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Lords Chamber

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 23 March 2010

House of Lords

Tuesday, 23 March 2010.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Durham.

House of Lords: Procedures


Asked By

To ask the Leader of the House what proposals there are for reform of the procedures set out in the Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords.

My Lords, we have adopted a considerable number of procedural reforms recently. I know that there is a wide spectrum of opinion around the House on this issue but I believe that we could find consensus around various ideas that would merit further exploration. I believe that the establishment of a Leader’s Group is the right mechanism for considering possible innovations and I hope that a group will be established following the general election.

My Lords, now that the Butler, Filkin and Murphy cross-party working groups, along with the Grocott group, have separately all proposed reform of House of Lords procedures and practices, has my noble friend had the opportunity to discuss with the leaders of the Liberal Democrats, the Cross Benches, and in particular leaders of the Official Opposition, whether, irrespective of who is in government after the election, they support the establishment of a Leader’s Group to take forward this whole agenda?

My Lords, since receiving the reports, all of which I have read with great interest—copies are available in the Library of the House, should any noble Lord wish to read them—I have not had any further discussions with the leaders of the other parties or the Convenor of the Cross Benches. As I said in my earlier reply, I believe that a Leader’s Group is the proper mechanism through which to discuss these reports in the next Parliament.

My Lords, I share the noble Baroness’s admiration for the initiative of the Lord Speaker in setting up these groups and for the very useful reports that have emanated from them. I make it clear that if I am Leader of the House after the general election, I shall carry on the good work that she has done as Leader. I regret only that my very good friend Lord Strathclyde is not in his place because I am quite sure that, if he were, he would be on his feet immediately to make a similar statement.

My Lords, I look forward to working with the noble Lord in whichever capacity we find ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, expressed some of his views in a very good debate that we had on a Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. I suggest that noble Lords might wish to read that debate.

My Lords, would it not be circumspect to analyse whether abuses of procedures actually occur before proposing, or deciding to make, changes? Has the noble Baroness studied the statistics that I furnished after an orchestrated challenge to my Oral Question on 9 February? May I suggest that some of us, professionally, speak more slowly and distinctly than others?

My Lords, on the first point, as the noble Lord knows, I do not agree with his view that there was an orchestrated challenge, but I am very grateful to him for providing me with the interesting statistics. I wholeheartedly agree with him that some noble Lords take longer to express their views in the same number of words than others might.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the Leader’s Group in itself would not be sufficient, as leaders often do not speak for the Back Benchers? I can think of one major issue of reforming this place completely where they do not speak for Back Benchers. Would the Leader of the House think of having some of us in that group?

My Lords, there are various sorts of Leader’s Groups, as I understand it. For example, the Leader’s Group that I established under the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Eames, did not have one leader in it; so there are various ways of establishing a Leader’s Group.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House bear in mind the wise words of the noble Lord, the first Viscount of Falkland:

“If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change”?

My Lords, I agree that where it is not necessary to change, there is no need to change. However, I think that many noble Lords would accept that there are some potential changes in this House that are worthy of discussion. I am sure the noble Lord would agree.

Can compliments from a Back Bencher be paid to the manner in which the Leader of the House has sought to protect the interests of the House beyond a particular political domain?

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, in the event of a Leader’s Group being set up, it should consider all the recommendations, without exception, of the groups that I referred to in my supplementary question?

My Lords, many proposals were put forward in the various newspapers. I think that it would be necessary to prioritise them, but that would be a matter for the Leader’s Group.

My Lords, since the late Lord Falkland has been mentioned, his last words, when he turned to the enemy and got himself shot, were that he was leaving a world that he no longer liked and no longer wanted to live in. Let us hope our legacy is not that.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the reports produced by the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Filkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, were about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the House and in no way were based on a party political approach?

My Lords, I entirely agree. One refreshing element of the reports was that there was cross-party action. That is a good means of establishing a future consensus on these issues.

Is it intended that the work of the Leader’s Group will replace that of the Procedure Committee? Will it bypass it or will it be referred to it?

My Lords, I think that we should use the tried and tested procedure, which is to establish a Leader’s Group to discuss these issues. That Leader’s Group would then report to the Procedure Committee which in turn would report to the House. Ultimately, the decisions would be for the House as a whole.

My Lords, is it not important that the recommendations of the various committees get not just to the Leader’s Group or even the Procedure Committee but to the Floor of the House? The House needs to make the decisions, whatever the views en route might have been of the other committees to which I have referred. Even if some of the proposals do not find favour with the committees, they may well find favour with the House as a whole, which is obviously the sovereign body and must remain so.

Yes, my Lords, the House as a whole must decide. However, as I mentioned earlier, there is a huge number of proposals on a potential table. It would be necessary to prioritise, but I hope that whoever might be members of a future Leader’s Group will be able to represent the views of the people in their own political groups or on the Cross Benches, for example.

Firearms: Imitation Weapons


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the threat posed by the continuing availability of ball-bearing guns closely resembling real weapons.

My Lords, the misuse of imitation firearms is not to be tolerated. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 banned the manufacture, import and sale of realistic imitation firearms, except for a few limited purposes, and made it an offence for anyone under 18 to buy or be sold any kind of imitation firearm.

My Lords, does my noble friend share my concern that on the internet it is very easy for under-18 year-olds to buy—and buy cheaply—imitation firearms which are scarcely indistinguishable from real weapons, despite the requirement of the 2006 Act that such imitations are made from 51 per cent plastic? Does he also share my concern that many of these weapons can be activated into real weapons, as was documented in the case before the courts in Reading in 2004, where 51 shootings had resulted in eight murders involving the use of these converted imitation firearms?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a couple of important points. I should declare a slight interest in that I am a gunnery officer and was president of naval shooting for a number of years, and my grandfather was in the British shooting team at the 1948 Olympics. I have been concerned about this possible loophole in terms of postal sales. There is no doubt that it is an offence for a retailer to sell a realistic imitation firearm, unless it can be shown that it is to be used for special purposes, such as in museums and galleries or theatrical performances. The retailer also has to establish that that person is 18 years old. It is quite difficult to establish that online. There are serious punishments if it is found that the retailer has sold such a weapon to someone under 18 without trying to establish their age. However, my noble friend is right—it is quite difficult exactly to pin this down. I have to say that we have been successful in what we have done regarding imitation firearms. There was a 41 per cent reduction in crimes involving imitation firearms between 2007-08 and 2008-09. We have been successful, but there is a possible loophole. We will have to look carefully at whether we should apply some sort of very, very heavy-handed control but that may not be necessary. However, I will look at this issue to see whether something can be done. There are also clear rules regarding weapons that can be converted. It is an area of concern, but I am not aware that a number of such weapons have come from postal sources. Perhaps I may look into that point and get back to my noble friend.

My Lords, what contact has the Minister had with trading standards officers in respect of Section 36 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act, to which he referred?

My Lords, I have to say that I have had no contact whatever with them. Perhaps I may find out whether those responsible in this area have been doing that and I shall get back to the noble Lord in writing.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if someone brandishes what appears to be a firearm—an imitation firearm—in a provocative manner, and that evokes a police response, such people are authors of their own misfortune?

My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point. Imitation firearms are not regarded as being realistic if they have a bright colour, such as red, orange or yellow. All these colours are itemised. However, in the heat of the moment, in the dark, it is extremely difficult to tell whether a weapon is real or not. I have some sympathy with what my noble friend says. That is not a good thing to do, and we sometimes have to be sensible and careful about how we apply the rules because we could become far too overregulated.

My Lords, are the Government undertaking an evaluation of the workings of the Violent Crime Reduction Act? We are always told that everything is kept under review but he has just mentioned coloured—I think that they are called “two-tone”—weapons which are available to those who are not taking part in well regulated sports, such as airsoft.

My Lords, there are certain rules in airsoft that have to be applied: a person has to have been involved in those operations three times or more. Within that gaming context, it makes sense that weapons should be allowed—having a bright orange DayGlo weapon when hiding under camouflage looks a bit silly—so there has to be some option for that. I do not see that as a particularly dangerous area.

In terms of serious crime, there is no doubt we have made a huge effort to tackle gun crime and we have been very successful. This is the fifth year running that we have shown a reduction; we have had fewer homicides through firearms than since 1988. I am always very wary of statistics and I am not going to throw any more around, but the fact that there are fewer gun homicides since 1988 shows we are achieving things. There has been a slight blip in the last quarter, but overall the number is coming down and we have been extremely successful. I know from my intelligence hat that it is quite difficult to get hold of weapons in this country. That has to be a very good thing and we need to keep that pressure on.

Is the Minister aware that his reference to his grandfather’s shooting skills will have led many of us in this House to question whether we have adequately declared our interests in the Register of Lords’ Interests?

Will my noble friend praise the work of the police in places such as Southwark, and indeed Chester, where my wife witnessed demonstrations by the police of the differences in these imitation guns? Will he encourage not only further demonstrations to young people, but also the successful amnesties which have drawn many of these imitation firearms off the street?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: the police have done some remarkably good work. It is interesting that the areas where a small problem still remains are in Manchester and the East and West Midlands. Otherwise, we have been amazingly successful all over the country, and even in those areas there has been a reduction.

Housing: Decent Homes Programme


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why they have redirected £150 million of funding from the Decent Homes programme to the provision of new housing.

My Lords, the Secretary of State announced as part of the housing pledge initiative that, over this year and next, the Government will be investing a further £1.5 billion to build an extra 20,000 new affordable homes for rent and low-cost sale. As a consequence, £150 million has been reprioritised from the Decent Homes programme in 2010-11 to fund the pledge initiative to contribute to the building of these new homes.

Are the Government not ratting on their previous obligation to fund the Decent Homes initiative, which brings many substandard homes up to scratch? Why are some of the neediest tenants being required to live for much longer in what is frankly grotty accommodation?

My Lords, the Government are certainly not ratting on their obligations in this regard. I remind noble Lords that, since the Decent Homes programme was introduced in 2001, the Government have put in something like £21 billion, so that 1.5 million homes and 86 per cent of social homes were decent as at 31 March 2009 and further homes will be made decent by the end of the current year.

Is this not yet another example of the Government cannibalising the plethora of their existing schemes, which is causing confusion and uncertainty for the building industry? Will the Minister confirm that the Government are also cutting from the growth fund, the private sector renewal fund and the Homes and Communities Agency and, if so, will he say by how much?

My Lords, the £1.5 billion funding to deal with the pledge came from a number of sources. Some of it was reprioritised—rescheduled into this year or deferred into next year—including a range of things that we had in the programme. The most important thing was to make sure that we did what we could, given the current difficulties in the housing market. This means support for the construction industry for jobs and skills. It also means support for first-time buyers, mortgage lending and the wider market and support for the long-term goals of recovery and sustainability in the construction sector.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that there is a serious problem of the leaching of young people from rural communities? Will he say how much of the affordable housing fund is being put into rural areas in order to keep young people where they want to live and where their work is?

The noble Countess raises an important point about support in rural communities. We asked for a report to be drawn up so that we could see how we could better focus support in those areas. It is an integral part of the housing pledge and of the Decent Homes programme.

My Lords, will the Minister say what consultation took place with the local authorities that were affected by this decision before it was announced? While he looks for the answer, I declare an interest as a member of one of the authorities that lost many millions of promised pounds from the Government as a result of the decision, about which nothing was known until we heard the announcement.

My Lords, let us be clear. The £150 million affected 13 arm’s-length management organisations. At the time the decision was made, none of the 13 ALMOs had achieved the two-star rating that was one of the key criteria for obtaining the funding. What has happened since is that some of the ALMOs have achieved the appropriate two-star rating and there has been an opportunity for further funding allocations to them so that they can take forward an investment programme. However, at the point when the decisions were made—the noble Lord shakes his head, but this is a fact—the 13 ALMOs did not fulfil the criteria for funding.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, asked why the money had been redirected? The noble Lord has told us that the money was redirected. Would he now care to tell us why?

My Lords, it is because in challenging economic times we need to take tough decisions, some of which will be to reprioritise existing programmes. There is nothing particularly unusual about that. It was important that we did what we could to sustain new build. It is very important that we begin to make progress on closing the gap between demand and the shortage in the supply of housing in the UK.

Is not one of the major impediments to meeting the great and growing need for social housing in this period the fact that this Government started with difficulties inflicted on the country by well over a decade of Governments who effectively destroyed social and council housing and would not even allow local authorities to use the revenue from house sales to construct and renew fresh social housing?

My noble friend is absolutely right. Let us be clear about this Government’s record. Between 1997-98 and 2008-09, we delivered almost 500,000 new affordable homes. These included newly built housing and property that was acquired and refurbished. That would not have happened if we had not developed programmes such as Decent Homes.

My Lords, when the Government decide to reprioritise—that sounds to me like an interesting new word—do they always make it plain that the money that was previously allocated to a different source will no longer go to that source?

My Lords, it should have been abundantly clear to the 13 ALMOs that had this funding scheduled into their forward programmes—each of them had something like a five-year programme, over different time periods—that the funding would not be made available. They should have known that if they did not achieve the two-star rating in their assessment, they would not fulfil the criteria for funding, whatever was drafted into the programme.

My Lords, are the Government still committed to the full 15-year funding of the housing market renewal programme for areas of cheap and older housing, such as Pennine Lancashire, where I am a councillor?

The noble Lord raises a good point about housing market renewal. Something like £2 billion has been invested to date and the Government are keen to see that continue.

High Court: Appointment


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will announce the successor to the President of the Family Division of the High Court, who retires on 31 March.

My Lords, I shall not thank the Minister for that Answer. However, what will he do to dispel the perception that senior judicial appointments are taking longer than ever to make and are more politicised than ever, even though the Supreme Court has been established and the Judicial Appointments Commission has been set up to promote the separation of powers?

My Lords, it may be true that senior appointments are taking longer to make than they did when they were within the sole discretion of the Lord Chancellor. Indeed, in his evidence to the Select Committee on the Constitution, the Lord Chancellor admitted that the new process is somewhat clunky. The process was decided by this House and the Lord Chancellor has an appropriate role in it. In the evidence to the same committee, it is interesting to note the extent to which the Lord Chancellor set out his two roles: the typical role of a Secretary of State and a special role as Lord Chancellor, principally related to the judiciary and the maintenance of its independence. In that special role, for which he takes a particular oath under the Constitutional Reform Act, he is involved, as Parliament expected, in the process of senior appointments.

My Lords, this matter has been sitting on the Lord Chancellor’s desk—somewhat clunkily, as the noble Lord puts it—for some three months. Does he think that a three-month delay, with its attendant uncertainty, is good for the Family Division?

My Lords, the Lord Chancellor’s policy is to maintain strict confidentiality in relation to individual appointments. The appointment will be announced after the Queen has approved it. That policy has been adopted and adhered to by successive Lord Chancellors. Therefore, I shall not comment on how long it has been on anyone’s desk. As far as we are concerned, the beginning of the process is in the public domain and it will end when the appointment is made. Other recent senior appointments, such as the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Chief Justice, President of the Queen’s Bench and others, have taken between three and eight months. Today we announced the appointment of Lord Justice Dyson as a justice of the Supreme Court, and that process took seven and a half months.

My Lords, the Lord Chancellor rejected the recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Commission in the appointment of Sir Nicholas Wall to the post of president. He is regarded as a most thorough and compassionate judge in the legal profession. Was that because, last November, he told the Association of Lawyers for Children that it was the duty of judges to come off the Bench and speak out about government changes to the law that were damaging the service to children and families, or because he warned that, without proper legal aid funding, the justice system would implode and that children would suffer the most? Was not the Lord Chancellor’s decision entirely political?

My Lords, I have said that it is this Lord Chancellor’s policy, as it has been the policy of Lord Chancellors since time recorded, not to comment on individual appointments, and I certainly do not now.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former President of the Family Division. Does the Minister appreciate the importance of the outgoing president properly helping the incoming president to understand what is going on? That is absolutely crucial. I spent three months in effect training my successor. The president will be leaving on 31 March and will have no one to hand over to. Does the Minister also recognise the dismay of the family judges and the family Bar and solicitors at the situation?

My Lords, I am sure that the new president, when he is appointed, will be at pains to learn all he can from his predecessor. I can add nothing to that except to say that the process was started at a time when we hoped it would be complete. It is not complete and I will not be making further comments on the process.

My Lords, does the Minister’s reply not show that the Constitutional Reform Act has made the administration of justice slower and much more expensive? For some reason, the Minister cannot explain what is going on without looking at his papers and mumbling. This whole procedure is a disgrace.

My Lords, the noble Earl can have his view of mumbling. I am making it very clear how we appoint people to virtually every job in the public or private sector, and I am insisting on that definition. As for the speed with which these appointments are made, I will again quote the Lord Chancellor, using reported speech as it will be quicker. In the processes below these senior judges, the new system is working efficiently and in a way that a Lord Chancellor could not do without considerable sub-processes. In the processes for the most senior appointments, I think he has said in passing that, looking at the Act, perhaps this part is “clunky”.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. I have a very simple question. What will happen in terms of the continuity of the programmes that the present president has in place, and can we commend the work of Mark Potter for ensuring that the work of guardians and family court judges has continued at a time of unprecedented pressure?

Does the Minister accept that the high quality of the judiciary in this country is in part due to the willingness of the Lord Chancellor’s predecessors, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to appoint to high judicial office persons with whose views they did not necessarily agree?

My Lords, the present Lord Chancellor’s praise of previous Lord Chancellors, and the way they executed their duty, is unreserved. He says in his evidence that he thinks they all did a good job under the old system. I am sure that he is committed to ensuring that the present process does an equally good job.

Norwich and Norfolk (Structural Changes) Order 2010 and Exeter and Devon (Structural Changes) Order 2010

Private Notice Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty's Government to make a statement regarding the implications for the Norwich and Norfolk (Structural Changes) Order 2010 and the Exeter and Devon (Structural Changes) Order 2010 following the acceptance of the motions of regret passed in the House of Lords.

My Lords, the Government welcome the House’s approval last night of the Norwich and Norfolk (Structural Changes) Order 2010 and the Exeter and Devon (Structural Changes) Order 2010, and are disappointed that the House has regretted that the draft orders were laid. We are considering the House’s request not to proceed with making the orders before conducting further consultation, and will consider this in the light of the decision on the draft orders expected shortly in another place. The Government will lay a Written Ministerial Statement before the House, setting out how we intend to proceed, before the end of this week.

I thank the Minister for his response, which is effectively saying that the Government are still considering this matter. I ask the Minister to respond with regard to the votes that occurred yesterday evening. He will be aware that he and his party voted against the Motion standing in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in respect of Norfolk and Norwich, but when the House was invited to consider the same Motion in respect of Exeter and Devon, the Government agreed with the Motion.

Explicitly, the Motion stated that it regretted the action of the Government in tabling these orders, and called upon them to delay their implementation pending further consultation with the residents of Exeter and Devon. If they accepted the Motion in respect of Exeter and Devon, why did they vote against the same Motion in respect of Norwich and Norfolk? Is this not just another example of the chaos and incompetence of a Government who ran roughshod over their own rules and tests for unitary status, dithered for four years, then reversed the decision of their own Secretary of State, ran against the advice of their own Boundary Committee, ran against the wishes of 97 per cent of the people consulted in their own exercise—

I have already asked my Question, as noble Lords will be aware, and I am coming to my second one. They ran against the recommendations of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, they overlooked the flaws in the drafting of the orders identified by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, they ran against the wishes of the House of Lords after its consideration, and they ran against the express wishes of the Permanent Secretary of the department. Can I ask the Minister—

Will the noble Lord please recognise the way in which this House proceeds—with short, sharp questions?

My question is, indeed, short and very sharp. Will the Minister say what conversations he has had this morning with Peter Housden, the Permanent Secretary to the department, who had regarded the previous advice as so unsafe and so against the Government’s own rules that he felt the need extraordinarily to seek political direction from the Secretary of State before he gave his approval?

My Lords, I am bound to say that this is complete nonsense and a waste of the time of your Lordships’ House. We debated this thing endlessly yesterday, and the noble Lord has raised nothing that we did not debate in three and a half hours of fairly intense and comprehensive discussion on this issue. I have had no conversations with Peter Housden this morning. I have already said that we intend to lay a Written Ministerial Statement before the end of this week, and it would be wrong of me to pre-empt what that Statement may say.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that two quite different sets of issues were discussed? One group of issues related to the process whereby the Government reached their decision; the other group of issues related to the substantive question of whether it is appropriate that municipal self-government should be restored to these important cities. After more than three years of public consideration and some eight hours of debate in both Houses of Parliament, is it not now time that Parliament reaches its decision and, if it approves these orders, that the Government should then implement them?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it is time that we brought this to a conclusion. He is right in a sense that yesterday’s debate touched on issues of process as well as on substantive issues. Sometimes they were conflated. I repeat that we intend to lay a Written Ministerial Statement by the end of the week.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a bit rich for the noble Lord to lecture us about dithering when he led his colleagues to abstain on the one Motion that could have brought this matter to a conclusion last night and rendered today’s PNQ entirely unnecessary?

