House of Lords
Thursday, 12 November 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
Immigration: Yarl’s Wood
My Lords, national statistics on persons, including children, held in detention are published quarterly. The latest published information can be found on the Home Office website. At 31 October 2009, 27 persons under 18 years of age were detained at Yarl’s Wood. This information is taken from data used for management information only. It is provisional and not subject to the detailed checks that apply for national statistics publications.
Does my noble friend agree—I know that he is a very caring person—that it is surely wrong in principle that children should be detained in prison-like conditions? Does he further agree that this practice has been condemned by a range of charities, the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Children’s Commissioner and is a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? I ask my noble friend in all sincerity to have his department look again at the pilot project that was tried out in Kent a couple of years ago, which his department says failed, but which was never given a chance to succeed, whereby children and families were given accommodation but were not detained.
My Lords, I quite understand where my noble friend’s Question is coming from, and it reflects the feeling of the House. No one wants to detain children. We do this only if their families have refused to leave the UK voluntarily, despite lots of financial and other support being offered them, and we have to enforce that removal. It is absolutely right that we should protect our borders from false asylum claimants. We detain children with their families because we think it would be worse if we split them from their families. That is why they are kept together. We do this sensitively, our staff are trained and we have to identify children’s needs. We want every child to be as safe and secure as possible. The Kent establishment did not really work. We have now opened a pilot in Glasgow. That is going extremely well but we shall have to see how it settles down. It began in June this year and will run for three years. It is a long-term project, in which 17 families are involved so far. I hope that it is a success, because clearly we would much rather do that than have them in a detention centre.
My Lords, I am sure many Members of the House agree with the sentiments that lie behind the noble Lord’s Question. However, for as long as children are detained in places such as Yarl’s Wood, how will the new duty that has been laid on the Minister to take special care over the conditions of children be discharged, since clearly the conditions which prevail which led to these reports are very unsatisfactory indeed? How will conditions change?
My Lords, we say conditions are very poor but a number of inspections have been carried out at Yarl’s Wood and we have had some very good reports fairly recently. In giving evidence, Sir Al Aynsley-Green said that he had to give credit to that establishment for the improvements that have occurred over four years since the first time he went there. He said that the staff were trying to do well, and he celebrated that, but thought that there might still be some way to go. The IMB report acknowledges the dedication, kindness and patience of the staff involved. We have subjected ourselves to all the guidance about looking after and taking care of children. We are in contact and debating with the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We have debates with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Children, Young People and Families. The statutory guidance is supported by a programme of reform, so we are very much taking these things seriously and it is being implemented in conjunction with all the various people involved with children’s welfare.
My Lords, the Government and the Conservatives talk of just changing the conditions in which children are kept. Is it not a question of working out a way in which children are not detained at all? Can the Minister confirm that out of those children who are let out of detention with their families, less than half have been removed anyway, and they should not have been detained in the first place?
My Lords, the children are normally taken into Yarl’s Wood when their family is coming towards the end of the period before they leave the country, because they are false asylum claimants. We have an absolute obligation to this country to maintain a safe and secure border. What happens then is that things are delayed. Why are they delayed? Obviously, for each individual this is a personal tragedy. They want to be in this country; of course they do. I like being in this country. I would rather be here than anywhere else in the world. Lots of people around the world would rather be here, but that does not mean that they all have a right to be here. What they do is obfuscate, make it very difficult to pin down exactly where they have come from and they spin it out. That is why it goes on. I cannot blame them for trying to do that, but we have to bowl it out and take action. This is what happens if we wish to keep the family together, children and adults. I am afraid that that is why we have arrived where we are. We take huge care in trying to look after them.
Has the Minister studied the recent report from the Zimbabwe Association which highlights the bad effects of detention on adults? Surely, if that is the effect on adults, the effect on children must be much worse, because of uncertainty and not understanding what is going on. Will he introduce a system of case work and legal advice for that tiny minority of applicants who have children?
My Lords, I have not read the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, refers. I know that he has a particular interest in this area, and we had an interesting debate earlier this week. I will certainly look at that report, but I cannot make any promises in that area. I go back to the fact that if these people took the voluntary opportunity we give them, with financial support and other things, the problem would solve itself, in a sense.
My Lords, I do not have the exact answer to that at my fingertips. Perhaps I may look at it and get back to the noble Lord in writing. I cannot see why that would not be possible while the children are staying with their parents. However, we want to keep them with their parents—not have them living separately and going to school while their parents are in detention.
My Lords, is the Minister not entirely right to imply that these people are not detained against their will? They are perfectly free to leave Yarl’s Wood at any time with their children, but they are not allowed to enter this country. Detention is not the right word. They are voluntarily there and they have an alternative.
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. If they accepted the opportunity for voluntary return, they would not be there. Clearly they are trying to break the rules, they are desperate to stay, and that is why we have to hold onto them so that they do not abscond and they are not a problem.
My Lords, we have used our time on the first Question—seven and a half minutes.
My Lords, the second consultation on the voting rights of convicted prisoners closed on 29 September 2009. The Government are carefully studying the responses and will set out the next steps in due course.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that non-answer. When the first consultation was announced in 2006, we were told that it would be completed and that legislation would be published early in 2008. In fact, it was not until April 2009, almost two and a quarter years later—at the end of the first consultation—that the second consultation was announced, with no legislation. The consultation took six months as opposed to three, which is normal. Will the Government explain these inordinate delays in responding to a ruling of the European Court?
My Lords, our record on responding to the European Court is good, as has been acknowledged generally. This is a particularly difficult and complex issue, involving both what we should do and how we would do it when we allow some prisoners to vote. We have completed a second consultation on the enfranchisement of prisoners. It set out a range of options for prisoner enfranchisement based on sentence length, as well as a number of questions on the practical aspects of implementation, which is not easy. We are studying carefully the responses to the second stage and, as I have told the noble Lord on many occasions, we will consider the next step in due course.
I can confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has put to me—he is absolutely right. The European Court of Human Rights did not say which prisoners should be given the vote. The court held that the blanket ban was unlawful—of course we accept that—but expressly recognised that each member state has some discretion as to who should be given the vote. It is on that basis that the second consultation has been held.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the court judgment was in March 2004 and that it has been an inordinately long six years while the Government have been deliberating on this? Will he explain to the House what purpose is served by punishing all prisoners, irrespective of the gravity of their crime, in this manner?
