. They are fabulous, and they usually do a great job for us.
I offer noble Lords some reassurance about the important amendments that we are discussing. I shall take some time to address some of the concerns that have been expressed. Amendment 126, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, seeks to ensure that local authorities work to identify young people in juvenile custody in their area for whom it is necessary to make special educational provision.
Our guiding principles in these reforms have always been to ensure consistency between provision in and out of custody. However, it is not always practical to replicate the assessment and statementing regime for children and young people in custody. The population in custody is highly mobile, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and young people generally spend only a short time in a particular institution, which would not allow time for the statementing process. I know that noble Lords have been concerned about that.
The Bill as drafted requires that authorities will use their best endeavours to ensure the delivery of appropriate special educational provision. This will be provision corresponding as closely as possible to the provision in the statement. That is the thrust of what we are trying to achieve. The statement will be the starting point; there will be consideration of whether the provision that it contains remains appropriate and how much of it can be delivered within the time the young person is due to spend in the institution. The Bill also imposes obligations upon the home authority to transfer a copy of the person’s SEN statement to the host authority, in which the YOI institution is located, to enable the host authority to determine appropriate special educational provision. That transfer of information is absolutely key, as noble Lords have suggested. It is important that that is timely.
We have also made provision to ensure that a child’s statement of special educational needs, which was maintained before the person's detention, must be reinstated or reviewed on their release. That relates to the concern about young people returning to their home environment and whether the provision will be there for them. There are strong new duties that will benefit young people with SEN in custody. Of course, Ofsted inspections will make sure that they are applied in practice. With those reassurances, I hope that Amendment 126 can be withdrawn.
Amendment 128 would ensure that each child and young person in juvenile custody is provided with a personal learning programme. That document is key, as we have heard. Young people in juvenile custody already have individual learning plans as part of their wider sentence and resettlement plans, which are regularly updated. Those are produced very early on in the process. The information contained in the plan follows the person through custody. As my noble friend has already said, the e-Asset system is so important because it can operate in a timely way. That will continue to be the case once the provisions of the Bill are in force.
We will set out in statutory guidance—a high level of authority—that local authorities should ensure through the arrangements that they make with learning providers that all young people receive a learning assessment—again, something that the Committee has been very concerned about. That will examine literacy and numeracy skills and will include a basic screen for special educational needs and learning difficulties. It will inform decisions about how the provision is best tailored to meet their needs alongside the educational information from the home authority. It will bring together information from the home authority—the people who know the child—and put it alongside information garnered in the custodial environment.
The information will be recorded in an individual learning plan that will continue to form part of the person’s wider sentence plan. I would be happy to check the exact format of that plan—how it is laid out and so forth—because in e-Asset, that will be the standard approach. I hope to be able to share an outline version of the statutory guidance that lies behind all that with the Committee before Report.
Key to all of this is the role of Ofsted. Ofsted plans to introduce a new methodology for inspection of education in young offender institutions to look at progress being made by offenders. I appreciate the Committee's anxiety about what will really happen, but we have to have mechanisms and levers to ensure that the guidance and the duties that we place are put into action. Ofsted will be using that new methodology, which will include inspection of young people's learning assessments, individual learning plans and the involvement of tutors. It will look forensically at what really happens.
The Bill also strengthens provisions to support the person’s resettlement into the community, which is so important when people move and spend only a short time in a young offender institution. New Section 562B places a new duty on the home local authority to take steps to promote the fulfilment of the young person's learning potential while they are in juvenile custody and on their release. Where appropriate, the home authority must make arrangements for the provision of education or training on the person's release from juvenile custody. I believe that that duty will help to ensure the continuity of learning, which many have raised as a concern. With that, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.
I would like to offer a little more reassurance on Amendments 133 and 134. I agree that it is essential for both home and host authorities to have all available information about a young person. That is why we have new Section 562E, which provides for the sharing of information connected with the provision of education or training for detained persons. That includes any information relating to a person's special educational needs.
New Section 562F provides for the transfer of copies of any SEN statements, and makes provision to ensure that the host authority is aware that a person has a statement and that the host local authority will need to ensure that it has a copy of the statement to fulfil its “best endeavours” duty in new Section 562, which is a key part of the new duty on the person’s home authority. We recognise that, with different authorities involved, this could be complex. The youth justice system’s recent development of the e-Asset programme, the secure e-mail system that we have heard about, presents new opportunities to make information transfer much simpler, more efficient and more timely. We will be clear on how information exchange should occur, particularly in the guidance that we are producing. I hope that with these and any further reassurances the noble Lords would like me to offer—I will do my best—the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thought at the beginning that we were wandering off course when the noble Baroness talked about statements. The noble Lord’s amendment clearly runs far wider than that. However, then she said something absolutely wonderful: that when these children come into custody they will be assessed. They will have a general assessment that will cover basic special educational needs, literacy and numeracy. Can I have some details about that? I would really like to know what this assessment is to be. Beyond anything else, it would be nice to see it introduced in schools. We have been asking for this for a very long time. I have no objection to the Prison Service leading the way in this fashion, but I would like to know the details. I would also like to know what frequency Ofsted proposes for its inspections and how quickly it anticipates getting around the estate for its first inspections when the Bill is passed.
The noble Baroness talks, quite rightly, about gathering information from the host authority. What provision is being made to encourage host authorities to put this information together before their charge arrives somewhere else, in another authority’s young offender institution? Should this process—of preparing a dossier which could go immediately to the institution—not have been started two or three weeks beforehand? There is usually, or quite often, a gap between conviction and sentencing; should the dossier preparation not begin at that point? Finally, the noble Baroness again mentioned e-Asset, which is not a system that I have come across. If she can point me in the direction of documentation on that, I should be most grateful.
I would be very happy to write in detail to the noble Lord. As he has suggested, it would be a good idea for the assessments to be undertaken and reports prepared before sentencing. That is the way it works. I will write in detail to the noble Lord about how all the assessments work and copy it to the Committee. The assessments are requirements under secondary legislation and through contractual arrangements that are entered into with providers. There are strict deadlines for assessments; they should be made within either 10 working days or two weeks. There is a lot to go through but I will furnish the Committee with that detail.
Before the amendment is withdrawn, could I ask the Minister to remind the Committee about where the flow of funds is in all this? Clearly, under these two clauses, the local education authority is now responsible for providing adequate education and training for those held in youth custody. That presumably means that it will be responsible for funding this. There are funds available in the Prison Service for this at the moment. Will those funds be reduced? If new equipment is required or if, perhaps, prisons or youth offender institutions do not have such equipment, will the local authority provide it, or will the Prison Service be expected to do so? What I am really getting at is, who is the paymaster here? Will the whole prison system regime have its funds reduced so that the local education authority takes over a function which hitherto has been the responsibility of prison governors and the Prison Service?
My Lords, the YPLA will have a key role in apportioning funds. I do not have details of the exact flows of money in my file but we are not expecting local authorities to pick up additional funds that would have been the responsibility of the Youth Justice Board. However, again, I am happy to write to the noble Lord and to the Committee giving the full detail. Even a flow diagram might be helpful.
My Lords, in response to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about inspection, I inform the Committee that since 1996 Ofsted inspectors have gone into every young offender institution not independently but as part of a prisons inspection, because the Ofsted inspectors go in with the prisons inspectorate.
My Lords, I will seek advice on what the noble Baroness has so far told us. Before we leave Amendment 128, I ask her to note that it not only sets out that a programme should be put in place but obliges the host authority to report every week on the progress made by the pupil. That information is then put together with the programme, to be sent on. It may not be enough just to say “This should be put across”, because those of us who have worked in school staffrooms know that at the end of 18 gruelling weeks either you say, “Little Johnny could try harder”, or one can give a blow-by-blow statement of his progress. What is required is the information needed by the next person to take little Johnny on, in order to be able to teach him adequately.
That brings me to SEN. I am delighted to join my noble friend Lord Lucas in welcoming the intention at last to screen all incomers. The Minister said that that will take time. It will, I think, inevitably throw up a number of cases which need statements. However, in the same paragraph that she announced that, she said that they will not be in the same place long enough for a statement to be drawn up for them. That lends great force to the point of my noble friend Lord Lucas that a regulation should require at least certain aspects of the educational programme to take priority in the list of criteria that are applied to prisoners before they are moved.
Having given good warning, I am not finished with Amendment 128 or the principles therein. Subject to what I may cull from Hansard later, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 126 withdrawn.
127: Clause 49, page 31, leave out lines 7 to 9
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 127, which would, at page 31, line 7, leave out new subsection (1), or rather, as it appears on the Marshalled List,
“leave out lines 7 to 9”.
When I first read this measure I thought that I detected a Henry VIII clause apparently giving sweeping powers to amend legislation passed by this House, and when I read it again I had the same impression. The Minister has told me that this is not the use intended for the provision by the present Government. However, she cannot, of course, speak for the next and subsequent Governments. I was encouraged by her to bring forward an amendment to new Section 562A if I was particularly concerned about this, so all I need to do at this stage is to say that I am and to listen to what she has to say.
Despite the change of gender involved, I shall endeavour to reply. As we have heard, Amendment 127 reflects a concern about the proposed use of the power in new Section 562A—that we could make regulations to disapply many of the provisions of the Education Acts from young offenders. I can reassure your Lordships’ House that this is not the case. New Section 562A merely provides a power to modify primary and secondary legislation in their application or effect on those detained in relevant youth accommodation.
Perhaps it is also worth noting that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was content with the power and application of the negative resolution procedure. I recognise, however, the concerns that this power may be used to disapply the specific young offender provision made by this Bill. Certainly, we would not intend the power to be used in this way. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to make it clear in the Bill that the power in new Section 562A cannot be used in relation to provisions of the Act that already make specific provision in relation to detained persons. I will take this question away, as the noble Lord requested, and see what can be done to further reassure him on Report.
Amendment 127 withdrawn.
Amendments 128 and 129 not moved.
130: Clause 49, page 31, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) If the home authority receive a notification under section 562F(7) or 562G(3), (5) or (6), subsection (3) shall apply as if the words “where it appears to the home authority appropriate to do so” have been omitted from it.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 131 and 135. Amendment 135 requires the host authority to give to the home authority adequate warning of the release of an inmate. I realise that the arbitrary 14 days that I have chosen may not be appropriate, but it is necessary to ensure, as my noble friend Lord Lucas and others have said, that a receiving-back home authority shall have time to get its act together and to get to know the young person—indeed, make face-to-face contact with them—before they return to their home area.
Amendment 130 applies when a host authority alerts a home authority of special educational needs or learning difficulties. The amendment would prevent the home authority saying, “Oh no, he hasn’t”, because at the moment it is required to take action to meet the conditions described by the host authority only if it seems to the home authority appropriate to do so. I should like the Minister to give some explanation of the circumstances in which there might be a difference of opinion between the host authority and the home authority on the SEN and learning difficulties of one of their charges.
In all these provisions, I hope that the Committee would be right to assume that everything said about England could be said about Wales. That is why I have included new Section 562G(6) in Amendment 130. I need say no more about Amendment 131, which is simply a belt-and-braces provision that I think the Minister will tell me is unnecessary. I beg to move.
My Lords, I very much hope that I can offer the reassurances that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is looking for. Perhaps I may walk through the notes that I have. However, first, I agree that young people’s learning needs, including any special educational needs, must continue to be met in a consistent way on their transfer from custody back into the community. That is the rationale behind including the home responsibilities in the Bill.
The general duties on local authorities to ensure that education and training are available for all children and young people in their area under Sections 13 and 14 of the Education Act 1996 and new Section 15ZA will apply to young people on their release from juvenile detention, as they do to all young people in a local authority area. Local authorities also have a duty to meet the special educational needs of people in their area under Part IV of that Act. I am arguing that the amendments are, as the noble Lord suggested, unnecessary.
The Bill will help to ensure that no young person is missed by a local authority on their release from juvenile custody, and will help to ensure the successful transition back into education and training in the community by placing the duty on home authorities to promote the fulfilment of the person’s learning potential. I am afraid that I am coming back to the statutory guidance, but we will make it explicit in that guidance that this includes the need to have regard to any special educational needs that a person may have.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was concerned about possible disagreements between local authorities. I might have to think about that. A young person can only be in one place at any one time. If a home authority does not agree with what a host authority has said about special educational needs, when the person comes home the home authority’s view would, I imagine, trump the earlier view taken by the other authority. However, I am happy to think further about whether I have got that right. As I said, we will make it explicit in statutory guidance that regard must be had to a person’s special educational needs on release and return to the home authority area.
For persons in juvenile custody who had the SEN statement prior to detention, Amendment 135 would require host authorities to notify other authorities of the person’s release at least 14 days in advance, as the noble Lord explained. One has the expectation that 14 days is the latest that they would leave it. However—there is always a “however”, I suppose—there may be some exceptional circumstances in which a person’s release date is not known two weeks in advance, which would mean that the amendment would be impossible to comply with, although obviously we would see that as the exception rather than the rule. What we meant by “exceptional circumstances” would need to be picked up in statutory guidance.
Instead, we will make it clear in statutory guidance that home local authorities should be notified as soon as possible about a person’s expected release date from their custody. This is critical to enabling effective planning for the person’s education and training on their release back into the community. The information transfer provisions in the Bill and the facility of the electronic system will also help to ensure that educational information about the person is properly transferred and used to inform the longer-term education and resettlement planning. I hope that, with that reassurance, the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Finally, the noble Lord asked whether this applies to Wales. These are mirror provisions—I think that that is the correct term—so they will apply through the Welsh Assembly Government in Wales.
My Lords, let me say just a word on the mechanism of that. The statutory guidance, whose initial drafts the noble Baroness kindly said that she would show us, will be drafted in England by the Secretary of State and in Wales by the Welsh Assembly Government. Therefore, will she be showing us two sets of drafts?
Amendment 130 withdrawn.
Amendments 131 to 136 not moved.
136A: Clause 49, page 34, line 44, at end insert—
“562GA Responsibility for ensuring compliance
It shall be the duty of the person in charge of the accommodation in which the young person is detained—
(a) to inform the host and home authorities of the presence of the young person in that accommodation and to ascertain that these authorities fulfil the responsibilities under the provisions of this Chapter; and(b) to ask the Secretary of State to direct a local authority to discharge its functions under this Chapter should it appear to him that a local authority is not fulfilling these responsibilities.”