My Lords, the noble Lord gives me an open goal, if I may say so. It is a matter for the Opposition to choose how to vote on the issue. I see that they did not have common cause on this with the Liberal Democrats, but it is for them to explain the matter, not me.

My Lords, has not this House over time respected the convention that the unelected House does not overturn the elected House, however strongly we may feel about the substantive issue? Therefore, would it not be inappropriate for my noble friend to tell us today what the Government intend to do before we have had the final decision this afternoon of the House of Commons—the elected House that is full of MPs whose constituencies may or may not be affected?

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right; we should await the deliberations of the other place on this matter.

As I understand it, the Government agreed last night to a Motion that expected the Government not to implement this order until certain things have been done. That was the express will of the Government. Will the Minister explain how they can proceed to implement the order as though they had not given that opinion, which amounts to an undertaking?

My Lords, we did not agree to the Motion; we accepted the second amendment because we lost the first one—I am bound to say fairly comprehensively. It was for the convenience of the House. There is no point in causing people to have to go through the Lobbies again. That would have been perverse. It was to help the House to make progress on this matter.

My Lords, as someone who sat throughout the debate yesterday, but decided not to speak because I thought that it had already gone on at an interminable length, I was unable to make the following point. Unitary local government, brought in by a Conservative Government—to their great credit—in Telford, has been a resounding success, and I commend it to other parts of the country. I further ask my noble friend, given that we are now having a debate only a matter of hours after the House made a decision after a long debate yesterday, whether this bizarre procedure, which I have never heard of before, should be one of the matters considered by the Leader’s Group.

My Lords, on my noble friend’s second point, this seems to me entirely appropriate. Regarding his first point, I, like him, value unitary government. I understand his experience in Telford. It mirrors my experience in Luton, where unitary government has transformed the prospects of our town.

Environmental Civil Sanctions (England) Order 2010

Environmental Civil Sanctions (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2010

Motions to Approve

Moved By

That the draft order and regulations laid before the House on 5 February be approved.

Relevant document: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 18 March.

Motions agreed.

Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 (Variation of Reimbursement and Other Administrative Arrangements) Order 2010

Renewables Obligation (Amendment) Order 2010

Motions to Approve

Moved By

That the draft orders laid before the House on 27 January and 3 February be approved.

Relevant documents: 8th and 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, considered in Grand Committee on 15 March.

Motions agreed.

Equality Bill

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, before the House begins the Third Reading of the Equality Bill, it may be helpful to say a few words about the Third Reading amendments. In line with the procedure agreed by the House, the Public Bill Office yesterday advised the usual channels that Amendment 7 on the Marshalled List falls outside the guidance in the Companion on Third Reading amendments. On the basis of the advice of the Public Bill Office, the usual channels are recommending to the House that Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, should not be moved. As ever, this is ultimately a matter for the House as a whole to decide. I beg to move.

I am puzzled that this amendment was rejected on the ground that it had been heard before. It is true that we voted to protect the churches, but an amendment relating specifically to Catholic orphanages has not yet been discussed. I would like the noble Baroness to explain this act to me.

My Lords, I have had the privilege of being present throughout our deliberations on the Equality Bill and I can assure the noble Lord that the issue has been dealt with. We have debated this issue twice and we have specifically addressed Catholic orphanages.

The Motion has been put that this Bill be read a third time. The House should decide on that Motion now and then continue in proper order.

Motion agreed.

Clause 10 : Religion or belief

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 10, page 6, line 17, at end insert—

“( ) For the avoidance of doubt, a reference in this Act to any religious or philosophical belief does not include a cult.”

My Lords, in Committee in your Lordships’ House we had a debate that centred around exactly what was included by the protected characteristic “religion or belief”. Given that this clause specifies the inclusion of religious belief, philosophical belief and a lack of religious or philosophical belief, we felt that it was important to probe the Government to discover exactly what it covers.

We have heard time and again that part of the purpose of this Bill is to simplify and codify existing equality legislation so that it is clear and easily understandable. It was therefore appropriate to have a discussion to elicit clarification from the Minister as to exactly what would be included in the definition. We were informed by the Minister that European legal obligations do not define specifically what the terms mean but that case law has determined that,

“beliefs must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, provided that the beliefs are worthy of respect in a democratic society, are not incompatible with human dignity and do not conflict with the fundamental rights of others”,

and are,

“beliefs as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and not an opinion based on the present state of information available”.—[Official Report, 13/1/10; col. 521.]

This guideline as to the definition of what could be included under the clause seemed proportionate.

Moreover, in Committee in another place, the honourable Mr John Mason tabled an amendment to what is now Clause 19, which has the heading “Indirect discrimination”. His purpose was to put in the Bill a provision under which making a person act contrary to the doctrinal or ethical teachings of a religion or belief was also indirect discrimination. This would be in addition to the fact that religion was already included as a protected characteristic. When this amendment was debated, the honourable Dr Evan Harris spoke in opposition to it, warning that such an amendment would include beliefs such as Scientology and religious sects and cults. In response, the Solicitor-General agreed that such an amendment would muddy the waters because it would then be unclear if something should be regarded as indirectly discriminatory if it contravened beliefs that are not doctrinally or ethically linked to a religion but are nevertheless commonly held. The honourable Mr Mason withdrew his amendment on that basis.

Parliamentary debate shows clearly therefore that a reference to religious or philosophical beliefs should not include cults or other similar belief systems. It therefore seems sensible and in line with the debates in another place and in your Lordships’ House that a spokesman from the Government Equalities Office attempted to distance himself from the draft code of practice published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for consultation. The draft guidance clearly states:

“Cults and new religious movements may also be religious”.

It uses vegans as an example, saying that they will be covered by the legislation. It states:

“A person who is a vegan chooses not to use or consume animal products of any kind. That person”,


“the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, accessories or any other purpose and does so out of an ethical commitment to animal welfare”.

This person is likely to hold a belief that is therefore covered by the Bill.

We on these Benches felt that debates in another place and in your Lordships’ House had shown clearly that, while there was no specific definition, the weight of case law meant that only serious and important beliefs would be included as a religious or philosophical belief for the purposes of the law. On seeing the draft code of practice, we felt therefore that debates in Parliament had come to one conclusion but that the codes of practice had carried on in another. Surely the nature of religious and philosophical belief systems to be represented by this protected characteristic was clear from these debates; to include cults and other lifestyle choices such as veganism and vegetarianism is to make something of a farce of the debates that we had.

The spokesman for the Government Equalities Office clearly felt similarly when trying to distance the Government from the draft guidance. He said:

“The Equality Bill does not change the existing definition of religion or belief and the Government does not think that views or opinions based on scientific—or indeed on political—theories can be considered to be akin to religious beliefs or philosophical beliefs. Nor was it the intention in introducing the legislation that such beliefs should be covered”.

Nevertheless, we have since discovered that the Government Equalities Office, far from disagreeing with the conclusions here, had signed off the codes of practice. The inclusion of cults and vegans comes, rather surprisingly, with the endorsement of the Government, but I think that I am right in saying that Jediism does not.

I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify precisely the Government’s position. While the position in parliamentary debates seems to have been one thing, is she concerned that it may cause confusion that the Government have publicly distanced themselves from the position taken in the guidance but have officially signed off that draft guidance? I am rather confused by this. I look to the Minister for clarity.

We feel that, on this issue, the Government have drifted away from what Parliament decided. If this is the case in this instance, can the Minister assure us that the guidance in other areas reflects more closely the debates in your Lordships’ House and in the other place? Furthermore, if the Government intend cults to be included, can the Minister inform the House whether further guidance will be required? Does she concede that this will complicate matters further? What exactly will be included in the definition of a cult? How organised and established would a cult have to be in order to be included and to have to count? At what point would a group that has coalesced because of a common interest be defined as a cult? What about the many people who may not consider themselves to be a cult but are formed out of an objection to another group of people? How exactly is this going to work?

We were initially rather shocked at the length of the codes of practice. I am informed that these are the draft guidance for the courts, not for everyday use. We certainly would not wish the codes to become even longer, but it is certain that more clarity is needed and I hope that the Minister can provide it today. I beg to move.

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will not think me discourteous in saying that I think that her amendment is an oxymoron. It declares for the avoidance of doubt, but if it were enacted, although I know that it is only probing, it would increase rather than avoid doubt about the meaning of “religious”, “philosophical” and “cult”. Words are not like crystals, brittle, rigid and hard-edged. They are soft and flexible and convey shades of meaning that alter according to the context in which they are used.

That is especially true of words such as “religion”, “belief” and “philosophical belief”, derived from international and European human rights instruments and our own constitutional and legal heritage. When those words are used in legislation, they have to be read and given effect in accordance with their proper meaning and effect and they have to be read compatibly with European law. It is for the courts and not politicians to interpret and apply them. Parliament could, of course, attempt to define their meaning, but it would have to do so in a way that did not violate the fundamental human right to freedom of religion and belief. That would be a hazardous undertaking, fraught with difficulty.

Every established traditional religion was once regarded pejoratively as a cult by its opponents from other religions when it was struggling for recognition and acceptance for its beliefs and practices, whether the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or non-theistic religions, such as Buddhism. Every organisation, religious as well as non-religious, may abuse its powers and tolerate or conceal evil and criminal practices, as recognised by Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral letter of apology to the Catholics of Ireland about the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by priests and others.

One person’s religion and belief may be another’s blasphemy or evil cult. According to medieval Roman Catholic doctrine, those who did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, or who contradicted Catholic dogma, or had not been baptised, were “infidels”, put to death during the Crusades and the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. There is still much intolerance within and across religions of all types.

Those of us who are fortunate to live in modern democratic societies, whatever our faith or lack of it, are committed to a generous view of equality and personal liberty. The Strasbourg court explained in the case Kokkinakis v Greece:

“Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of the foundations of a democratic society within the meaning of the Convention. It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has clearly been won over the centuries, depends on it”.

In another case with an unpronounceable name, Leela Förderkreis EV v Germany, the Strasbourg court decided that the conception of the world of the Osho movement, formerly known as the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh movement, founded by the Indian mystic Rajneesh Chandra Mohan, based on the idea of achieving transcendence, fell within the ambit of Article 9 of the convention, even though the group was commonly referred to as a sect. Of course, that did not mean that the group had absolute rights. The court upheld the German Government’s right to verify whether a movement or association carries on, ostensibly in pursuit of religious aims, activities that are harmful to the population or public safety; the Government were entitled, in Germany, to draw public attention to dangers emanating form such a group.

The UN Human Rights Committee has explained, in its general comment on the equivalent of Article 9 of the convention that is in Article 18 of the covenant, that it,

“views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reason, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility on the part of a predominant religious community”.

Concepts such as—I say this humbly in the presence of the Lords spiritual—“religion” and “philosophical belief” are not capable of precise definition and the differences between them are not clear-cut. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines as the first meaning of “cult”,

“a system of religious worship especially as expressed in ritual”.

It defines “religion” as,

“belief in a superhuman controlling power, especially in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship”.

Buddhism, which falls outside that definition, is defined as,

“a widespread Asian religion or philosophy ... which teaches that elimination of the self and earthly desires is the highest goal”.

Scientology is defined in the same dictionary as,

“a religious system based on self-improvement and promotion through grades of self-knowledge”.

I have acted for the Church of Scientology, which is recognised as a religion in some European countries, such as Spain and Portugal, and some Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, and rejected by others. In this country it is treated at present, as a result of the decision of the Court of Appeal in Segerdal in 1970, not as a religion but as a system of philosophical belief.

The word “cult” is not in the Bill. If the reference to “cult” in the amendment is meant to make it clear that the Bill does not protect organisations and their followers who engage in criminal or anti-social misconduct, that goes without saying, whether the organisation is Jewish or Muslim, the Catholic Church or, I dare say, the Church of Scientology. Using the word “cult” merely raises the question whether those who follow a particular creed or share a common belief are entitled to be protected from discriminatory treatment because they share a common religion or philosophical belief. That involves questions of fact to be decided not by politicians or Parliament but by courts in particular cases.

For all those reasons, the amendment would not achieve the aim of its proposers, although I understand them. Whether one agrees with what is in the code is not what I am on about; I am concerned to establish that, were the amendment to be enacted, it would be a source of great uncertainty and would not fulfil the aim of its proposers. We would therefore be opposed to it.

My Lords, I have heard what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has said. This is a personal opinion, but I regard the so-called Church of Scientology as neither a church nor a religious organisation but as an extremely pernicious organisation. Under the terms of the Bill at present, are the activities of that “church” protected, as any religious organisation is protected? Without this amendment, would that protection be a part of the provisions of the Bill? On the other hand, do the Government regard the Church of Scientology, as I do, as a cult, which would not be protected if the amendment were passed? I simply wish to know the Government’s views on this issue.

My Lords, in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has said, I think that these words are so slippery that trying to add other words simply makes the whole thing even more slippery. The way in which the words are used means that this is one of those irregular verbs: “I have a faith, you have a religion, he or she is in a cult”. One person’s use of a particular term may be pejorative, flattering or whatever.

I regard the original clauses as extremely odd. A reference to “religion” includes a reference to a lack of religion, “belief” means any belief and a reference to “belief” includes a reference to a lack of belief. When I studied philosophy, if you started saying that “P equals not P”, you had to go back to the drawing board and begin again. If we want to regulate some religions/cults or others, this sort of Bill is not the way to do it. By adding extra words here and there, as yet undefined whether in Europe or elsewhere, we will merely make confusion worse confounded.

My Lords, this amendment relates to the definition of religion or belief in Clause 10—I have just received a note which I hope will enlighten me about Scientology—and seeks to make clear that protection because of religion or belief does not extend—

Before the Minister responds, I want to make it clear that this is a probing amendment. We are not hoping for it to be included in the Bill. It is just for clarity.

That indeed was my next sentence. I appreciate the spirit in which this amendment has been tabled. It is not our intention that religion or belief provisions of the Bill should extend—

I apologise for interrupting, but you cannot move probing amendments on Third Reading. The Companion is perfectly clear on the matter.

The House authorities and the usual channels have admitted this amendment because it raises new business and has not been discussed before. I shall answer the amendment on that basis.

Is it not the position that it is in order not because it raises new business, which would be out of order, but because it is clarifying what might otherwise be obscure?

The noble Lord is exactly right: it is clarifying. I had a note, which of course I do not have in front of me now, that explained why the amendment is in front of us today.

It is not our intention that the religion or belief provisions of the Bill should extend protection against discrimination to any inappropriate groups whose activities would give cause for concern. The noble Baroness is perfectly correct that there is no legal definition of what constitutes a cult, and there is unlikely to be any consensus of opinion on what one is. Nor is there a single, simple, non-legal definition of cult. Indeed, some dictionary definitions of cult could be held to apply equally to widely held systems of religious or philosophical beliefs. Therefore, in cases in doubt, the appropriate body to determine whether something is a protected religion or belief is the relevant tribunal or court. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, whose remarks I think amply illustrate why this is the case.

It is important to appreciate that tribunals and courts will not be working without guidance. The Bill gives a broad definition of religion or belief that replicates the effects of the existing definitions in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and the Equality Act 2006. Domestic courts therefore already have experience of interpreting the existing definitions and the considerations that they need to take into account. Seeking to exclude certain systems of religious or philosophical beliefs as being cults would therefore not only be a new issue for the Bill but a change to legislation that has been in place since 2003 and has not caused difficulties of interpretation in this respect.

European directives that relate to matters of religion or belief do not attempt to define specifically what the terms “religion” or “belief” mean; nor does Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, case law has identified the relevant factors that need to be taken into consideration when determining if something may be considered to be a protected religion or belief. The main limitation on what constitutes a religion in line with Article 9 is that is must have a clear structure and belief system. The limitations on what constitutes a philosophical belief are that it must be genuinely held; be a belief and not an opinion or a viewpoint based on the present state of information available; be a belief as to weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour, attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness of cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Therefore, in terms of restricting protection to those beliefs which are not objectionable, the case law criteria would exclude most of the outlandish practices and belief systems that have been mentioned so far. For example, any cult involving illegal activities would not satisfy the criteria.

The noble Baroness asked specifically about the guidance and the codes of practice. The Government have not signed off the commission’s codes of practice; the codes are out for public consultation, which is due to close next month. In order to take effect, they will need to be laid before both Houses of Parliament in due course. Whether any particular religion or philosophical belief is protected by the Bill will be for the courts to determine, having considered the criteria established by case law.

The noble Baroness mentioned veganism. It would ultimately be for the courts or tribunals to determine whether something met the definition of “religion or belief” according to the criteria established by case law. In the case of H v UK 1993, heard by the European Court of Human Rights concerning the treatment of a vegan, the court determined that veganism was capable of being construed in accordance with the scope of Article 9.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The noble Baroness referred to Jedis. The Government do not think that views or opinions based on science fiction can be considered akin to religious or philosophical beliefs. It was not the underlying principle behind drafting the definition of “religion or belief” to cover such views.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton, referred to the Church of Scientology. The Equality Bill does not alter the current interpretation of what constitutes a religion or belief, defining it as,

“any religious or philosophical belief”,

or a lack of any such religion or belief. We do not maintain a list of recognised religions or beliefs, so if there is any doubt whether something constitutes a religion or belief within this definition, that would ultimately be a matter for the courts or tribunals to decide.

Given that explanation, I hope the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, although I am no further forward in terms of clarity. The amendment was put forward purely because the codes of practice have been published, although I understand that they are now out for consultation.

This is an extremely important Bill which has been a long time coming, yet here we are, at Third Reading, without clarity about what is included in the protected characteristics. The codes of practice are still out for consultation and will at some stage be laid before Parliament. We are approaching the end of this Session, possibly the end of this Government, yet we are still unclear about what will and will not be included. I am one of those lawyers, as I presume the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is, who would prefer lawyers not to earn off the back of uncertainty but for the public to be able to consult documentation and be clear about what is and what is not a protected characteristic. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Clause 20 : Duty to make adjustments

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 20, page 11, line 8, at end insert—

“( ) In relation to the second requirement, a reference in this section or an applicable Schedule to avoiding a substantial disadvantage includes a reference to—

(a) removing the physical feature in question,(b) altering it, or(c) providing a reasonable means of avoiding it.”

In moving Amendment 2 in the name of my noble friend Lady Royall, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 8 and 10 as well.

Noble Lords will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, tabled Amendments 20A and 44A on Report. In speaking to those amendments, which he withdrew, the noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to the need to spell out what the phrase “avoid the disadvantage” means when the disadvantage is caused by a physical feature, otherwise there was a risk that the intention to reproduce the current law, which we all share, might be put in doubt. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Morris of Bolton, also tabled a probing amendment on these matters in Committee.

When I spoke on Report I said that we wanted to give further consideration to the matter and, in particular, to ensure that whatever outcome we reached would deliver a consistent approach throughout the different parts of the Bill. We remain of the view that the reasonable adjustment duty, as drafted, works. That being said, however, we have listened to the concerns that noble Lords set out and have decided to act to move the matter beyond doubt.

Amendment 2 draws on some familiar concepts from the Disability Discrimination Act and sets out on the face of the Bill, in a non-hierarchical and non-exhaustive way, some key considerations that should be taken into account when the duty to avoid the disadvantage caused by a physical feature is being addressed—whether by an employer, someone providing services or someone delivering public functions. This amendment provides the clarity being sought and reinforces what already appears in the Bill.

Amendment 8 is a minor and technical amendment which ensures consistency of approach between Schedule 2 and Schedule 15. It makes clear that an association should consider a reasonable alternative method of affording access to a benefit facility or service, et cetera, where the substantial disadvantage caused by a physical feature cannot be reasonably avoided.

Amendment 10 is consequential on Amendment 60, which the noble Lord, Lord Low, tabled on Report and which added a definition of substantial to Clause 212(1). It simply adds an entry of “substantial” into the index of defined expressions in Schedule 28.

I hope noble Lords will be satisfied with this outcome of our further deliberations, and I commend these amendments to the House.