My Lords, it has been a substantial time, although the date that the noble Baroness should go back to is October 2005, when the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights upheld the court’s initial ruling. It is a substantial time but, as I have said, these are complex and difficult issues, about which the public also have views. It remains our view that the right to vote goes to the essence of an offender’s relationship with a democratic society and that the removal of the right to vote from some convicted prisoners can be a proportionate and proper response following conviction and imprisonment.
Does the Minister not agree that, with so many years having elapsed since a clear and unambiguous judgment was given by the European Court, however sincere the Government may be in their desire to obtain a perfect solution to the situation, inevitably the impression will be given to other countries that they would not be heartbroken if the matter sailed on for all eternity like some legislative “Flying Dutchman”, never finding port or harbour?
I will draw, if I may, on my previous experience, which I had better declare: I was chairman for many years of Nacro. For a number of years I lectured in Pentonville, particularly to prisoners on release. One should think about this in terms not simply of whether they should get a vote, but of whether we can give them the vote and use that constructively. That could be done on the basis that they get the vote but we so contrive an educational system—I use those words, but they are not exactly what I mean—whereby they are introduced to general issues of concern to us all. In my experience, once you have dealt with the one rogue element in a group, you can get them interested, working and thinking for themselves.
My Lords, from the Minister’s Answer I was not clear whether there will be a chance for the changes to take place before the next election. If they are to take place before the election, are the Government undertaking any polling on which way prisoners will vote?
On the second part of the noble Lord’s question, we have undertaken no polling of that kind, but I should be interested to hear his views on that. As to the first part, I can only repeat that the Government are carefully studying the responses to the second stage consultation and will consider the next steps in due course.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of two non-departmental public bodies. The Cabinet Office publishes an annual report on NDPBs. The latest report shows that, at 31 March 2008, there were 790 NDPBs employing around 92,500 staff. This is a fall in the total number of NDPBs of around 8 per cent since 1997. Total expenditure by NDPBs in 2007-08 was just around £43 billion, of which around £34.5 billion was funded directly by government.
My Lords, first of all, I had better declare an interest as a former member of two quangos—the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission—and five years as chairman of the CPRE, a pressure group. And I thank the Minister for those interesting figures. Does she agree that the value of quangos will be judged by the objectivity of their advice and the proportionality of their actions, and that this means that they must not transform themselves into pressure groups? Is she aware that Natural England, a quango, recently required the Highways Agency, another quango, to spend £300,000 of taxpayers’ money constructing two bridges for bats to commute over the Dobwalls bypass in Cornwall and that a survey of the value of this expenditure showed that 20 bats a day fly over the new road?
My Lords, in all my time at the Dispatch Box I never thought I would have a flag saying, “Bats, if pressed”. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for his courtesy in sharing his thinking on quangos with me this week. Although I am aware of his concerns and agree with his points on proportionality—especially the example he gave the House this morning—he will know of our real responsibility to bats and their habitats from our obligations under EU law.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former and current chair of several NDPBs. It is very easy to knock them, as we know, but does my noble friend agree that a great deal of progress has been made in the composition of the boards of NDPBs by involving lay people, such as patients and families, who bring their particular voice to policy development?
Yes, absolutely. I agree with my noble friend, and I thank her for all the work that she does in the public interest. Over the past 10 or 15 years—and this is not a party political point—there has been a great deal more scrutiny of the whole appointments process and trying to open it up to as many people as possible.
My Lords, I declare an interest, having been a member of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. Does the Minister recall the Cabinet Office’s published guidance for departments on public bodies? It states that,
“to provide independent advice and expertise on technical, scientific or other complex issues and take this outside the party political arena, for example on ethical issues, or funding decisions”,
government bodies should operate “at arm’s length” from Ministers? In the light of the sacking of Professor Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, are we to conclude that the Government have torn up their own rule book? If so, what do they propose to put in its place?
Let me at least declare that I was chair of a quango, and I was first appointed under a Conservative Government. Does my noble friend agree that while some quangos have served out their useful life, others, if abolished, would simply transfer their functions to the Civil Service, which would hardly be an advantage?
My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for his service in public life. That shows that we are not talking about political cronies; as he said, he was appointed under the Opposition, and I am sure that that happens all the time. He talked about old and new departmental public bodies. As quangos—for shorthand—become historical and their functions are no longer necessary, they are merged, reformed or abolished. That has happened over several Governments. We have many new non-departmental public bodies, but we have also abolished many.
I sympathise with the noble Baroness. As she can imagine, I asked that when I was being briefed on this Question. I hope that the noble Baroness will be reassured that in the next publication there will be more information about where the public and Members of this House can go to find out about the different departmental public bodies. I think it was an efficiency or cost-cutting measure not to have a great tome of information and to ensure that each department gave that information. When I asked how I would find out about individual departments, I was told that I should go to http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/work/codes/ndpbs.aspx. I have asked to have some people’s contact details in the next report.
The role of the enterprise champion is to act as an adviser to the Government and small firms. He is providing advice on business support and is helping small firms and entrepreneurs to make the most of the real help available from government and other organisations. He is championing the causes of viable small companies with banks and helping to ensure that the voices of small firms and entrepreneurs are heard by government, suppliers and other entities. He currently has eight forward engagements planned.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that it has been reported that the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, recently described struggling businessmen as “moaners”? Is he aware that many people rapidly concluded that the First Secretary of State should just summon him and say, “You’re fired”? On inquiry with the noble Lord last night, he said that his remarks had been incorrectly reported, adding that there was a recording of them, which I hope he might place in the House of Lords Library to clear this matter up once and for all. Be that as it may, would the Minister please clarify whether the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, is accountable to this House and whether, when he speaks on enterprise matters, he speaks with the full authority of the Government?
My Lords, with Sir Alan—or, I should say, my noble friend Lord Sugar—you will get sugar and spice. He has a wide-ranging career of business success. He uses colourful language forcefully. He has spoken to over 2,000 businesses across the UK. His events have been a sell-out. I could give the House many quotes complimenting him on his performance. I shall not; I shall give just one: “very open, no hidden issues, very straight responses”. I think that it was the Searchers—I am showing my age—who sang “Sugar and Spice”, so the Opposition should not search to criticise but should compliment somebody who is doing government business for nothing. I see him regularly and he is doing a good job for the Government.