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 136B. The Minister sent a detailed response to concerns on issues such as information exchange and continuity of learning for young offenders. We welcome assurances on the assessment of the learning needs, literacy and numeracy of young people entering custody, and on screening for special educational needs and learning difficulties and disabilities. There is great complexity in the situation—and there needs to be, because these are complex young people. The amendment focuses on a single person, office or role that might simplify the process. I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has indicated—that the governor may not be the appropriate person, because that role may change. However, we seek to focus on a role, or person in a role, in the institution which would take responsibility to clarify and simplify the lines of authority.
As well as the consultation that the Minister has indicated will be put in place for this, we hope that this authority will be regularly evaluated to make sure that front-line staff are able to spend as much time as possible on working with young offenders rather than in time-consuming and unproductive administration, and that any deficiencies can be rectified at the earliest opportunity.
Amendment 136B confirms the role of Ofsted in monitoring the performance of local authorities with respect to educational provision for those in youth custody. As we have heard, Ofsted already inspects the insitutions, secure children’s homes and secure training centres, and so would also be best placed to include local authority provision in any monitoring and reporting role. We look forward to the Minister’s response to the two amendments, and support the direction of the government amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, the effectiveness of this kind of provision, which I wholeheartedly support—it would be wonderful if it happened in this way—depends on the issue of initial assessment. Somebody must decide what the needs of the young person are before these can be communicated. I am increasingly concerned with the question of the “who”, which my noble friend Lord Elton raised earlier. The assessment of literacy and numeracy is not an easy and straightforward task that anybody can do. Often, it involves oral testing on passages that are read out. There are flows of young people coming into custody all the time, all over the country. Where is the army of people qualified to do assessments coming from, and who will be charged with providing it? Will the assessors have to come out of local schools? Will the local authority provide them? I would appreciate the Minister’s comments on what the assessment will be and who will do it.
May I add to what the noble Baroness has said? The amendments attempt to pin down the responsibility of the local authority to make sure that it will do what the Bill sets out for it to do. Many local authorities might be dilatory in exercising these responsibilities, which are irksome and very expensive. I would like some estimate from the Government of what the cost will be of transferring to local authorities the responsibility for education and training of 16 to 18 year-olds who are held in custody. Have they estimated the costs, which will be considerable? They have to devise training plans and ensure that they are implemented, and—who knows?—a local authority might have a young offender in an offender institution at one end of the country and another at the other end of the country.
When it comes to special educational needs, as my noble friend has just said, who will bear the cost of following up the assessment? A young offender with special educational needs—for example, if they are partially blind, partially deaf or autistic—will, if they are not in custody, be in either a special school or a special unit of an ordinary school. Of course, they cannot attend those if they are in custody and will require individual tutoring in skills relating to blindness, deafness or autism. That is a truly expensive operation. Then their progress has to be measured, which is another expensive operation.
Have the Government made an estimate of the overall cost of this obligation on local authorities across the country? I think we all agree that this is an excellent duty to perform but it is an expensive extra duty, and the question is: where will local authorities get the money? Will it come from the local council tax payer or from a government grant?
My Lords, perhaps I may briefly follow what the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has just said. The East Potential academy, which I have already mentioned on the Floor of this House in connection with this Bill, was recently invited to present its business case to the Secretary of State for Justice. It asked the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board for the figures relating to the cost of youth custody for both those Prison Service establishments but neither was able to produce the figures. The Youth Justice Board gave what it could and the Prison Service referred to the Freedom of Information Act. The result was that the academy staff went to KPMG and invited it to carry out an assessment of the cost of youth custody. The Government allege that it costs between £55,000 and £60,000 a year, but KPMG showed that this was much nearer to £100,000 a year, and a report to that effect was published in July and handed to Ministers for the very reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has mentioned.
If the costs of the provision of this service by local authorities merely reflect the current financial provision as alleged by government, they will be far removed from the actual costs, and local government will rightly be at least very irritated if they suddenly discover that what they are being asked to do is not financed. Where will the other finance come from or are we suddenly going to find that the system, which already does not function as well as it might, functions less well because the resources are simply not there? It is unfair to ask local authorities to make some form of compromise with all the other things that they have to do in order to provide a satisfactory programme for youth.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Perry, I declare sympathy for the amendments raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Garden. They summarise concerns, well explained by my noble friend Lord Baker, that authorities may not fulfil their duties adequately, in particular because of cost, and that young people may suffer because of this. I look forward to reassurance from the Minister as to how it will be ensured that local authorities fulfil their duties and that no young person is allowed to fall through the gap between host and home authorities. Indeed, as my noble friend Lady Perry said, there is also the question of “who”.
My Lords, perhaps I may respond quickly to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on how often Ofsted will be inspecting and what the levers for inspection are. Was that the question? Perhaps I may put the answer on the record anyway. Ofsted also inspects performance by local authorities in England and therefore there is a connection there. There is also Estyn in relation to Wales. Its functions come under Section 136 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and, for Wales, Section 38 of the Education Act 1997. I am sorry if that has not picked up the point made, but I might need to look at Hansard to check that I have answered the question fully.
On funding, I absolutely agree with the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Baker, that it is key to ensure that the flows of moneys are managed properly. I need to be clear that we are talking about the costs of delivering education; we are not talking about the wider costs of running the secure estate. The existing LSC and YJB funds for education will be redirected to local authorities and, most importantly, will be ring-fenced for this purpose. As I said earlier, I will be happy to circulate further information about how that will work, and can go into more detail if that will offer noble Lords the further reassurance that they are looking for. Noble Lords will understand that ring-fencing those funds is not a usual step for local authorities.
The Minister said that the existing funds would be transferred and ring-fenced. That makes the assumption that it costs the same to educate a child in a school of anything from five to 1,500. But educating one, two or three children on their own in a remote institution is likely to be much more expensive, is it not?
I am sorry, I was not clear. There is existing funding for education within the juvenile estate. The funding of education takes place currently through the Learning and Skills Council and the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. That will be redirected to local authorities to deal particularly with the concerns highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to ensure that the local authorities have that ring-fenced resource.
Turning to Amendments 136A and 136B, making local authorities responsible for education for young people in youth custody is central to ending what we have described as the disapplication of education law for this group of young people. We see that as the fundamental step forward. For the first time, this legislation will place clear responsibilities for a young person’s learning while they are in youth custody on local authorities—the people who know about education in their locality. This is vital for improving standards and the quality of the experience for these young people, which is what we are aiming to achieve. Giving responsibility to local authorities will help to align education inside and outside custody and facilitate the sharing of expertise and experience between the mainstream and custodial sectors, which is what we are trying to achieve. It will also create incentives for local authorities to invest in preventing young people entering custody as they will have responsibility for “their” young people in custody even if they are held in a different area. That is the joined-up thinking that on other occasions noble Lords have been keen to see.
The Standing Committee for Youth Justice has welcomed this reform, recommending that it is a significant step forward in the education of this vulnerable group. Placing an overarching duty on governors of youth custody to have overall responsibility for ensuring that local authorities fulfil their duties, which is what the amendment is about, would potentially create further confusion in responsibilities, which we are trying to avoid. I understand that the noble Baroness was pursuing this as a probing, challenging amendment, and not necessarily to see the detail enacted. I agree that we must have appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that local authorities fulfil these duties. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that these duties must be fulfilled; we must ensure that things happen on the ground. We will be clear through statutory guidance that we expect host local authorities to develop partnership arrangements—this is important in a practical sense—with the custodial establishments fully to involve them in the commissioning process of securing learning provision in youth custody.
Not wishing to count my chickens, but following Royal Assent, should we achieve it, we will also amend secondary legislation relating to the conduct and management of youth custodial establishments to require custodial operators to co-operate with local authorities in the fulfilment of their duties towards learning for persons in youth custody. There is a range of checks and balances in the system to ensure that local authorities fulfil their duties, and that includes the facilitation role that the YPLA will have in agreeing commissioning plans, releasing funds to host local authorities and monitoring provision by them.
As we know, the YPLA also has a power in the most extreme circumstances to intervene in a local authority if it were to be failing in its duties. Ultimately, if a local authority fails to fulfil its duties under the Bill or exercises its functions unreasonably, the Secretary of State can intervene, in the way that Secretaries of State can intervene in lots of other areas, to ensure that education is delivered. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, was concerned about Welsh interests. In Wales, the Welsh Ministers will have that function of intervention, so a failure to comply with the duties will amount to a breach of a statutory duty that can ultimately be enforced by the courts.
As we have discussed, Ofsted already inspects provision for young people in the youth justice system and will continue to do so under the new arrangements—again, an important lever—and we will specifically ask it to ensure that the new duties for learning for young people in youth custody are reflected in its future work programmes, so that noble Lords can see the progress being made in the secure estates. I hope that, with that further detail and reassurances, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very full reply. Yes, we were trying to find out exactly where the responsibilities might lie. The amendment has drawn out some wider issues on funding, as well as on the skills required. As the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, pointed out, the people will be required to carry out the assessment as well as the money.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for reminding us of Wales, which is obviously an important aspect. I am glad that that was clarified. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, mentioned funding, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with his rather startling assessment of the cost per young person. At the back of our mind, we always have the long-term greater cost of having a cohort of young offenders in society who might just be turned round to be young productive members of society, but obviously, in the short term, the money needs to be found to do that.
With that, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 136A withdrawn.
Amendment 136B not moved.
Clause 49 agreed.
Clauses 50 to 53 agreed.
My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, with your permission I will make a Statement on the circumstances surrounding the decision of the Scottish Justice Minister on 20 August to release on compassionate grounds the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.
As the Prime Minister has said, Lockerbie was a terrorist act of the gravest brutality. It was the largest peacetime loss of life on British territory. It was a major tragedy with the killing of 43 Britons in the sky and in Lockerbie, 190 Americans and people of 19 other nations. It was the act of people and a state which breached all norms of humanity. That is why the reception for Megrahi on his return in August to Tripoli was unacceptable.
My Statement today sets out the events leading up to the Scottish Justice Minister’s decision to release Megrahi. I will set out the changes in Libya’s relations with the international community since 1988 and address the three central issues raised in respect of the UK Government at the time of his release: first, the decision by the Government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya which did not exclude Megrahi; secondly, the relationship between the British Government and Scottish Executive in the decision-making process; and, thirdly, the separate questions of the investigation into the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher and the compensation for victims of Libyan-supported IRA terrorism. Today is the 25th anniversary of the Brighton bombing when the IRA attempted to murder a British Prime Minister and her Cabinet and did kill five people including one Member of this House.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Libyan Government were linked to a number of terrorist organisations, including the Provisional IRA. Libya’s support for international terrorism defined its relations with the western world. As honourable and right honourable Members will recall, WPC Yvonne Fletcher’s murder in April 1984 led us to cut off diplomatic relations. The bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin in 1986 was followed by US air strikes on Tripoli and Benghazi. When evidence emerged supporting allegations that Libyan intelligence officers had been involved in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988, the UN Security Council demanded that Libya hand over the accused and imposed sanctions when it failed to comply.
During the 1990s, there was evidence from a range of sources that the Libyans were also actively pursuing a range of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes as well as the development of ballistic missiles. Libya was a pariah state whose activities posed a clear and unambiguous threat to international peace and stability and to our own security in this country. The story of the past decade has been very different. Libya has abandoned its support for international terrorism and stopped its pursuit of WMDs in a series of events that merit the term ‘unforeseeable’.
In 1998, the US and UK Governments put forward a detailed joint proposal for the trial of the two accused of the Lockerbie atrocity. Our joint commitment to close and transparent working in all matters has continued throughout this case. We reported our proposal to the United Nations Secretary-General, gained the support of the United Nations Security Council and, in 1999, persuaded the Libyans to surrender the two accused to a specially constituted court in the Netherlands where a Scottish panel of judges, without a jury, would try the accused under Scots law. Libya also agreed to pay $10 million compensation to each of the families of the victims, whatever their nationality, if the defendants were convicted. Megrahi was found guilty under Scottish law by the court in 2001, and his conviction was upheld on appeal in 2002.
Against this background and, as I will explain later, in particular after the Libyan admission of responsibility for WPC Fletcher’s murder, the UK restored diplomatic relations in July 1999. The long-term aim was clear: the normalisation of relations with Libya.
On 19 December 2003, following months of secret discussions with the UK and the US, the Libyans announced that they would eliminate their weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapon programmes and restrict the range of their missiles. They also agreed to immediate international inspections and to be bound by all the relevant international agreements, which they now are.
Today, we share information and co-operate in our efforts to disrupt and dismantle terrorist groups in Europe and north Africa, in particular al-Qaeda in the Maghreb which was responsible for the kidnap and murder of Edwin Dyer in May. We also try to find common ground in the UN and elsewhere on matters of common concern.
There is also an entirely legitimate commercial dimension to our ties. With the largest proven oil reserves in Africa and extensive gas reserves, Libya is a potential major energy source for the future. We work hard to support British business in Libya, as we do worldwide.
We continue to have serious concerns about human rights in Libya, including freedom of expression, arbitrary detention, political prisoners and the mistreatment of migrants. There are a number of important outstanding issues, in particular concerning the investigation into the murder of WPC Fletcher and the campaign for compensation by victims of IRA terrorism.
In May 2007, Prime Minister Tony Blair made his second visit to Libya. His summit with Colonel Gaddafi at Sirte covered the full range of our interests with Libya. Mr Blair signed a defence accord and witnessed the public signature of a major BP exploration contract. Also agreed was a Memorandum of Understanding on negotiations for a judicial co-operation package, including a prisoner transfer agreement and agreements on mutual legal assistance, extradition, and civil and commercial law.
The UK had a model agreement, based on Council of Europe arrangements, which was the starting point for negotiation on our prisoner transfer agreements with any country, and which provided the starting point for negotiations with the Libyans. Four points are relevant. First, a PTA provides for a prisoner transfer, not prisoner release. Secondly, it provides a framework for transfer, not a right to transfer. Thirdly, it cannot be used when appeals, including by the prosecuting authority, are outstanding, as in this case. Fourthly, Ministers in the sentencing jurisdiction, in this case Scotland, have an absolute right to veto any transfer.
This standard draft has no provision for any carve-out for any named prisoner. However, the Scottish Executive made strong representations for us to seek to alter the standard PTA so as specifically to exclude Mr Megrahi. The UK negotiating team, led by the Ministry of Justice, sought in good faith to achieve this goal.