My Lords, we welcome the inclusion of this amendment, which, at this late stage in proceedings, will be useful to clarify the duty to make reasonable adjustments when there is a substantial disadvantage caused by a physical feature. Noble Lords might remember that we tabled a similar amendment to Schedule 2 in Committee; this was followed by a further amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on Report. It was felt that these amendments would be useful to help make the duty more active and to exemplify what specific steps could be taken.

The Government, however, objected to our amendment. Although the Minister took on board that concerns had been raised about the lack of these specific steps, which used language very similar to that of the Disability Discrimination Act, she said that it,

“had been interpreted as weakening the provision … That is certainly not the intention and is certainly not the case”.—[Official Report, 19/01/10; col. 879.]

The Minister then objected to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, but on entirely different grounds—namely that it applied to services and public functions and so appeared to give credence to the idea that these steps should not also apply to other areas.

We are delighted, therefore, that the Government have now taken on board these legitimate concerns and tabled their own amendment. It was interesting to hear the reasons for the Government’s change of heart at this late stage, and we welcome the clarity that the Government have now added by moving the amendment to prime position in Clause 20(4). This is a welcome concession to worries expressed both here and in another place. In our amendment, however, we included the option of providing,

“a reasonable method of providing the service or exercising the function”.

Perhaps the Minister can quickly touch on why this part has been left out of the final amendment.

I turn to Amendment 8. We are glad that the Government have addressed the inconsistency here. This appears to be a sensible amendment which clarifies the steps that must be carried out to ensure that where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a considerable disadvantage, the feature is removed or reasonable alternative steps are taken.

I seek clarity on two points. First, I hope the Minister will be able to offer us some assurances that the reasonable alternative methods of access will not put too great a burden on employers. Will she offer some examples of what might be considered reasonable? As we have said throughout these debates, we think that it is of the upmost importance that all reasonable steps are taken to ensure that where a disabled person is placed at a substantial disadvantage, that disadvantage is minimised. However, we also want to ensure that such steps do not put an undue burden on employers. Secondly, and with that in mind, will the Minister say what form the guidance on this provision will take? It is very important that employers are aware of exactly where their duties lie, and what practical steps they might have to take to fulfil those obligations. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I warmly welcome these amendments in response to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on Report. He is abroad this week but we have worked in partnership throughout the Bill on all the disability amendments and I know that he is delighted with the outcome. We are grateful to the Minister and her officials for listening to our detailed concerns and for finding a practical solution.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people lies at the heart of the Disability Discrimination Act, and it is particularly important in relation to physical barriers that prevent disabled people accessing services, receiving public benefits or enjoying club facilities. It is a matter of exclusion or inclusion. While there have been huge improvements in accessibility in the past few years, all too many providers still do not understand their duties, or blatantly choose to disregard them. Importing some of the familiar language of the DDA into the Bill to exemplify the duty is very important, and the amendments confirm that the intention is to reproduce the current law and not, as some providers think, to dilute the law. Some believe that there will be a change in the law that will make it much easier for them to disregard their duties. We welcome the language translation across.

As well as thanking the Minister, I thank all noble Lords who have helped us to secure this amendment and others in this incredibly important, integrated Equality Bill. As a result of this work, I think that the Bill is in much better shape as it leaves us than when it arrived.

We, too, welcome these amendments. Purists might say that Amendment 2 is not strictly necessary because it reflects existing case law, but it is good to make it clear in the Bill that the test is one of substantial disadvantage. For the reasons just given by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, we are delighted with the amendments.

This part of the Bill reflects the true co-operation and co-ordination across the House, with the Government listening and consideration being given to the points made from all sides, especially those of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, on how to improve it. I completely agree that importing the language at the outset from the DDA into this Bill has been extremely important.

On the questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently consulting on draft guidance and the code of practice which will help employers to understand the requirements to make reasonable adjustments. We hope that the guidance will provide straightforward, practical examples illustrating how to comply with the law. I suspect, although I do not know, that employers’ organisations had a great deal to say about the draft guidance to ensure that that is the case. As a general principle, we want employers to be able to carry out their duties under the legislation but not to be overburdened by it.

We have listened to noble Lords about the merits of providing greater clarity in the Bill and we have responded by putting the matter beyond doubt. That, accompanied by the aforementioned codes and guidance, will ensure compliance and good practice. I beg to move.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Clause 105 : Time-limited provision

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 105, page 67, line 27, leave out first “is” and insert “and the words “, subject to subsection (7),” in section 104(3)(c) are”

My Lords, Amendment 3 is a minor and technical amendment designed to tidy up links within the Bill. During the Bill’s passage through Report, Clause 104 was amended to include a new subsection (3)(c) which contained an explicit requirement that any action taken by political parties in pursuit of reducing inequality in their representation in any elected body must be a proportionate means of achieving that purpose. The amendment contained an explicit cross-reference to the single-sex electoral shortlist provisions in subsection (7).

The shortlist provisions in subsection (7) will automatically be repealed at the end of 2030 unless their use has been extended by order. This minor amendment will ensure that in the event that subsection (7) is repealed, the cross-reference to those provisions in subsection (3)(c) would be removed at the same time and so not leave any extraneous and potentially confusing references within the Bill.

As this is the last government amendment before we conclude Third Reading, perhaps I may say a few words of thanks, but I recognise that there are more amendments to come. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bill from every side of the House. We have heard many considered and persuasive contributions and undoubtedly we now have a better Bill. I thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for her dedicated and committed support. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for the knowledgeable and expert role that he has played in our debates. He has put us back on the right track on a number of occasions, for which I am extremely grateful. He has been extraordinarily self-disciplined, but that was shared by Members all over the House. I also thank his noble friends Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lady Northover.

I have greatly enjoyed my exchanges with the noble Baronesses, Lady Warsi and Lady Morris of Bolton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, during the passage of the Bill. They have shown commitment and have challenged the Government to explain their intent clearly. Their expertise and experience have informed our debates and our thinking on various amendments. Thanks are due to noble Lords too numerous to name who have played a very important role in our proceedings. However, I single out the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Alli, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for their suggestions and challenges, which have helped us carefully reflect on the Bill. As ever, they have defended disadvantaged groups in our society with passion and dedication.

A number of noble Lords have promoted the rights of disabled people, notably the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, who has proposed many important amendments which have been accepted, including a clarification to ensure that people have access to information in accessible formats, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, whose amendment clarifies that in meeting the equality duty, the steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled people include taking account of a disabled person’s disabilities, and, of course, my noble friend Lady Wilkins.

I also thank the many individuals and organisations who have played a vital role in the development and passage of the Bill. Several thousand individuals and many hundreds of organisations have made representations. Finally, I thank the Bill team, parliamentary counsel and the officials from across Whitehall departments who have worked assiduously and tirelessly on the Bill. They have shown tremendous determination, patience and resilience throughout. Melanie Field deserves our special thanks, also Wally Ford, to whom we wish a speedy recovery. This is a good Bill. It is much better than the Bill that arrived in this House. We have had a tremendous and very thorough consideration of it in this House. I beg to move.

My Lords, taking my cue from the Leader of the House, I wish to say a few words. The Bill is a great achievement. I know of no measure as ambitious and far-reaching in any part of the world. It is the result of many years of effort, imagination and skill. New Labour’s 1997 election manifesto promised to,

“eliminate discrimination wherever it exists”.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto contained a commitment to enact a single Equality Act. For four years, Professor Sir Robert Hepple QC directed an independent expert review published in July 2000. It was the subject of a consultative conference. My Private Member’s Equality Bill was prepared to give effect to the Hepple report and was given a Second Reading in this House on 28 February 2003 with wide support. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is in his place because as the Minister he was kind enough to describe the Bill as “quite outstanding” and said he believed it would “not die a death”.

We introduced that Bill to demonstrate that it was possible to create a coherent, user-friendly, non-bureaucratic framework, while encouraging voluntary compliance with the principle of equality without discrimination through workforce reviews and employment equity plans, and to provide effective redress. At that stage the Government responded piecemeal by introducing regulations to implement the new EU equality directives as well as the Disability Discrimination Bill setting up the Equality and Human Rights Commission and making religious discrimination unlawful. They then set up the discrimination law review in 2005 and published papers between 2007 and 2009. The Bill was at last published a year ago in April 2009. The appointment of the right honourable Harriet Harman as Minister for Equality gave the project a new energy and sense of direction and ambition. She and her fellow Ministers here and in the House of Commons have been advised and supported by an outstanding team of some 44 civil servants, if one includes legal advisers and parliamentary counsel, led by Melanie Field, James Maskell and Wally Ford. They will be cross if I do not mention all 44 but I do not think I should. I pay tribute to them for having delivered at last a Bill of which we should all be proud.

The Bill reached this House very late, with parliamentary time scarce before the general election. But, as the Leader of the House has indicated, thanks to cross-party co-operation and a great deal of hard work, we have carried out a thorough scrutiny of it and improved it in important ways. The Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and civil servants have been generous in making themselves readily available to discuss the Bill, and have been open-minded in considering proposed amendments. The Official Opposition have played a constructive role and, for the most part, we have been able to achieve consensus, drawing on the great experience of many Members across the House. Not everything in the Bill is as we Liberal Democrats would have wished, but we recognise that law reform, like politics, is the art of the possible. We hope the Bill will now pass quickly into law, after our amendments have been approved in the other place, so that it may be carried into effect by the new Government of whatever colour after the election.

My Lords, I follow the Leader of the House as well as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, in taking this opportunity to support Her Majesty’s Government’s Equality Bill at Third Reading. Those present in this Chamber today who were also present for our previous debates on the subject of equality will know that, while there have been areas of this legislation and specific amendments over which I have raised concerns, I have still broadly supported the aims and intentions of the Bill. That continues to be the case. The reason we have all spent long hours discussing this Bill is because we want a workable law on the statute book that really does something positive in the area of equality in the United Kingdom. To lose this opportunity now and scrap the Bill would be to lose something that is wonderful. It would be a great disappointment, especially when so much common ground has already been established. We have all tried to be magnanimous, meeting each other half way.

I agree that we need to avoid and reject the bigotry of fundamentalism. I recall the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who rightly reflected that, at times, equality, human rights and freedom have become in themselves a religion or a philosophical belief. Ignoring older, established religions and preventing them from teaching their principles will in the end serve only to produce a generation that cannot see the point of equality, freedom and human rights as a religion, especially when it resembles a juggernaut crushing all other religions before it and ends up setting up a hierarchy of rights where traditional religious ethics are at the bottom. Individuals with their human rights become hermetically sealed and atomised from community belonging and responsibility, for ever echoing the playground diplomacy, “It is not fair. It is my human right to trump yours”. We need to encourage a society where people are allowed to be different. Equality means celebrating diversity, and religious tradition and belief must be allowed to be part of this growing diversity.

We need to be wary of creating laws which serve no one but those working in the legal profession. As the Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, commented recently:

“There are times when human rights become human wrongs”.

He said that rights must not,

“become more than a defence of human dignity”.

He said that when these rights become a political ideology that tramples down everything in its path, we know we have gone too far.

As the late Lord Denning once observed, the severance of law from morality and religion from law has gone much too far. Although religion, law and morals can be separated, they are nevertheless still very much dependent on one another. He said:

“Without religion, there can be no morality, there can be no law”.

Our commitment from these Benches to establishing a solid and workable piece of equality legislation demonstrates that crucial interconnectedness.

As we pray in this your Lordships' House before every sitting, we say:

“Almighty God .... do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same”.

As your Lordships will know, in previous debates concern was expressed about some parts of the Bill. I believe that the high level of debate and scrutiny with which this was undertaken by noble Lords enabled significant improvements to be made to those parts which seemed, in the view from these Benches and those opposite, not to be in the spirit of preserving the status quo, as seemed to be implied in the Bill.

What I and my fellow Lords Spiritual have called for is not a special role for religion in this legislation. What we want to see is freedom and equality for all, including those with religious beliefs. We must maintain the intermingling of religion, morals and law—balancing the rule of law, freedom and conscience, as this country always has done.

We have come a long way with this Bill. Earlier, in Her Majesty's Government's attempt to harmonise all existing laws on equality, I felt we had a situation such as the one Morecambe and Wise experienced with André Previn. Previn became exasperated and told Morecambe he was playing “all the wrong notes”. Eric stood up, seized Previn by the lapels and menacingly informed him:

“I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”.

I believe that what we have now in the Bill is approaching the right order. This is becoming a stronger piece of legislation by the day, thanks to the discussions we have had and continue to have. I look forward to the day the Equality Bill makes it onto the statute book, and for that reason I hope that noble Lords will join me in backing this Bill at Third Reading, so that it may be sent to another place for enactment.

To err is human; to forgive is divine. I am grateful to all of those who have listened, been patient and who have actually produced the legislation that I am proud to have been part of.

Amendment 3 agreed.

Clause 202 : Civil partnerships on religious premises

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: Clause 202, page 125, line 25, at end insert—

“(2B) Provision by virtue of subsection (2)(b) may, in particular, provide that applications for approval of premises may only be made with the consent (whether general or specific) of a person specified, or a person of a description specified, in the provision.

(2C) The power conferred by section 258(2), in its application to the power conferred by this section, includes in particular—

(a) power to make provision in relation to religious premises that differs from provision in relation to other premises;(b) power to make different provision for different kinds of religious premises.”

My Lords, I feel like I have arrived at a party when everyone has gone home. In moving the amendment, I shall speak to Amendments 5, 6 and 9, tabled in my name and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger, Lady Noakes and Lady Campbell of Surbiton.

These are technical amendments to give effect to the new clauses passed with the overwhelming support of the House on 2 March. I thank the parliamentary Bill team and parliamentary counsel for their recent help in drafting these amendments and making new Clause 202 effective. New Clause 202 sets out to permit civil partnership ceremonies to take place in religious premises where religious organisations wish to do so.

Amendment 4 seeks to clarify aspects of new Clause 202. I very much hope that these amendments will give comfort to faith communities which have suggested that they will soon be forced to perform civil partnerships against their will, despite the wording in Clause 202. These amendments make crystal clear that this change in the law is entirely permissive in its approach.

Amendment 5 adds a definition of civil marriage to the Equality Bill, in line with existing legislation, and a definition of religious premises. Amendment 6 to Clause 216 brings the new measures into line with the rest of the Bill in terms of commencement date. Finally, Amendment 9 makes necessary additions to the repeals schedule, as recommended.

These amendments are straightforward and, I hope, non-contentious. I beg to move.

My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that he is not alone at the party—we have not all gone home. Having spoken with some caution to his earlier amendment in Committee, I feel I ought to say briefly why I welcome these consequential amendments. This is not the moment for going back over the arguments that have been very comprehensively rehearsed both in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere, but perhaps I need to point out one or two things.

Many people, Christians and others, will continue to resist any blurring of the distinction between marriage and civil partnership and will want to watch very carefully the ensuing regulations as they appear. A proper concern has been expressed, to which we may need to be alert in the future as well, about proposals to change the law on such a matter coming before Parliament without the proper consultation with major churches and faith communities beforehand. Also, it remains rather puzzling to many of us that there should continue to be a prohibition on the use of any religious service while a registrar is officiating at the signing of a civil partnership document, even though the signing might take place on religious premises. It does not do much to allay suspicions of a hidden agenda. But we are where we are, a lot of people have worked very hard to bring us to this point, and it is good to be able to meet where we have.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for being willing to build on the declaratory provision in his earlier amendment concerning religious freedom. It has been clear throughout the discussions that the House has been motivated by a concern for equality, freedom and non-discrimination in all sorts of ways, and with seeing these in a cohesive single picture. However, the discussions have also highlighted how complex it is to balance out those three things together and what happens when different rights appear to come into conflict with each other. The present amendments ought to serve the bringing together of human freedom, equality and non-discrimination in a much better way, and therefore serve the original aim of the Bill.

In a multicultural and pluralist society, it is right to recognise the rights of different religious and other groups to approach this matter in different ways in accordance with their own convictions. In my last intervention I said that I hoped a way might be found to enable Quakers, liberal Jews, Unitarians and others the freedom to host civil partnership registrations if they wish, but not inadvertently to create an obligation on those—the majority—for whom this would be impossible. From the rather particular situation of the established Church, it would be important that any parochial or diocesan action should be consequential on church-wide policy.

Finally, we welcome the amendment which means that this clause, like most of the rest of the Bill, will be brought into force by a commencement order rather than immediately on Royal Assent. There will clearly need to be new regulations prepared to amend or replace the present Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005. Extensive consultation will be needed at this time with churches and other faiths about the drafting of the regulations. I am very grateful to the Minister for the constructive discussions between church officials and the Government Equalities Office over recent weeks. Clearly, there will now need to be very widespread consultation in order to get the regulations right.

We expect that it will be open to the Church of England and other religious communities to determine what are their own relevant decision-making bodies with authority to notify a public authority—presumably the Registrar General—if they wish to opt in to the approved premises arrangements for civil partnerships. Local applications for particular premises could only be considered when such opting-in had occurred, and would then be handled in the perfectly normal way. It would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that this is also her understanding of what is likely to happen. In anticipation of such assurance I am content to support the consequential amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli.

My Lords, I will say just a couple of things. First, I cannot imagine anyone except the noble Lord, Lord Alli, achieving what he has. He is one of the most indefatigable lobbyists in this House—I mean lobbyist in the good, unpaid sense—that I have ever known.

Secondly, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester was right in everything that he said. When we introduced the Civil Partnership Bill, we used civil marriage as the analogue to create civil partnership. What we are doing here is allowing a religious aspect to civil partnership, because there cannot be a religious marriage. In the longer term, one may need to look at the consequences for civil marriage in relation to religion. However, that is far beyond the scope of the amendment. The way in which this has been done, and the compromise that has been reached, is in all respects admirable.

My Lords, as I understand it, the structure of the amendment makes the change applicable only to England and Wales, because it is an amendment to Section 6 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Although equality and anti-discrimination issues are generally reserved to this Parliament under Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act, will the Leader of the House confirm that the subject matter of the amendment is such that it would be within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to make parallel changes in Scotland if that Parliament wished to follow the example set by this House?

My Lords, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alli, the amendment seeks to resolve some of the uncertainties remaining from the amendment that was accepted on Report in your Lordships' House. As we said on Report, we are very supportive of civil partnerships, and so were not without sympathy for the intentions behind his original amendment. However, we felt that this was not an appropriate time in the parliamentary calendar to open up complex issues that merited proper attention and scrutiny. We thought that such a change needed to be carefully thought out, consulted on and debated fully. The amendments in this group go some way towards answering our concerns, by making it clear that the right to register a civil partnership in religious premises is purely permissive, and that denominations should be able to opt in to the system as they choose. We welcome the clarity here.

However, some areas of concern remain. Those representing independent churches are worried that they still risk being left open to litigation. They are concerned that there is scope for the anti-discrimination provisions to make it difficult—or appear to make it difficult—for individual churches not to opt in to hosting the civil partnership ceremony. I understand that the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and of the Government, is that the amendment should be purely permissive. It would be most helpful if the Leader of the House could offer reassurance to independent churches.

Another concern that has been raised is that churches should not be judged for what they choose to do. Will the noble Baroness reassure church groups that not only will there be legal protection for their decision on whether or not to conduct civil partnerships, but that their decision will be perfectly permissible under religious freedom? Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be further consultation on this issue? I ask because a number of questions have been put to us. As I understand it, the legally binding part of the civil partnership ceremony will still have to be carried out with no religious language. This creates an odd situation if the ceremony is taking place in a church. Has any more thought been given to how this might work? Will it mean that the couple have a ceremony in church with readings and hymns, but then have the civil partnership commitment using no religious language at all? If this is the case, will the minister—I mean the religious minister, not the political Minister—be empowered to perform the civil partnership, but be banned from using any religious reference at this point of the ceremony? Or will a civil registrar have to take that part of the ceremony, without having played any part in the religious sections? Are we in danger of discriminating against heterosexual couples, who must have either a religious marriage or a civil one, but who cannot combine the two?

By seeking answers to these questions, and wishing to ensure that they are addressed fully, we are in no way being negative. We welcome the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and the further clarity they bring to the amendment which was accepted on Report.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Thornton, and their very effective Bill team for their tireless work as this Bill has made its passage through your Lordships' House. Some areas are still subject to differences of opinion, but we have always made it clear that we wish to see the Bill on the statute book. The hard work and dedication of all noble Lords and everyone involved has meant that rigorous scrutiny has taken place and good changes have been made. We now commend them to the judgment of another place.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alli, and other noble Lords who have added their names, on tabling this final series of amendments. We all owe him a huge debt, not least for putting these controversial issues to a vote, which was carried in his favour, at a previous stage of the Bill. I also thank the Bill team. There have been so many helpful, behind-the-scenes discussions on other issues which, perhaps because of time, have not been aired on the Floor of the House. Everyone who has taken part in those discussions is very grateful to the Leader of the House, to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and to the team which spent many hours on this. I particularly want to commend the work of the noble Lord, Lord Alli. As he says, this will definitely be—we look forward to having it confirmed—a permissive aspect and all these important areas of equality and non-discrimination will be set out clearly in the future. I support the amendment.