My Lords, to follow up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, is the Minister aware that the so-called business tsar gave an interview last week in which he said that women employers are more likely than men to discriminate against other women? I quote him:
“They think to themselves, she’s young, she’s attractive, she’s going to get a boyfriend, what’s going to happen? Women think about it more than men, in my opinion”.
Is that the Minister’s opinion? Does the enterprise champion—the business tsar—speak for the Government on this issue? If not, how do they propose to distance themselves from his views on this topic?
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sugar employs a number of women in senior positions in his business. He is fully supportive of the women’s task force recommendations, as are we. We need more women at the top of the boards of our big companies. We need more women as entrepreneurs. He fully supports that and he is speaking to a number of women’s organisations to see how he can help.
My Lords, would my noble friend agree that this downturn has caused considerable difficulties for small firms? Noble Lords on all sides of the House have been making this point in recent weeks. Would he join me in welcoming any reasonable help, assistance, advice and encouragement for small firms, irrespective of the source?
Sugar is the pill. We have 4.8 million SMEs in the UK. They are the lifeblood of the economy. The Government’s interventions, whether through the enterprise finance guarantee scheme or through a range of things such as delaying tax payments, have had a huge impact. It is clear that the banks need to be there as the economy recovers with access to finance. Therefore, experienced businesspeople, such as my noble friend Lord Sugar, provide huge assistance in helping small businesses. He is doing it for nothing. He is accountable to me and he is providing great assistance.
My Lords, I should make it clear that he is accountable to me. I see him consistently. He is not a policy-maker; he is an adviser. A number of other advisers are helping us. We need advisers to help because, at the end of the day, small businesses need individuals just like the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, to help them.
Let me be clear: he is an adviser not a policy-maker. He is giving his time for nothing. He is a hugely experienced businessman. We have a range of businesspeople, such as James Caan and Tim Berners-Lee, all providing assistance to the Government to help small businesses, which after all are the lifeblood of this economy. We need to provide them with experience and help, which is exactly what we are doing.
Business of the House
My Lords, immediately after consideration of Commons amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, my noble friend Lord Adonis will repeat as a Statement an urgent Question allowed in the other place on passenger services on the First Capital Connect route from St Albans to London.
It may also be helpful to the House if I say a few words about the expected timing of Prorogation today. The House will adjourn after the Statement and resume at around 4 pm to receive a message from the other place. The timing of Prorogation will of course depend on decisions of the other place, but I will ensure that timings are displayed on the Annunciators in due course.
Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009
Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009
Motions to Approve
Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Networks) Exemption Order 2009
Motion to Approve
Welfare Reform Bill
2A: Page 12, line 45, at end insert the following new Clause:-
“Parliamentary procedure: regulations imposing work-related activity requirements on lone parents of children under 7(1) This section applies to regulations made under any relevant provision which impose a requirement on any lone parent of a child under the age of 7 to undertake work-related activity (within the meaning of the regulations).
(2) In subsection (1) “relevant provision” means-
(a) section 2D(1) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992,(b) section 18B of the Jobseekers Act 1995, or(c) section 13 of the Welfare Reform Act 2007.(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations to which this section applies (whether alone or with other provision) may not be made at any time during the period of 5 years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed unless a draft of the statutory instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(4) If subsection (3) applies to any regulations, any provision of an Act under which a statutory instrument containing the regulations would be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament does not apply.”
2B: Page 51, line 37, at end insert-
“section [Parliamentary procedure: regulations imposing work-related activity requirements on lone parents of children under 7];”
My Lords, during the Commons’ consideration of Lords amendments in the other place, honourable Members accepted all the amendments made in your Lordships’ House with the exception of Amendment 2. This amendment would have placed a requirement in primary legislation that financial sanctions should not be imposed on a single parent with a youngest child under five for failing to undertake work-related activity. In the other place, a government amendment to make affirmative the regulations to which this clause applies was agreed in place of Amendment 2.
I shall take a moment to reiterate our position on lone parents and the safeguards that we have incorporated following the valuable discussions that we had in this House. Noble Lords will be aware that our policies for lone parents rely on two key tenets; namely, that work is the best route out of poverty and that parents, especially lone parents, must be allowed to fulfil their responsibilities to their children.
We have continued to invest heavily in evidence-based policies over the past 10 years. The changes we have debated in this Bill are a further step forward along that path. We know that combining programmes such as the New Deal for Lone Parents with work-focused-interview conditionality increases take-up of support and movements into paid work. Nevertheless, there is still a very significant disparity between the numbers who would like to move into paid work and those who take steps to achieve this. We want to bridge that gap so that we have the potential to make further significant reductions in the numbers of children who still live in poverty and improve those children’s life chances. That is why we want to introduce the measures in this Bill.
Over a period of time, lone parents will be prepared for the time when they are able to engage with the labour market and be actively available and looking for work. The gradual steps which we will expect people to take will ensure that preparation for paid work becomes a natural progression by helping lone parents gradually prepare for the workplace by improving their skills and undertaking work-related activity.
We feel that preparing for work should become the norm for lone parents with younger children. Indeed, it would be unfair not to encourage them to do so and would risk them being unprepared for the time they start looking for work when their children are older. Lone parents with a youngest child aged under one will be in the “no conditionality” group and will not be required to undertake any mandatory activity unless they want. Lone parents with a youngest child aged between one and two will be required to attend six-monthly mandatory work-focused interviews. We made amendments in this House, which were supported in the other place, to ensure that this policy intention was secured in primary legislation.
When the lone parent’s youngest child is aged between three and six, they will be expected to attend three-monthly work-focused interviews and agree an action plan with their adviser which will detail mandatory work-related activity. This action plan will set out their individual route-way to prepare them for work when it is appropriate for them, and will take into account the well-being of their child. We expect that some lone parents with a youngest child aged between three and six will be among the hardest to help, some distance from the labour market and with multiple barriers to employment. If it is to be most helpful, work-related activity should therefore be interpreted broadly to meet their needs.
Lone parents and advisers will work together to agree appropriate work-related activity. Given the broad spectrum of activities that count as work-related activity, we would hope that in most cases customers and advisers would be able to agree suitable activity and that these activities can be easily undertaken by lone parents. I should stress that work-related activity is not intended to be an onerous requirement. There will be no daily, or even weekly, requirement to undertake activity; but a minimum of one activity to be undertaken between work-focused interviews, or every three months. This will allow advisers and lone parents flexibility in drawing up the action plans and allow activities to be tailored to take into account not only their individual needs but also the well-being of the child.