The Libyans insisted that the only PTA that they would sign was a PTA without any exclusions. So the Government had a clear choice: we could agree to a standard PTA with no exclusions, retaining for Scottish Ministers an absolute veto over any request for prisoner transfer in the case of Megrahi—a veto which they used in August this year—or we could have ended the negotiations to prevent an application for prisoner transfer. This would have set back our wider national and commercial interests that flowed from normalised relations, as the Justice Secretary has made clear. Since the PTA involved no prejudice to the rights of the Scottish Executive, nor pressure on the Scottish Executive, the Government decided that it was right to go ahead. The PTA took effect in April 2009.
In September 2008, a new factor came into play. Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The Libyans became increasingly concerned at the prospect of Mr Megrahi dying in a Scottish prison. They communicated this to the Government and to the Scottish Executive. It was repeatedly made clear in reply, including in the Prime Minister’s meeting with Colonel Gaddafi on 10 July this year, that the decision on Megrahi’s fate was exclusively for Scottish Ministers and the Scottish judicial system.
Notwithstanding that any decision on release was for Scottish Ministers and the Scottish judicial system, the UK Government had a responsibility to consider the consequences of any Scottish decision. We assessed that although the decision was not one for the UK Government, British interests, including those of UK nationals, British business and possibly security co-operation would be damaged, perhaps badly, if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison rather than in Libya. Given the risk of Libyan adverse reaction, we made it clear to them that, as a matter of law and practice, it was not a decision for the UK Government and that as a matter of policy we were not seeking Megrahi’s death in Scottish custody.
In Scotland, compassionate release generally comes into play in the last three months of a prisoner’s life. Scottish Justice Secretary MacAskill has set out the process by which he arrived at his decision in August this year to refuse the PTA transfer but to grant Megrahi compassionate release. He also set out the grounds on which he did so. As the Scottish Justice Secretary repeatedly stated in his announcement, this was a decision for him to take, and him alone to take.
The Government were clear that any attempt by us to pressure the Scottish Executive would have been wrong. At the press conference announcing his decision the Scottish Justice Secretary confirmed that there was ‘no pressure from Westminster’.
It is also important to address the unfounded allegation that we ended our search for progress in dealing with the legacy of Libya’s past support for terrorism. Admission of responsibility for WPC Fletcher’s murder and the payment of compensation were necessary for the restoration of diplomatic relations in 1999. Four years later, we secured Libyan agreement to a joint investigation into the murder. It was clear, including to the family, that anyone prosecuted for the murder would have to be tried in Libya. Since 2007, the Libyans have refused to allow the Metropolitan Police to return to complete its work. We share the determination of the Fletcher family to find answers, and continue to work on this case.
In 1995, Libya provided critical information on its past links with the IRA. At that time, the then UK Government wrote to the United Nations declaring that they were,
‘satisfied that they have largely met our expectations’,
in accounting for the extent of its support for the Provisional IRA. Libya has since then considered the issue closed as a bilateral matter. Nevertheless, in respect of the campaign involving honourable and right honourable Members to secure compensation from Libya in respect of its past support for the Provisional IRA, we have created a dedicated unit in the FCO to facilitate the families’ renewed campaign. The unit is currently working with honourable and right honourable Members to secure a visit to Libya soon.
Twenty-one years on, the ongoing pain of the Lockerbie atrocity remains a testament to Libya’s past association with international terrorism. Her re-entry into the community of nations does not and cannot absolve her of this responsibility. It does, however, represent a major step forward. The Government make no apology for their part in securing this progress and we reject the charges repeatedly made but not justified. The PTA was not an agreement for Megrahi’s release. The Scottish Justice Minister said he was not pressurised to release him. We did not forget the victims of IRA terrorism or WPC Fletcher. On that basis, I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the Minister for repeating this important Statement about matters which have given rise to a very great concern. I completely share, as I am sure we all do, her sentiments of disgust and horror about the appalling Lockerbie slaughter, which was one of the worst mass murders in recent times, almost in history; about the cold-blooded murder of Yvonne Fletcher in St James’s Square, which is still, as the Minister made clear, not yet resolved; and about the supply of Libyan arms to the Provisional IRA with the horrible consequences of which I had direct and grim experience in the Northern Ireland Administration in the early and very bloody days of the 1970s. I understand that on this side of the Atlantic the matter is being left to families to pursue with support from the Government, rather than through direct government lobbying, as in the United States.
The Statement raises but seems to edge around a number of crucial questions. I will confine myself to asking just some of them as I am sure that noble Lords will have many others. First, it says that no pressure was put on Scottish Ministers. It was repeated and we must accept that. However, what advice, if not pressure, did Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials give to Scottish Ministers? What contact did they have and were the international implications of any course of action, which would obviously be for London to handle, raised with Scottish Ministers? Was there an awareness that this was the situation or that things of this kind were going to develop? Indeed, there appears to have been no awareness that when Megrahi went back to Tripoli he would be greeted by a cheering crowd; it seemed to come as a surprise.
Secondly, did the FCO tell Scotland about our Secretary of State’s view that the Government did not want Megrahi to die in prison? Was that our Minister’s view, or was it the view of Mr Ed Balls that “none of us” wanted to see Megrahi released? Which was right and which view was conveyed to Scotland?
We come then to the prisoner transfer agreement. The Statement confirms that this included Megrahi, and did so after a change of heart and some pressure from the Libyans, who said that they would not sign anything else. It obviously included consideration of trade and business reasons, what the Statement calls wider commercial interests, and there is nothing wrong in that. While they may not have affected the final decision to release Megrahi, does the Minister agree that there was an obvious connection? There must have been one between our handling of the prisoner transfer agreement and the final decision taken in Scotland, despite Ministers’ indignant assurances that there was none. Was that change of policy on the prisoner transfer agreement made fully known to Edinburgh? I note also that one Foreign Office Minister wrote about Libya’s role in,
“guaranteeing a secure energy future for the UK”.
That seems to put it a bit high. Can the noble Baroness elaborate on that? Is there a major bilateral LNG deal coming up to fill the dangerous hole that has been allowed to develop in the UK’s energy supply strategy? If so, could we know a little about it?
Fourthly, what assurances were given to the USA about Megrahi that either he would not be transferred or that he would not be released? There seems to be considerable ambiguity. Speaking earlier in another place, the Foreign Secretary seemed to be under the impression that relations with the USA were carrying on as normal and had not been too affected by the obvious feelings expressed in Washington about this whole affair. In reality, this is one more incident that reflects a very different but not necessarily unhealthy pattern emerging between us and the Americans under their new President, who is clearly taking his country in new policy directions which are bound to affect our relationship in ways both good and not so good. We really need our Ministers to keep up with what is happening on the geopolitical scene and not to assume that everything is going on as before.
As I have said, there are a great many unanswered questions, and these are just a few. What is left behind by this saga is, ironically, a considerable souring of our relations with Libya, which the whole business was meant to help. These relations will now have to be repaired, as they should be, and a full inquiry into what went wrong, and why, would be a good starting point.
My Lords, in August 2007 the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, wrote to Mr MacAskill, who took the decision in this case, saying:
“As you know, the Government has on a number of occasions made it clear to the Libyan authorities that any PTA between the UK and Libya would not cover al Megrahi. This was done because the Government recognised the sensitivities surrounding this case. It also reflected the position set out in the letter from the UK and US Governments to the United Nations Secretary General (dated 24 August 1998), which made it clear that in the event of a conviction, al Megrahi would serve his sentence in the United Kingdom”.
So a joint letter appears to have been drawn up for the UN Secretary-General. Why was it that in his statement Mr MacAskill found that that was not at all clear? He told the Scottish Parliament that both the United States Attorney-General, Mr Holder, and the United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, were under the impression that an assurance had been given that Megrahi would serve his sentence in this country. That is obviously consistent with the letter I have read out.
Mr MacAskill said to the Scottish Parliament:
“I sought the views of the United Kingdom Government, and I offered the right to make representations or to provide information. It declined to do so. It simply informed me that it saw no legal barrier to transfer, and that it had given no assurances to the US Government at the time. It declined to offer a full explanation. As I said last Thursday, I found that highly regrettable”.
Can the Minister clear up this complete ambiguity which has done so much damage to our relationship with the United States, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said a moment ago?
Another matter I should like to ask the Minister about is in relation to a public interest immunity certificate. On 21 July 2008, the United Nations observer at the Lockerbie trial, Dr Hans Köchler, wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Mr David Miliband, saying:
“As international observer, appointed by the United Nations, at the Scottish Court in the Netherlands I am also concerned about the Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificate which has been issued by you in connection with the new Appeal of the convicted Libyan national. Withholding of evidence from the Defence was one of the reasons why the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred Mr. Al-Megrahi’s case back to the High Court of Justiciary”.
Why did the Foreign Secretary issue a public interest immunity certificate and in what area did that certificate deal?
Does this not underline the point I made at Question Time today that the results of the four-year inquiry of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission—all 800 pages of it—should be revealed so that we can see why it came to the conclusion that leave should be granted to Mr Megrahi to appeal against the conviction for a second time, a highly unusual step? All the circumstances involved in his conviction are not now in the public domain, and without some form of public inquiry we shall never know whether his conviction was safe, or as a result of evidence withheld, or anything of that nature. The suspicion will remain that he has been released and his appeal withdrawn—which was not necessary for compassionate release—in order to cover up the documents that the Government are withholding. I should like an answer to those questions.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their comprehensive and detailed questions, which indicate the expertise that your Lordships have on these matters.
First, we were very clear with the Libyans that we were not actively seeking Megrahi’s death in custody but that we emphatically could not intervene in any decision that the Scottish Executive or the Scottish judiciary chose to take. We made that absolutely clear. The letters that we and the Scottish Executive published on 1 September—including letters from Ivan Lewis, to which I think a noble Lord referred—reaffirmed categorically that this decision was taken by the Scottish Ministers and the Scottish authorities.
It is important for us to follow up the issue of the United States, which I think two noble Lords raised. To suggest that the British Government were not aware of our place in this globalised world would be unfair, and I would never accuse any noble Lord of making such sweeping statements. We were clear throughout with the Americans that any decision on Megrahi was for Scottish Ministers alone, but that Megrahi’s death in custody had the potential to set back the progress that we and the United States had made with Libya.
A number of noble Lords referred to the benefits and the reforms that the Libyans have introduced regarding, for example, weapons of mass destruction and their involvement in terrorism. It reflects a serious normalisation of relations with the Libyans. In bringing them back into the international community as far as we can—albeit slowly; there are still major human rights issues, as the Secretary of State mentioned clearly in his Statement today—we have to be careful about observing and supporting the efforts that are made.
On energy, we have to acknowledge that Libya, as was also stated in the Statement, has the potential to be a major supplier of oil and a provider of the energy security that we and other countries need. However, as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, as did the Secretary of State today, there were no deals and no sell-outs. It is clear that none of that happened. The statement was made clearly by the Prime Minister that, on oil and other issues, no deals were made with the Libyans. All these matters were under the jurisdiction of the Scottish authorities.
My Lords, as I mentioned at Questions, I disclose my professional interest in having acted as co-counsel in the claim by Mr Megrahi to the European Court of Human Rights, which got nowhere. Since then I have had no professional interest in the case. However, in the work that I did on it, which lasted several weeks, I went through the whole of the transcripts and read the appellate judgment, and I have to say that I came to the conclusion, entirely objectively and working with Scottish counsel, that there had been a denial of justice and that Mr Megrahi had not been proved to be guilty. When I then read the summary of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission report, which my noble friend referred to just now, and realised that it had come to the same conclusion, I was very disturbed.
I shall deal with a couple of points in addition to those that have been made by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. First, will the Government please give an assurance that they will consent to the publication of the whole report? The commission does not have the power to do so itself. If the Scottish Executive or Scottish Parliament ask them to, will the Government consent to the publication of all the report so that we can see what its grounds are for believing that there may have been a miscarriage of justice?
Secondly, I am very concerned about the circumstances in which Megrahi was persuaded to drop his appeal and to go and die in Libya. I saw him in Barlinnie myself. I would like to know, and I would like the Government to find out whether, when he was visited in prison, it was made clear to him that if he dropped his appeal he would be allowed to go and die in Libya, so that there would then be no appeal and the relatives—Dr Swire and the others—would never know the truth. That is very important to them, and they have written to me about it. I would therefore like an assurance that there was no quid pro quo and no pressure put upon him. The Government may not know the answer, but they should find out. Was any pressure put on Megrahi that he would be sent to die in Libya only if he dropped the appeal?
On the last point, I am not aware of what the answer might be. We will ask for some advice on whether anyone has been asking those questions and, if so, I will respond to the question that the noble Lord raises.
On the issue of an independent inquiry, I have to keep repeating that is not really for us to say whether that will happen. I am, however, aware that the Scottish Parliament will soon begin an inquiry into the decisions that were taken, and I presume that that would be the best vehicle for any reflection that the Scottish authorities may choose to make on exactly what happened. I am sorry; I have forgotten the other question.
Again, that is an issue for the Scottish authorities, but we can ask whether there is a likelihood that the report will be given to those parties who are interested, such as someone, like the noble Lord, who was involved in the commission. It goes back to whether it is necessary to have an independent inquiry. The details of the re-engagement with Libya are there, and we will need to see. The Justice Secretary will appear before the Justice Committee on 20 October, so I think that these issues will become clearer as time goes on.
My Lords, the decision of the Scottish Executive to release Megrahi on 20 August seems to have become confused with a number of wider issues. No doubt many of those issues are of great importance and are still unanswered, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, have pointed out. Does the Minister agree, though, that in the end the sole question regarding Megrahi’s release was whether it was justified on compassionate grounds—in other words, whether the evidence was that he was not likely to live for more than another three months? If that was the evidence, and if those were the grounds for his release, surely those grounds override all the other grounds that have been mentioned. Does it not follow inevitably, if those grounds are the correct ones, that it would have been clearly wrong for the United Kingdom Government to seek to influence the decision in any way?
I thank the noble and learned Lord for that helpful and expert opinion. As he said, it is a matter for the Scottish judicial system, and within that system it is clearly stated that for compassionate release to be agreed, the judgment has to be that that person will live for only a further three months. As I understand it, there was a parole board, a consultation with the prison governor and a thorough medical examination which determined that that was actually the case, and on that basis the Justice Minister in Scotland decided that that would be the course that they would take on this occasion.
