House of Lords
Wednesday, 20 October 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.
The Government announced at the June Budget that they are strengthening the legislative framework to reduce the opportunities for tax avoidance. They are doing this through policy reform, by targeting areas of the tax system that present the highest avoidance risks and examining the case for a general anti-avoidance rule.
But did the Minister hear the Chancellor say in his Statement, which the Minister is going to repeat, that,
“those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden”?
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said that tax avoidance, as opposed to evasion, is legal but morally unacceptable, so is it not the case that if the multimillionaires, including those in the Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s business advisory committee, had paid their fair share, some of the cuts and some of the job losses that have been announced today could have been avoided?
My Lords, I could trade names of Members all round the House but I am not going to stoop to that. The critical issue is indeed, as the noble Lord says, that tax avoidance as opposed to tax evasion is legal, but we want to make sure that taxpayers pay what is due. In that connection, we will take a broad, strategic approach to reduce the complexity of the tax system, to make sure that the tax code is legally robust and to make sure that we attack and challenge unreasonable avoidance in a focused and expert way.
My Lords, non-dom tax status is an enormous open invitation to tax avoidance, as we know only too well from our battles to deal with non-doms in this House. Is the Minister aware of the Liberal Democrat tax manifesto pledge to make non-doms pay their full British tax after seven years? Will he also tell us when and how the Treasury will report on the promised review of non-dom tax status?
My Lords, I remind my noble friend that the coalition Government’s policy in this area is that we will make every effort to tackle tax avoidance, including detailed development of Liberal Democrat policy. The policies that were in my noble friend’s party manifesto at the election are indeed getting detailed consideration. In particular, as he knows, the general anti-avoidance rule, which was the linchpin of those policies, has been the subject of recent consultation.
My Lords, this morning the Chancellor repeated what the Minister said to me in a Written Answer—namely, that it is hoped that doing something about tax avoidance will achieve £7 billion. In his Written Answer to me on 7 October, he said,
“separate figures are not available for avoidance and evasion, and could be produced only at disproportionate cost”.—[Official Report, 7/10/10; col. WA 28.]
In that case, how will he ever be able to say that he has saved £7 billion? Will he still be using it in his deficit-cutting programme?
My Lords, it may be helpful if I make it clear that the £900 million of additional money that HMRC will have to use is principally to tackle tax evasion. We are talking about avoidance this afternoon, but the £7 billion will principally be from money that is not avoided but evaded.
My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that how we use language is important? There is a big difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. After all, everyone with an ISA is involved in tax avoidance. It is extremely important that we make clear the distinction between that which is legal and that which is illegal.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, who has made the position absolutely clear. Minimising tax payments is perfectly reasonable. Where it gets into the avoidance on which HMRC needs to focus is where people have minimised their tax payments in a way that HMRC believes to be contrary to the way in which Parliament intended the tax laws to operate.
My Lords, I think that Philip Green has done the nation a single service in exposing the extraordinary amount of waste in government that was left unattended to by the Labour Government for 13 years. We will come on to the consequences of that later this afternoon.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that an ounce of practical help is worth a kilo of words? Could he undertake to instruct the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on how he could offer not to avoid tax by taking advantage of his personal tax allowance? He could start paying 40 per cent tax on all his income from the first pound. That would save him from avoiding tax, which is obviously what he wants to do.
I am grateful to my noble friend. One or two correspondents have written in to ask how they could volunteer cheques to the Treasury to help to reduce the national debt, but it seems that the Treasury does not yet have such a facility. However, if other people would like to contribute more in their tax, we can set up the necessary arrangements.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the figure that he has given for reducing tax avoidance and evasion is roughly the same as that which is being taken out of the welfare budget in the current spending review? Why do the Government not collect the taxes and stop hitting the poor?
I am a little at a loss to understand why the noble Lord is questioning why we are putting extra money into HMRC to recover this enormous sum of £7 billion annually by the end of the spending review period when that was not done by the previous Government.
My Lords, is it not the case that the real dividing line is not between evasion and avoidance? Evasion is criminal but, as far as avoidance is concerned, nomenclature should be devised to make it absolutely clear that there are two categories. There is that category where decent ordinary citizens so adjust their affairs that they properly are free from tax that would otherwise be charged. The other category is redolent with mind-boggling artifices that are nothing but a sham. Will the Minister give an undertaking to consider nomenclature that will draw a clear distinction between those two categories?