The nature of the work-related activity will vary with the age of the child and the situation of the parent. For example, after their discussion a parent and an adviser may agree that because confidence is low and the lone parent is at the beginning of their journey and some way from the labour market, quarterly attendance at a children’s centre is an acceptable work-related activity as a starting point. At the other end of the scale, a parent who is much more prepared for work may agree with an advisor a more intensive activity, such as attendance at a short part-time course to develop or update work-related skills, perhaps while their child is at school. These agreed activities will act as a starting point for a lone parent’s journey towards work and will be reviewed and built on over time so that when it is appropriate they can progress to further activities that will increase their chances of moving into work when the time is right.
Throughout this process, lone parents will not be required to undertake any activity that cuts into time where their child is not normally at school or in formal childcare. For lone parents with a youngest child aged three or four, this would mean that they could restrict the times they can undertake work-related activity to within the hours that locally provided free part-time nursery places are available. However, if a lone parent fails or refuses to undertake such activities without good cause, we would want, as a last resort, the ability to impose a sanction until they comply.
As noble Lords are aware, sanctions are very much a last resort and we have outlined on many occasions the sanctions regime we wish to test as part of the progression to work model, which moves away from those currently present in jobseeker’s allowance and income support to include a more upfront, in-depth method of engagement with lone parents before a financial sanction is imposed. This will provide extra opportunities for personal advisers to gather further information which may have been missed or not volunteered by the lone parent, and then adapt work-related activity accordingly. This should encourage participation and ensure that lone parents understand what they need to do and the consequences for not doing it.
If a lone parent initially fails to take part in a work-focused interview, or to undertake or complete work-related activity without good cause, there will be no financial sanction. Instead, the adviser will discuss any issues the lone parent may have and give them another opportunity to engage. If a lone parent misses two work-focused interviews or has failed to carry out the minimum agreed work-related activity in their action plan over three months, they will be given an opportunity to explain good cause, renegotiate the action plan, or begin the work-related activity. If they fail or refuse to do so, a formal written warning will be issued.
After three missed interviews or three failures to take up agreed work-related activity, an individual case review will be done as the next stage of compliance action. This could include home visits for parents and, where necessary, compliance checks. The purpose of this stage is to provide a more in-depth review of the lone parent’s circumstances and the reasons for their failure to comply. Only after this fourth stage will a financial sanction even be considered if they fail to comply, with initial sanctions at a significantly lower level than currently applied. Those lone parents for whom there is a very real barrier to their being able to undertake work-related activity will have had the opportunity to explain this long before a sanction is even considered.
This model will provide lone parents with more opportunities to comply with the requirements and ensure that they will not face a financial penalty before a full review of their circumstances has been carried out. As now, lone parents will have the opportunity to ask for the sanction decision to be reconsidered, and to appeal the decision. Overall, this approach will provide lone parents with every opportunity to engage with work-related activity and lead to fewer financial sanctions but will provide the necessary backstops to ensure engagement and progression.
As I hope noble Lords will agree, requiring lone parents to undertake work-related activity will benefit them and their children in the long-term. It is for this reason that, in the other place, the Government laid an amendment that overturned the amendment made by the noble Lord, Lord Freud. That amendment amended the Bill so that financial sanctions could not be imposed upon a “single” parent in receipt of income support with a child under five if they failed to undertake work-related activity. This amendment would not achieve the purpose I believe it was intended to achieve. “Single” is not defined in social security legislation and as such there is a risk that it could be interpreted to mean a non-resident parent rather than the lone parent who has caring responsibility for the child. Furthermore, the amendment applies only to lone parents on income support. It would not preclude financial sanctions being applied to lone parents on employment and support allowance or the modified jobseeker’s allowance regime. This seems like an anomaly that could confuse people and make the administration of the system difficult.
I took it from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, on Report that his party was in favour of financial sanctions for failure to undertake work-focused interviews when the youngest child of a lone parent reaches age one, and that they were in favour of the concept of work-related activity starting for lone parents when their youngest child reaches age three, although I must admit that his colleagues in the other place seemed somewhat confused on this point. I also took it that they were in favour of some other sanctions, although not specified, for failure to undertake such work-related activity. The only issue that we are apart on is the use of financial sanctions in some circumstances. As I have said, we believe that financial sanctions with appropriate safeguards have a role to play in underpinning work-related activity. The amendments made in this House put crucial additional safeguards for lone parents and parents in the Bill and enable them to ensure that the well-being of their child is taken into account so that they can fulfil their caring responsibilities. They will ensure that where there is no suitable childcare available, a lone parent will not be required to undertake work-related activity or will be able to restrict their hours of availability to those which are suitable for them.
Starting the work-related activity process when a lone parent’s youngest child is aged three is right. A strong foundation of childcare provision is available for children in this age range and these measures will allow them gradually to build their confidence and skills at a pace that suits them over a four-year period.
As to the amendment laid in the other place, as noble Lords are aware, the Bill served to set out the framework of the work-related activity proposals and the detail of these proposals will be set out in regulations. The amendment proposed in the other place has the effect of requiring all work-related activity regulations, insofar as they relate to lone parents with children under seven, to be brought back to both Houses for further affirmative debate. This is a sensible proposal. It gives the assurance that the passing of the Bill will not have the effect of shutting the door on further debate on work-related activity for this customer group because any regulations made within five years of Royal Assent will come back to this House and noble Lords will have an opportunity to consider how work-related activity is working in practice.
As I have stated before, it is right that lone parents who are beginning their journey towards work do so in good time so that they are not distant from the labour market for longer than they need to be, with all the disadvantages that that would bring, and that they have the encouragement and the support they need. With this explanation and the changes we have made both in this House and the other place, I hope noble Lords will agree that these proposals offer the best chance for lone parents to begin their family’s journey out of poverty. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is with some surprise that I see this amendment in lieu has come back from another place because the arguments have been firmly on the side of the original Lords amendment. John Grogan MP—a Member on the government Benches in another place—said:
“This proposal is mean-spirited. It is cold, austere … and it is unworthy of the Secretary of State and the Minister”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/11/09; col. 181.]
I find it difficult to disagree. The purpose of my original amendment was simple: to make sure that as this new, very active labour market policy is applied to lone parents there are no unfortunate impacts on those who look after children under school age.