My Lords, I declare an interest in this matter. I am chairman of the Libyan British Business Council. Virtually all the major firms trading with Libya, certainly all the larger ones, are members of the council. I believe that I would have known had there been any major business deal that was part of the agreement to release Mr Megrahi. I know of no such deal, and I believe that the Government are entitled to make that claim.
I say to the noble Lord that it is important for the British Government and for British business, which he has declared an interest in, to re-engage with Libya, as a result of which we have secured many advances on weapons of mass destruction and so on. We have to admit, too, as the Prime Minister said on 2 September, that it is in all our interests that Libya rejoins the international community, and it is in all our interests that British interests in other spheres are supported.
My Lords, one can surely act only on the basis, after the appeals, that this was a proper conviction. Are there any general lessons to be learnt from this matter? The dilemma is clear, as was pointed out by my noble and learned friend Lord Morris of Aberavon. There are separate jurisdictions in law and the Scottish jurisdiction is sovereign in this matter. However, there are key UK interests. The wider dimension includes counterterrorism co-operation with Libya; illegal migration from Libya over the Mediterranean into Europe; the commercial interest—including many jobs—in the UK; and foreign policy relations, not least those with our major ally, the United States. Is my noble friend satisfied that the channels of communication are sufficient? Were there any actual relations between Libya and the Scottish Executive? Is there a need for more formal protocols on consultation in matters of this sort? What, if any, are the general lessons to be learnt from this matter?
I thank the noble Lord. I point out that UK involvement in the measures under the prisoner transfer agreement is very clear. The decisions that the Scottish authorities were able to take reflected their particular judicial system. Since Mr Megrahi was imprisoned under Scottish law, in Scotland, it was clear that that it was the prerogative of the devolved Administration to pursue the matter themselves. I agree that in all matters, whether between Libya and the UK or between Libya and any other part of the world, it is extremely important that Libya is in contact with and influenced by other countries. The Secretary of State raised Amnesty International’s concerns on human rights. If we do not engage with a country such as Libya, we are unlikely to see developments of the kind that we have seen already on non-proliferation and other matters of grave concern, not just to us in the UK but of course globally. I welcome any opportunities for useful exchanges that can be had between devolved authorities, the British Government and the Libyans so that we can make progress on improving relations and improving the capacity for influence on Libyan thinking and action and so that everything possible can be done.
My Lords, I preface my question with a word of congratulation to the Minister on her appointment as our new Minister for Africa, a subject in which she and I have a long-standing interest.
It is some years since I went to Libya with Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the Lockerbie tragedy, to try to help to persuade the Libyans to agree to a trial in a third country. Since that happened, I have had no involvement in the case at all. However, four things concern me, which have all been referred to already, but which I shall repeat.
First, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has expressed grave reservations about the authenticity of the original verdict, and we have not yet seen its full report. That is a matter over which great uncertainty still hangs. Secondly, the United Nations legal observer at the trial has been scathing about the quality of the evidence on which Mr Megrahi was convicted. That must be a matter of concern. Thirdly, the Government have placed public interest immunity certificates on some of the papers, which prevents the defence seeing what evidence they had that has not been made public. Fourthly, Mr Megrahi withdrew his appeal, so we have not been able to get at the truth. Surely, there is an unanswerable case for a full, independent judicial inquiry, and the victims of the Lockerbie disaster deserve nothing less.
I thank the noble Lord. I very much value his experience in connection with these matters. As the Secretary of State mentioned in his Statement, the terrible tragedy of Lockerbie is something that many of us in this House remember very well. The reality is that the Libyans continue to maintain that they consider the matter to be closed. Although the British Government do everything that they can, still, as I am sure do the Scottish authorities, it is proving very difficult to persuade the Libyans that the matter can be opened.
This must be an issue for the Scottish justice system to deal with. The issues that the noble Lord raises are extremely worrying and throw the spotlight on some aspects of the trial that we should be concerned about, but I very much hope that the Scottish Parliament and others will take up these matters and ensure that the issues that noble Lords have raised will be understood to have been taken very seriously by your Lordships. Perhaps we will see some responses soon on the matters raised with me.
My Lords, I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford and his implied conclusion that at ministerial or at least prime ministerial level, the release of Megrahi was handled pretty crassly. However, Libya’s leadership seems to have changed in recent years. Prime Minister Blair, ably supported by all the departments of the FCO, in 2004 played a leading part as a bridge between Gaddafi and the West. As a result, to some extent at least, Gaddafi has come in from the cold.
Has the Minister yet had a chance to read Gaddafi’s Green Book, as I have? If so, she will recognise his muddled and fumbling attempts to give power to his people. Does she agree that what he really seems to be trying to do—although he does not appear to have read the original source—is to follow Abraham Lincoln’s adage at Gettysburg that the object is to have government of the people, by the people and for the people? Does she further agree that, in practical terms today, Gaddafi’s enemies are our enemies? They are those Islamist jihadists who would be as keen to kill him as they would be to kill leaders of the West. Does she also agree that Libya, with 2 million barrels of oil a day and only6 million people, has much scope to improve the lot of its own people? Does she agree that we have an important role to play, for example through education? We have something like 6,000 Libyan students in our universities, who produce some £120 million a year in fees for our university system.
I thank the noble Lord and promise that I shall put Gaddafi’s Green Book on my Christmas wish list. My background has been in international development, so I well understand the need for state-building and nation-building. A prerequisite for that is a subscription to democracy-building, to good governance and the rule of law. Those are matters for anyone who engages with a country such as Libya. Of course, trade and energy security are important issues, but part of the relationship has to be the importance of building those structures, including an educational system, and giving real freedom to the people. That is something that we would all believe to be a priority in Libya, as with other countries in which the UK has an interest and involvement.
My Lords, noble Lords will know that I was Solicitor-General for Scotland when the two accused were handed over in Libya for trial and I was Lord Advocate at the time of the prosecution. I appeared myself for parts of the prosecution and was responsible for it. I have been asked on many occasions for my view on the compassionate release of Mr Megrahi and have taken the view that it would not be proper for me as the prosecutor to comment on that. However, I shall say one thing. I have known Mr MacAskill for more than 30 years and know that he is someone who would take a decision on proper grounds and not on extraneous matters. In particular, when he said in his statement that the withdrawal of the appeal by Megrahi was solely for him and his legal advisers and that no pressure had been put on Megrahi to do so, that should be accepted.
Does my noble friend agree that in respect of the conviction, no fewer than six Lords Advocate have taken the view that there was sufficient evidence for Megrahi to stand trial and that he was appropriately convicted on that evidence, and that no fewer than eight judges of the High Court of Justiciary have similarly concluded on the evidence that he was guilty of the crimes? He remains convicted of the worst terrorist offence on British soil—the deaths of 270 people, 11 of whom were in the town of Lockerbie.
I wish to raise one matter. Assurances were given that, if convicted, Mr Megrahi or his co-accused would serve their sentences in the United Kingdom. Those assurances were important in securing the support of the American relatives for the trial process, which was particularly important in ensuring the legitimacy of the trial. They now feel alienated from the trial process. It is a source of regret to me that I gave those assurances based on the assurances that were given by the United Kingdom Government to the relatives when I met them, and they now feel aggrieved about that. Will the Minister work with the Scottish authorities to make overtures to the families, particularly the American relatives, to ensure that they know the full facts behind the decisions that were taken and assure them that we have always had their interests and the interests of justice in mind?
I would like to repeat a Statement made earlier today in the other place by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
“Mr Speaker, our overriding ambition is to lock in recovery, and lay the foundations for growth in the years to come. Because of the action we have taken this year, we are confident that growth will return at the turn of the year. Going forward, the Chancellor set out in the Budget our plan to halve the public sector deficit over four years, once recovery is secured. This entails a return to growth with support for firms and families, fair tax rises for those most able to bear the burden, and slowing the growth of public spending.
As the Chancellor set out in April, an ambitious programme of asset sales is part of our plan; a plan that sets out up to £16 billion of property and other assets sales, with proceeds raised being used to support our priorities, including new capital investment and paying down debt.
Today we set out a few details and in the months to come we will publish a portfolio of assets to be sold. It will cover assets for sale—and assets where we wish to explore opportunities for managing these assets in a different way. The portfolio will include the Tote, Dartford Crossing, the student loan book and the Channel Tunnel rail link.
We know that councils will make a major contribution to the overall level of asset disposals, through sales of housing and other assets, as will central government property. These three elements are expected to deliver £16 billion in receipts over the period 2011-14. In particular, we aim to secure receipts from central government sales within the next two financial years, where market conditions are right.
We have already sold £30 billion of public assets since 2004. This success, building on the £22 billion sale of 3G licences in 2000, played a major role in the reduction of debt over the last decade.
We have made tough choices to cut debt in the past, which allowed us to support the economy now. We will not flinch from tough choices today, to allow us to live within our means for years to come”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question tabled in another place. One of the Government’s horrid habits is making policy announcements outside Parliament, and it is right that Ministers have had to come to both Houses of Parliament today to deal with the issues that the Prime Minister included in his speech in the City this morning.
We are not opposed to asset sales. Indeed, my party, led by the Government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher, charted the way forward in the 1980s. But we are against selling assets at the wrong time and the wrong value simply to realise cash flow. Our economy may well have been weakened by 12 years of mismanagement by the Prime Minister, but it is not, I hope, so weak that we need to resort to fire sales. We must remember that the Government's track record on selling at the right value is not good. It was the Prime Minister who sold 400 tonnes of gold in 1999 for £3.5 billion. If he had held onto it, our country would today be £5 billion better off. Value for money for taxpayers must be a key consideration. What is the Government’s approach to timing and how will value for money be assured?
We need to put this in the context of the dreadful borrowing figures. Government borrowing this year is forecast to be £175 billion, or £3.3 billion per day. Today’s Statement is rather light on figures merely repeating the Budget figures of £16 billion, but that is but a tiny drop in the ocean—less than five days’ worth of this year's borrowing.
We should also be clear about the impact of asset sales. The Government’s spinmaster-in-chief, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, was on the airwaves this morning saying that the Government need to cut the deficit—we all say amen to that—and that selling assets is one way of doing it. It is not. Asset sales can cut the stock of debt, but they will do precious little for the deficit and in particular the structural deficit going forward. Most of what we heard today is not new. It was spun as another example of the Prime Minister's wizardry in saving the world or at least this country, but in practice, it was a rehash of old ideas. If there had been a little less spin this morning, we might not even be taking this Statement here this evening.
I will now deal with the items that we are told might be up for sale. First of all is the Tote. The idea is almost as old as the current Government. There was an explicit manifesto commitment to sell the Tote in 2001. The Government committed to selling the Tote to racing at a 50 per cent discount or that 50 per cent of the proceeds would flow to racing. That was repeated many times during the passage of the Horserace Betting and Olympic Lottery Act 2004. Brussels then ruled out a subsidised price for racing and the Treasury refused to sell the Tote to racing at any price that racing could afford. Will the Minister confirm that the Treasury wanted to raise £400 million in 2007? How much does the Treasury now expect to realise from the Tote? Also, do the Government remain committed to passing 50 per cent of the proceeds to the racing industry?
Secondly, there is the sale of the student loan book. That was first announced by Mr Brown in 1997. It was re-announced in 2007 and legislated for in 2008. Does the Minister think that now would be a good time to sell the loan book? If not now, what economic conditions would make the sale worth while?
The Minister will realise that the sale of the Dartford Crossing, first announced in 2008, raises very different issues given the history of tolls and the involvement of local councils. What is the Government’s policy now towards tolls for the crossing in the long term, since that will be the key ingredient of the sale price that can be realised?
Lastly, we are told that the Channel Tunnel rail link is up for sale, as first announced in 2007, but with no evident progress since. What is happening here? The Statement also referred to council assets. The chairman of the Local Government Association has been quite clear that it is for councils to decide locally what to do about sales and their proceeds. The Minister might like to tell the House how the sale of council assets will help the national finances, because that is far from clear.
The Government might have thought that this set of tired announcements and reannouncements would play well in the media and look like part of a coherent response to the country’s economic woes. It will certainly fool no one in your Lordships’ House and I would be very surprised if it fooled anyone outside it.
My Lords, when the House reconvened last October, the first day started with an emergency Statement by the Minister on the action that the Government had taken that day in recapitalising the banks. Within the first 10 days of coming back there had been three emergency Statements about the scale of the banking crisis. This year, we start by picking up the pieces. In the intervening period, the Government—and the Prime Minister in particular—have been dragged, kicking and screaming, to accept that there will have to be substantial reductions in public expenditure and increases in taxes and revenue. We have had, as it were, a very unseemly dance of the seven veils, conducted by the Prime Minister, of which this is the latest and smallest veil. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has pointed out, the Statement—all bar one sentence—was contained in the Budget. We knew, and it is in the figures, that £16 billion is expected from asset sales. The Prime Minister says that today they have set out a few details; the very few details are contained in a single sentence which just lists some of the items that the Government will sell from their own central portfolio.
I do not want to repeat everything that the noble Baroness has said about the individual items, although I cannot help at least making a feeble joke about there having been more false starts in selling the Tote than in the Grand National on a bad day. This is a relatively small, unconvincing list of national asset sales. The local government asset sales are, of course, much more substantial than those that are expected to come from national government. We have this wonderful statement:
“We know that councils will make a major contribution”.
The only reason that the Government know this is because they have just told councils that they have to make a major contribution. Councils have not been asked whether they want to make a major contribution. At the moment, many councils are extremely worried about what the consequences of the announcement mean for them. Some £13 billion equates to £20 million per parliamentary constituency, so there are a number of £20 million dollops per local authority. If I am running a local authority, what does that mean in terms of what I have to flog off and when?
When we come to the two sentences about timing, we find across the piece a very considerable degree of muddle. These three elements are expected to deliver £16 billion over the period 2011-14. That is straightforward, except for this:
“In particular, we aim to secure receipts from central government sales within the next two financial years”—
that is, 2010-11—
“where market conditions are right”.