My Lords, any partnership between two people of the same sex is not a marriage and cannot be called a marriage because God's word does not allow that. It is in total contravention of the marriage which God ordained when he made mankind and put mankind into the world. It is totally wrong and I do not believe that any Christian church which is founded on the word of God can possibly be forced to carry out such partnerships in its places of worship. Although we are told that they will not be forced to, I fear that pressure will be put on churches to do so against their consciences, otherwise there will be a cry of discrimination. I do not believe in discrimination because of a person's orientation, whether sexual, religious or anything else, but it is wrong and dangerous to overthrow certain limits.

My Lords, Amendments 4, 5, 6 and 9 relate to Clause 202 and to civil partnerships in religious premises. These amendments make technical improvements to the provision brought forward by my noble friend Lord Alli on Report, ensuring that the provision delivers the intention debated at that time. I made it clear during the debate on Report that, while the Government were sympathetic to my noble friend’s intentions, the amendment he had tabled did not entirely achieve what he had hoped for. The amendments we are considering here are welcome additions to the provision, addressing many of the concerns I raised.

It may be helpful to take a moment to clarify what these amendments would achieve. As noble Lords will be aware, it is not possible to register civil partnerships on premises which have not been approved for that purpose. My noble friend’s original amendment would remove the current prohibition on religious premises being so approved. Under the current regime, it is the trustee or proprietor of premises who applies for approval. In the case of religious premises, that would leave the decision whether or not to apply entirely in the hands of those with control over individual premises. For those denominations that wish to maintain a consistent line across all their premises, that might cause problems.

Accordingly, Amendment 4 adds a new subsection (2)(b) to Section 6A of the Civil Partnership Act, which would enable the regulations setting out the approved premises regime to provide for applications for approval in relation to religious premises to be made only with the consent of specified people, but that regime would not have to apply to all denominations. As new subsection (2)(c) makes clear, the regulations would be able to make different provision for different kinds of premises, so would allow those faiths or denominations that want to have a consent mechanism to have one, and those that do not could leave it up to those in charge of individual places of worship. So the right reverend Prelate is absolutely correct about the process and about the fact that the new regime would allow denominations that do not wish to host civil partnership registrations to exercise control over the use of their places of worship. I hope that will reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley.

I also assure the right reverend Prelate that there would be extensive consultation before these powers are used. We want to engage all interested parties, including people of all faiths and denominations, to make sure that the regime that is put into place reflects the position that each one wants to take. As my noble friend has said, his intention is to create an entirely voluntary regime, and these amendments would allow the Government to tailor it to the requirements of different denominations with different organisational structures and different views, as we have heard today, on whether they would wish to take advantage of it.

I make it clear to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, that there is no question of the proprietor of religious premises, or a religious organisation or anyone else, being liable for discrimination for deciding not to host civil partnership registrations on their religious premises. It is unlawful to conduct civil partnership registrations on premises that are not approved for that purpose. It is not possible to bring a claim for discrimination for failing to do something which is unlawful. There is no obligation on the controllers of religious premises to get them approved, and since seeking approval is neither the provision of a service nor a public function, for the purposes of the Equality Bill, there is no scope for a claim for discrimination being brought for failing to do so. With this in mind, I can be very clear that no amendment is required to cover this possibility. Indeed, to introduce such an amendment would be counterproductive in that it would imply that the Bill’s provisions cover this and other matters to which they do not currently extend.

The noble Baroness asked about religious language and about how things would work. My Lords, it would work very much like it does for marriage, where a couple go to a side room, such as the vestry, to sign the register. A civil partnership registrar will still be required to officiate the signing of the register, and it is correct that there can be no religious service during the civil partnership registration.

I am most grateful to the Leader of the House. This is about the exchange of vows, and maybe it is just too technical. Maybe this is the sort of thing that will be covered in the consultation.

My Lords, I think it is too technical, and it is precisely the sort of thing that will be discussed during the consultation. The noble Baroness mentioned the possibility of heterosexual couples who are not currently allowed to wed in a church being discriminated against. It is up to the churches themselves whether or not to allow heterosexual couples to get married. For example, some individual churches within the body of a Church do not wish to marry couples who have been divorced, but that is entirely a matter for the churches themselves.

I turn to the remaining elements of Amendment 5. Subsections (3)(b) and (3)(c) are needed because this clause now includes a reference to civil marriage and religious premises. It is therefore necessary to define what is meant by these terms. The definitions are the same as used elsewhere in the Civil Partnership Act 2004. Amendment 6 to Clause 216 brings the commencement arrangements for Clause 202 into line with the rest of the Bill, ensuring that the clause can be commenced in an orderly fashion when supporting regulations are ready. Finally, Amendment 9 simply adds the provisions in the Civil Partnership Act repealed by Clause 202 to the list in Schedule 27 to the legislation repealed by the Equality Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, asked about Scotland. As he suggested, this provision applies to England and Wales. If the Scottish Parliament wishes to do something, that is entirely up to it.

I conclude by saying that the Government welcome these amendments, which address the concerns expressed by a number of religious organisations. I appreciate the comments made by the right reverend Prelate, and I am delighted to hear that constructive discussions between the various organisations have led to a broad, supportive consensus on these amendments. As I said on Report, we need to continue to listen to views from the widest possible range of religious organisations and from others with an interest when we consider the implementation of these provisions. As I have made clear this afternoon, full consultation will be needed to ensure that the regime for the approval of religious premises for civil partnerships is workable in practice for all faiths and denominations.

These new amendments will help to achieve such a workable solution. However, noble Lords will also recall that I said on Report that this is an issue of religious freedom and religious conscience; so, should the will of the House be tested on these subsequent amendments, the Government will allow a free vote.

My Lords, I very much welcome the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester and thank him for welcoming these amendments. I felt, however, that he was beginning to set out his position in any negotiations on the regulations. Perhaps we can leave those comments for a different time.

All we have ever sought to do through the amendment is to allow people of faith who want to hold civil partnerships in their religious buildings to do so. It is as simple as that, and no more difficult. We have not tried to go through the back door to allow a parish church to sue the General Synod. We had a very simple objective, which I hope we will have achieved. When I say “we”, it is a real case of the Back-Benchers talking to the Front-Benchers. I ask all three parties and the usual channels to think more carefully about what those of us on the Back Benches have to say and to make it a little easier for us to intervene in our debates, because we, too, have a contribution to make to this House and it often feels as though we are not heard. I suspect that this debate will move on to a debate on the regulations, which I await with interest.

Amendment 4 agreed.

Amendment 5 agreed.

Clause 216 : Commencement

Amendment 6 agreed.

Schedule 3 : Services and public functions: exceptions

Amendment 7 not moved.

Schedule 15 : Associations: reasonable adjustments

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Schedule 15, page 194, line 33, at end insert—

“( ) Section 20 has effect as if, in subsection (4), for “to avoid the disadvantage” there were substituted—

“(a) to avoid the disadvantage, or(b) to adopt a reasonable alternative method of affording access to the benefit, facility or service or of admitting persons to membership or inviting persons as guests.””

Amendment 8 agreed.

Schedule 27 : Repeals and revocations

Amendment 9 agreed.

Schedule 28 : Index of defined expressions

Amendment 10

Moved by

10: Schedule 28, page 239, line 3, at end insert—


Section 212”

Amendment 10 agreed.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft order laid before the House on 10 March be approved.

Relevant Document: 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, I am very pleased to bring these orders before the House today. They provide for the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland through the transfer of the responsibility for policing and justice. In doing so, they represent the culmination of the peace process and the final working through of the plans for cross-community government in Northern Ireland that were set out in the Good Friday agreement.

The orders reflect several elements. The outline framework has been set by successive Acts of Parliament since the Good Friday agreement. The detail of what is to be devolved reflects discussion in Northern Ireland over a period of years. The final timetable for devolution was set out in the Hillsborough Castle agreement, which was reached in early February after several weeks of negotiation. In a clear sign that Northern Ireland institutions are gaining in capacity and maturity, the British and Irish Governments were not parties to that agreement, unlike the agreements that preceded it. It was the work of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, leading the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The formal request for the devolution of the issues dealt with in the orders before us today was made by the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March, with over 80 per cent of Members voting in favour. In line with the timetable agreed at Hillsborough, the orders before us provide for devolution to take place on 12 April. Many people in Northern Ireland, and beyond, have shown great courage and leadership in making these developments possible.

President Obama, in Washington last week, paid tribute to the First and Deputy First Ministers, who, as he said, have stood together with conviction to chart an historic path towards peace. I believe that we should echo that commendation. But the credit extends well back into the past. It is right that we acknowledge the role of the party opposite in its willingness to take the early risks in establishing the peace process—notably John Major, who as Prime Minister worked closely with the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, supported by the distinguished Secretaries of State, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew.

Since that period the two Governments have worked together in close co-operation and with an enormous commitment of time and effort at the very top. The present Prime Minister and his predecessor worked together to great effect with Bertie Ahern and then Brian Cowen to guide the process along. They of course worked with others outside government, and we must all remember the distinguished role of John Hume, and later of Dr Ian Paisley and of Gerry Adams. I must of course pay special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who played a key role and whom we are proud to have among us.

This morning I read the speech made yesterday by Dr Ian Paisley in another place, his last speech in that House. For me, it symbolised just how far we have come together, and I felt quite emotional when I read it. However, we should not forget either those who have sustained the process from abroad. There has been enormous good will from many quarters, including the European Union and the other states which have contributed to the International Fund for Ireland. We have also benefited from the expertise of distinguished figures from a number of nations who have helped to advance the process.

A particularly strong and positive contribution has, of course, come from the United States. Successive Administrations have worked with enormous energy and commitment to help develop agreement in Northern Ireland and to ensure that political advance was accompanied by material benefits, particularly in the form of new investment. In the current Administration, I should like to offer particular thanks for the help and support we have had from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has taken personal responsibility for the Administration’s policy in Northern Ireland and shown to all those who have dealt with her a deep knowledge of Northern Ireland issues and sensitivity to its particular circumstances. Nor, finally, should we forget those figures in the Congress and the Irish-American community who have over the years exerted a powerful positive influence in encouraging advance.

All the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly accept in principle the need for devolution of policing and justice at some point. The Ulster Unionist Party, of course, had hesitations about its devolution at this point, and despite efforts to reach an accommodation, it voted against devolution. The Government believe profoundly that devolution does need to take place now, but we recognise that the concerns were of substance and sincerely felt. Nevertheless, the Assembly voted by a very large majority to move on. I hope that if the House does the same today, the doubts can be set aside and all concerned will focus on making the institutions work with their new responsibilities. I believe that that will be the case.

Let me now turn to the detail of the three orders before us. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2010 is the key document. It provides for policing and justice matters, which until now have been reserved, to become transferred matters. The Assembly will then be able to legislate on them without having to seek consent. The list of matters transferred precisely reflects the Assembly’s requests of 9 March. In line with that request, certain matters will remain outside the responsibilities of the Assembly; one is parading. The Hillsborough Castle agreement, however, envisages that the responsibility for parading will transfer later in 2010, once new arrangements proposed in the agreement are in place. Another exclusion from the list of matters transferring is special provision for 50:50 recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We believe, however, that it is likely that the 30 per cent target for police officers from a Catholic background will be reached later this year, and the special provision will lapse at that point. National security matters will remain excepted and will not transfer under this order to the Assembly. They will properly remain the responsibility of UK Ministers answerable to this House.

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010 makes a large volume of amendments consequential on the changes in legislative competence. These amendments largely involve the transfer to Northern Ireland authorities of executive functions, reflecting the transfer in legislative responsibility. The main recipient of these functions is the new Northern Ireland Department of Justice which the Assembly has already legislated to establish. In the case of some functions that will transfer, there is potentially an interface with national security matters that will remain the responsibility of the Secretary of State. In these cases, the order makes clear the respective roles and responsibilities of the Northern Ireland Justice Minister and the Secretary of State.

There remain concerns among some in Northern Ireland about the split between responsibility for national security and policing in justice matters following devolution. It is imperative that national security is protected in these arrangements, but clearly the post-devolution arrangements have to be workable. That is why it is vital that the Justice Minister and the Secretary of State establish clarity about their respective responsibilities. It is also important that the Justice Minister has access to the information necessary to properly fulfil those responsibilities. These statutory responsibilities are set out in the legislation before the House today.

In addition, we have set out in a protocol details of how the national security interface will work. It sets out a number of safeguards which will operate to ensure the workability of these arrangements. In addition to the existing mechanisms, I draw attention to the exceptional role that will be played by the independent reviewer, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who we have asked to review any decision to withhold information from the published reports of any of the oversight bodies. The order makes provision in line with the Hillsborough Castle agreement that quasi-judicial decisions may be made by the Justice Minister and need not go to the Northern Ireland Executive. The order also gives effect to various transfers of property and most of the staff of the current Northern Ireland Office. These staff will move to the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, leaving a small number of staff who will continue to work for the Secretary of State on his remaining responsibilities.

Finally, the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010 establishes the Northern Ireland Court Service as a separate civil service and transfers its functions, which are currently the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor, to the Northern Ireland authorities, generally the Department of Justice. The staff of the Court Service will also be assimilated into that department. The Justice Department will have a generous financial provision. All but £26 million—that is, 2 per cent of the Northern Ireland Office’s current baseline budget—will transfer to the Northern Ireland Executive, as will all the Northern Ireland Court Service baseline budget.

In addition, the Northern Ireland Executive will benefit from the £800 million financial package agreed by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in October last year. These orders would come into effect on 12 April in line with the Hillsborough Castle agreement. It will then remain only for the Assembly to complete the necessary preliminaries and, notably, the selection of a Justice Minister by the Assembly on or before 12 April, and devolution will come into effect. At that point the devolved institutions will be able to focus without distractions on the important issues that are of concern to people across the community in Northern Ireland who fall within its responsibility. That includes the wide range of socio-economic issues that are already within the responsibility of the Assembly and the responsibilities of policing and justice which it will assume on 12 April.

There is great scope for the devolved institutions to develop their own approaches to protecting the public from crime and anti-social behaviour that suit the Northern Ireland context best. My ministerial colleagues have worked hard to achieve this, benefiting from discussion in this House and another place. With the devolution responsibility, opportunities open up to engage the Northern Ireland community further in the local development of the most appropriate solutions to their problems.

The political progress that lies behind the presentation of these orders has the potential to make Northern Ireland a profoundly better place. It is a triumph of politics. Of course there are those in Northern Ireland—although very few of them—who do not want to see politics succeed. They believe that they can bring about political change by violence and that they have the right to kill indiscriminately without the smallest vestige of popular support in the pursuit of their ambitions.

We have seen the appalling crimes that the dissident republicans are prepared to perpetrate. Following the murders of two soldiers and a policeman last year, they continue to try to kill entirely fruitlessly and to the horror of almost everyone in Northern Ireland. They have not succeeded in taking another human life since those appalling crimes, but we are mindful of the appalling injuries inflicted on Constable Peadar Heffron, and of the further acts of violence that they have perpetrated since. In the fight against the threat to democracy, we will be unstinting.

We have ensured that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has substantial extra resources this year and next specifically to take on the dissident threat, but it is the political agreement that we have seen on the way forward in Northern Ireland and the manifest public desire for politics to work, rather than violence to usurp its place, that will most dishearten the tiny group who still believe that some benefit can come from wrecked lives and a wrecked society.

The vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this month, which the orders before your Lordships today endorse, is a vote to unite in the face of the effort of the dissidents. It is a vote for Northern Ireland to put the years of the Troubles further behind it and to face squarely the challenges of the future. I commend these orders to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for a brilliant speech, brilliantly crafted and laid out on such a difficult, complex and wide subject. It was very clear and easy to understand and I thank her very much for that. As she made clear, these orders give effect to the agreement reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein at Hillsborough Castle on 5 February and to the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 March. Once these orders pass through your Lordships’ House, devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly will take place on 12 April. The last major element of the Belfast Agreement, made almost 12 years ago to the day, will have been completed. For the first time since the powers were taken away from the Northern Ireland Government in March 1972, Stormont will once again exercise powers over policing, criminal justice, the courts and local security issues.

Let me be clear: the Conservative Party has long supported, in principle, the devolution of policing and justice powers. We said this as far back as 1998, when I first began to represent Northern Ireland in your Lordships’ House for the Opposition. These powers are best exercised in Northern Ireland by politicians accountable to the electorate there, not by Ministers in your Lordships’ House or in the other place. That is why we supported the legislation this time last year, even though we believed that, with a little more time, it could have been improved. It is why my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, met the First and Deputy First Ministers in the autumn and rapidly pledged that, should we win the election, we would honour the substantial, post-dated financial package agreed by the Prime Minister.

We welcomed the Hillsborough Castle agreement, and my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition expressed his hope at the time that it would lead to the completion of devolution. At all times our overriding objective is a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all of its people have a shared future. Whether we remain in opposition or return to government in a few weeks, that is the approach that we shall continue to take, so we shall, of course, support the orders before the House today. However, there is also an important principle to consider relating to devolution.

Even if any noble Lords had misgivings over the vote on 9 March, they should remember that it represented the democratically expressed will of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Members of this House have no business seeking to frustrate that; it is how devolution works across the United Kingdom. Equally, we should be careful in this House when it comes to seeking to force parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly into voting in a particular way. Devolution is about locally elected politicians using their judgment to make decisions on devolved issues in the best interests of Northern Ireland. It is the role of Parliament to respect these democratic decisions and not to interfere. Of course we can all use our influence but, ultimately, votes in the Assembly are for the Northern Ireland parties represented there to decide.

As the House is aware, the vote on 9 March was, regrettably, not unanimous. My colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns over education and the working of the Executive as a genuine four-party coalition. Failure to deal satisfactorily with these prevented the Ulster Unionists from backing the Assembly vote, and the Government know well that my party—both I and the shadow Secretary of State—implored the Secretary of State to correct that situation during the negotiations.

The Ulster Unionists are not alone in expressing dismay at the lack of a genuine four-party coalition; the new leader of the SDLP made the same points in Washington last week. We hope that these outstanding issues can now be resolved in a spirit of genuine partnership and compromise in the working group at Stormont. We cannot go on with two of the coalition partners feeling excluded from key decisions. That runs counter to the inclusive nature on which the power-sharing institutions were established. In our view, it is vital that we return to a genuine four-party coalition, as set out in the Belfast agreement.

Once the devolution of policing and justice takes place next month, this will become more important than ever if the transfer is to take place in a stable political environment. The imperative for all elected representatives is to ensure that devolution works to deliver effective law and order for the entire community in Northern Ireland.

As the Secretary of State has acknowledged, the immediate priority is to deal with the threat of dissident republicans. In recent weeks and months they have increased their activities as they seek to bring death and destruction to Northern Ireland’s streets and drag us into the past. Barely a day goes by when the bomb squad is not called out. There have been the recent incidents in places like Keady, Newry and many others, and our thoughts are with Constable Heffron, who remains seriously ill in hospital today.

We share the hope that returning policing and justice powers to local politicians will lead to the increasing isolation of the dissidents. They offer the people of Ireland, north and south, absolutely nothing. But it will require the fullest support and backing of the police and the criminal justice system from everyone in our Parliaments and living in Northern Ireland. Following devolution, any lingering reluctance to co-operate with the police must be at an end. While we welcome the acts of decommissioning that have taken place in recent months, tackling loyalist criminality must also be a priority. It is not just paramilitary-related crime that concerns people in Northern Ireland; in many neighbourhoods it is the same issues that are far too commonplace on this side of the water—anti-social and yobbish behaviour, lack of respect and so-called “low-level crime” that blights people’s lives all the same. As the Executive take on these powers, there are a number of difficult challenges ahead.

In addition, the arrangements that are to be put in place after 12 April are interim. They expire in May 2012. There will need to be a clear focus on establishing a permanent system following the next Assembly elections.

We should also be clear today what we are not devolving to the new Justice Minister. He or she will not have the power to run the police, nor will they have the right to interfere with the judiciary. The PSNI will remain under the control and direction of the chief constable, who is primarily accountable to the Policing Board. Operational independence, as the Prime Minister said in response to my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition in February, remains vital and will be preserved.