Northern Ireland: Police Evidence
My Lords, recent requests to the Home Office took between 12 days and 202 days from receipt of request to delivery of the evidence. This is based on a very small number and I cannot say how quickly Irish counterparts forwarded the evidence to their police. Northern Ireland prosecutors may send requests directly or via the Home Office. The Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland does not keep statistics on how long it takes to receive evidence.
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend would agree that, although co-operation between the two police forces north and south is excellent, the legal complexities of investigating and prosecuting cross-border crime are considerable. A letter of request is only a small part of that, but it is a part for which the Whitehall Government are responsible, as opposed to the Belfast Government under devolution. Why is it necessary for London to be involved in these cases? Would it not be better if a method of short-circuiting was found so that at least this aspect of the legal complexities could be speeded up?
As my noble friend says, active co-operation between the police forces on the ground is very good, as I think his parliamentary committee had reason to say recently. On the involvement of the central authority—that is, the Home Office—it is normal form for letters of request to come into the central authority for the purposes of ensuring that they are properly dealt with. The central authority in London has taken considerable pains to reduce the backlog and to improve its performance, as we were aware that there were complaints; indeed, the previous Government took some measures to improve the situation. It is fair to say that the performance now by the central authority is regarded as good and the Irish authorities have so said.
My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware of discussions in March this year between the police forces on both sides of the border, which identified the desirability of a faster transfer of evidence and suggested bypassing London and Dublin. Would it not be a good idea for the Government to look seriously into that proposal?
On the transfer of information, the outgoing request goes from the local authority—that is, it would go directly from Northern Ireland—while the incoming goes via the central authority. That is the system that is normally used. Occasionally, there are instances of that not happening but, as a general proposition, requests come that way. Our understanding is that that is what Dublin prefers.
My Lords, is the Minister aware how complicated a letter of request is? I have had personal experience of this and it is a nightmare. Will the Government consider simplifying the formula for letters of request, because the lawyers have an absolute field day?
The noble and learned Baroness has raised an aspect of which I was not aware, but I shall take it back to see whether it is possible to reduce the formula. I imagine that this would probably be an EU-wide issue, but we would certainly want to do so.
My Lords, does the Minister understand that many of us find her answers slightly confusing in that, on the one hand, she said that there are no statistics while, on the other hand, official letters are going backwards and forwards? Will she agree to ask for statistics to be made up from those records now? When she says that the response has been good, by whose judgment is it good? It is quite clear that a lot of people are not satisfied.
My Lords, I did not quite say that there are no statistics. I was asked about present performance and I said that my answer was based on a very small set of statistics. I can give some figures: 17 requests have been received in total this year from the Republic of Ireland, of which six concern Northern Ireland. That is against a background of 1,585 letters of request overall. We are dealing with low numbers, which is why averaging statistics is fairly misleading. My other point was that, in relation to outgoing requests from Northern Ireland, the Northern Irish authorities do not collect those statistics, so I am not able to give that figure.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is something special about requests regarding details from Northern Ireland and the Republic, which is that we have a land border, the only one that we have? Does she also agree that, with the increase in dissident republican paramilitary activity, this issue is becoming urgent and should not just be left for the lawyers to take their time?
My Lords, in this particular instance we are talking about evidential letters, but there is the quite separate and important issue that the noble Lord has raised, which is cross-border co-operation between police authorities in relation to terrorism. However, that is not dealt with through this system. Even so, we agree entirely with the importance of what he has said.
My Lords, does my noble friend realise that for some years we worked with the previous Government to try to get the bureaucratic processes and the legislation in place to change exactly this problem? The police in Northern Ireland are constantly under pressure to get more prosecutions through the courts, so this is an old problem, not a new one. I have certainly had conversations with two previous Attorneys-General, in particular the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who is a long-standing friend, and I have been told that it is possible but that a lot of work needs to be done. This problem is serious—much more so than it appears—so will the noble Baroness please endeavour to get something moving?
I take note of what my noble friend says. There are two issues here, one being the appropriateness of the system and the other being how well it is performing. I think that its performance is greatly improved: the backlog, which was a source of complaint, has been greatly reduced, while more measures are being introduced to reduce it still further. The second point is that the procedure followed itself. Our belief is that that suits not only the UK end but also, as things stand, Dublin. However, we are always looking for improvement and I am aware that there are other areas where we are trying to progress further improvements in co-operation.