I think it is the general view that market conditions are unlikely to be right in respect of virtually any of these categories of asset, and certainly property, within the next two years. If I had been a senior civil servant or Minister receiving this from a civil servant, in view of the timing I would have said, “Go back and make it clear”. Could the Minister clarify the timing? This is a mouse of an announcement. It will do nothing to deal with the structural deficit and is yet another unedifying example of the Prime Minister attempting desperately to appear in control of the situation and public expenditure, which he manifestly is not.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, once again finds herself in a tight knot over how to address a Statement from the Government on financial policy. On the one hand, she says that this is an example of the Government again not respecting Parliament and making announcements outside Parliament. On the other hand, she points out that, in fact, this announcement is merely a further addition of texture and detail to figures and information that have already been provided to the other place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Most of the information contained in the Prime Minister’s speech on this subject had already been detailed in earlier announcements, including, in particular, the sums of money that we believed could sensibly be raised as a result of asset sales.
The Government have a long and successful record of selling public assets to facilitate investment in public infrastructure and important government programmes. Of course, it always easy to pick out something that one could have sold at a higher price if one had waited a little longer. There are other examples, such as QinetiQ, which subsequently traded well below the price at which the Government sold the shares, but I do not hear that being raised by the other side of the House. As regards gold as a component of our reserves, the essence of portfolio diversification in public assets is to have a broad spread of assets. Our Government, along with many others, determined that we were holding more in gold as a proportion of our total reserves than was sensible, particularly with the introduction of the euro, which gave us the opportunity to diversify the national reserves. Our approach to timing in the programme detailed today is to initiate now a process of taking advice, engage with investors to determine interest and formulate an optimal programme for disposal or developing alternative methods for managing these assets. As always, timing will be dictated by value-for-money considerations.
Specific questions were asked about some of the assets identified by the Prime Minister. I cannot tell the House how much the Government expect to raise from the sale of the Tote. If one reflects for a moment, no seller would ever specify how much they thought they were going to raise from an asset, and thereby signal to prospective purchasers the price at which they would sell. That suggestion is absolute nonsense. I would however add that there is nothing in today’s announcement on the Tote that has any relevance to earlier commitments that have been made in respect of its sale. On the sale of student loans, this is a book of assets that does not need to stay in public ownership to provide the public policy purpose, provided there are appropriate regulations in place to cover, for instance, the rate of interest, attitudes towards foreclosure or forbearance in respect of students who are experiencing difficulties, and ensuring that the new owner of the loan book will behave in a manner consistent with public policy.
Similarly, the proposed sale of the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing will have to be subject to appropriate regulation in terms of tariffing to protect the motorist and support transport policy. Our starting point in respect of this asset and many others is that they will be sold where retaining them in public ownership is not critical to the delivery of public policy; that is, that the assets can be better managed by private sector owners or private sector managers.
Council assets have been consistently disposed of and reinvested as part of an important programme of investment that has played a major role in, for instance, ensuring that the stock of housing available through social housing programmes and similar variants is modernised and made habitable for people today.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked a number of questions which I think I have on the whole covered in my response to the noble Baroness’s points. Importantly, we want to ensure that local authorities have every encouragement to be efficient. That is why, when disposing of public assets, local authorities will be able to retain the proceeds for future investment or to pay down debt at their choice. That is consistent with an approach which empowers local government and local authorities but, as always, decisions will be dependent on market conditions. It is this Government’s judgment that the steadily improving economic outlook—already well recognised by the stock market, which has had an extraordinarily strong recovery since the announcement of our successful interventions earlier this year—will create a good environment in which we can make sensible sales in due course.
My Lords, the Tote legally belongs to Government but morally it belongs to racing. The Government have never put a single penny into it at any stage. As the chairman of the former shadow Racing Trust, which was the vehicle through which the Government intended to fulfil their 2005 manifesto pledge to sell the Tote to racing, I fully accept that that route has been blocked by European state aid considerations. However, does the Minister accept that racing will be rightly outraged if the proceeds of a sale of the Tote are used to pay off the Government’s debt and do not go to racing, which created the Tote?
I recognise my noble friend’s deep and long commitment to the turf but, as he correctly identifies, the Tote is a public asset. Clearly, we have an important responsibility to ensure that public assets are disposed of for the public good rather than for individual sectoral interests. However, I remind my noble friend that I made very clear that nothing in today’s announcement in any way modified earlier commitments that have been made in respect of the sale of the Tote.
My Lords, one of the assets that has been the subject of prolonged consideration in this House is the Royal Mail. I notice that there is no reference to that in today’s Statement. The noble Lord says that no one says what they expect to get for their assets. However, a lot of Scottish home owners put advertisements in the papers asking for offers over X thousand pounds, which at least suggests what they are expecting.
I fully acknowledge the observation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, about the housing market, although my experience is that the price indicated is not necessarily the price which the vendor is willing to accept when he offers the property for sale. I merely make the point that today is far too soon to flag the price at which we would be willing to sell an asset over the next two or three years but that we remain committed to value for money. There was no mention of the Post Office in the Prime Minister’s Statement and I assume that was intentional.
My Lords, the Prime Minister’s Statement mentioned the sale of Britain’s share in URENCO, held in partnership with the Governments of the Netherlands and Germany under the conditions laid down in the treaty of Almelo. Given that there is worldwide expansion of nuclear power, and therefore that enriched uranium production must be an appreciating asset in our portfolio, it is going to be rather difficult to judge at what time it would be appropriate to seek the sale. But setting that point aside, will my noble friend tell the House what obligations the treaty of Almelo places on Her Majesty’s Government in the event of the Government wanting to dispose of our one-third share in this partnership enterprise?
URENCO is a uranium enrichment business. As my noble friend Lord Cunningham says, the UK owns one-third along with the Dutch Government and two German companies. The Government have long stated their intention to realise proceeds from the UK’s stake. We recognise policy and security concerns and we are in the process of working with the other shareholders, URENCO and other departments within government to reach a position that best serves the taxpayer. Agreements within the shareholder arrangement direct one to a certain route of options in terms of disposal. We may not, of course, be the only shareholder who believes that it would be sensible for URENCO to be in part private sector ownership. I agree with my noble friend that in many ways the outlook for this business is rather attractive, but I suspect that it is not only my noble friend who has noticed that; it will have been noticed by other investors who will be more than happy to pay up for the growth potential which they see coming from the excellent technology of this company.
Does the Minister agree that in carrying out transactions of this kind it is crucial to have good financial judgment and a sense of timing, and that the Prime Minister, as the former Chancellor, does not have a good track record as regards selling off individual bits of the family silver, or indeed, as my noble friend pointed out, selling off the gold reserves? Will the Minister confirm what those gold reserves would be worth at current prices? No doubt his brief will include that.
I wish to raise two points of principle. First, is it the Government’s intention that as a result of these transactions their balance sheet should go up or down, or remain the same? Secondly, with regard to the rates of return, do they intend to save on the rate of interest by reducing the government debt? What comparisons has the Minister made with the rates of return being achieved on the assets whose sale is proposed, because rates of interest on debt are now very low and these assets may well be producing a higher rate of return? Therefore, if the Government go ahead in that way, they may end up losing money rather than saving it.
If my briefing document contains a figure for the value of gold disposed, it is not one that I retain in my head. More important is what one does with the proceeds. The proceeds of gold sales were invested in a more diversified and therefore lower risk portfolio of reserves. Any part of government expenditure, whether funded by taxes or borrowing or from the proceeds of disposal, tells you only one side of the story. The other side is what happens with the proceeds, which is significant investment in education, schools, hospitals and infrastructure. Regrettably, accountants do not have accurate ways of putting a value on this; but if one really wants to judge the capability of the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer in terms of making financial judgments, one has to look at it in the round. My sense is that he will come out of it rather well.
As far as the rate of interest is concerned, I am delighted that the world and its investors are showing great confidence in the Government and in the country, and in funding long-term debt at such low rates of interest. I do not wish to be drawn at this point on quantitative easing, although I am sure that it will not be long before I am on my feet answering questions from the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, on that subject. Again, one has to look at what the issue would be as regards the proceeds from sales. This answers the question on the level of government borrowing, which will entirely depend on whether the proceeds, particularly from local government, are used to pay down debt, in which case the overall volume of outstanding public sector indebtedness will fall; or whether the proceeds are retained as liquid assets, in which case on an offset they would equalise; or whether they are used for further investment. So the impact on the government balance sheet—the public sector balance sheet—will depend upon the use of proceeds.
My Lords, perhaps I may follow the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, about URENCO, because, as has been said, this has been in the Government’s selling programme for a number of years. That was again confirmed in last year’s Pre-Budget Report and was referred to by the Prime Minister in his speech, to which my noble friend referred. As the noble Lord, Lord Myners, rightly said, URENCO is a very valuable asset; its profits last year were £654 million and it has an £18 billion order book. This must be, by any standards, the jewel in the crown of this plethora of assets for sale. I am just a little surprised that the Answer to the Question in the other place did not mention URENCO, because it is about the biggest of the lot if we are considering all these things.
Can the noble Lord tell us a little more about the difficulties that the Government have faced in trying to sell URENCO? They were able to get rid of Westinghouse very quickly indeed to the Japanese. The result was that Britain no longer had a single company capable of making a nuclear power station. What will happen with URENCO? It has always been a hugely important part of our civil nuclear armoury, whereby we are able to manufacture our own enriched fuel. As the noble Lord rightly said, two German companies, RWE and E.On—through a holding company—have the German share in URENCO. Can he say something about how that works in relation to Germany? Now that there is a new German Government who obviously wish to extend the life of nuclear power stations—and perhaps build some more—how will they ensure that they get their share of the output of that? Can they rely on the companies, or is there some sort of contractual relationship?
I can understand the difficulties that the Government have faced in selling URENCO, but if we are to sell it—which I am not opposed to in principle—how will we ensure the national interest of maintaining, in this nuclear renaissance, that we have sufficient enriched fuel for our nuclear programme?
My Lords, in the process of selling we will be able to insist on certain conditions, if we judge those to be necessary from the perspective of national fuel supply or security. But, as the noble Lord says, the German shareholdings through E.On and RWE—two companies which have had substantial investments here in the UK—are already in the private sector. URENCO will continue to be a significant and important provider of services in the nuclear industry, regardless of whether it is in the part-ownership of the British Government, or whether a larger proportion is in due course in the hands of private sector investors and companies. However, we will certainly insist on appropriate conditions being attached to the sale to ensure that the national interest is not prejudiced. I am most encouraged by the noble Lord’s observation that he has no objection in principle to this being an asset which should or could be held in the hands of private investors, rather than by the Government.
My Lords, perhaps I may follow on from that point. If it is true, as the Minister said, that we are now going for growth and that we should witness what the stock market has done, but on the other hand we are told that we are in for a period of about three years of interest rates at 2 per cent, is it right to realise these assets, which are bound to increase by more than 2 per cent per year? What are we going to do with the money? I am very confused.
I am also confused on another point. The Minister said that he had briefing on what the gold would be worth now. Again, there is a lot of talk about how the £3.5 billion would now be worth £15 billion. Is that not in his briefing? He says that he has his briefing. Is this a state secret or could he look at his briefing and provide the right figure?
Then perish the thought that one would try to make a cheap point about the Conservatives completely failing to correctly calculate the benefit of delaying pensions by a year. I am more than happy to accept the noble Baroness’s figures on this point.
The stock market is a discounting mechanism; it looks forward and often recovers well before the economy. To some extent this improving economic scenario is already reflected in higher EBITDA multiples, price-earnings multiples, price-to-book value multiples and others which will have a bearing on the assets that we are selling, so this is not an issue which should be compared with interest rates. Clearly, this portfolio of assets is in some respects worth considerably more now than it would have been earlier this year.
My Lords, I hope that it is in order for me to ask a question given that I was not here at the start, although I have read the Statement. If it is so essential to reduce accumulated debt—some of us are a bit more sceptical about how essential it is at the moment—should those people criticising today’s announcement not stand up and state whether it is true that their policy is for a rapid reduction in accumulated debt?
I thank my noble friend for his observation. The Government’s policy is that debt will need to be reduced in due course and that we will need to move towards more sustainable public finances. That will be achieved, significantly as a consequence of growth, once the recovery is firmly established. However, there is an underlying structural deficit which we have made very clear we will address, in addition to the cyclical adjustments that will come through the automatic stabilisers, but only at the right time. Now is not the right time, and to move precipitously now to talk about exit or about reducing public expenditure will be to place at risk the economic recovery and to affect the lives of many people in this country. This Government will not do that.
My Lords, when the Dartford tunnel was originally conceived and built, its promoters always intended that, in time, if the revenues were sufficient, the tunnel—or tunnels, as they became—would become toll-free. When the crossing was put into private hands to enhance it to the crossing that we know today, the projections that I saw then suggested that, had that principle been maintained, the crossing would now be toll-free. Will that principle be reinstated in the process of putting the crossing back into private hands? If not, why not?
My Lords, the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing complex will in due course be sold to achieve value for the public. It will be sold with conditions relating to tariffs and maintenance and with other requirements that ensure that the interests of the wider population continue to be protected.
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill
Committee (6th Day) (Continued)
Clause 54 : Complaints about transport arrangements etc for persons of sixth form age
136C: Clause 54, page 38, line 34, leave out “mentioned in that subsection” and insert “of the arrangements specified under the subsection in question”
My Lords, I shall also speak to government Amendments 136D, 136E, 140A, 140B, 143A and 143B, as well as Amendments 137 to 142A—just in case we were not sure where we were.
This is an important debate about the transport duties in the Bill and earlier legislation, which seek to ensure that adequate transport support is made available for 19 to 24 year-olds with learning difficulties and disabilities. The noble Lord, Lord Low, will know well, as I am sure he will remind us in a few moments, that steps are already being taken to improve transport arrangements. Indeed, we are very grateful for the work that he and his charities have done to support us in bringing forward these measures today. I am speaking in particular about the new requirement in Clause 55 for local authorities to produce a policy statement setting out the transport arrangements available to learners with learning difficulties and disabilities.
We need to ensure that local authorities are absolutely clear about their responsibilities and provide adequate transport support. Therefore, we are looking carefully at whether statutory guidance is needed in respect of Clause 55. Without pre-empting what I am sure others will want to say, I am happy to commit to returning to this issue on Report. I should like to put on record my thanks in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Low, and to Skill for their contribution to our work in this area. I am pleased with the progress that we have been able to make.