Those with responsibility for the administration of justice are under a legal obligation to uphold the independence of the judiciary. These are absolutely cardinal principles for policing and justice throughout the United Kingdom. They must apply equally in Northern Ireland. We cannot tolerate any political interference in these matters.

The noble Baroness also mentioned that 50-50 policing had not yet been devolved. However, everybody here knows that there is an undertaking from the Government, which is agreed by my party, that it will end, come what may, the next time it is due for review. As far as the parades issue is concerned, she also said that there was more work to be done on that. We agree.

It is our sincere hope that with devolution complete politicians in the Assembly can begin to focus on the other issues that really matter to the people of Northern Ireland. While it is important to get policing and justice right, people on the ground are also concerned about issues such as jobs, health, tax, schools and social deprivation. The Assembly Executive must not let the Northern Ireland people down any more.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for introducing these orders. We very much welcome them and wish them well. The Liberal Democrats have long believed that policing and justice powers should be devolved to the Assembly, if and when it wanted such powers. It is a crucial element to devolution and it will be a significant achievement when the powers are indeed devolved in April as the agreement has set out. These orders are the next step in that process.

The Assembly voted earlier this month, as we know, by a cross-community vote to ask for the powers to be transferred from Westminster to Northern Ireland. That was a momentous occasion, as it is today, signifying a new era for the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. We are confident that the Assembly will rise to the challenge and show that it can deliver for all the people in Northern Ireland. Devolution of policing and justice will deliver an enhanced level of accountability to the people of Northern Ireland and allow more direct representation of their needs to the departments and agencies that are responsible for delivering the services and benefits that are part of justice and policing powers.

The orders represent the cementing of the peace process. This issue has represented innumerable challenges and difficulties for the political parties in Northern Ireland and the British and Irish Governments. It has taken almost 12 years from the signing of the Good Friday agreement to reach this point—a long and hard journey—where a crucial element of the devolution settlement has finally been put in place.

Once the powers contained in the orders have been transferred to the Assembly, I have no doubt that the Assembly will demonstrate that it is capable of taking responsibility for difficult decisions and will take those decisions in the best interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. The devolution of policing and justice is an opportunity for leadership and a chance to make a genuine contribution to Northern Ireland’s political growth and development by publicly demonstrating that Members of the Assembly have confidence in the abilities and stability of the devolved institutions, even when it comes to sensitive issues such as policing and justice.

On a more practical note, there needs to be joined-up government in Northern Ireland. One needs only to look at some of those who become entangled in the criminal justice system—those with drug problems or mental health issues, or with educational difficulties and speech and language problems—to see the interplay between the criminal justice system and wider societal problems. Those issues are simply not dealt with properly unless those sitting in the Executive in Northern Ireland are able to deal with the wider picture and have full responsibility for tackling those problems.

It is only right that, as on other issues, locally elected and accountable people will have the opportunity to influence and direct policy on policing and justice matters and to work with their colleagues in the Executive to bring coherence to policing and justice. Devolution will not be able to deliver in all the areas that it needs to until these powers are transferred.

Momentous as this debate in this House is today, what is important is what happens once these powers have been transferred to Northern Ireland and how the Assembly delivers on criminal justice for the people of Northern Ireland. The speeches in the Assembly during its debate on transferring policing and justice powers showed that Assembly Members themselves wanted to see better services for victims and witnesses; more visible policing on the streets; increased integrity in sentencing; better management and rehabilitation of offenders; and the prevention of offending and anti-social behaviour on the streets of Northern Ireland. That is what we all hope the Assembly will be able to achieve once it is taking decisions on these matters for itself. From these Benches, we wish all Assembly Members every bit of good luck in this challenge.

My Lords, just in case there is any doubt, I have been a lifelong devolutionist. I also had the privilege of being at the right hand of David Trimble—now the noble Lord, Lord Trimble—when he negotiated the Belfast agreement. I would be happy if Northern Ireland were confident and able to deal with devolved policing and justice. I would be ecstatic if Northern Ireland’s political machinations over the past three years had been based on honesty, openness, industry and integrity, but, sadly, that is not the case. Hence, today I want to put the record straight.

Today we have a Prime Minister and a Secretary of State—Shaun Woodward—who have chosen to ignore the centre ground of politics in Northern Ireland in favour of an exclusive carve-up of its future among two parties that are driven by years of mockery and exploitation of the people of Northern Ireland. Before anyone tells me that I should be celebrating the transformation of the DUP and Sinn Fein, let me spell out the inconsistencies of those two parties. The latter has, as we all know, murdered its way to power; it is led by murderers who not only will never be brought to justice in this life but will never be publicly examined. I have, by necessity, accepted that and sought to put the past behind me, as has the Ulster Unionist Party. But at the same time, every alleged mistake and misjudgment of police and military who were placed, ill prepared and ill equipped, between the killers and the vulnerable general public 40 years ago is still being judged against today’s background of comparative normality.

For 12 years—a political lifetime in new Labour parlance—we have been promised and waited for the Saville report, only to be given the impression over the past few days that we are not likely to hear any details until after the election. We will not hear about the £200 million-worth of millionaire lawyers that the initiators dare not reveal at the hustings. Against that, retired police officers, some now in their 80s, are still being held to their honour obligations in relation to events up to 30 years past. There are no millionaires there—they are lucky, while their retirement has been held to ransom, if they get lunch expenses for their time.

There is not much point in going into the history of the DUP, which brought down the Sunningdale agreement in 1974, when Sinn Fein did not even exist as a political party and we could have dealt with people such as the late Lord Fitt. The same DUP mimicked the Red Berets at their King’s Hall rally, misled the unionist electorate with lies about the danger of the Belfast agreement and then proceeded to undermine it, weaken it and remove its safeguards at St Andrews and through its recent Hillsborough aberration.

Why has it been necessary for me to recount these destructive realities from the past? It is quite simply because Shaun Woodward has pandered to the baser instincts of these very people with £800 million of blood money. Let me try to understand that vast sum that the Secretary of State threatened to deny policing and justice unless a deal were done. Was this money actually needed for policing and justice? If so, was the Secretary of State telling us that he was prepared to leave the people of Northern Ireland at the mercy of dissident IRA and criminal gangs? Was this a bribe: “I will create a little trough into which you can stick your snouts”? When one sees what has gone on over the past eight or nine years—not least the wheeling and dealing of the past few days—I suppose that anything is possible. Or was it blackmail: “Secretary of State, we will do anything, but you will want to pay us”? It has to be one of those three, unless, of course, the Minister is minded to admit that it was simply the mindless arrogance of Shaun Woodward. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, described him last week as the worst Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the past 11 years. Well, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was very wrong: Shaun Woodward has been the worst Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for the past 38 years and it is against that background that I evaluate his policing and justice debacle.

Before I leave the £800 million mystery money, let us remember that Northern Ireland has been asked to make over £400 million-worth of savings this year, with £113 million being deducted from health and social care, which is already underfunded by up to £600 million compared to England. The DUP and Sinn Fein are no better than Shaun Woodward at understanding and controlling public finances. The wastage in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister alone is staggering. It has 400 staff, which is more than Downing Street. There are four separate ministerial private offices and eight advisers. The recent opinion poll commissioned by the same office cost upwards of £40,000. This figure alone would have paid for an extra four heart operations or seven hip replacements.

Moreover, opinion polls are not the flavour of the month. The Secretary of State spent the equivalent of one heart operation plus one hip replacement on his own creation—his own loaded question—to deliberately mislead the public in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords should listen to the question. It reads:

“I believe we should transfer policing and justice powers to Stormont”—

that would have been all right, but it goes on—

“so that the Executive can get on with the job of improving life for everyone in Northern Ireland”.

Is that a loaded question? Yes, just as loaded and heartless as trailing a poor, grieving widow out on the first anniversary of her husband’s murder to make a personal appeal. How cynical can the Northern Ireland Office be?

Let me now move to the state of policing and justice that the Assembly will inherit. We have a Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland that could not win the Omagh bombing prosecution, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, from this House, won a civil case based on the same incident. The Public Prosecution Service could not win the McCartney murder case, despite dozens of witnesses. This was the same Public Prosecution Service that would not prosecute the Thomas Devlin murder until the persistence of the family and the public forced it to do so, when a verdict of guilty against the two defendants was obtained after the victim’s families were put through hell. That is the same for most trials where few if any serious crimes are brought to court inside a period of two and a half to three years. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Forty-four thousand police files go annually to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland. Justice is regularly delayed. Is it any wonder that we have a high rate of recidivism? It is similar with policing. Just this weekend a major police operation was fired on by dissidents without fire being returned. Despite more than half a dozen dissident murders in the past year or thereabouts, not a single shot has been returned. In one case, the police, having dissident gunmen in their sights, were congratulated on withdrawing from the scene. What are we getting into?

I know from long, personal experience at the coal face that no one from the Assembly is equipped to provide what policing and justice require in Northern Ireland. Paul Goggins, despite the hindrance of the Northern Ireland Office, has made a valiant effort, but there is no one in the Northern Ireland Assembly who would know a gun from slingshot or who has any practical knowledge of youth justice, the probation service, prisons, courts or any of the complex aspects of what has to be undertaken. Not only that, but the agreed, negotiated d’Hondt system has to be corrupted for a Minister of Justice to be appointed. Not an iota of planning and preparation has been achieved. No one in your Lordships’ House who has served our country in uniform will be other than shocked that not a single command or infrastructural provision has been decided on, let alone established. One might as well put David Ford, an agreeable man against whom I have no prejudice whatsoever, into a rocket aimed at the moon and expect him to come back.

For the right reasons but with the wrong approach, we are heading for disaster. That is progress, or so I am meant to believe. If I look depressed, that is only half of what I feel.

My Lords, there is a saying in Northern Ireland that if you have to say something, say nothing. This is the time to say very little, so I will therefore be brief. It is easy to raise emotions in Northern Ireland because although there is an agreement it is by no means an assurance of a long-term settlement.

I was Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, working with the police. The devolved Parliament at that time had its own Attorney-General. That was the position of the Ulster Unionist Party at that time: devolution, control of policing and control of the judicial system. Then we had direct rule and all that was lost, including the then Parliament at Stormont. Indeed, when I was Minister of Home Affairs I was shot 10 times in my body by republican terrorists. However, we have moved on. This is not the time to talk about red berets or anything else but to look forward, we hope to a new horizon in Northern Ireland. It deserves a chance.

When asked recently about the devolution of policing and the judicial system, Mr Gerry Adams said, “Oh, yes, we must get it. We must get it out of the hands of the British. We have never had that in Northern Ireland”. Once again, Mr Adams showed his lack of knowledge of history. We had it for 50 years, from 1921 to 1972. All we are asking for now is to have it returned to the devolved institution at Stormont. That is what we negotiated—David Trimble and I, supported by my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, and the present leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Sir Reg Empey. This is one of the things we achieved in the Belfast agreement. The legislation before us is simply a fulfilment of what was requested at Easter 1998. Therefore, I welcome the orders that have been presented to the House. However, I want to make one or two small points in relation to them.

First, I firmly agree with the idea of the 50/50 enrolment into the Police Service of Northern Ireland being retained in our national Parliament. That should not be a devolved matter. Secondly, as regards property being transferred, I notice that the address of the independent commission—that is not its full name—is not given. Does it not have any property, or is it intended that we should withhold from the public the address of the property that it occupies? All the addresses of all the other properties are listed but not this one. I should like to know the reason why no address is given. In relation to the transfer of property, I am astonished to see that Stormont House is not being devolved. We have three Stormonts in Northern Ireland: the Parliament Buildings at Stormont; Stormont Castle, where the Northern Ireland Office is based; and, of course, Stormont House. Stormont House was always part of the devolved institution at Stormont. It was, in fact, the home of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament. As he had long distances to travel every day, perhaps from Londonderry or from Fermanagh, a home was provided for him. When we got direct rule, the then Government of Mr Heath stole Stormont House and took it over. I would have expected it to be transferred, on the completion of devolution, back to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The one thing that I am delighted about is that the whole question of policing and justice is now being transferred to Stormont. That was the traditional position of the Ulster Unionist Party throughout 50 years. When we got direct rule in 1972, the then Prime Minister—the late Brian Faulkner—resigned, which brought about the collapse of devolution in Northern Ireland. He said that there was no sense carrying on governing Northern Ireland if policing and justice were not devolved. When Mr Heath decided to take those powers away from Northern Ireland, it brought about the collapse of devolution. Devolution will collapse once again if we do not get those powers back to Stormont. That is what we are trying to achieve today.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, is right in one respect. There are problems with the Northern Ireland Executive. They are making little progress. The whole question of secondary education in Northern Ireland has not moved for a year under this Executive. The whole question of the reform of local government is static—nothing is happening. There is a possibility that if the Executive do not start producing results for the people of Northern Ireland, they will lose credibility and will collapse once again. But let us give Northern Ireland a chance. Let us see whether they can deliver. If they do not, regrettably, we could refer back to direct rule.

My final point relates to one of the issues that arose in the debates about the transfer of security and policing in Northern Ireland over the past few weeks. What really worried some of us was what would happen if law and order in Northern Ireland collapsed yet again. You cannot rule out that possibility. There is progress and we welcome it, but not everyone wants progress. There are those who are still trying to bring about the collapse of law and order. Certainly, policing in the Newry and South Armagh areas leaves much to be desired. There were recent incidents at Newry court house and one this weekend when rugby supporters could not travel to Dublin because terrorists had blocked the railway line. What happened? There was a suggested bomb. We do not know whether it was a real bomb. The police went to look at it. They had no cover and they were shot at and had to retreat. This is what is happening on the ground, so be warned. What we are deciding today is taking a risk. It is a risk worth taking but it does not guarantee utopia.

The one thing that worried many of us before we finally came down in favour of the devolution of policing and justice was the question of what happens if the civil authority in Northern Ireland yet again fails to control law and order and requires the aid of the military. There was discussion in Ulster broadcast on BBC radio. The Sinn Fein member on the panel was challenged, “Would you, if you had justice and policing transferred to Stormont, call to your aid the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom?” His answer was scary. “We are republicans. Our job is to get the British out of Northern Ireland, not to call them back in”. That damaged support for devolution of policing and justice among many people in Northern Ireland because they do not want to be in a position where they could not call on the Army to support the police should there be a collapse in law and order. So I ask the Leader of the House to confirm that, if there is a collapse of law and order, it is a matter for the Chief Constable of the PSNI to take directly to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and that the Army would come to our aid on the advice of the Secretary of State for Defence so that any Minister for policing or justice under this new legislation would not have to be consulted or make the decision about whether the Army comes to the aid of the civil power in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, we have heard in the speeches that we have just listened to praise for what has been achieved and genuine concerns about how it has been arrived at. Personally, thinking back over the years of my professional life, I have no doubt that this House needs to send out a loud and clear message that, in terms of politics, this is a historic day for the people of Northern Ireland. I think back to the numerous funerals that I have conducted for policemen, members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and civilians, and to the numerous police and Army families whom I have attempted to comfort.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for mentioning two names in the run-up to what has been achieved—Albert Reynolds and John Major. I am firmly convinced from having been involved in the preparation of the Downing Street Declaration all those years ago that it was a turning point in the political progress that has brought today about. I pay tribute to those two men. Sometimes history judges them ill when they deserve more. I pay tribute to successive Secretaries of State, not least those who sit in your Lordships’ House. I pay tribute to the people, not the politicians alone, in their homes, their work, their streets and their fields, who over the past 30 years have borne the brunt of our disturbances, our troubles and our suffering.

It would be wrong today to minimise what those who have expressed concerns have said about how today has been reached in political terms. I share the wishes of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that today should mark a point at which healing can take place and that there can be a greater sense of unity in trying to incorporate all political parties in the way ahead. As I said on this subject on a previous occasion, this is a chance to rejoice in political achievement, but political achievement is only part of reconciliation. The real battle, the real challenge and the real problem for Northern Ireland, its Assembly and its people are the hearts and minds of its people. You cannot legislate for reconciliation. You cannot compel people to be reconciled. You can set in place the structure that will make it more encouraging and more possible. We need to send out a message to the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly that they have the good will of this House and of Parliament as they attempt to take on this new dawn that devolution means in political terms.

Members of your Lordships’ House who, like me, come from Northern Ireland have been closely involved over the years with what I have described as the suffering of the darkness. We need to recognise the reality of today. To reach this point in political terms has called for great courage by politicians. That is not to dispute the reservations that our noble friend Lord Maginnis expressed, which have to be faced up to and tackled. However, as the Leader of the House and others have said, many, many people have contributed to bring this day about and today is a day when we say: let us be thankful and let us have the faith and courage to move forward.

My Lords, perhaps I may first make it abundantly clear that my party, the Ulster Unionist Party, is not and never has been against the transfer of policing and justice back to Stormont. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, pointed out, in March 1972 the Ulster Unionist Party led by Prime Minister Brian Faulkner could not accept the removal of policing and justice, which was why the Stormont Parliament was prorogued.

As the shadow Secretary of State mentioned in another place yesterday, the Ulster Unionist Party had a number of genuine and legitimate concerns about the workings of the Executive as a proper four-party coalition. We were not alone in our frustration. The other party that has Ministers, the SDLP, has similarly expressed dismay at being excluded from the decision-making process. Our current position is that policing and justice are too serious an issue to be transferred to an Assembly and especially an Executive who to date have not shown themselves to be qualified to take on this hugely important responsibility.

While I recognise that the secret deals of some and the perhaps naive good will of others will bring about the devolution of policing and justice, I cannot understand the means by which the Government have gone about the task. I have spoken to members of the PSNI, members of the Policing Board and others in the legal profession without anyone being able to tell me what the structure of the proposed new arrangements will be. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, that planning and preparation should be the essential, fundamental element in this exercise, yet we have seen no evidence that the structures and channels of command and responsibility are in place.

While we speak of policing and justice in generic terms, it is surely not beyond the realisation of this Government that we have an inefficient Public Prosecution Service, a Prison Service whose members are screaming to have governors replaced and a police service that has yet to establish an effective working relationship with MI5. I am concerned that whereas the Garda Siochana in the Republic appears able to deal effectively with the dissident IRA—catching, charging and sending its members to prison—we do not seem to have similar success in Northern Ireland. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to play around with promises or, indeed, threats regarding the £800 million, but we do not know exactly for what that considerable sum is intended.

Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Assembly has to date been clearly dysfunctional—with little evidence of corporate responsibility among Ministers, the Executive having been suspended for nearly six months and an Education Minister who is clearly sectarian in her attitude to state education. To date, there has been not a single discussion or even a single word spoken between the Executive members as to how these powers will be executed.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister exactly what safeguards have been considered and whether they will be implemented before 12 April. Will she explain exactly what will happen on 12 April if the dissident IRA launches a co-ordinated attack on human and economic targets? Surely these issues have been decided. If not, I fear that we are embarking on an ill conceived plan as far as command and control are concerned.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for introducing these orders. I declare an interest as the Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the constituency of East Belfast. I welcome the tabling of this Motion and hope that these orders and associated regulations will become law with minimum delay.

As the House has heard, when the former Northern Ireland Parliament was prorogued in 1972 the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Brian Faulkner, rightly expressed the view that government without policing and justice powers was not worth having at all. These powers were a necessary attribute of government then and remain so today.

For many years my party has been committed to achieving an agreed administrative structure that would facilitate the return of policing and justice powers to a local assembly and I am firmly convinced that the necessary conditions for such a transfer have now been met. First, the commitment by Sinn Fein to give its support to the police, the courts and the rule of law as a condition of its entry into government is of great significance, particularly since it has given practical effect to this commitment by playing a role as members of the Policing Board and district policing partnerships. Secondly, the order incorporates clear safeguards against political interference in policing and judicial decisions. The chief constable will continue to enjoy operational independence and the Public Prosecution Service and judiciary will remain entirely free of political influence. As a result, the whole community in Northern Ireland, and in particular the unionist electorate, can have full confidence that the impartiality of the police and judiciary will not be compromised.

In these circumstances, the return of these natural governmental functions to locally elected and locally accountable politicians seems an eminently logical step. For this reason it is surprising to say the least that not all Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly saw fit to support our prayer for a change in the relevant legislation. In particular, the unwavering opposition of the Ulster Unionist Party is frankly baffling. Members of that party supported the devolution of policing and justice powers in 2003 when neither of the conditions that I have described had been met. Moreover, the leader of that party has reaffirmed his support in principle for the transfer of powers but bases his opposition on an assertion that the Executive are dysfunctional. Clearly his opposition, far from facilitating more efficient functioning, is likely to promote exactly the opposite outcome. It is indeed significant that the last Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs, the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, has questioned the rationale for the Ulster Unionist stance. All things considered, one might be forgiven for concluding that it may have its origin in seeking merely party political advantage.