Climate Change: Cancun
My Lords, the Government are committed to working for an ambitious global deal to tackle climate change. At Cancun, we want to see substantive progress made on a politically balanced package of decisions that help to re-establish momentum towards that goal.
I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. At Copenhagen there was an international agreement to set up a fund to assist the developing countries to mitigate and adapt to the changing climate. Can the Minister confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will honour that commitment? If so, will they at Cancun encourage other nations not to renege on their commitments?
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. I also thank him for the work that he has done with the Tearfund and Carbon Fast, and for the leadership that the Church of England has shown with Shrinking the Footprint, which will produce a 42 per cent reduction in its carbon emissions by 2020. The leadership by all Churches is very important to this subject. I am rather delaying the great opportunity that the right reverend Prelate has given me: to be able to announce that the pledge made by the Labour Government to fast start finance of £1.5 billion between 2010 and 2013 is, I am happy to say, now a reality.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the chairman of the Government’s own Green Investment Bank commission has authoritatively stated that the cost of meeting our current carbon reduction commitments in this country is somewhere between £800 billion and £1 trillion? Does he not agree that, with the best will in the world, this mind-boggling cost cannot be justified except in the context of a binding global carbon reduction agreement? Therefore, in the absence of such an agreement being secured at Cancun, does he not agree that it is only commonsense to suspend the Climate Change Act until such time as a binding global agreement is secured?
My Lords, when I bumped into my noble friend in the Corridor and he said that he was catching the train to York I was rather relieved. Sadly, he will be catching a slightly later train than I was hoping for. I have now forgotten entirely what his question was.
Is the Minister aware that deforestation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse emissions, and that to stop deforestation would be a win, win, win position? Can he assure the House that the Government will push to relieve deforestation at the conference at Cancun?
The answer is without question, of course. Of that £1.5 billion, which is now a reality, £300 million is for the deforestation issue to which the noble Lord refers. We are deeply committed to the REDD-plus partnership that we have established working with France, Norway and Papua New Guinea.
I thank my noble friend. I am glad that he has not taken a train anywhere and that he has stayed to allow me to answer his question. I am grateful for that question from my own Benches; I am not really used to it, as a matter of fact. There is no doubt that the climate is changing: we have seen the worst ever flooding in Pakistan in its history; there have been record-breaking temperatures in Moscow; and 17 countries in the northern hemisphere alone have recorded their highest ever temperatures. It is a substantial problem. This Government are committed to being the greenest Government ever and to supporting all endeavours on climate change.
My Lords, on the question of additionality, which is the key issue in terms of how you pay for adaptation and mitigation on climate change, will the Minister confirm that on the fast-track issue the British Government will insist on additional money and not on money that has been recycled, rebadged or snaffled from the overseas development budget?
My Lords, what proposals do the Government have to ensure that the imminent report from the United Nations Secretary-General’s advisory group on climate finance is brought within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, so that its contribution to identifying sources of funding for developing countries dealing with climate change can inform future negotiations?
I can tell the noble Baroness that we intend to work very closely. In fact, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Chris Huhne, is on the UN advisory group on climate finance and we intend to encourage the raising of $100 billion by 2020 to support the carbon reduction.
Will the Minister please ensure that our proposals take practical account of the fact that the continent which will suffer the greatest from climate change is the continent that had the least to do with its creation, namely Africa? Its rainforests also contain our best hope for combating climate change, while the role of Africa’s agriculturalists and traditional leaders should be taken into account in all our proposals.
Immigration: Jimmy Mubenga
My Lords, the circumstances of Mr Mubenga’s death are the subject of police investigation. A Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigation and a coroner’s inquest will also take place in due course. Escort staff receive training on issues such as welfare, first aid, use of force and restraint. Prior to a removal, escorts are provided with a risk assessment of the individual, which will include known facts on medical conditions, the risk of self-harm, the likelihood of any attempt to escape and known criminal activities or violent behaviour.
My Lords, it is indeed the case that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, reported in March this year and all her recommendations are being put into effect. As she reported at the time, she found no evidence of systematic abuse by the UK Border Agency.
Does the noble Baroness agree not only that this issue is grave in this particular instance but, with her responsibilities for security, that the trouble is that, when something goes wrong, it plays directly into the hands of those who are trying to manipulate opinion in support of militant rebels, terrorists and the rest? It is therefore essential to get the administration of policy in this area right and humane in the cause of winning hearts and minds.