On Amendment 142, of course young people aged 19 to 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities should have the right to complain about transport arrangements, as their peers do. As noble Lords will be aware, my honourable friend Sarah McCarthy-Fry agreed to look again at complaints provisions during the consideration of the Bill in another place. Having listened to the representations, in particular from the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I am pleased to inform the Committee that we are moving these government amendments to achieve the aim set out in Amendment 142. This will ensure that all young people have a voice in local transport arrangements and that local authorities will have the information that they need to make sure that transport arrangements meet young people’s needs.
I understand that there are concerns that there should be a link between Clause 40, which we have already debated, and Clause 55 so that transport and the commissioning of educational provision are not considered independently. I wholeheartedly support that view. I reassure the Committee that the national commissioning framework issued under Clause 40 will specify that local authorities must consider transport arrangements in carrying out their new commissioning functions. Any guidance issued under Clause 55 would also make this link clear. We are exploring how to make a more explicit link in the legislation. We will keep the Committee updated and come back to this on Report.
I understand the sentiments behind Amendments 139, 141 and 142A. I hope that noble Lords will agree that the right balance can be struck between national requirements and local discretion to manage the new transport arrangements; indeed, we discussed this a little earlier in Committee. I understand that noble Lords’ intentions are good, but it is an important principle that local authorities should have responsibility to plan local transport provision. At the same time, accountability in the planning and execution of that provision is vital. That is why the Secretary of State already has power under the existing sixth-form transport duty and under Sections 496 and 497 of the Education Act 1996 to direct a local authority to review its policy or to make additional transport provision if necessary. I would prefer to draw on these existing provisions rather than to create new provisions to ensure that local authorities are accountable for local transport arrangements. Over the years, there has been some refinement of transport provisions. One thing that we are trying to do in this Bill by re-enacting the adult transport duty is to make clear what the entitlements are. It is good to be clear and straightforward on the face of the Bill if we can.
The other government amendments—I will not bore your Lordships with all the numbers—are technical amendments to make minor drafting changes to Clause 54 to support the major government amendment, Amendment 140B.
I hope that noble Lords will appreciate that we have listened carefully to the concerns of those with learning difficulties and disabilities. We are working hard to ensure that, through introducing the new complaints procedure and coming back on Report with further developments, noble Lords will be comfortable with this approach.
As the Minister said, I have my name against Amendments 137, 138 and 140, along with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. As noble Lords will be aware, I am president of Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, to which the noble Baroness referred. Skill has had a long-standing concern that there should be a duty on local authorities to provide the transport that students with learning difficulties aged 19 to 25 might need to take part in their educational programmes. We have moved amendments on that in this House in preceding sessions.
As the noble Baroness has made clear, considerable work has taken place. Last year, when we moved these amendments, the Minister undertook to do further work to see how far the spirit of the amendments could be delivered. I am delighted that a lot of further work has taken place. Ministers have listened and I pay tribute to them, to the Bill team and to my own assistant, William Moy, who has undertaken much liaison between myself and the Bill team, for the work that they have all done and the way that they have listened. The result is that it should be possible to withdraw the amendment this evening.
Over the years, we have sought to improve the legislation in four respects. In respect of current legislation, we wanted to see an amendment to Clause 55 that ties the duty to provide transport in the clause to the reasonable needs of disabled learners aged 19 to 25—not just what the authority considers necessary, but along the lines of the wording in Clause 40. Secondly, we wanted to see statutory guidance to support the duty in Clause 55. Thirdly, we wanted a robust complaints procedure to support the duty—one that mirrored the transport complaints procedure available to sixth-formers. Finally, we wanted clarification that the duty in Clause 112 on the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties aged 19 or over includes transport.
Having listened to what the Minister has said, I think that we have got pretty well all that we were asking for—and more than one often has a right to expect on these occasions. The Minister referred to the thinking on producing statutory guidance. She hopes to return with something further to say on Report, and we welcome that. As regards the complaints procedure, we very much welcome Amendment 140B and associated amendments. The Minister has undertaken to ensure that guidance establishes a link between the wording in Clauses 40 and 55, and we look forward to hearing what she says on that on Report. We very much welcome progress so far. If it is possible for the Minister, as she has indicated, to draw that link in the Bill, so much the better—we will welcome that all the more warmly.
The Minister said that she hopes to return to the issue of statutory guidance on Report. We welcome that. I have already welcomed the amendments relating to the complaints procedure. All that remains is for the Minister, when she winds up, to clarify that the duty in Clause 112 on the chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency to have regard to the needs of persons with learning difficulties aged 19 or over includes transport. If she were able to do that, I would feel that my cup runneth over.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 141, 142 and 142A. I speak also on behalf of my noble friend Lady Sharp.
I thank the Minister for the government amendments, and for the very recent letter that I retrieved an hour ago on this topic, which is very helpful and addresses some of the issues mentioned earlier. These were in response to concerns raised particularly by the Association of Colleges that some local authorities may not fulfil their statutory duty to produce appropriate transport plans for 16 to 19 year-olds and implement them effectively. The Minister covered these points very effectively in her statements, and also with her assurance that we will return to this on Report.
The particular concern of Amendment 141 is that the powers of the Secretary of State that extend to a local authority to review its transport policy could also extend to a general overview of transport across the country, rather than to the specific locality. It was not clear, after the abolition of the Learning and Skills Council, which organisation would take general responsibility. We welcome the moves that the Government have made, the statements on complaints from 16 to 19 year-olds and their parents, the other points in the letter and the amendments.
Amendment 142 has been covered, but I would like to speak to Amendment 142A, which links local authorities’ transport policies to the funding that they receive from central government. The local government financial report sets out the level of the revenue support grant payable to local authorities in that year. Each authority receives a grant based on an amount calculated using a relative needs formula made up of seven service blocks. From those blocks, local authorities should fund transport to schools and colleges for the most disadvantaged young people in their area.
By linking this to a policy where the money provided by central government goes to specific areas of service, transport assistance for poorer students would be implicitly ring-fenced, because there can be a disconnection between the local authority’s policy and the reality of students trying to access the assistance that the authority claims to offer. A recent Association of Colleges survey showed that 87 per cent of colleges were subsidising transport, at an average cost per college of £305,000. Colleges were trying to fill the gaps where local authorities were not adequately funding transport. There was an additional concern that some students were using their maintenance allowance to support attendance at college. The responsibility of local authorities would be clearer if the transport policy was linked directly to the funding allocated for it. We welcome the assurances from the Minister that we will return to this on Report.
My Lords, I have no wish to rain on the parade of the noble Lord, Lord Low. He seems to have achieved a great deal, and I am immensely envious. Therefore I shall not speak to my amendment, which was covered anyway by what the noble Baroness said. The current discussion about local authorities looking after the learner returns me to my sadness that we have returned further education colleges to local authorities, which will blur their interests. Rather than LEAs wanting their students to get the best provision going, I fear that they will go back to their old, bad habits of wanting their students to go to their schools and colleges before allowing them to stray.
My Lords, these amendments all address transport provision, particularly as regards those with learning difficulties. It seems that their main purpose is to facilitate the attendance of those receiving education at institutions and to ensure that local authorities follow through on the responsibilities they are given in regulations and guidance—matters which I am sure the Minister will assure us are now thoroughly tied down. However, I am not entirely sure that all Members of the Committee have had time to consider carefully the letters that the Minister has sent. I think it would be helpful if, in her response, she could be a bit more detailed regarding the assurances that she is giving.
I thank her for carefully considering the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and others. It is right that the Government extend the new measures concerning complaints to young people between 19 and 24 with learning difficulties and disabilities. There are a number of amendments in this group proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Low, the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and my noble friend Lord Lucas. They have made their cases and I shall cut short my remarks for the moment, save to take this opportunity to say that I am grateful to the Minister for her letter—which I think is one of several but I saw it only this morning—on the provisions in Clause 54 concerning sixth-form transport complaints. It would be helpful to understand whether any incremental cost is involved over the status quo and, if so, how that will be funded.
My Lords, I want to say again how obviously successful the negotiations with the noble Lord, Lord Low, and his various helpers have been. Clearly, great advantages arise from what he has achieved. I particularly reinforce the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, concerning Amendment 143A. If 87 per cent of colleges are in fact funding transport needs themselves, it is clear that there will have to be some additional tightening up. Perhaps the Minister will address that. That aside, I think that a great deal has been achieved and it says a lot for the amount of time that people have put into this matter during their holiday period.
My Lords, I shall briefly pick up a couple of points as I do not want to repeat everything that I have said. To be clear, we see the enhanced complaints procedure and the opportunity for local authorities to respond quickly and in-year as a very important step in driving a much more responsive service. This is really about meeting the needs of young learners but it is also about meeting some of the concerns voiced by the Association of Colleges, as the noble Baroness highlighted. Following this debate, it may be appropriate for me to write again to Members of the Committee, but with a little more notice, setting out the progress that we have made and why we think it makes a difference. However, we believe that the complaints provision that we are introducing in Clause 54 should ensure that local authorities listen and react to young people’s transport needs. In respect of the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, concerning Clause 112, we will make it clear to the chief executive of Skills Funding, through guidance issued by the Secretary of State, that the organisation must consider access issues in carrying out its responsibilities and consult local authorities about transport requirements for learners over the age of 19 with learning difficulties but without a learning difficulty assessment. I should have mentioned that and I put that on the record too.
I am not sure that I have anything further to add but I hope that, with additional background briefing, noble Lords will consider this matter further on Report.
Amendment 136C agreed.
Amendments 136D and 136E
136D: Clause 54, page 39, line 20, after “local” insert “education”
136E: Clause 54, page 39, line 25, leave out subsections (3) to (5)
Amendments 136D and 136E agreed.
Clause 54, as amended, agreed.
Clause 55 : Local education authorities in England: provision of transport etc for adult learners
Amendments 137 to 140 not moved.
Amendments 140A and 140B
140A: Clause 55, page 41, line 1, leave out “certain young adults” and insert “young adults subject to learning difficulty assessment”
140B: Clause 55, page 42, line 2, at end insert—
“508H Complaints about transport arrangements etc for young adults subject to learning difficulty assessment: England
(1) A local education authority may revise a statement prepared under section 508G to change any matter specified under subsection (3) of that section if, as a result of a relevant young adult transport complaint, they have come to consider the change necessary for a purpose mentioned in section 508F(2) or (3).
(2) A local education authority must revise a statement prepared under section 508G to change any matter specified in subsection (3) of that section if, as a result of a relevant young adult transport complaint, the Secretary of State has directed them to do so.
(3) An authority that revises a statement under subsection (1) or (2) must publish the revised statement and a description of the revision as soon as practicable.
(4) The Secretary of State need not consider whether to exercise any power under sections 496 to 497A (powers to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions, etc) or subsection (2) of this section in response to a matter that is, or could have been, the subject of a relevant young adult transport complaint made to him or her unless satisfied that—
(a) the matter has been brought to the notice of the local education authority concerned, and(b) the authority have had a reasonable opportunity to investigate the matter and respond.(5) In this section “relevant young adult transport complaint” means a complaint that is—
(a) about a local education authority’s exercise of, or failure to exercise, a function under section 508F or 508G in relation to relevant young adults, and(b) made by a person who is, or will be, a relevant young adult when the matter complained of has effect, or by a parent of such a person,and “relevant young adult” has the meaning given in section 508F.(6) For the purposes of section 508G(7) and (8), the revision of a statement under this section is to be treated as the preparation of a statement under section 508G.
(7) Where a local education authority have published in a single document a statement prepared under section 509AA and a statement prepared under 508G, the requirement to publish a revised statement under subsection (3) is to be treated as a requirement to publish a version of the document that includes the revised statement.”
Amendments 140A and 140B agreed.
Clause 55, as amended, agreed.
Amendments 141 to 142A not moved.
Clause 56 agreed.
Amendment 143 not moved.
Clause 57 agreed.
Schedule 2 : LEA functions: minor and consequential amendments
Amendments 143A and 143B
143A: Schedule 2, page 164, line 34, at end insert—
“6A In section 496 (power of Secretary of State to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions) after subsection (4) (as inserted by section 214(1) of this Act) insert—
“(5) This section is subject to sections 508H and 509AE (complaints about transport arrangements etc).”
6B In section 497 (general default powers of Secretary of State) after subsection (5) (as inserted by section 214(2) of this Act) insert—
“(6) This section is subject to sections 508H and 509AE (complaints about transport arrangements etc).”
6C In section 497A (power of Secretary of State to secure proper performance of LEA’s functions) at the end insert—
“(8) This section is subject to sections 508H and 509AE (complaints about transport arrangements etc).””
143B: Schedule 2, page 165, line 15, leave out “and 508G” and insert “, 508G and 508H”
Amendments 143A and 143B agreed.
Schedule 2, as amended, agreed.
Clause 58 : The Young People's Learning Agency for England
144: Clause 58, page 42, line 29, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“( ) There is to be a body which is part of the Skills Funding Agency known as the Young People’s Learning Agency for England.”
My Lords, we now move on to a very important group of amendments. I think that there are 18 altogether in the names of my noble friends and my noble colleagues in the Liberal Democrats, and they all address a further complex and significant area of the Bill—namely, the establishment of the Young People’s Learning Agency for England.
In the Bill, the Government propose to abolish the Learning and Skills Council, which was responsible for all post-16 education, and instead to divide up responsibility for education by age. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that local education authorities will have a duty to secure education for all those who are of compulsory school age but under 19 and for those persons who are between 19 and 24 and for whom a learning difficulty assessment has been carried out. Responsibility for post-19 education and training will be given to the chief executive of Skills Funding. That is the impression that I garnered of the Government’s intentions and I hope that the Minister can correct me if I am not representing the case correctly. Therefore, the purpose of the YPLA will be to support local authorities and to provide national frameworks, which should help them to carry out their duties with regard to education for 16 to 19 year-olds.
Notes provided by the Bill team state that this new and “slim line” body will help local authorities to carry out their duties by,
“ensuring coherence of commissioning plans, managing the national funding formula, and providing strategic data and analysis”.
Therefore, the YPLA will check the plans that local authorities have produced and channelled through the sub-regional and regional groupings. It will then fund local authorities to meet these plans and it will retain powers to intervene if it looks as though local authorities will not be able to produce the plans in the time available. Earlier today, the Minister said that in extreme cases it will have powers to intervene more generally. Will it? I should be very pleased to have a little more explanation. The purpose of all the amendments is to probe what this new body—the YPLA—will be like and what it will do.