The Government have argued that this will compress the time that lone parents will have to prepare for work from four years to two. This is barely concealed sophistry. The Minister has today described a new sanctions regime for lone parents with a youngest child of three. There will, apparently, be a process after two missed work-focused interviews or a three-month failure to undertake work-related activity—this includes an opportunity to explain good cause—after which there will be a written warning. After three missed interviews or three failures to take up work-related activity, there will be an individual case review. After a fourth breach, a financial sanction will be considered, and then there is an appeal process on top. In the real world, this will take a considerable time; in some cases, indeed, not much less than two years. So what has happened to the argument based on compression now? It has disappeared.
I was not so much surprised at the amendment in lieu but more puzzled. As my colleague in another place, James Clappison, said:
“The amendment in lieu deals with work-related activities to be imposed on the lone parents in question, not the sanctions that are to be imposed as a result of a breach of those requirements”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/11/09; col. 177.]
I agree. The amendment in lieu is irrelevant to the issue under debate.
I am sure that the Minister would prefer to debate the principle of the amendment rather than shelter behind technical drafting issues—whether it should state “single” or “lone”—so I shall go straight to the nub of the issue. It is clear that this amendment has become something of a political game for the Government. They cannot accept this simple, unambiguous proposal because it came from our Benches, and for no other reason. I do not think that it is appropriate or seemly to join this political game. This is a Bill that we support and I do not want to endanger it. We have made our point. We believe that there should be protection for lone parents with pre-school-age children. Judging by the large number of e-mails that I have received in the past 36 hours, many lone parents are utterly dismayed that this amendment is being removed and disbelieving that it is a Labour Government who are doing it.
I can console them with this thought: in this area, it may matter considerably more who are in government in six months or so than whether this protection is explicit in the legislation. As David Cameron concluded in his remarkable speech on Monday, the Conservatives, not Labour, are best placed to fight poverty in this country. I can assure noble Lords that if we are in a position to form a Government in six months, lone parents with children under five will not face financial sanctions as a result of the progression-to-work regime.
I take exception to any suggestion that the views of the government Bench are part of a political game. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, is a fairly late entrant to the discussions on lone parents. Members on the Liberal Democrat and Labour Benches have fought the corner of lone-parent poverty for something like 15-plus years. I take strong exception to being told that we are now in a political game as we come up to a general election. Those remarks are unfortunate and I hope that, on reflection, he will feel able to withdraw them. None of us makes such aspersions in this House and all of us assume good faith, however misguided we may think any amendment may be. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that statement.
The noble Lord’s original amendment was highly regrettable, ill thought out, back to front and illogical. It would have meant that the lone parent faced greater conditionality and greater sanction for the lesser failure—of turning up for an interview—and with a younger child. But when it came to the greater failure, to follow through a commitment that they had given to enter work preparation—a commitment which was more feasible given the greater age of their child—the noble Lord would have removed the sanction. In other words, the conditionality in the sanction applies for the lesser offence on the younger child, but not for the greater failure and the older child. That is daft. I am amazed that the noble Lord thinks that there is any coherence in his position.
I have been involved in new deals for eight or 10 years as a junior Minister and subsequently. I know that, without the evidence of conditionality backed by a sanction, the participation of the group of lone parents that one most wants to reach and is hardest to reach becomes essentially voluntary. In that sense, what the original amendment would have done, which is why it was so deplorable, is drive a coach and horses through the concept of trying to ensure that all lone parents of children aged three to five are engaged in work preparation. The Benches opposite would have made that entirely voluntary. That is not in the best interests of the lone parent or the child.
My noble friend has spelt out a long list of good causes and protections and efforts to engage lone parents. Of course we want the lone parent as a willing participant, because that is how we will ensure that she goes into the labour market in due course and stays there. That is the outcome that we want. But I know that the later that engagement with the lone parent is left, the harder and longer that journey is—and it is no kindness to the lone parent or her child that the journey should be made tougher for her than it already is. That was the focus of the original, deplorable amendment.
Finally, the noble Lord said that he and his party were on the side of attacking poverty. I hope that at some point he will guarantee—and I invite him to come back to me—that the tax credits that make work pay for lone parents will be protected in their entirety, should there be any change of government. Let me remind the noble Lord that as a result of tax credits, which his party fought all the way, a lone parent going into work at 16 hours a week at minimum wage takes home double that pay as a result of tax credits. An unskilled lone parent returns home with the pay of a semi-skilled man. That has transformed outcomes for that lone parent and her child, and I invite the noble Lord—since he has made the commitment today that his party will overturn the thrust of the Commons amendment, which is to engage the lone parent in work preparation with a child between three and five—to make a similar commitment today that he will protect tax credits, which alone ensure that it is worth while for the lone parent to go out to work on a part-time basis. I invite the noble Lord to respond.
My Lords, my surprise, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has said, is that he has not pressed his amendment again. Will he explain to his e-mail recipients why he has not done so, because I do not believe that the Bill would have been lost?
During the passage of the Bill through this House, we have come a long way over the issue of lone parents and when and how they should prepare for work. In overturning the amendment in the other place, admittedly a flawed amendment from Report, which sought to exempt some lone parents with children under school age from the work-related activity sanctions regime, the Government have now tabled this amendment in lieu, which simply gives the House a chance to have another debate on affirmative statutory instruments about the issue of work-related activity before the pilots are rolled out nationally. I think that the statutory instrument is for lone parents with children under the age of seven.
This is certainly a way of drawing the House’s attention to the issue, but it is an extremely rare procedure for the House to vote down a statutory instrument. I am sorry that the Grand Committee gave such short shrift to my attempt to bring super-affirmatives into the Bill. That procedure would have given the House the chance to suggest amendments, although it would still only be the Government who could amend the statutory instrument. In parenthesis, it always strikes me as misleading that affirmative statutory instruments are laid in draft as though Parliament had the power to amend them, but that is a debate for another day.
Turning back to the subject of lone parents of very young children and the work-related activity sanctions regime, I was encouraged that the Minister said on Report and again today in terms that the action plan agreed at work-focused interviews could be as light as one work-related activity between two three-monthly work-focused interviews. He also made it clear that any work-related activity would be required to suit only the hours that the lone parent could manage and that if satisfactory childcare was not available, no work-related activity would be expected. The Minister also made it clear, both on Report and again today, that any financial penalty would be the very last sanction to be imposed after four failures to comply with work-related activity.