I wholeheartedly welcome the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly and look forward to the continued development of administrative structures that command the support and allegiance of all sections of the community. Therefore, I very much welcome these orders.

My Lords, I support the three orders that have been laid before your Lordships’ House and so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, earlier in our proceedings.

I say to my noble friend Lord Maginnis that it is now 25 years since I first visited him in his constituency in Fermanagh and South Tyrone when I was a spokesman in another place. I had huge admiration for him then which continues to this day. The trenchant, no-nonsense fashion in which he speaks is not to be ignored in your Lordships’ House, and I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames: he represents an opinion that is held in the north of Ireland, and one to which we should listen with some care. For instance, he said that there is great disaffection with the Public Prosecution Service. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, has supported that view and we should certainly take it into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, also said that justice delayed is justice denied. He was in fact quoting Mr Gladstone, who said precisely that. Maybe it is worth recalling that it was the same Mr Gladstone who, after the Home Rule Bill was defeated in your Lordships’ House more than a century ago, mused that the one and only conspicuous failure of our political genius had been the failure to achieve a political solution in Northern Ireland. Although recent events serve to remind us that there are still paramilitary forces in Northern Ireland which would like to destroy political progress, it will surely be said of these past 15 years that British and Irish politicians and civil servants at last deployed their considerable genius in trying to find a peaceful way out of the mire. Again, I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who said it is a historic day for Northern Ireland and we should rejoice in political achievement.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s I regularly spoke in another place on Northern Ireland issues. Indeed, my maiden speech in 1979 was made in the immediate aftermath of the tragic murder of Airey Neave in the precincts of the House by the INLA. I remarked that day that:

“The bullet can never replace the ballot in a free society”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/1979; col. 1222.]

Although the INLA has now renounced violence, it will take many more years for memories to heal. My maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in 1997 returned to the importance of finding a political strategy for ending decades of violence. I said that a way forward could never be based on anything which implied a victory for either side and suggested that:

“An end to this catalogue of violence remains the elusive prize which will reward the patience and perseverance of those constructively engaged in the present negotiations”.—[Official Report, 22/10/1997; col.773.]

The orders before your Lordships’ House today will enable the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland through the transfer of policing and justice powers to Stormont, exactly as my noble friend Lord Kilclooney said a few minutes ago. In turn, they give effect to the historic vote at Stormont on 9 March. That is a considerable tribute to the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach, the Secretary of State and Minister of State and their opposite numbers in Dublin, and most crucially to the First Minister and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Tribute should also be paid, as others have done, to Sir John Major, Mr Tony Blair, Albert Reynolds, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, who is in his seat today, and all those who have invested so heavily in creating this constructive way forward.

This has not been an easy time for the right honourable Member for East Belfast, Mr Peter Robinson, the First Minister. We both entered the Commons 30 years ago, and I have watched with admiration as he has grappled with the complexities posed by a devolved, power-sharing assembly. Speaking in yesterday's debate in another place, he said that,

“zero-sum politics—sectarian politics—drag Northern Ireland down and back. We must recognise that it is possible to find a way forward in Northern Ireland that is a win-win solution, and that it is possible to have agreements on how we move forward in Northern Ireland that attracts the support of both Nationalist and Unionists. The devolution of policing and justice is such an issue. For 100 years, Unionists' policy has been to have devolved powers over policing and justice”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 70.]

He was also right to support the view of the honourable Member for Foyle, Mark Durkan, who spoke on behalf of the SDLP of not making the perfect the enemy of the good. He said that in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere:

“We cannot make perfection a precondition for progress”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 54.]

I agree with that view and believe that it builds constructively on the fine work undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, his noble friend Lord Kilclooney, Mr John Hume and many others who have been involved in the process. Yesterday's vote made it a historic day in another place, because the debate there saw the swan songs of two significant figures in Northern Ireland's affairs. I will mention them briefly before concluding my remarks.

The honourable Member for South Staffordshire, Sir Patrick Cormack, has played a remarkable role as chairman of the Northern Ireland Select Committee. I know that Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House who have followed these issues over the years will want to pay tribute to him for his patient and constructive role in bringing about this political achievement.

I particularly want to mention the Reverend Ian Paisley, the Member of Parliament for North Antrim. He spoke yesterday in another place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said how moved she had been to hear his words. These were some of those words:

“The day has come when Northern Ireland must boldly face the simple facts. There are people in Northern Ireland who have diverse religious and political convictions, but they can live together as neighbours. When I was a boy, there was more neighbourliness than we have seen for many years. Something entered the hearts of the people that destroyed the reverence for neighbourliness and kindliness. The Ulster people are not a hard people: they are a loving and caring people. I am glad that there is no disturbance in the House today. We are meeting here in calm and peace, because that calm and peace is slowly but surely being established in Northern Ireland. We are making progress in the right direction”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 67.]

I pay tribute to the right honourable Member. I always believed that he could become the catalyst for change in Northern Ireland. We offer him and the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley, who is in her seat today, our good wishes for their future.

Devolution brings with it many opportunities and laurels. The £800 million of extra resources have been mentioned. All but £26 million—2 per cent—of the Northern Ireland Office's current baseline budget will transfer to the Northern Ireland Executive, as will the entire Northern Ireland Court Service baseline budget. That is a huge responsibility, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, but it is also a huge opportunity. Secondly, there will be a more effective and integrated Executive. Thirdly, there will be consolidation of the political infrastructure of Northern Ireland. Fourthly, a message will be sent to dissident elements that progress is made via dialogue and political action, not by murdering police officers or killing your neighbours.

The legacy of the past 40 years in Northern Ireland is almost 3,000 unsolved murders. The families of the victims of those terrible atrocities will want to hear an assurance that the passing of these orders will underline, and not in any way minimise, the importance of ensuring that those responsible are held to account. I welcome the renunciation of violence that so many have made, but they must also understand that justice is not a process by which the past is forgotten. I have never subscribed to the view that we should simply forgive and forget. No one can forgive on behalf of others. It is better to forgive and remember, for if we too easily forget what has gone before, the sacrifices and the gains will be placed in jeopardy.

I have some brief questions for the Minister. First, how will these orders affect the Policing Board's relationship with the chief constable and the Department of Justice? Is she confident that the impartiality and operational independence of the chief constable will not be compromised? That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran.

Secondly, what progress is being made on the draft Bill on parades and how will the consultation process work? Thirdly, is there a date for the publication of the Saville inquiry's report? What provision will be made in your Lordships’ House to debate its findings? My fourth point concerns the intelligence agencies and was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Mr Mark Durkan raised what he called the,

“dangerous twilight zone that exists in relation to the interface between national security, the regional policing interest and the full accountability of devolution”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/10; col. 52.]

Can the Minister describe what role Parliament will have in these matters? Will Northern Ireland Members of your Lordships’ House be offered seats on Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee?

Fifthly and finally, I turn to the sunset clause. The Prime Minister has said that these orders represent an end to decades of strife. Would it not have been better, therefore, to dispense with a sunset clause—to be applied in May 2012—and which could open up these wounds all over again?

These orders are not perfect, but they are a victory for common sense. In a period of political turbulence, Northern Ireland needs a sense of stability. At a time when the public have a low view of politicians, it is good to be reminded of what coherent and dedicated political engagement can achieve. Other troubled parts of the world regularly look to Northern Ireland for encouragement as they seek to resolve their difficulties and conflicts. I hope that, as the years pass, the wonderful people of Northern Ireland will be able to show us how they used their genius to solve what had eluded us for so long.

My Lords, I rise briefly to thank the noble Baroness for introducing the orders and to congratulate her on her good fortune—which she deserves because of the benign interest that she has shown in the affairs of Northern Ireland in the period that she has been leading this House—in being able to bring forward such important and positive legislation.

I will speak to only one point at the heart of her initial speech. Other noble Lords have also referred to it. It is the issue of the independence of the chief constable. It may seem a technical difficulty with the new arrangements, but it is a very real one. Mr Peter Smith QC, a member of the Patten commission, and Mr Alex Attwood of the SDLP, have in recent months been in the van of the argument for police reform in Northern Ireland. When one recalls that in recent months they have raised issues about the new protocols, and concerns about whether the independence of the chief constable will be preserved, one realises that there is an issue here.

In particular, there is a political issue that no Government can resolve, namely the need for Sinn Fein to present the devolution of policing and justice as, in Mr Adams's words, a staging post towards a united Ireland. That might seem rather a strained way of viewing the replacement of Mr Paul Goggins of New Labour by Mr Ford of the Alliance Party. It seems a grand interpretation of what looks like a relatively small political event, but none the less that language is out there and it conditions the debate. There is nothing that the Government can do about that. However, there are fundamentally crucial new technical questions that arise from these new arrangements.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency will remain responsible to London, not to the devolved institutions. So will the intelligence services in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness referred to the issue in her opening remarks as the interface. Very helpfully, she pointed out that where technical difficulties of competence arise, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will have a role. That is very reassuring to the many Members of this House who have enormous respect for the acumen that the noble Lord brings to these issues.

None the less, there will be problems. I will give one simple example of a crowd scene and a riot in Northern Ireland. There surely will be another riot in Northern Ireland some day soon. The chief constable will have a responsibility to deal with the aftermath in public with the Minister of Justice. However, let us say there is a shooting in the crowd and terrorists are involved. There will be issues of terrorist activity, of intercepts in relation to that activity, and of the role of the intelligence services. It is a very clear cut example of the ways in which we now have a very messy situation to which, at this point, no one has answers. The two things are caught up—the responsibility of the chief constable for national security and the responsibility of the chief constable to the local devolved institutions in Northern Ireland.

It is for that reason that I repeat a point which the noble Baroness has listened to many times and patiently responded to many times regarding the Government’s support for the independence of the chief constable. I ask her to do so one more time if only because, given the difficult times ahead, it cannot be put on the record too often. With the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I also ask about the parliamentary scrutiny of these new issues as they arise. A new space of contestation has been created and the chief constable faces a new difficulty; he will have to face towards two different authorities in his operation, and the job becomes that much more difficult. We must do everything possible to help the chief constable carry out his duties professionally.

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I welcome this day and I welcome the devolution of powers for policing and justice to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I pay tribute to all those who have worked over the years to secure this, and in so doing I pay tribute to people with whom I would have had very little sympathy. I pay tribute to those who have moved the republican movement from what it called the armed struggle to what we have now. I also acknowledge the pain and suffering of all those who have suffered at the hands of actors of the state who have behaved as they should not have behaved. We have had reference already to the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, and to the fact that the report of that inquiry will be delayed. I do not think that I can say any more about the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, now, but I will in future.

For the past 12 years many people have played politics with our peace and our security in Northern Ireland. As we speak that continues, and the sectarianism continues. Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein is prepared to allow the application of the d’Hondt principles to provide a Justice Minister. The parties that occupy the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister will not allow it and the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, which sits outside, is not allowed to hold the office of Jusitce Minister. They are therefore determined that they will elect the leader of the Alliance Party to this ministry. In so doing they are electing someone who has publicly said that the Saville inquiry is pointless. The Saville inquiry was established by the British Government to establish exactly what happened on that terrible day in Derry. That causes me great concern about the proposed Minister for Justice’s understanding of matters of justice.

I should, however, like to address the substance of my remarks to the issue of national security. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, has already referred to the fact that the chief constable will effectively face a dual responsibility to the Justice Minister and to the Home Secretary. I want to say a word about national security because, in Northern Ireland terms, “national security” refers only to the activities of republican terrorists and not to the activities of other terrorists who are active in Northern Ireland and who emanate, if you like, from Northern Ireland.

Previous experience has shown that terrorists who were working in both republican and loyalist communities were recruited as informants to the intelligence services and particularly to the Special Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That led to the situation in which intelligence informants were able to engage in the most serious of crimes without being made amenable for those crimes. Those crimes included murder, attempted murder, arson, kidnapping, extortion, and all the things that go on under the cloak of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. It is said that it is necessary for informants to be engaged in crime so that they can produce information for the security and policing services. To a degree, that is undoubtedly true; they will be closer to those who are engaged in serious crime. However, the reality is that the United Kingdom has serious controls over the activities of informants and that those controls were not observed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary during all those years.

The introduction of a surveillance commissioner, in an attempt to regulate the process of informant handling and management, was a welcome development. However, what happened in Northern Ireland continued to happen notwithstanding the role of the surveillance commissioner, who was unable to identify what was happening in the situation. In essence he could not identify the level of criminality in which those informants were involved, and he accepted the assertion that they were not currently involved in crime—which I was told by a police officer meant “at this moment they are not committing a crime”. This was misleading the surveillance commissioner.

Primacy has now moved to MI5, where many former Special Branch officers are employed. It is vital that in the exercise of his functions the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, will be more effective than the surveillance commissioner was in managing these issues. Lessons must be learned not only from the successes of the Royal Ulster Constabulary but also from the failures of that organisation.

I want to say something about the £800 million which I think needs to be said. The £800 million reflects the amount needed to make justice and policing in some measure fit for purpose in Northern Ireland. Over the decades many compromises have been made in the management of policing, justice and the prisons. It has left us with a situation in which we have many unresolved problems, several of which have been referred to today—the dysfunction in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the serious dysfunction in the Prison Service, and many other problems which arise in the operation of our probation service and things like that. There will be significant challenges for the new Ministry of Justice, but there will also be significant challenges for each of us as we seek to give our consent and our support to the activities of that ministry. There can be no more further playing politics in these matters.

I hope that as we move forward all the people of Northern Ireland will do all they can to assist not only in the resolution of today's problems as they are caused by the dissident republicans, but also in the resolution of yesterday's problems and the significant pain that still exists—the pain of those from all parts of the community who have suffered murder and the pain of those whose loved ones were disappeared by the IRA. I call on all those—obviously not noble Lords—who have any information about the whereabouts of the disappeared. More have disappeared than are formally acknowledged to have been disappeared. I call on people to give this information so that others can lay their loved ones to rest.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the contributions to today's debate—in many ways an historic debate. As ever, the contributions have been helpful, constructive and largely supportive.

First, however, my excellent Bill team tells me that when I spoke of the Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010, I suggested that it establishes the Northern Ireland Court Service whereas, of course, it abolishes it. I thought it terribly important to put that on the record.

This will be the last opportunity that we have in this House to debate substantive policing and justice matters before those matters are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 12 April. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have made an enormous contribution to the political process in Northern Ireland—and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, is in his place. That spirit of co-operation has been entirely in evidence today as we celebrate the completion of the process of devolution to the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the noble Lord, Lord Bew, suggested, I am indeed fortunate to be in a position to move the orders today.

I shall now deal with many of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, spoke of the vote on 9 March and rightly emphasised that this was the democratic will of the elected representatives of Northern Ireland. I note the views that the noble Lord expressed, but it is now time to move on in that spirit of co-operation and partnership that he suggested and to which other noble Lords have alluded.

The noble Lord said he hoped that the outstanding issues could be resolved in an inclusive manner with a four-party coalition. I know that that is a matter of concern for many noble Lords. I entirely agree that there are a number of issues which still require resolution, and this is recognised by the Northern Ireland parties themselves, two of which are represented here today. That is why the Hillsborough Castle agreement made provision for a number of working groups to look at the working of the Executive and other outstanding issues. I am sure that we all welcome the fact that Sir Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie are chairing one of these groups, and we all look forward to the outcomes.

I recognise that it is a difficult process, but these people are all now involved in the process, and we should celebrate that. However, I acknowledge the frustrations voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. Concerns have been expressed by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, about the capacity and workings of the Northern Ireland Executive. However, I believe that with the working party looking into these matters, and the fact that all the powers have now been devolved, the Executive can now really focus its attention, without distraction, on the issues which are perhaps of most importance to the people of Northern Ireland today—issues such as education.

We need to have a clear focus on 2012. The parties have demonstrated their willingness and desire to make devolution work and their ability to work together to overcome difficult issues. There is work to be done before 1 May 2012, but I am optimistic, as I am sure most noble Lords are, that this work can and will be taken forward in a spirit of co-operation.

Several noble Lords have spoken of security issues. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, were right to point out that there will be problems. New technical questions will arise with this new process. However, the fact that in the protocol we have details of how the national security interface will work is helpful, and the position of the independent reviewer, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is key. He will help the people of Northern Ireland to work through the various problems.

Many noble Lords have spoken about the chief constable and the judiciary and the importance of their independence. I fully endorse the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Browne of Belmont, on the independence of the chief constable and the judiciary. The fundamental principle that the police are impartial and free from political control is enshrined in legislation and was underlined in the Good Friday agreement and the Patten report. We wholly endorse the principle of judicial independence in Northern Ireland as well as in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is recognised in statute and it will be underpinned by the concordat by the Northern Ireland Executive and the other bodies.

On the reporting of the chief constable, he is operationally responsible but accountable to the Secretary of State in respect of those of his functions which touch on national security. As for his other functions, he of course reports to the Policing Board. I hope that that is clear.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, asked what would happen if there was a request for military support, should circumstances change. As I said, the chief constable has operational responsibility and operational independence, and it would therefore be for him to decide whether military support was required. The accountability for operational matters is to the Policing Board, and on operational matters he has primacy.

The clarification I asked for was on the suggestion that in some way the new Minister of Justice in the devolved institution of Stormont would be consulted or have some say in the decision. Can it be clarified that, if a situation develops in Northern Ireland and the civil authority requires the support of the Army, the chief constable will go directly to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who will then consult with the Secretary of State for Defence, and that the Minister of Justice in the devolved institution will not be involved in that decision?

My Lords, the best thing I can do is to quote what the chief constable recently said:

“The decision to request military support would obviously require detailed discussions with the Policing Board, and I would not do it without raising the issues with the Minister of Justice because I think it is appropriate to do that. I work as an operational chief constable in a democracy, in a tripartite system between a Minister of Justice, a Policing Board and myself, and that is entirely appropriate”.

Those are his words.

I regret that decision. It is the decision of the chief constable, and not of the Government. This is a very serious matter, because you could have a Minister of Justice from Sinn Fein, and as they have already said there is no way in which they want to bring back the British Army into Northern Ireland on an operational basis. Their job is to get rid of the British Army, not to bring it back.

I understand the seriousness of this issue and the concern expressed by the noble Lord. Going back to the quotation, the chief constable has said that he would not do it without raising the issues with the Minister of Justice, but I do not think that that would necessarily bind him. He has operational independence, so if he felt that it was necessary to seek assistance from the security services or from the Army, I am confident that he would do so without being bound by the views of the Minister of Justice.

My Lords, I have not yet spoken but want to ask one question on that. When the military were operating in Northern Ireland, there was legislation which enabled them to do so. Therefore, if the chief constable wishes to bring them back in anything other than bomb disposal, there would need to be legislation. Therefore, the chief constable could surely not do it off his own bat.

Before I respond to that I will await some advice from the Box, because it is such an important issue. I will return to it shortly if I may. The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, asked what would happen on 12 April if dissident republicans launched an attack on civilian targets. In the event of such attacks, the police and security agencies will of course respond accordingly. National security will remain an excepted matter, as we have said many times, and the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will continue to be answerable here, in Parliament, for arrangements for safeguarding national security.

The noble Viscount asked whether legislation would be necessary to enable the military to operate. Legislation is already in place in the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007.

I rather liked the description by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, of the devolution of policing and justice as the cementing of the peace process. As she said, it is indeed an opportunity for leadership in the Assembly and in Northern Ireland. Several noble Lords have lamented the lack of leadership in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I suggest that the time has come for leadership.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, expressed many trenchant views, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that I heed the views of the noble Lord. I do not think that the noble Lord would wish or expect me to address directly his remarks about my noble friends. The important thing is that we have reached an agreement, and it is now time to look to the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, said, and to the fulfilment of the Belfast agreement.

The noble Lord made various remarks about the £800 million that is being made available in the context of devolution. I respect his views, but I think that the people of Northern Ireland will be very happy to have that generous amount of money to assist them in the transformation in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, mentioned the Saville report. I note their views, but I refer them to yesterday’s Written Ministerial Statement on the report’s publication.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response so far, but she has brushed over the fact that the Secretary of State threatened to take away the £800 million. No one will be unhappy about money coming to Northern Ireland, but we all need to know whether the Secretary of State was prepared to deny this money to the people of Northern Ireland. Was it bribery, or was it blackmail? A straightforward answer would be helpful.