I have already shared with noble Lords the concerns that we have about the convoluted, confusing and incoherent nature of much of this Bill and the quangos that it produces. The abolition of the Learning and Skills Council and its replacement by different quangos, institutions and authorities to carry out its duties, with the division based on age, will cause a great number of difficulties. I hope that the Minister will go into a detailed explanation of how she hopes that it will work. We think that it is vital that the arrangements for funding and management of skills are coherent, consistent and effective. Our preference would be for a simple and streamlined system with clear lines of accountability. Amendments 144, 147, 148, 149, 150 and 151 attempt to probe why it is not possible to place the duties of the YPLA under the Skills Funding Agency.
Our Clause 58 stand part move is to allow a debate on the whole nature of the YPLA and its relationship with the other bodies that the Government would like to create. This would allow the SFA to provide the central and overarching authority. That is in line with our own desire for a simple and streamlined system. We acknowledge the importance of local authorities in education. Nevertheless we would not devolve responsibility for educating those above the compulsory school age but below 19 to them. I suppose we would then remove the need for the YPLA altogether.
Instead, our preference is for a central Skills Funding Agency that would have responsibility for educational funding both above and below the age of 19. Of course, we acknowledge the importance of local authorities in education and the help that they provide, so our Amendment 169ZC would make local authorities a mandatory consultee for the chief executive of the SFA in carrying out his duties in that capacity. Does the Minister agree that that would help reduce the bureaucracy and confusion that would result with two separate agencies dealing with a system of education that in all my experience does not easily divide neatly between under 19 and over 19? Concern has been expressed by many groups, and we have heard them. The Local Government Association, for example, states:
“Despite the Government’s stated desire to keep the new system bureaucratically simple the complexity of the proposals means the reality may not match this aspiration”.
The Government appear to have acknowledged the arguments of those expressing concern but the reaction seems to be only to call this YPLA slim line. That is said wherever possible to emphasise that it will not cause the bureaucratic muddle of which we are all afraid. The Minister referred to it as a “light-touch national body” in her Second Reading speech, if I have got it right, but we have yet to hear a proper explanation of how the lines of reporting, funding and accountability will work in this slimline body, to avoid these difficulties. We concur with the worry of the Local Government Association and hope that the Minister can answer that concern in terms of practicalities rather than in terms of her vision, her dream, or her aspirations. Does she acknowledge that legislating for a new system is not enough to make up for the failures of the Learning and Skills Council? She may be able to explain what the SFA and the YPLA will do, but it is even more important that she explains how they are expected to do it. To that end, will the Minister answer our amendments that probe why the YPLA could not just come under the SFA? Does she not accept that an overarching body might help to simplify the lines of accountability and strategy while still allowing the YPLA to fulfil its obligations in providing funding to local authorities?
Of course, lots of other bodies have expressed worries about the nature of the Government’s reforms. The National Union of Teachers, for example, said that it was worried about,
“the creation of a plethora of new agencies, with the Skills Funding Agency and the Young People’s Learning Agency. We are in danger of exchanging the bureaucracy of the LSC for two new agencies”.
The NASUWT referred to the establishment of this body as,
“an unnecessary tier of bureaucracy and administration”.
The British Chambers of Commerce commented:
“The government’s planned abolition of the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and replacement with a number of new agencies for the sake of organisational efficiency is bizarre”.
Need I go on? There is widespread opposition. I hope that the Minister has a well-prepared answer. Knowing her advisers, I am sure that it has been well prepared. I hope that it will outline the necessity and benefits of replacing some of the functions of the LSC with the YPLA.
I have carefully studied the impact assessment—both volumes. It says that,
“in order to ensure that any potential increases in bureaucracy are minimised, the DCSF and DIUS have been working closely with representatives of the provider sector”.
I am a bit confused about that. Perhaps the Minister can say what potential increases in bureaucracy are contemplated. I am merely quoting from the impact assessment. What potential increases in bureaucracy have been under discussion? Will she update us on the progress of these talks?
John Hadwin, on behalf of the Surrey area liaison committee, university and college union has commented on the difficulties of division by age, particularly as regards FE colleges. He has written of a former colleague who taught two full-time courses, two part-time day courses and an evening class. Apparently his classes split 18-4 and 19-3 between 16 to 19 year olds and 19 plus students. In the part-time day courses the split is 5-10 and 8-6 and the evening class is divided 3-14. Will the Minster tell us whether it is her assumption that the passage of this Bill will mean that two different agencies, responsible to two different government departments, will want records of those students and may perhaps also have different criteria for their funding?
We have tabled the amendments to express our deep concern about what we regard as the further confusion that the Government are bringing into the education sector. The abolition of the LSC is already under way. Perhaps among her other remarks, the Minister can give us an update on progress. Our Amendments 145, 146A and 169A are designed to probe the nature of the abolition of the Learning and Skills Council and its replacement by the YPLA and SFA in terms of how much the transition will cost and how many people will be employed by each of these new agencies. Page 33 of the impact assessment states:
“We expect the new system will at worst be revenue neutral for providers and there could potentially be significant benefits in terms of a more informed and integrated commissioning of their services by authorities”.
I hope that we will get some facts and figures that will back up that remarkable statement. It is rather disingenuous of the Government to keep referring to a slimline agency and light-touch bodies when the Bill seems to be introducing more bodies and more bureaucracy. The fear of those in the sector, and the fear on these Benches, is that it will all mean increased spending, more staff, more bodies, more consultation and more cost. We look for reassurance with some firm facts and figures.
Those concerns were raised in another place—I have been carefully reading through the Committee report—when Ministers struggled to come up with any solid figures. The updated impact assessment produced as the Bill entered your Lordships' House has provided some preliminary figures of transition costs, with the proviso that final figures would be produced closer to September. Here we are. I think that it is October. I have seen nothing so far. We need all this urgently. Can the Minister provide us with an update on the new figures? The constant emphasis on the very rough and initial nature of the principal figures gives us cause to doubt their reliability. It is all too easy for the Government to hide behind their claims of cost-neutrality, which I must say has an air of hope, rather than of reality about it.
It is interesting to note the difference between the two impact assessments. In another place, the impact assessment stated:
“We expect the ongoing costs of operating the new system to be revenue-neutral compared to the current system in the short-term, with savings and efficiencies through a more integrated service at local authority level in the medium to long-term”.
However, by the time that the impact assessment reached your Lordships' House, it talked only about maximising any potential savings. What has caused this change of emphasis and apparent decline in certainty about cost savings? Has further analysis undermined the Government’s confident claim that there would be savings and efficiencies in the medium to long-term? I think the Minister will have to admit that there has been ample opportunity for the Government to defend their assertion that there will be cost savings, yet we have had no solid figures. At this stage of the Bill, I do not think that that is adequate.
Amendments 145 and 169A probe the Government on the number of people employed by the YPLA and the SFA. Amendment 145 states that the YPLA is not permitted to employ more than 500 people in total; Amendment 169A states that the chief executive may not employ more than 1,800 people in total. In another place, the Minister stated that he expected about 500 staff to transfer from the LSC to the YPLA and about 1,800 to transfer to the YPLA, which would then leave about 1,000 to transfer to local authorities. The Minister was, however, rather cagey about putting what he termed a straitjacket on the bodies, which would not allow them to employ more people than that. He said that he did not expect there to be a reduction in the head count. Of course, that calls into further doubt the Government’s assertions about cost savings.
Does the Minister in fact expect an increase in numbers? After all, if the staff from the LSC are simply being divided between two bodies, does she accept that it is very likely that there will be more functions required and, consequently, more staff? It would be very useful if the Minister could expand a little on the structural changes that we might expect. As I said, the impact assessment informs us that the transfer will be cost-neutral. Both the SFA and the YPLA will have their head offices in Coventry, which currently houses the head office of the Learning and Skills Council, so, on paper, the Government will have achieved little more than dividing one institution into two. Can the Minister inform us of all the benefits that we should hope to see from the change? I must say that I look forward to her response. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is down with that of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, as questioning whether Clause 58 should stand part. In addition, within this group, we have tabled a number of amendments—Amendments 146B to E, 153ZA, 155A, 161A and 161B. I shall shortly explain why we have tabled those amendments.
Although we have been questioning why Clause 58 should stand part, we have a somewhat different vision from that of the Conservatives as to where we want education to go. Unlike the Conservatives, our vision is one that involves local authorities. We feel it is very important that education serves local communities and is seen to do so, and that schools should co-operate in serving their local communities. Therefore, we see local authorities, which are the elected local representatives running those communities, as being key operatives within the whole process. On the whole, we want local authorities to be running the education system with the minimum of national guidelines and interference. Therefore, we basically welcome the thrust in the Bill of decentralising to local authorities—which one essentially sees here for the 14 to 19 age group.
In this sense, we are much closer to the Government because, as I said, they want to push the responsibility for the 14 to 19 age group down to local authorities. Similarly, although this language is somewhat different from the language that they were using three or four years ago, they are now anxious to see schools co-operating instead of competing with each other. I am delighted to see the spirit of co-operation between schools promoted by the Government—one which we advocated during the passage of various education Bills before this House when the Government were anxious to set up separate trust schools and academies competing with each other.
We are, I must confess, somewhat perplexed as regards the Conservatives’ plans. Although the Government’s plans talk at the moment about 16 to 19, it looks as though they are moving towards funding 14 to 19 as a block. That has been Liberal Democrat policy for some time, so we are delighted to see it. However, as regards the 14 to 19 age group, we do not quite understand where the Conservatives are. On the one hand, the thrust of their policies is that secondary schools, in particular, but all schools, should stand on their own and be independent, like academies. Academies are answerable directly to the department. We assume that all new schools set up by private enterprise, trusts and so forth, would be answerable to and funded by the department, so there would be one stream of funding coming through the department. Further education colleges would be funded by the Further Education Funding Council. Finally, all those schools not going independent will be funded by local authorities. Effectively, to my mind, the Tories will set up a very complex system of funding for 14 to 19, one that involves three different streams of funding: one from the department directly, one from the FEFC and one from local authorities. They talk about wanting to have clear and consistent lines of responsibility and a coherent, consistent and effective system, but I do not think that they will achieve that with their plans.
Our vision is of local authorities playing a key strategic role in commissioning and developing the local education offering. Far from removing schools from the local education funding regime, we see all funding passing through local education authorities. Although our model is one in which funding follows the pupil—thus the pupil premium which we proposed several years before the Conservatives—it envisages a per capita funding for all pupils at a particular level, primary, secondary, or 16 to 19, with extra payments for pupils from disadvantaged homes, who may need more intensive tuition and help with learning, just as we have for some time accepted that those with learning difficulties should carry extra funding.
Hence, while there may be a national funding formula, our view is that there is no need for the YPLA and that the money should go directly from the department to local authorities, just as it goes from the department to schools via local authorities. These days, it is ring-fenced, but the funding is nevertheless channelled through local authorities directly to schools. If we are going to be channelling it to schools, we feel it should cover the whole 14 to 19 block. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, began by saying, local authorities are now responsible for the provision of education and training, which covers the apprenticeship area. We would like to see the money going through local authorities, which have these responsibilities.
Local authorities will have to produce their commissioning plans to be approved by the YPLA. A very complex net is being proposed. This is how colleges are going to be funded in future: the YPLA, with the help of local authorities, is to carry out its new responsibilities by developing a national framework to support planning and commissioning. That is fine. Each local authority will assess supply and demand for 16 to 19 in their area and take the assessment to the sub-regional group of local authorities of which it is a member. The plans will then be agreed by the regional planning group, which will scrutinise local plans and ensure that they are coherent, can be funded within the regional budget and will deliver the 14 to 19 entitlement. Regional development agencies will help to ensure that the plans for young people will deliver what is needed by employers, taking into account the regional economic strategy and the regional skills needs. Regional government offices will then contribute to the discussion of regional priorities and support local authorities in undertaking their new responsibilities. They are, and will continue to be, a conduit for information to flow from sub-regional groupings. The YPLA will check these plans to ensure that they cohere and are affordable and will fund local authorities appropriately. Local authorities will pass on the funding to their colleges. The colleges will have a separate stream of funding for apprenticeships and will have streams of funding from the SFA for post-19s and from local authorities for under-19s. These are complex streams of funding and there is a complex process written into all of this.
One of the things that those of us who have been involved with the YPLA and who have looked at the plans for its development have been very perplexed about is that the Government have proceeded as though the Bill has been passed. We now have shadow authorities in place. The LSC is being broken up and people are being allocated, some to the YPLA, some to the SFA and others to local authorities. We have heard the figures being mooted about the numbers that will be passed over. Talking to our local government colleagues, it is quite clear that, as far as they are concerned, so much has already taken place that they feel it is almost impossible to roll the thing back and therefore the sensible thing is to accept that the YPLA and these other bodies will come into being.
With this in mind, we took a long, hard look at the proposals in the Bill, the Explanatory Notes, estimates of the costs and the series of briefings that the Bill team provided to work out the 16 to 19 proposals. One of the things that struck us substantially was the disjuncture between what is stated in the Bill and what we were told in the briefings about the functions of the YPLA. The department assured us that the YPLA will be a small, slim-line authority whose main job is to distribute money between authorities. Sure enough, those are the main functions of the new organisation set out in Clause 59. They are totally financial. The supplementary powers granted in Clauses 59 and 60 are both financial but Clauses 61 to 74 grant power to develop targets and assessment schemes, to secure suitable education and training directly if necessary, to intervene if local authorities fail to do the job they are supposed to do, to undertake R&D connected with its functions—we have no objections to that that as it is a perfectly viable function—and to issue guidance to local authorities to which they must have regard.
These are all rather stark powers and present the authority as an interventionist authority. Contrast them with the story we were told in the briefings on 16 to 19 arrangements. In them, far from being a stern interventionist authority, the YPLA is almost cuddly. We were told that its main functions will be to assist local authorities. It will produce a national commissioning plan and will work with local authorities and their regional partners to make sure that they use the plan effectively for their local needs. One of the problems we faced in looking at all this has been that there appears to be a slightly changing agenda. It is well known that the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, to Jim Brathwaite at the South East England Development Agency is now in the public domain, and it is quite clear that the role that the regional development agencies will play in vetting plans that come forward and setting skills strategies in their local regions that local authorities will have to fit into is quite different from what was originally envisaged and that regional development agencies are to play a much more substantial role. To some extent, we share the Conservatives’ cynicism about regional development agencies. Our cynicism is because they are not elected, but totally appointed. Why should they start dictating to people what they should do? We would like to see them have some electoral responsibility behind them. We were told in the briefings that there will be a national commissioning plan and that the YPLA will work with local authorities and their regional partners to produce regional and national data that will feed into the planning process and help with cross-regional commissioning and so forth where appropriate.