At the end of all this, we come back to the fundamental question at the heart of this section of the Bill. Is this whole sanctions regime for lone parents, starting when their child is three, aimed at giving them a genuinely helping hand out of a life on benefits and therefore relative poverty, or is it beating them with a stick to make sure that they comply with the demands of the state or risk losing benefits when they have their hands full with the demands of a young child?
How Jobcentre Plus offices around the country make this part of the Bill work will be all-important. We must all hope that staff there are sensitive to our concerns about this very vulnerable group of parents. If we hear that all the safeguards in the Bill are not enough to stop too many lone parents of very young children falling foul of the sanctions regime, we on these Benches will not flinch from voting down the appropriate statutory instruments rolling out this part of the Bill in due course. In the mean time, we hope that the sanctions regime for all groups of vulnerable people will be used as little as possible during the pilots and that they will all be monitored as closely as possible before rollout.
I do not think that the position of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is being lost in this; the decision has been postponed. He might be upset about that but he may find himself in a position to do something about it in the not-too-distant future. After all, as my noble friend just said, these are pilots.
The key difference in all this—it is not yet properly understood outside the precincts of Parliament—is that there are clear differences between how people look at this progressive conditionality that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, first enabled and Professor Gregg’s report then fleshed out. You may believe that this is a penal set of sanctions to force people back into work off benefits; you think, “This is a cost-saving measure that will be tough, but people had better shape up or they’ll suffer”.
Alternatively, if you put the Freud report and the Gregg report together and, like me, you are an optimist—if you are a Liberal Democrat you have to be an optimist—you may reach a different conclusion. If personalised conditionality can be deployed sympathetically, without sanctions, as my noble friend said, you are in a different place altogether. You want to support people and you do not want to leave people out of the labour market for a long time.
I was a slightly lone voice advocating Professor Gregg’s report. I think that the Government suffered from the spin that some Ministers put on it when it came out, which I do not think its contents merited. Four bullet points from the report state what Professor Gregg thinks personalised conditionality means for the progression-to-work group, which is the group of people about whom we are talking. He says that conditionality would, first,
“Reflect the claimant’s co-ownership of the return to work process”.
He goes on to say that it needs to,
“Be tailored to their capability and built around their circumstances”.
Thirdly, it should,
“Be based on activity that supports the claimant’s own route back to work”,
and, finally, it has to,
“Link up with effective support”.
If all these are delivered—and it is a big “if”—we should be grabbing it with both hands for the progression-to-work group. The difficulty is that the Government have still not entirely made the case to the public that that will happen. There is still a feeling that it will be the hardship regime that people fear. Some of us have had the advantage of seeing the helpful letter that the Secretary of State has just written to the chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which gave more comfort that we are more likely to get the Gregg version of events.
I do not know how many pilots there will be, although I guess that there will be two or three and it would be helpful to know where they are likely to be. I also have an incidental question about Scotland. We have won protections through helpful government amendments in Committee, meaning that if no childcare is available there cannot be sanctions. I still hope that if a pilot area happened to be in Scotland—I suspect that none will—in the three-year or five-year period during which these pilots are rolled out and evaluated, the availability of childcare will be equalised throughout the United Kingdom. It would be unfair if it was not.
If we get the pilots evaluated, it will become clear whether Professor Gregg’s vision or the hardship regime is delivered. My noble friend is absolutely right and I come in behind the point of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that, if this turns out to be an oppressive hardship regime where people are being sanctioned and nothing much is being achieved for the progression back to work, we will vote in big numbers to ensure that these pilots are not rolled out across the United Kingdom. I console the noble Lord, Lord Freud, with the thought that maybe he is too new and enthusiastic and expects things to happen too quickly. There may only be a delayed decision or vote but, speaking for myself, I am willing to take that risk. I do so in the earnest hope that Professor Gregg’s vision is delivered, and nothing else.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, is right to analyse what is proposed for the sanctions regime for work-related activity: it follows that it will be broadly consistent with the Gregg model. The Secretary of State’s letter to the chair of the Select Committee itemised that in particular and I am pleased that that was helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made a key point: if the sanctions end up being penal in practice, forcing people to do wholly unreasonable things, we will have failed. That is not the intent behind this process. We must recognise the point made by my noble friend Lady Hollis that there needs to be a degree of conditionality, partly because we know that, sadly, some people will simply look to buck the system. The evidence shows that conditionality—rights and responsibilities—is the best route to getting people to engage.
The noble Lord also asked about pilots. Four pilots are proposed, but the areas have not yet been identified. He again raises the issue of childcare in Scotland, or the lack of it. A course avoiding sanctions if appropriate childcare is unavailable would absolutely be a good one.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said that we have come a long way. Our deliberations in this House have been particularly important in helping the Bill to end up where it is. She is again right that it ultimately depends on how it works in practice. I take the point that, if it does not turn out as we propose and believe that it will, noble Lords reserve their right, as I am sure they would anyway, to express their views forcefully when we come to those regulations and will not hesitate to vote them down.
We do not believe that the super-affirmative process is appropriate in this case. As the noble Baroness will be aware, a further safeguard for social security legislation is provided by the scrutiny of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which has the ability to consult on secondary legislation made more than six months after Royal Assent. This is a significant control and we work constructively with the committee, as I think the noble Baroness would acknowledge, on the development of our regulations. There are some technical issues over where super-affirmatives apply and where they should not, but I will not dwell on that today.
My noble friend Lady Hollis, as ever, expressed the Government’s position forcefully and clearly; I am grateful for that. In particular, she pointed out the inconsistency in the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and his colleagues. Our objection to his amendment is not just to do with its technical deficiency. It concerns the inconsistency of an approach where somebody could be sanctioned for not attending a work-focused interview if their youngest child is just one, or where lone parents with a youngest child aged three could be sanctioned, after all the protections have been exhausted, for not attending a work-focused interview. One could not receive a financial sanction for not turning up to a children’s centre, say, two weeks later, but one could then be sanctioned for not turning up to the next work-focused interview at the end of the next three months. Frankly, that is a recipe for confusion and is inherently inconsistent. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, will reflect on that.
I think that I acknowledged that the noble Lord and his colleagues have in mind—should they ever be given the opportunity to implement it—a proposition that I, of course, would not accept. There would be other sorts of sanctions. There are very interesting issues about whether denying somebody part of their cash benefit and delivering it in another way is a financial sanction. Maybe there will be a chance to test that issue. It seems that we agree on work-related activity commencing when the youngest child is aged three and that there should be a sanctions regime. We may disagree on a component of that and on whether financial sanctions are appropriate in extremis at the end of an exhaustive process. However, I think that the gap between us is quite narrow.