My Lords, I think most noble Lords would agree that it was neither bribery nor blackmail. The Prime Minister reached agreement last October that that amount of money would go to Northern Ireland to ensure that policing and justice could be devolved appropriately and that the people of Northern Ireland had the requisite money for that. It was neither bribery, nor blackmail; it was part of an agreement.

The noble Lord also spoke of the failures of the PPS in higher profile cases. Of overarching importance is the need for a defendant to receive a fair trial. The difficulties in the trials which he mentioned are not exclusive to Northern Ireland; similar difficulties arise in England and Wales.

The noble Baroness said that perhaps the appointment of the Justice Minister was the result of playing politics with a piece of Northern Ireland. As we all know, the Justice Minister will be nominated by a Member of the Assembly and elected on a cross-community vote, which reflects the November 2008 agreement between the First and Deputy First Ministers that was endorsed by the AERC in its January 2009 report.

The noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, raised the interesting issue of the address of the Independent Monitoring Commission and Stormont House. I understand that there were security considerations. In any event, the address is not necessary in the drafting of the order. Stormont House is currently the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Office in Belfast, and it will continue to be so after the devolution of policing and justice. My right honourable friend needs a base in Belfast for the functions that he will continue to perform. The devolved Administration will control almost all the premises on the Stormont estate.

I repeat that there are three different Stormonts: the Stormont parliament building, Stormont Castle and Stormont House. Stormont Castle is the base of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. Stormont House was the base of the Speaker of the devolved institution at Stormont, and should revert to being that under devolution to Stormont.

Yes, my Lords. I hear what the noble Lord says. My noble friend said that it is a bit like the Pugin Room. It probably is.

Stormont Castle is not the base of the Secretary of State; Stormont House is. Therefore, we can conclude that the Secretary of State will retain Stormont House but not Stormont Castle. Have I got that wrong? Oh God.

Stormont Castle is the base of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Stormont House is temporarily used by him, but it was always the home of the Speaker of the Northern Ireland parliament. Under devolution it should go back to where it was.

Perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to point out to the noble Lord that, while I was First Minister, I had the pleasure of operating from an office in Stormont Castle.

Indeed, my Lords. I will swiftly move on. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked for an update on parading. As we know, the agreement at Hillsborough outlined a route map to finding and implementing a new and improved framework for regulating and adjudicating on parading. A working group was established that has brought forward proposals, and the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will bring forward for consultation later this month a draft Bill that seeks to implement those agreed outcomes. The Bill will be introduced to the Assembly in the autumn.

The noble Lord asked about the security and intelligence agencies and the interface with the role of Parliament. The Security Service remains accountable to Parliament through existing oversight arrangements that were established under the Security Service Act 1989, the Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Three groups of commissioners oversee current work in Northern Ireland: the intelligence services commissioner, the interception of communications commissioner and the surveillance commissioner. The Intelligence and Security Committee will continue to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the security and intelligence agencies and to report to Parliament. The Secretary of State remains responsible for national security issues, and the public can raise issues with representatives in this House and in the other place.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. She will recall that one of my questions was whether it might be possible, as part of the accountability process, for Members of your Lordships’ House from Northern Ireland to serve on that committee and to entrench the relationship between Parliament and the overseeing of intelligence issues in Northern Ireland.

I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House, if I may.

The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, spoke about informants who were involved in crime. The security and intelligence agencies do not sanction the activities of any informants in criminal activities.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of the sunset clause. As set out in the Northern Ireland Act 2009, the Department of Justice will dissolve on 1 May, unless the Assembly has resolved on a cross-community basis to continue the current model for appointing the Justice Minister, or passed an act to put in place alternative arrangements. When Parliament passed this legislation in March 2009, it was aware that these arrangements reflected the agreement between the First and Deputy First Ministers that the arrangement set out in their November 2008 statement should be time-limited to come to an end in May 2012. Work is clearly needed to agree the post-2012 arrangements, but the parties, both at Hillsborough Castle and more recently, have demonstrated their willingness and desire to make devolution work, as well as their ability to work together to overcome difficult issues.

The vote in the Assembly on 9 March marked a watershed moment for Northern Ireland. The noble and right reverend Lord is right when he says that this is an historic day. That was an historic agreement, and I wholeheartedly endorse his comments on reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I commend him for his work on this issue.

Throughout the political process, the Government have been clear that responsibility for policing and justice matters should properly lie with the Northern Ireland Assembly. We have maintained that those politicians making decisions on policing and justice matters in Northern Ireland should be directly accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. We have also maintained, however, that the Assembly should only take on those responsibilities when it decided that it was ready to do so. When the Assembly decided on 9 March that it was ready to take on those responsibilities, it was clear that the political process in Northern Ireland had matured.

The transfer of powers which will take place on 12 April will mark another watershed. From 12 April, the Assembly will be able to completely focus on those issues which affect the people of Northern Ireland on a day-to-day basis. Jobs, health, investment, education, and now law and order will be in the hands of locally accountable politicians. This can only benefit the people of Northern Ireland, and it can only help to secure the political stability that we have worked so hard to achieve. I think we should rejoice today, and I am delighted to commend the Motion.

Motion agreed.

Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Amendment of Schedule 3) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

That the draft order laid before the House on 10 March be approved.

Relevant Document: 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Northern Ireland Court Service (Abolition and Transfer of Functions) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010

Motion to Approve

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

That the draft order laid before the House on 10 March be approved.

Relevant Document: 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion agreed.

Energy Bill

Second Reading

Moved By

My Lords, of the many challenges that we face, few can be more significant or more urgent than tackling climate change while maintaining secure energy supplies. The warming of the global climate is unequivocal and the role of human activities in the observed changes is now more apparent than ever. There is no doubt that climate change remains the biggest global threat to mankind. That is why the UK introduced a statutory target of an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and backed this up with a system of legally binding carbon budgets to help us to achieve that target.

The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, published in July last year, sets out measures to deliver carbon emission cuts of 18 per cent on 2008 levels by 2020. As we transition to a low-carbon future, we need to ensure secure energy supplies. This means ensuring a supportive climate for the substantial new investment needed to bring forward the new infrastructure required for a low-carbon future. It means maximising the potential of our remaining oil and gas resources while ensuring that we have a variety of options for importing the fossil fuels that we will need during the transition. It means delivering the low-carbon trinity of renewables, nuclear and clean coal, all three of which are needed if we are to achieve our overall emissions reduction targets.

Last year we published our renewable energy strategy, setting out the path for us to meet our legally binding target to ensure that 15 per cent of our energy comes from renewable sources by 2020. The Office for Nuclear Development is taking active steps to establish and cement the right framework and conditions in the UK for investment in new nuclear with the aim of having new nuclear power stations generating electricity from around 2018. To promote the development and deployment of clean coal, we have committed to one of the most ambitious demonstration programmes in the world and have taken the unprecedented step for a coal-dependent country of saying no new coal without CCS.

The energy markets continue to have a critical role to play in delivering this transition to a low-carbon future. However, left to their own devices they would not bring forward the necessary investment that we need. We need a robust framework that will deliver on investment but also deliver a fair deal for consumers.

This Energy Bill sets out measures in three key areas that are central to the task that we face: delivering investment in clean coal technology; delivering a mandatory requirement to provide help with energy bills to more of the most vulnerable; and delivering a more robust framework for consumer protection.

The first part of the Bill mainly relates to the new carbon capture and storage incentive. Coal is the fuel with the highest carbon emissions but it is also a low-cost and reliable fuel for power generation with abundant remaining reserves. Clean coal, as part of the trinity of low-carbon energy, will provide diversity and flexibility in our energy mix. However, for clean coal to take its place in our long-term energy mix, we need to demonstrate at a commercial level the technologies required to capture, transport and store the carbon emissions created by coal-fired power stations.

Clauses 1 to 4 provide the framework, through a new CCS incentive, to deliver financial support for our commitment to deliver four commercial-scale CCS demonstration projects on coal-fired power stations. These projects will encompass both pre-combustion and post-combustion capture technologies. The framework will also allow, should it be needed, support to be provided for the retrofit of CCS to the remaining unabated capacity of these projects. The funding will be raised by a new levy on electricity supplies used solely to support these CCS demonstration projects. The collection of the levy and the payment of the incentive to the projects will be administered by Ofgem. The selection of projects, however, will be carried out by the Government.

The second part of the Bill focuses on tackling fuel poverty through helping more of the most vulnerable with their energy bills. There are three main factors in fuel poverty: household income, energy prices and energy efficiency. We are taking action on all three of them. To help household incomes, winter fuel and cold weather payments are currently at their highest levels since introduction. To help householders to improve their energy efficiency, we have ensured, through policies such as CERT and Warm Front, that 7.5 million homes have received loft or cavity wall insulation since 2002. The Warm Homes, Greener Homes strategy, which was launched on 2 March, announced our intention to ensure that all households are able to benefit from loft and cavity wall insulation by 2015, where practical, and to offer up to 7 million eco-upgrades by 2020.

Clauses 9 to 15 introduce a framework for mandatory social price support to tackle the third factor: energy prices. The current voluntary agreement between the Government and energy companies has provided support to over 1 million customer accounts in the first year alone. The provisions in the Bill will build on this agreement, allowing the Government to require energy suppliers to help more of the most vulnerable consumers with their energy bills.

In last year’s Pre-Budget Report, we announced that suppliers would collectively be required to spend £300 million per year on social price support by 2013-14. This is double the amount that they have agreed to spend in the final year of the voluntary agreement. The powers in the Bill will also allow us to give greater direction on the types of household that are eligible for support and ensure that more of the available resources are targeted at those households that are most in need. Ofgem will monitor the operation of the scheme and energy suppliers’ compliance with it.

It is fundamental to the policy that suppliers’ contributions are proportionate to their market share. This will ensure that no supplier is disadvantaged by having a higher number of households eligible for support and therefore that vulnerable customers do not become unattractive to those suppliers. Clauses 11 and 12 provide the Government with the power to set up a reconciliation mechanism to allow the costs of a mandatory social price scheme to be distributed fairly between energy suppliers.

The third part of the Bill will protect consumers through improved regulation of the energy markets. Although Ofgem’s principal objective remains the protection of the interests of existing and future consumers, Clauses 16 and 17 clarify that these interests include the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the delivery of secure energy supplies. It is important that Ofgem makes decisions within a framework that protects the interests of consumers in the widest sense.

These clauses also clarify that, while the promotion of competition remains the foundation of consumer protection in the long term, the regulator should also take steps proactively to protect the consumer interest. In essence, the Bill makes it clear that, where consumer interests are threatened, Ofgem must consider measures other than the promotion of competition in order to rectify the situation. Such measures might include more stringent enforcement of existing licence conditions or the introduction of new licence obligations.

Clauses 18 to 23 introduce a market power licence condition. This will allow Ofgem to tackle situations specific to the electricity balancing market, where companies may take advantage of constrained electricity capacity. It is targeted to eliminate those circumstances in which the licence holder might use market power to obtain excessive benefits by unduly exploiting balancing arrangements with National Grid, the system operator. The costs of this exploitation are ultimately passed on to the consumer. This measure is subject to a sunset clause, which means that this licence condition can be in place for a maximum of seven years. We believe that this is sufficient, as the lack of transmission capacity, which is the root cause of this type of market exploitation, should be resolved by ongoing upgrades to the transmission system. We expect these upgrades to be completed by 2018.

Clause 24 extends the time limit within which Ofgem can impose financial penalties on energy suppliers for a breach of licence conditions from 12 months to five years. This will enhance Ofgem’s ability to protect consumer interests by ensuring that in future it is able to address more cases where licensees may have breached licence conditions and to take appropriate enforcement action.

Clauses 26 to 29 give the Government the power to adjust charges for gas and electricity in situations where energy suppliers treat certain customers less favourably than others according to the type of energy supplied. An example is where electricity-only customers are paying significantly higher prices than dual-fuel customers for which there is no justification in cost differentials. The Government already have similar powers to tackle such situations in the gas and electricity markets separately, but they cannot currently address situations where consumers are being disadvantaged through cross-subsidies. We have no immediate intention of using these powers, as Ofgem introduced a new licence condition last September to tackle this type of consumer detriment. However, it is important to have the power to tackle all situations where consumers are disadvantaged in case Ofgem cannot take appropriate action.

This Bill was the subject of detailed scrutiny in the other place. Following discussions during its Committee stage, several amendments were proposed and accepted. Through this, the scope of the CCS incentive was extended to allow it to be used to support the demonstration of CCS on gas-fired power should this be required in the future. However, I must make it clear that it remains our intention to deliver four demonstration projects on coal-fired power stations as our first priority. A new requirement was also introduced for the Government to report every three years, starting in 2012, on progress towards the decarbonisation of the electricity sector. These reports will set out progress in the decarbonisation of coal-fired power stations and progress in the development and use of CCS technology.

We have taken powers to allow the Government to set the period within which energy companies must inform customers of changes to their gas and electricity tariffs. This period is currently set at 65 working days, a length of time that is clearly unacceptable. Ofgem has committed to addressing the issue and will publish a consultation before Easter. In the event that Ofgem encounters difficulties, it is important that the Government have the ability to step in and remedy the situation. This power will be in place for only three years, as our intention will be to take action at the earliest possible opportunity and certainly before three years have passed.

Taking the measures in this Energy Bill together, we believe that they will play an important part in achieving our transition to a low-carbon economy. They will help to reduce our carbon emissions, to secure our energy markets and to provide support to the most vulnerable consumers in our society. I commend the Bill to the House and I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill. As far as it goes, we welcome it. Most of what is in the Bill is long overdue and I do not think that it would have caused us too much trouble even if we were to have had sufficient time to discuss it in detail in Committee. I am naturally pleased to see the two meaningful concessions that were extracted from the Government in another place by my honourable friends Greg Clark and Charles Hendry.

What would have engaged our interest in this Bill is what is not included. This is a common complaint against Labour’s energy policy. It took years before Labour faced up to the energy crisis that was developing under it and even now it is proceeding too timidly to address the issue successfully.

It is no surprise that, at Second Reading in another place, the debate barely touched on what was in the Bill and instead involved Labour Back-Benchers quizzing my honourable friends on the Conservative energy policy. I am glad to say to any noble Lords in this House who share that interest that we recently published a strategy paper and a detailed Green Paper setting out the urgent actions that we would implement if we were fortunate enough to win in the imminent election.

Unfortunately, there is a complete lack of any corresponding policy from the Front Bench opposite. As far as I can see, Labour’s energy policy has, over the years, moved from lack of interest to outright denial and, finally, in the past couple of years, to the sort of dithering that we have come to expect when major decisions have become unavoidable.

It is clear that our country and our people, especially the disadvantaged, have been failed by Labour over energy, according to its own targets. The most vulnerable people are being expected to wait even longer to hear how Labour would ensure that they will be able to afford to heat their homes. Our businesses, too, which are already suffering from a great recession because of the mismanagement of the economy, are given nothing to indicate under what conditions they are expected to make the necessary long-term investment. The City hesitates because this Bill gives no certainty to anyone.

However, finally we have some measures before us that allow for the subsidy of carbon capture and storage. That is to be welcomed, but there is no detail on how the levy will be imposed and no criteria for how the money will be spent. This Government, who have accepted, at the final hour, that CCS needs some sort of government subsidy, appear determined to leave all questions on the subject to be answered by the next Government. Noble Lords may rest assured that, if the next Government are Conservative, it will not be long before those questions are answered. Within six months, we will set out how the EPS will be introduced. Without such a standard, the money raised by this levy could be frittered away with no result, as the Government have done with the revenue from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme instead of contributing to a secure, sustainable energy supply.

On energy security, the Government, despite the Minister’s valiant recent efforts in the still relatively new department of DECC, which brought him and me together, have again failed to come forward with what is needed. There is nothing in the Bill about gas storage, despite Labour’s acknowledgment that we have totally inadequate facilities for this country’s needs. On fuel poverty, we have the same inadequate provisions. Of course, we welcome what is here, in Part 2 of the Bill. Given that the Government have failed to meet their own targets on fuel poverty, these clauses are now very necessary, but it is disappointing that, despite a few recent indications that Labour is finally starting to listen to us on the importance of energy efficiency, there is nothing to introduce a genuine green deal for households. The Government’s plans for a pilot scheme covering 500 households are pitiful in comparison to the promises that we have made in this area in our document, which I hope all noble Lords will read.

Indeed, the Bill says very little about the day-to-day experience of the consumer. The Government conceded a point in another place about information on pricing changes. However, without the necessary detail in Part 1 about whom the levy will be imposed on and without a genuine engagement with households in Part 2 on how to reduce and manage their energy requirements, consumers appear to be left holding all the costs of the necessary investment with no guarantees regarding the benefits that they might expect to receive.

Much of the public’s scepticism about green investment could be addressed with proper transparency around energy pricing and subsidy. When newspapers report the record profits made by energy suppliers while households struggle to meet their bills, it is critical that every household can feel confident that it is, at least, on the most appropriate tariff for its needs. With the baffling complexity of Labour’s subsidy mechanisms causing problems even for the experts, the consumer must be informed of the amount of money that he or she is paying into this sector.

It is understandable why Labour is so hesitant to introduce such transparency. It has achieved so little in its time in government that there would be a public outcry if it were better appreciated how much taxpayer money has been wasted. Labour refuses to commit to an emissions performance standard, making it uncertain that investment will bear any better results in the future and, unsurprisingly, it refuses to give consumers the necessary means to see the consequences themselves.

As far as the Bill goes, we welcome it, as what is in it is long overdue. However, so little will be achieved through it that it is obvious that it will be the new Government to whom we must look to do the rest for a secure energy future, for our industry and for our national security.

My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who made what I thought was a very good, Guardian-style speech, upbraiding the Government for their general conservatism in this area. I noted, from reading the Committee and Report stage debates in the Commons on the Bill, that there was a degree of Conservative backsliding by a number of her colleagues. The revival of climate-change scepticism is there on the Conservative Benches—in both Chambers, indeed—as well as Euroscepticism. I hope that the noble Baroness’s excellent speech demonstrates that the Conservative leadership, at least, is standing up to what a number of American writers now call the politics of irrationality in the Republican Party, to which the Conservative Party is sometimes tempted to bend.

This is a modest Bill and we are grateful for small mercies, but we do not see it as being up to the scale of the challenge which we face. Our party has also put out its proposals for sustainable growth and a move towards a sustainable economy, in which we shift the balance away from centralisation and privatisation towards a much more decentralised system with an emphasis on small-scale generation, insulation, local schemes and integrated schemes wherever possible, as against the Government’s emphasis on centralised coal and centralised nuclear—coal which is, I note, incidentally, more and more imported coal. Indeed, as I work my allotment in Saltaire, the Settle-Carlisle railway line brings imported coal down to Yorkshire power stations from Cumbrian ports. It is not, any longer, local coal; it is part of our energy dependence. The whole question of carbon capture and storage is not so much a matter of increasing our energy security, but making sure that the South African and Polish coal which we import does not add to the pollution above our land.

I welcome the demonstration project which Yorkshire has now managed to secure from the European Union and notice that the European Union, in awarding that to Hatfield, mentioned that part of the attraction of the demonstration project is, indeed, that it has the potential to be part of a much broader scheme for carbon capture and storage across Yorkshire. I drove with my wife from Lincoln over to Saltaire this summer and I was very struck, as we passed across the south Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire plain, to see, against the skyline, a succession of huge coal power stations and their heating towers. You no longer see anything in the way of wind-power generation. There are the remnants of a large number of windmills, but nimbyism and the absence of long-term planning have inhibited the sort of renewable energy that we should be pursuing across that large chunk of northern England.

We think that the Government should move a great deal further into what we call wind and wave. Indeed, as I walk up and down the Yorkshire Dales, I regularly pass the Grassington weir with its derelict power station, from which Grassington generated all the town’s electricity 60 or 70 years ago. I am conscious that we have all this unused potential small-scale water power in Yorkshire, which the Government have made very little effort to encourage. We now have one demonstration project, in Settle, so if we are looking for ways and means to move Britain towards renewable energy—local biomass, local water and so on—there is a great deal more that could be done.

Feed-in tariffs have been very slow to be developed. It is now some 25 years since I was on holiday with my family in Brittany and we stayed on a farm, the water mill of which was already feeding locally-generated power into the French power system. Along with the Conservatives, we strongly support the proposal for an emissions performance standard and, indeed, on Report in the other place, we moved, with cross-party support, an amendment for an emissions performance standard which was to apply to all new electricity generation plant as a clear restriction on the amount of carbon dioxide that any new electricity generation plant can emit. That narrowly failed to pass in the other place. No doubt there will be discussions among the parties in this Chamber as to how far we wish to add that to the Bill. I look forward to those discussions.