This disjuncture between the Bill and what we have been told the YPLA’s functions will be has led us to table our amendments in this group. The first set of amendments relate to Schedule 3, which sets up the YPLA. Paragraph 2 relates to membership. It is proposed that membership should be between six and 13. We feel very strongly that six is much too few for an authority that would represent so many different interests. Therefore, in Amendment 146B we suggest a minimum of 10 rather than six. Sub-paragraph (3) stipulates the desirability of appointing people with experience of the YPLA’s functions, and we have suggested that it might be expanded to include people from such areas as schools, colleges, vocational training and youth offending, all of which fall within the purview of the YPLA. We might also have said that it ought to contain representatives from local government because it is substantially dealing with local government. of Schedule 3 (5) states that the CEO shall be appointed by the Secretary of State. We suggest that this should apply only in the first instance and that once the YPLA is up and running in its own right with its own board, it should appoint the CEO rather than looking to the Secretary of State to appoint him. That explains that series of amendments.
In addition, we have sought to make amendments to the Bill that would give some sense to what the YPLA is going to do. The key amendment in this whole series of amendments that we have laid is Amendment 153ZA, which takes the wording from the briefings on the YPLA’s functions with which we have been provided. Our amendment, which would go after Clause 60, makes it clear in proposed new subsection (2) that while the YPLA’s main function is financial, in discharging that function it will,
“develop a national funding formula and national commissioning framework … work with local education authorities and their regional partners”,
providing them with “consistent national data”, which they need to do their planning, and help with any pan-national “or cross-regional” procurement processes.
Amendment 155A makes it clear that in securing education and training provision under Clause 64, the YPLA will work with its local and regional partners rather than dictate to them.
Amendments 161A and 161B take issue with the wording of Clause 70. Why must the YPLA issue guidance to its local education authorities? If the tone of the briefings is to be replicated, it must consult its local education authorities and issue guidance only after consultation.
Altogether, if I might say so, these amendments seek to put into the Bill an image of the YPLA that more closely fits with its functions as they have been described to us in the briefings that we have received. If we are to have a YPLA, let us have an organisation that is enjoined, as we are told it will be, to work closely and in partnership with local authorities.
I have two further questions to put to the Minister. First, the YPLA is responsible for the EMA. Will the Minister update us on the 16-to-19 financial review, which will look at 16-to-19 financial support in the round, including the child benefit and child tax credit paid to parents of 16-to-19 year-olds in full-time education and unwaged training? What is the current position of this financial review? The Minister may wish to write to me rather than necessarily answer now, because I have not given her notice of this.
Secondly, with the raising of the participation age to 18 we will have a whole generation. By September 2010, today’s class 8 will be class 9, and the pupils will need careers guidance that can really help them to choose from the plethora of opportunities that are open to them. What progress are the Government making in setting up the proper information, advice and guidance system that they will be leading and that will, as I say, need to be in place by September next year? We talked a little about this when we talked about the careers guidance under Clause 35, but that was earlier in the summer and it would be good to know a little about how far things have progressed.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the cynicism with which one can greet the whole issue of whether or not this will be cost-neutral. The LSC is a single quango that has had many failings. Nevertheless, it is being replaced by two quangos, one of which is the SFA. Actually, the SFA is not a quango because it is a next step agency, but within that agency four vital functions will be performed. The National Apprenticeship Service, Train to Gain, the Adult Advancement and Careers Service and the National Employer Service will all be run by the SFA. That is very considerable. Very complex machinery is being set up to replace it all, and it beggars belief to say that it will not cost a lot of money.
My Lords, I, too, have a question for the Minister. I know that the Government are genuinely committed to flexibility in education—to people being able to take up education at any time in their lives and to flow in and out of education and training as well as work and so on. Does the Minister feel that the separation of these two different bodies will help or hinder that kind of flexibility?
I have never known a funding agency, or any body with powers of funding, that did not become very independent and pretty bossy over the course of its life. No doubt those two agencies will begin to develop quite different policies on how and on what basis they fund and on how much per unit they will offer. Some individuals, particularly the often forgotten part-time students who are in full-time employment and studying part time, could very well find themselves switching from one kind of funding to another while they are on the same course and pursuing the same qualification. That is quite apart from the difficulties, which my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, have highlighted, for institutions that have all these different streams of funding. It could be a very bumpy ride for individuals as they pass the age of 19 and find themselves in a completely different funding regime.
I would very much like to hear how the Minister feels this particular agency, which is independent from the SFA, will help that kind of individual flexibility for learners.
I very much hope that I will be able to offer the reassurance that noble Lords are looking for. I am very happy to talk about numbers and the disjuncture about which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, is worried. Sometimes when you look at a Bill, it is the powers and the strong stuff that leap out at you, and the cuddly stuff that she is looking for is sometimes more difficult to enshrine in legislation. However, that is not to say that it is not very important that the YPLA’s relationship with local authorities is close and supportive. That is what we hope to achieve.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his introduction and for giving me the opportunity to walk us through some of the key issues. He is right that this is an important debate, and how we frame it is important. I speak with some passion, having worked on the previous education Bill that came through this House and that focused so much on raising the participation age for young people. I remember the passion that we put into that. Many strands flow from that Bill into this, and we see the importance of getting these bodies functioning properly and well set up.
There are a number of reasons why it is appropriate for the YPLA and the Skills Funding Agency to be established as separate bodies. They will serve very different constituencies. The YPLA will support local authorities to ensure that the interests of all young people aged 16 to 19, of those aged up to 25 with learning difficulties, and of young people subject to youth detention on whom we have just focused, are met. The Skills Funding Agency will meet the demands of employers and adult learners and is exactly about the flexibility to which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, pointed. These groups are different and they have different needs. Each requires a distinct focus for really strong delivery.
The Skills Funding Agency will oversee the demand-led funding system that we know employers are looking for. It will support employers and adult learners through a number of customer-focused services, including Train to Gain, the National Apprenticeship Service, the Adult Advancement and Careers Service and the learners’ skills services. The YPLA, on the other hand, will have a supporting and enabling role, assisting local authorities and their partners to meet the needs and aspirations of our young people. It will fund local authorities on the basis of their commissioning plans. Detailed work needs to go into developing those commissioning plans because we need to ensure that they are right.
Such diverse models and client groups suggest to me and to many with whom we have consulted that two separate agencies are needed. As one would expect, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, brought some very interesting quotes to our debate. The Association of Colleges has been on record as welcoming the proposals for the structure of the 14 to 19 education system. The Association of School and College Leaders also welcomes the proposals. The CBI said:
“Business welcomes the intention to create a more ‘demand-led’ approach to adult skills funding through the … Skills Funding Agency”.
As separately run organisations, the YPLA and the Skills Funding Agency will be governed to respond to their customers. The YPLA, as an NDPB, will have a strong sector-led representation on the board, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was concerned to see. The SFA, as an agency of BIS, will have that close relationship to government which is necessary to deliver a strong, demand-led post-19 system.
Having separate organisations also enables clear and unambiguous lines of accountability to each Secretary of State, as well as to Parliament, which this House is very concerned always to see. Both organisations are required by the Bill to produce annual reports, which will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. They will share a common aim to drive up participation and achievement to new levels, to be flexible and able to respond to new developments, to provide the specialist services that their different customers need and, above all, to equip our current and future workforce with the skills to drive our economy forward, which is crucial. In line with good practice, we also plan to ensure that they share common backroom services such as HR, estates management and information systems support, thus maximising the efficiency and effectiveness of the two bodies. I am sure that both parties opposite will recognise the importance of that.
The range of functions required at national and regional level is such that these functions must be undertaken at arm’s length from the department and that only a stand-alone YPLA would deliver the intensity of focus on young people and the local authorities that serve them which is required to make a success of the raised participation age, about which I have talked already.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked for clarification on intervention. Earlier, I said that the YPLA will have powers to intervene if a local authority is failing in its commissioning duty in respect of young offenders. It will have the same power to intervene in an authority if it is failing in its duty for all young people. It is right to have that backstop power in the interests of young people, but it is very much for extreme, exceptional cases. These powers stand out in the Bill, but they have to be in legislation of this nature because we are talking about the use of public money and ensuring that the best results are achieved.
As regards this being a complicated system, I do not accept that two bodies will make life more complicated for colleges and other providers. As noble Lords are aware, colleges and other providers manage multiple funding streams and blend their work across government with the vast sums that are spent by the private sector on training. Having two main funding streams, one for young people and one for adults, is not dissimilar to present arrangements. I would argue that this is a step very much in the right direction. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, requested, we said that we will write to noble Lords about transitional costs in detail before Report, and I reiterate that commitment.
The noble Lord was very concerned about references to increasing bureaucracy. I, too, would be very concerned at any suggestion that these plans are about increasing democracy. We plan very clearly to reduce bureaucracy, which is why we have been in discussion with the Association of Colleges, the ASCL, the LGA and others about how we can do so in practical terms. We are committed to doing that.
As regards Amendments 146B, 146C, 146D and 146E, and the concern that the YPLA’s board is representative, I will consider further the proposals of the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden, further and will think about coming back on Report with proposals. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked another detailed question on EMA about which I shall have to write to her and I undertake to do that very quickly. I also appreciate the seriousness of the noble Baronesses’ concerns set out in Amendments 155A, 153ZA et cetera. These amendments concern clarifying the YPLA’s role in supporting local authorities in the fulfilment of their new duties and I should like to think further on that.
Amendments 145 and 169A seek to limit the number of staff employed by the Young People’s Learning Agency to 500 and by the Skills Funding Agency to 1,800. Our current plans are that the two bodies will start off their lives with staffing at about the levels highlighted in the amendments. We are confident that staffing will not rise significantly beyond these levels. We do not see the need to set these ceilings in primary legislation for a number of reasons. First, as with every organisation in the public sector, both bodies will be expected to contribute towards year-on-year efficiency targets. Just because they are new bodies does not exempt them from that. Secondly, the principal brake on staff numbers will come through the annual remit and budget letter, which will set out the objectives and budgets of each organisation. Thirdly, proper structures are in place to ensure that both bodies can be scrutinised effectively and held to account for the use of the resources they are given. They will be required to report annually to Parliament. The chief executive and, in the case of the YPLA, the chair, will be or can be summoned by the Public Accounts Committee or their departmental select committees and their work will be subject to scrutiny by the National Audit Office.
Amendment 146A would require the Secretary of State to carry out a regulatory impact assessment to review the costs of abolishing the Learning and Skills Council, and the setting up of the Young People’s Learning Agency and the office of the chief executive of skills funding. The impact assessment for this Bill, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, highlighted, has been updated prior to introduction to this House, confirms our commitment that the transfer to the new arrangements will be cost-neutral, which I reiterate now. In designing the new structures we are working to an indicative administrative budget, which is set at the same level as that within which the Learning and Skills Council currently operates.
As noble Lords would expect, there will be one-off costs associated with the transition to new arrangements; for example, to close down premises which are no longer needed and to pay for possible staff relocation and retraining costs. They are the normal transitional costs that one would expect. Initial estimates are that these costs will total around £38 million, but we expect the reduction of the estate to rapidly generate savings in subsequent years, with annual savings of up to £17 million. The potential for additional savings from operating shared services in relation to the IT systems will be particularly important. I want to be absolutely clear that this is being driven by the outcomes we are looking for in adult skills and in raising the participation age for young people in education in this country. I hear the concerns raised by noble Lords and I have offered to consider further the amendments put forward by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharp and Lady Garden. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
As a Back-Bench Member, I have been wondering, if the Motion that Clause 58 should stand part was moved and was voted down, what the Government would do then. It has been tabled in the name of the Opposition Bench and that of the Liberal Democrats. That prompts me to ask, after the speedy reply given by the noble Baroness, why it is right to have an executive agency on the one hand and a full-blooded non-departmental public body on the other, and then to say that they will share things. The constitutional position of an executive agency is different from that of a non-departmental public body and I do not think that they will find it easy to share anything. For a start, the executive agency basically has to do whatever the Secretary of State tells it to do; that is its position. A non-departmental public body, if one goes back to 1998, is said by the present Administration to be at arm’s length. I think the noble Baroness used that phrase, although of course the arm can be twisted either to a small degree or to a large one. Nevertheless, the fiction—or perhaps it is the reality—is that non-departmental public bodies are independent.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, we really do not know anything about how the YPLA will use its independence. It is quite indicative, on reading the Bill, that the schedule covering the YPLA extends over six pages while that for the SFA goes over three. That is the difference in a nutshell between an executive agency and a non-departmental public body. The draftsmen have to take a great deal more care with a non-departmental public body than they do with an executive agency. In this case, the amendments tabled by my own Front Bench suggest that the SFA should be the primary body, because if it is going to employ 1,800 people while the YPLA employs only 500, it can be seen that there might be a good case for the SFA. So I am in a state of confusion because I do not understand, for all the passionate explanation given by the noble Baroness, what is really intended, and I feel quite strongly that this matter needs a great deal more careful consideration than it has had to date.
I had not expected the Minister to respond as positively to all the amendments in this group and we are very grateful to her. Obviously we shall await the government amendments before we decide where we stand on this issue. She has promised them for the Report stage and I hope that we shall have a chance to look at them before Report.
I do not have the impact assessment with me, but I have one question for the Minister. Some 1,000 members of the LSC are going to work with local authorities. Are local authorities going to be compensated for the cost of employing these people? It is clear that over the past 10 years local authorities have run down their education authorities so that they are now often rather slimline bodies because they are not really involved in the functions of strategic planning and running schools, let alone doing anything in the further education sector, which they came out of some 20 years ago. Local authorities need the resources to employ people with knowledge of these sectors in their departments. Do the figures that have been quoted include the cost to local authorities of having to employ the 1,000 new staff or is it excluded? I should be interested to know.