My noble friend Lady Hollis challenged the noble Lord. We recognise his silence on tax credits.
My Lords, we know that there are ways of making a point when somebody wants to. We note that the noble Lord did not take the opportunity to do that. There will be other opportunities to explore that situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, prayed in aid John Grogan and his contribution at the other end. He has a view but I remind the noble Lord and other noble Lords that, in the amendment before us today, the Government’s position was passed by the other House—the elected Chamber—by a considerable majority. That in itself ought to persuade us today. The noble Lord is right in the sense that the sanctions regime that I have outlined and which we want to test as part of the pilots would have a not inconsiderable lead time before one gets to a financial sanction. It is right that it should. That is why we need those protections in place. I hope that the noble Lord would support that.
Like my noble friend Lady Hollis, I think that it was unfortunate to refer to this issue as a political football, because we have covered a lot of ground in this House during the progression of the Bill. We have improved it immensely. We have had some quite intense and important debates about what it means, what its parameters should be and how we can best move to do something that I think we all want, which is to help people to move closer to and into the labour market. To characterise it in that way was, I think, unfortunate. Perhaps I have said enough. I gather that the noble Lord is not seeking to oppose what I have moved today. It is up to him. I commend the Motion.
Rail Services: First Capital Connect
My Lords, with permission, I will repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question given in another place about train services provided by First Capital Connect.
“The action by drivers on First Capital Connect appears to be co-ordinated and is highly regrettable given that talks are continuing. Passengers are being seriously inconvenienced and we urge all parties to resolve this unacceptable situation as soon as possible.
Concerted action to stop trains running is irresponsible, but train companies need to ensure that their staffing arrangements are robust so that they cannot be held to ransom in this way. The franchise agreement with First Capital Connect requires the company to use reasonable endeavours to run a full service. We are reviewing this position on a daily basis, but the disruption should be halted immediately by an end to the current concerted action.”
My Lords, I am grateful to the Secretary of State for repeating the Statement made in another place. All noble Lords want to see an industry that is safe and efficient and meets the needs of passengers. I am pleased to say that I have no difficulty in resisting reaching for a long screwdriver and interfering by offering a solution, despite the fact that passengers face misery through no fault of their own.
The origins of the problem, exposed by the current situation, go back some time. Both sides of industry have been relying on rest-day and Sunday working. The drivers needed it to ensure a decent income and the train operating companies needed it to ensure that their drivers were available when required. However, there are only a certain number of shifts to be driven, a certain number of drivers to drive them and a certain amount of money to pay them. Surely the industry could have devised a more robust system to keep these in the balance. I think the Secretary of State agrees with me, but what does he think the industry should have done? Does the Secretary of State have a handle on what percentage of drivers work on rest days and Sundays? It seems to me that the rate is very high.
There seems to be some confusion about whether industrial action is taking place. It smells like it, it looks like it, and it has the same effect, especially on the passengers. Rest-day and Sunday working is very lucrative for the drivers. It seems peculiar that many of them suddenly decide of their own volition to not work on a Sunday. It is, of course, extremely disappointing that the drivers decided to disrupt Remembrance Sunday, when old comrades would want to meet up just one more time; in many cases they will not have the opportunity to do so again. It is also surprising that the unions would decide to take this course of action at this particular point in the electoral cycle and when the rail industry enjoys so much cross-party political support.
Franchisees have a duty to maintain the service and the franchise contracts will make provision for how an industrial dispute will be treated. It is therefore crucial to understand whether this is an industrial dispute or not. What does the Secretary of State believe to be the case?
Finally, what can passengers expect in the coming months? Will this problem be resolved or will history repeat itself and matters continue to deteriorate?
My Lords, I declare an interest in that just after 7 am this morning I was on St Albans station waiting to catch a train into London, as I do regularly, with several hundred other commuters who have either found those trains cancelled or found themselves packed like cattle into such trains as did arrive. I experienced the same earlier in the week trying to catch a train home.
I remind the Minister that these are people who have paid £3,280 for a season ticket for that right to travel. If I may use a phrase that may be familiar on the Benches opposite, these are not City fat cats; these are workers by hand and by brain, trying to get to work and get home from work. I hope that what I say conveys some of the anger and frustration of those commuters at the treatment that has been meted out to them.
As the Minister may know, I can show him a few scars from another period of industrial irresponsibility. My then mentor, Jim Callaghan, said in 1978, “This is not trade unionism as I knew it”. It certainly was not, but we did think that capricious and spiteful trade unionism which hurt the many out of all proportion to any dispute was a thing of the past. Such actions hurt fellow workers, the vulnerable, working mothers and children trying to get home from school. Certain trade unions seem to have learnt nothing from the experience of the 1970s. They have forgotten that their industrial militancy brought in a Conservative Government who trebled unemployment and brought in legislation that curbed trade union powers—some victory. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, indicated, does this clever way of seeming to cause damage without offending the Trade Union Act need to be looked at? Is there a need to tighten that Act as regards action taken by workers that is not proportionate in terms of the damage they do either to other workers or to the running of life in general?
I have to put it on record that there is in St Albans and elsewhere a lack of confidence in First Capital Connect. Is the Minister aware that we are now saying goodbye to the third managing director of First Capital Connect on this line in the past year? We have said goodbye to Elaine Holt and Karen Boswell, and Mr Jim Morgan will, apparently, leave his post on Friday. Does that indicate management continuity and a management steady hand? Does it explain why things have got so out of control?
I put to the Minister an old hobby-horse of mine: why do a Labour Government not end first-class travel on commuter trains until standard-class passengers are guaranteed a reasonable journey?
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl and the noble Lord for their responses. As the noble Earl said, passengers face misery on this line. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is one of those passengers and has properly expressed their anger and frustration. I make it clear to the House that I share that anger and frustration. I not only share the anger and frustration of passengers who are being deeply inconvenienced by this totally unjustified action, I also share the concern which the noble Earl expressed about the deep damage being done to the cause of the railways by this action. As Secretary of State I seek to promote the railways as strongly as I can as a form of transport for the future which is efficient and green and should be regarded by passengers as reliable. Action of this kind, which calls into question the reliability of the railways, will cause deep damage to the cause of the railways as regards securing future investment decisions of a kind that we in this House all wish to see. I deeply regret the action. I call on the staff to continue to work and I call on the unions to engage with the management to see whether it is possible to bring about a speedy resolution to the underlying pay dispute. However, this concerted action is not justified and is deeply regrettable. I hope that it will be ended forthwith.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked specific questions about industrial relations law and First Capital Connect. We obviously keep the state of industrial relations law under review, but the immediate issue here is that First Capital Connect staff work in a way that ensures that the service can be properly provided. That is what we wish to see. First Capital Connect is expected to use all reasonable endeavours to provide a full service.