My party has larger ambitions on sustainable growth and in moving to a more sustainable economy. We want to see emissions reduced and we want a reduction in energy dependence and thus, incidentally, in our very substantial trade deficit. We look to new employment in new industries and to signals to the market which encourage everyone to invest in the reduction of carbon emissions. I noted with some puzzlement the statement in the analytical annexe to the low carbon paper that an oil price of $150 per barrel would help to reduce the costs of transition. There are a lot of other things that an oil price of $150 per barrel would not help, including the international politics of the Middle East and of Russia. There are lots of other ways of achieving a similar result, including an emissions performance standard, so, from these Benches, we give a lukewarm welcome—a lukewarm front, we might say—for the modest step forward contained in the Bill.

My Lords, I am sorry that I am not going to be able to keep up the party banter that has so far characterised this debate. I am grateful for the way that the Bill proposes to sort out several issues relating to our future energy sources and needs and the way that they are handled. I am particularly interested in the first part of the Bill, which proposes this financial assistance for constructing up to four UK carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. I wish we could have gone down this road a lot sooner; indeed, some experts have been saying for several years, since the original White Paper, that we already know that CCS works and do not need any more demonstration projects so we should just get on with it.

There is another parallel possibility, though, which we should be aiming at, and I confess that I am a little surprised that it is not contained here. I hope that the Government will be prepared to give it serious consideration, if possible, within the future shaping of this Bill. If not, this is something that we need to put down as a marker for the future.

I refer, as I have done before in your Lordships’ House, to the challenging prospect of underground coal gasification, UCG for short. Gasification plants as such were promised as long ago as 2003 but, like their promised contents, they seem to have turned merely into hot air. The challenge of underground gasification, though referred to here several times, seems never to have been seriously considered. It is time that it was. We need clean-coal technology, along with renewables and nuclear, and this could be right at the heart of that.

I stress the context of this proposal. Obviously we need different energy sources such as renewables and nuclear. That has got to be done, but it is probably not enough. Our own existing coal stocks, though, as has been mentioned, are massive and now largely unexploited. Those who know tell me that there is a lot more coal under my county, County Durham, than was ever dug out; indeed, some estimates put it at 75 per cent or even over 90 per cent. According to the British Geological Survey, there could be enough still down there to supply the energy needs of this country for 300 years.

I should declare a belated and second-hand interest: the mineral rights in County Durham used to belong to my predecessors, the Bishops of Durham, but, after the demise of nationalisation, those rights have now reverted to the Church Commissioners, to whom were granted—unwisely, in my view—stewardship of the ancient episcopal assets. We have all this coal and yet, despite that, we are importing nearly 50 million tonnes of coal per annum from, as has been said, Poland, South Africa, Russia—

From the United States, and elsewhere. It does not take genius to see that there is something wrong with this picture. I thought that this Bill could have been the place where that nettle was grasped. What is to be done? Open-cast digging can be successful on a relatively small scale and in a short timeframe, and can sometimes work for the long-term good of some bits of land, but when practised on the massive scale that we have seen recently in parts of the north-east it causes major environmental damage. In any case, it is impossible for the considerable seams of coal that are under the North Sea—you cannot dig there—and even when you have got it out you are still left with the challenge of clean use. The alternative of deep mining, the old-fashioned sort, even with the technology that would now be available, is still a dangerous business and the disposal of waste remains a problem.

I suspect—this is not a party point; it covers all bases—that we have seen nothing done now for 20 years because the appalling social cost of the miners’ strike in the 1980s has meant that successive Governments have not wanted to go anywhere near the use of our own coal resources; it would scare everyone silly. However, quite apart from the long-term social deprivation still suffered by many of the old mining communities—I know that there have been wonderful regeneration projects, but the deprivation levels remain shocking; I was visiting some of the old mining towns the weekend before last and it is still appalling that people are living in those conditions—to ignore our existing energy resources because of the bad social experiences of a previous generation looks like cutting off our nose to spite our face.

The other wider reason for pursuing better uses of existing resources is the urgent need in other parts of the world, China and India being the obvious examples, to develop the appropriate technologies. If we could develop that technology ourselves and then export it, we would not only profit ourselves but be in a position to help other countries meet their future carbon needs as well.

The particular irony of all this is that two of the universities in my region, Newcastle and Durham, have been working on precisely this UCG technology. They should now be given the chance and, equally importantly, the funding to develop pilot projects to show what can be done. If with this Bill we can set up four CCS demonstration projects, why should we not also set up four or more underground gasification projects?

This proposal is not new. As long ago as April 2003, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, spoke about possible collaboration with the USA’s FutureGen project and advocated gasification projects, but nothing has been done. There have been more recent exchanges as well.

The questions pile up, and perhaps they could be addressed in the present Bill: what has happened to all those projects that have been talked and written about and had initial research done on? Why did they need foreign investment—in one case, Russian money? When the Government pour billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into projects that many taxpayers oppose, why should the future use of our energy resources be dependent on individual entrepreneurs backed by foreign investors? Of course, nobody wants to go back to the spiralling costs of the past when the public purse was treated, so to speak, as a bottomless pit in its own right, but at a time when other Governments, like Germany’s, have been heavily subsidising their coal industries, why should our Government not take a lead in investing in the future use of our own resources, for the benefit of our own communities?

Setting up and installing gasification is, obviously, expensive, but it does not put at risk human lives or the countryside and it does not pollute the atmosphere. When the real costs of not doing it are taken into account—continuing to import foreign coal, the CCS technology on the surface, the communities that were dependent on coal and are still suffering—there is a very strong case for proceeding.

I raised these and similar questions in your Lordships’ House in January 2007 and followed them up with a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. In his reply to me of 13 March 2007, he spoke at length in his inimitable style of the present energy policy, and agreed that the DTI’s old Cleaner Fossil Fuels programme had carried out an assessment of UCG. This showed, he said, that UCG had advanced to a stage where it was economically comparable with conventional mining. But, he went on, it would need to be deployed in combination with CCS to make any significant contribution to carbon abatement. I am not an expert, but I suspect that those who are would challenge that statement. In any case, the question is how to use our own resources. The UK strategy, said the noble Lord, did not see UCG as a specific technology to pursue but intended to keep a watching brief on it. Well, we have been watching this brief for many years now and nothing has happened. It is time to get on with it.

Without knowing the details, it is hard to comment on the noble Lord’s further statement that the joining fee for the FutureGen project was not thought to be a cost-effective use of public funds, but, when the future use of our own resources is at stake, a strong case can and should be made for it. I and many others around the old mining areas would greatly welcome it if the present Bill could eventually include this kind of project.

As may be obvious, I am neither an industrialist nor an economist. However, I live in the midst of a proud but somewhat battered old mining community, which still believes doggedly that the coal under its land ought to be used, and used wisely, not least to provide fresh employment. My predecessor but one, David Jenkins, known to many noble Lords, famously stood by the mining communities in the 1980s. My predecessor of a century of more ago, BF Westcott, actually settled the miners’ strike in the mid-1890s, including, in a remarkable exercise of episcopal power, sending a messenger to the railway station late in the negotiations, telling them to hold the London train because his Lordship had not yet finished his work. Sadly, I no longer have that power, nor indeed the mineral rights themselves, but I stand with and speak on behalf of the region that I love and serve when I express the hope that the Bill might include proposals for the future use of our own resources and of all available technologies, and that the UCG option, already being developed in the universities of the region, should now be given a chance to prove itself in action.

My Lords, in some ways I am tempted by what the right reverend Prelate says. For 26 years I represented mining communities of a similar character to those in Durham. In the first instance, it would be difficult now to recruit men to go down the shafts to do the preparatory work for UCG. It is also the case that one of the casualties of the privatisation of the coal industry was the laboratories of old British coal, which probably had centred in them more expertise and inventive researchers than any other body in the world. When we talk, as we will this evening, of carbon capture and storage, as the man asking the way to Cork was told, “We would not start from here”.

I welcome this Bill. It has been chastised as being modest. I think it is one of a succession of steps that the Labour Government have taken up a learning curve that some of us wished they had moved up a little more quickly. However, the emphasis in the Bill on carbon capture and storage, the alleviation of fuel poverty in a limited way, and also consideration of the powers of Ofgem are all welcome.

I do not want to say too much on carbon capture and storage. We know that the technologies are limited at present. Operations are around 30 megawatts and they need to be in the order of 400 megawatts to make them comparable to at least one of the turbines of any major power station. The UK is not alone in pursuing this technology. There are companies presently generating electricity in the United Kingdom from gas-fired power stations; E.ON and RWE in Germany have quite interesting and important research work going on. South Korea, India, China and the United States, and to a lesser extent Japan, are all engaged in research work of this nature.

We have to guard against the presumption that the provision of public funds by the United Kingdom Government will in itself produce a solution; that we will somehow have a bullet painted not silver but red, white and blue that will somehow solve the problems of carbon capture and storage. It is an industry that we hope will take off and even the Government’s modest, but not unrealistic, ambitions say it will be at the earliest 2020 or 2022 for the first stage and perhaps 2025 for a bolt-on development. If that is the case, it will be seven to 10 years beyond the large plant directive which will make coal burning and some aspects of gas burning very expensive if there is an interim period before this new technology comes in.

I am not negative about CCS. I want it to work but I recognise that we have to be careful and not over- enthuse about it. On the front page of this morning’s Scotsman spokesmen for the Scottish National Party were saying that they are confident that 500 jobs a month will be created in green technologies in Scotland alone over the next 10 years. God knows how they are going to do that but I leave that to others to work out. There are a number of research laboratories across the United Kingdom and institutions have been mentioned already—the bright ideas bank has many borrowers at the moment. I am not sure how much of it will actually deliver the kind of returns that we would want. I certainly wish the Government well.

I have argued that when we are going to have competition it should be limited. Now we are not really having competition of the same order but we are going to have a bet on CCS, there are a number of other countries that might beat us to the punch. However, it is worth being there not necessarily because it will make a dramatic impact on UK generation but rather because it will give us an opportunity to sell our wares elsewhere in the world where they are of greater significance. One obviously thinks first of India and China, both of which have people of talent equal to our own and probably working twice as hard as we are. I do not mean any disrespect to the people we have in the United Kingdom, but it is a fact that they have so many people whom they can put to it.

I spoke about fuel poverty in the Queen’s Speech debate in anticipation of this Bill but I think it bears repetition to a small extent. This Bill formalises the social tariff which will enable a number of poorer people to be given some assistance by clever use of Government data. We will see the alleviation to an extent of fuel poverty for a number of pensioners over 70 who are currently on pension credit. I speak here as the vice-president of National Energy Action and the president of its Scottish equivalent, Energy Action Scotland. They have provided compelling figures which suggest that the £80 that is going to be available for pensioners over 70 on pension credit could be made available to other groups of vulnerable households. The groups have been quite clearly indicated in the winter payment arrangements—households where there is disability, severe disability, a disabled child, higher pensioners, households with children under five and households receiving child tax credit.

In this context, there are some 4.1 million households: 2.7 million of them are covered by pension credit; 1.4 million are affected by disability and the other groupings previously mentioned. It would currently cost in the order of £320 million to pay the individuals. That would account for something like £13 a household. Currently we consumers are paying some £84 per household for environmental ROCs and other forms of assistance and subsidy. For a relatively modest amount of money we could do a lot for other vulnerable groupings. Some noble Lords may well have received letters from Macmillan Cancer Support containing quite disturbing statistics about the number of people who are not in receipt of benefit and are suffering from cancer and deserve support. I was quite shocked— I did not appreciate the extent of such disadvantage.

In the summer consultations which the Government are required to fulfil under the legislation, I would hope that some of these specific cases that I outlined, and in particular the cancer sufferers, will be given some kind of assistance. I am not one of those who will go out of my way to criticise the Government for what they have done about fuel poverty because in a number of respects they have worked very hard to deal with households and with individual circumstances. The problem is that energy prices have oscillated in such a bizarre and unkind way over the past five or six years, in circumstances beyond the control of the British Government. The Government deserve credit but it must be extremely frustrating when we see that so many of these matters are now beyond the control and capability of the national Government. Indeed, it has to be said that the European Union is coming towards some kind of regulatory understanding. I would not use the word “regime”. There are efforts being made but, sadly, they are probably not going to be capable of assistance. Therefore more and more will be dependent on the use of the social security system and the inventive use of statistical information now available to the Government following the legislation allowing information on pensions and other social security benefits to be switched from one department to another.

I also welcome the extension and the refining of some of Ofgem’s roles. I have often felt that Ofgem as a regulator left a bit to be desired. When we discussed the NPS statement there was a certain degree of impatience, uncharacteristic impatience, in the Minister’s views about certain views expressed by the Ofgem.

This Bill is fairly modest and could be handled quickly before an election. However, I would like to think that after the election we would look afresh at the regulation of energy. After 10 to 12 years we have gone from the adventure playground of the free marketers, the Hobart House brigade over at the Institute of Economic Affairs—people whom I, as a student in the 1960s, thought represented the dark side of the moon. They were given virtually complete control of energy pricing and regulation. A number of them, engaging intellectually though they may have been, failed the British consumer and the economy on energy pricing.

If we are to review the role of Ofgem post the general election, the people opposite have to recognise the sort of things we have to look at. We have to consider security of supply and whether it should be the responsibility of the state to have the appropriate places in which to store the gas we need. We do not have enough at the moment; we do not need as much as the French and the Germans because we have rather a large store in the North Sea. Nevertheless, we need an enhanced amount. An example of market failure has been the inability of energy companies to bend their minds to this issue. They have not dealt with it adequately. As chairman of a Select Committee in another place, I banged on for years about having better storage facilities for LNG and the like.

We will have an opportunity to do something post the election, regardless of who wins—and noble Lords know who I want to win. A Government of any complexion must look at energy security, the role of regulation and the role of the state. There is a case, in light of the market failure over the past 20 years, for which I am not castigating only the present Government—the previous ones were just as culpable.

This is a relatively modest piece of legislation which goes quite a way to meet concerns a number of us have on specific issues, and I am happy to give it my support. I would like to think that the Government will be concerned about fuel poverty as well as about the poverty of ambition regarding some of the objectives that we could achieve. If there is one reason above all others for having another Labour Government, it is that nothing I have heard from the Benches opposite suggests that they are as ambitious or as capable of dealing with these matters as my noble friend.

My Lords, I am prepared to enter into a bet that the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, has not in fact read the paper to which my noble friend on the Front Bench referred. If he has, and he still believes what he has just said, then perhaps he can stand up and say so. If he has not read it, he should not criticise my party’s policy.

I would call the noble Lord a friend personally, although politically I regard him as an enemy. He has this capacity for banging old drums or flogging old horses. This was last week’s speech. I have had the opportunity to read this paper and I do not regard it as a Green Paper. I repeat what I said earlier about this idea that somehow a party in opposition can produce White and Green Papers. It should win the election first and then produce them. As far as I am concerned, the policies of the party opposite still have a long way to go. I remember the poverty of the noble Lord’s ideas when he was Energy Minister; he has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing.

I do not propose to take lessons from the noble Lord on how to win elections.

I listened with fascination to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I remember the exchanges we had at Question Time in 2007 to which he referred. I continue to get, through various blogs, all sorts of information about what is going on out there on the underground gasification of coal. Like him, I am astonished that there seems to be so little official interest in this. One of the things I remember from our earlier exchanges is that his miners do not want to go underground again. Underground gasification of coal is the way to exploit those energy resources, without the kind of problems which faced miners going underground.

A Second Reading debate is a temptation to embark on a tour d’horizon of energy policy across the board. After all, we have now had three hard-hitting reports, all of which have claimed, with some justification and much force, that the Government’s energy policy is failing. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Minister’s favourite regulator, Ofgem, have all demanded that there has to be a much more structured and clear policy for energy in this country. The House will be relieved to know that I shall resist the temptation, partly because we were engaged in nearly 12 hours of debate in Grand Committee on the national policy statements, but mainly because it would not be appropriate at this hour. All I will say is that the Bill makes precious little progress towards that kind of reform of energy policy which this country so desperately needs.

Unlike most of the other speakers in this debate so far, I am going to talk about the Bill, which contains two issues that need to be examined. The first is carbon capture and storage. Again, we discussed this at some length on 11 March in Grand Committee. The Bill creates the mechanism by which the demonstration projects—I believe that they are still called that—will be financed. However, it is a sad story of dither and delay.

As my noble friend on the Front Bench said, we do not know about these schemes of assistance. Everything will be set out in regulations, of which we have not yet seen any drafts, and there is no estimate of cost. What we have got in the past few days—indeed, since the last time the Minister addressed us in Grand Committee—is an indication of some of the companies that may be taking part in this competition. From the press release issued by the department on 17 March, we know that Scottish Power, with its project at Longannet, is certainly one of them and that Scottish and Southern at Ferrybridge in Yorkshire may be another. Then there is the E.ON project at Kingsnorth in Kent. Some of these are described as having got to the stage of front-end engineering studies. I am not quite sure what that means, but it does not sound very well advanced.

The most alarming statement I have seen recently was in a very well informed article in the Guardian. It said that there was a competition for contenders and that,

“no winner will be announced until next year”.

Has the Guardian journalist got it right? Is it true that we will not know anything until next year, 2011? Perhaps the Minister will be able to give us an answer.

Part 2 of the Bill covers schemes for reducing fuel poverty. I, too, agree with every other speaker that this is a very important part of the Bill. However, I have some questions and have given the Minister notice that I wish to raise them. The House will remember the background; under the Carbon Emissions Reduction Target, as the Minister mentioned, 11 million households would be helped with loft and cavity wall insulation. Right from the beginning, it troubled me how the companies were to know who they were supposed to help. I remember an exchange across the Floor of the House with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who was quite unable to tell us. The companies had to go on a fishing expedition, knocking on doors, trying to find out who had not had the work done and who was entitled under programmes such as Warm Front. It was extraordinary.

We started with the Pensions Act 2008 and its regulations, which we debated in Grand Committee last January, where there was a tiny first step of data sharing between the Government and the energy companies relating to people who were entitled to the guaranteed element of pension credit. The noble Lord has no doubt studied it: it is a very small part of the 11 million households that are supposed to be benefiting from those programmes.

Of course the problem has always been the data protection legislation and the fact that people do not like to think that somebody will knock on their door saying, “You’re poor and we’re here to help you”. That I can totally understand. However, when I raised this in debate on 26 January, I asked why these new regulations were okay so far as data protection was concerned whereas everything that went before was not okay. What was the difference? It is very relevant to Part 2 of this Bill, because here again we are going to have data sharing. Why is that all right under the data protection legislation, while the earlier, more ambitious schemes clearly fell foul?

Clause 9(5) spells out:

“A support scheme may in particular provide for scheme customers to be determined in any of the following ways—

(a) by reference to membership of, or to family or other relationship to a member of, a fuel poverty risk group;

(b) by scheme suppliers;

(c) by, or by reference to evidence provided by, the Secretary of State”.

It is that third one where one comes back again to this issue of data sharing.

I have had a couple of letters from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton—I will not quote them at this hour of the night—who took those regulations through Grand Committee. He has made the point that, if you are having an automatic benefit such as the rebate provided for under this Bill, then you can perfectly safely exchange the information, or share the data. If you are merely asking people whether they want something—whether they want their house fitted with roof insulation, for example—then you cannot. I totally fail to understand why that makes a difference.

The Minister also said that the Information Commissioner was broadly satisfied. I am not sure what that means. I asked to see the correspondence; I should have put in a Freedom of Information request, but I did not. Why? What change has he made? How can it possibly be right to share data freely with energy supplying companies for the purposes of the rebates under this Bill, when it clearly was not right to share data for the benefit of the CERT scheme under the previous legislation? I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that question.

Finally, when one turns to Part 3 of the Bill, with the amendments on the duties of Ofgem, my initial reaction was that both major parties are now committed to substantial changes in the role and remit of Ofgem. We may hear something about this in the Budget tomorrow—I do not know. We certainly have the statement in the Times by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, spelling out very clearly that it needed to be substantially changed. As our policy statement says, the Conservative Party agrees with that. We are arguing for a substantial change there. Therefore, my first reaction was to say, “Do we really want to go fiddling around with these details now, when we are going to have legislation in any event, whoever becomes the Government, which is going to make major changes to the remit of Ofgem?”

However, having studied the details of the Bill and talked about it, there are things in Part 3 which do seem sensible. It is right to give Ofgem these new powers, even if they may shortly be overtaken by others. In particular, I would mention the new power to modify the market power licence conditions spelled out in Clauses 18 to 23 and, perhaps even more importantly, the power to adjust charges to help di