It is not my job to use the long screwdriver that the noble Earl mentioned to seek to manage the service myself. I spoke this morning to Mary Grant, the group rail manager of First Capital Connect, who assured me that every effort was being made to run as full a service as possible. I made clear to her our expectation that that would happen. It is important that First Capital Connect continues to use all reasonable endeavours to restore the service, but this situation could be ended immediately if the concerted action on the part of the staff was ended. That step should be taken immediately.
Motion to Adjourn
Coroners and Justice Bill
Returned from the Commons
A message was brought from the Commons, That they agree to the amendment made by your Lordships to the Coroners and Justice Bill in lieu of the amendments to which they have disagreed, and do not insist on their disagreement to the remaining amendments.
Policing and Crime Bill
Returned from the Commons
A message was brought from the Commons, That they agree to the amendments made by your Lordships to the Policing and Crime Bill without amendment.
Motion to Adjourn
The Lords Commissioners were: Baroness Hayman, Lord Strathclyde, Lord McNally, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Baroness D’Souza.
My Lords, it not being convenient for Her Majesty personally to be present here this day, she has been pleased to cause a Commission under the Great Seal to be prepared for proroguing this present Parliament.
When the Commons were present at the Bar, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster continued:
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, Her Majesty, not thinking fit personally to be present here at this time, has been pleased to cause a Commission to be issued under the Great Seal, and thereby given Her Royal Assent to divers Acts, the Titles whereof are particularly mentioned, and by the said Commission has commanded us to declare and notify Her Royal Assent to the said several Acts, in the presence of you the Lords and Commons assembled for that purpose; and has also assigned to us and other Lords directed full power and authority in Her Majesty’s name to prorogue this present Parliament. Which commission you will now hear read.
A Commission for Royal Assent and Prorogation was read, after which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster continued:
My Lords, in obedience to Her Majesty’s Commands, and by virtue of the Commission which has now been read, We do declare and notify to you, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled, that Her Majesty has given Her Royal Assent to the several Acts in the Commission mentioned; and the Clerks are required to pass the same in the usual Form and Words.
The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Law Commission Act,
Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act,
Driving Instruction (Suspension and Exemption Powers) Act,
Perpetuities and Accumulations Act,
Green Energy (Definition and Promotion) Act,
Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act,
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act,
Marine and Coastal Access Act,
Welfare Reform Act,
Coroners and Justice Act,
Policing and Crime Act.
Prorogation: Her Majesty’s Speech
Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech was then delivered to both Houses of Parliament by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in pursuance of Her Majesty’s Command, as follows.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government’s overriding priority has been to help families and businesses through difficult global economic times. My Government remains committed to delivering a fair and prosperous economy. The strength of the financial sector is vital to the future vibrancy of the economy. Therefore, legislation has been enacted to ensure fairer and more secure protection for bank depositors and to improve the resilience of the financial sector.
Legislation has been enacted to create saving gateway accounts to encourage people on lower incomes to save more by offering financial incentives. Legislation has been enacted to promote local economic development and to create greater opportunities for the community and individual involvement in local decision-making. An Act has been passed to increase financial support to industry and to widen the support offered to exporters. An Act has been passed to reform the welfare system, to increase the requirement for people to move from benefits towards sustained employment and to provide greater support, choice and control for disabled people.
My Government has remained committed to protecting the public and ensuring the nation’s safety. An Act has been passed to increase the effectiveness and public accountability of policing, reduce crime and disorder and enhance airport security. An Act has been passed to deliver a more effective, transparent and responsive justice system for victims, witnesses and the wider public. The Act will improve the Coroner’s Service and the process of death certification, to provide an increased focus on bereaved families, including the families of servicemen and women. Legislation has been enacted to strengthen border controls by bringing together customs and immigration powers. The Act will also ensure that newcomers to the United Kingdom earn the right to stay.
My Government has remained committed to ensuring that everyone has a fair chance in life. Legislation has been brought forward to promote equality, fight discrimination and introduce transparency in the workplace to help address the difference in pay between men and women. My Government has brought forward legislation to enshrine in law their commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020.
Because the health of the nation is vital to its success and well-being, an Act has been passed to strengthen the National Health Service. The Act creates a duty to take account of the new National Health Service constitution that sets out the core principles of the service and the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff. The Act also introduces measures to improve the quality of healthcare and public health. An Act has been passed to reform education, training and apprenticeships, to promote excellence in all schools, improve local services for children and parents and provide a right for employees to request time for training.
My Government has continued to take forward proposals on constitutional reform, including strengthening the role of Parliament. Legislation has been enacted to strengthen the regulation and enhance the transparency of party finance and expenditure. An Act has been passed to create an independent authority to regulate and administer the allowances of Members of Parliament.
Legislation has been enacted to manage marine resources and to create a new right of public access to the coastline.
My Government has continued to work closely with the devolved Administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. My Government remains committed to the Northern Ireland political process and have brought forward further methods for sustainable, devolved government.
Members of the House of Commons, I thank you for the provision that you have made for the work and dignity of the Crown and for the public service.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, my Government has worked towards European action on economic stability, on climate change, on energy, enlargement and security.
My Government has worked for a co-ordinated international response to the global downturn, including by hosting the G20 summit on financial markets and the world economy in April. My Government has continued to work as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, including at its 60th anniversary summit.
My Government has continued to press for a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, continued progress in Iraq and for effective measures to address international concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme. My Government has continued to work with the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan for security, stability and prosperity. The Duke of Edinburgh and I were pleased to receive President Calderon of the United Mexican States and President Patil of the Republic of India.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, by virtue of Her Majesty’s Commission which has been now read we do, in Her Majesty’s name, and in obedience to Her Majesty’s Commands, prorogue this Parliament to the 18th day of November, to be then here holden, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Wednesday, the 18th day of November.
Parliament was prorogued at 4.53 pm.