My Lords, I am quite certain that the Government agree with every single point that the noble Lord has just made. This is the first time that there has been a death of an escorted individual and it is extraordinarily regrettable. We entirely take the point that this is exactly what we do not wish to happen. We will take the consequences and the findings of any investigation very seriously.
My Lords, the report that I authored, which has been referred to, made specific recommendations on the type of technique used for control and restraint and the training provided for the use of that technique, which was a “one size fits all”. Although those recommendations have been accepted, are they actually being implemented? Also, can the Minister say whether the chief inspector of UKBA is monitoring the implementation of the recommendations, as I also recommended?
On the noble Baroness’s second point, the chief inspector of UKBA is doing that. On her first point, there is a review going on of the whole question of accreditation. The techniques used, as the noble Baroness will know, are ones that are used by the prison officers’ administration, but we are looking, with its help, at whether we can find further training with regard to the process of accreditation. We agree that it is important that the correct techniques of restraint are used, because that issue can give rise to the sort of difficulties that we may have seen.
My Lords, I should declare an interest as the person who forwarded the report Outsourcing Abuse to the Home Secretary more than two and a half years ago, which prompted her to ask the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, to conduct an inquiry. The report was about the use of force during the detention and removal of asylum seekers and many other issues as well. Are any of the recommendations in that report also being processed?
My Lords, my belief is that, given the seriousness of this issue, the recommendations that were made have indeed been implemented. In the light of what has happened, we need to go through those recommendations as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, to see whether there are things that we can do better or in addition. We will look seriously at the outcome of the investigations that are taking place. We do not wish to see this happen again.
My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that regard is being had not only to training but also to including the correct requirements in the commissioning of private organisations so that regard is had to this matter at the highest level initially? What training and instructions are there with regard to other passengers who may be forced to witness such an unhappy occurrence? This may be a second-order matter, but the incident must have been extraordinarily distressing for the other passengers on the flight.
The noble Baroness’s last point is right, although I hope that we do not get to the point of having to train passengers to witness unfortunate events. On her point about accreditation and the requirements laid down for the private sector escort companies, this issue is taken seriously. Requirements are laid down and such companies receive training, which is compulsorily renewed. We have an accreditation system and companies and individuals do indeed lose their accreditation. We are trying to inject a great deal of discipline into this system.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sassoon will now repeat a Statement on the comprehensive spending review 2010 that was made earlier today in the other place. It may be helpful if I remind the House of the guidance in the Companion:
“Ministerial statements are made for the information of the House, and although brief comments and questions from all quarters of the House are allowed, statements should not be made the occasion for an immediate debate”.
The Companion goes on to make clear that:
“If a debate upon a statement is desired, a notice should be tabled for a later date”.
A debate on the spending review has been agreed between the usual channels and will be on Monday 1 November. That debate has already been published in Forthcoming Business today and a list of speakers opened this morning. However, the usual channels have been discussing whether there is a case today to extend the 20-minute period available for Back-Bench questions and answers, as has happened in exceptional circumstances in the past. In view of the length of today’s Statement, the usual channels have agreed that we should give an extra 10 minutes for Back-Bench questions and answers.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Chief Whip for her statement, which I welcome. Yesterday’s debate on the strategic defence and security review showed that there is very strong feeling in this House that the time allowed for Back-Benchers to debate such vital issues is not sufficient; that is why we asked for extra time. In the past few days, many Members on all sides of the House have indicated, if anything, stronger feelings about the time which had been proposed for today’s Statement on the CSR, which, by the Government’s own account, is enormously important for our economy and our whole country. A reasonable offer has been made and we accept it, but ultimately the offer is not sufficient. Many Members across the House seek a longer period in which to discuss urgent matters such as those before us today.
We recognise that time has been allocated for a fuller debate, which we also welcome. However, that is not until next month. This matter pinpoints an issue that many Members have raised with us—that this House is currently poorly provided with the means by which we can immediately consider important issues. We have provision for topical Questions and for Private Notice Questions, but, because of this unsatisfied need for a means by which immediate issues can be discussed, we believe that this is an appropriate issue for the Leader’s Group on working practices to give greater consideration to. We will accordingly write to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, who chairs the group, proposing that it does exactly that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support for the fact that discussion on the Statement should be extended, as was agreed by the usual channels. On very rare occasions the time limit for Back-Bench questions and comments on Statements has been extended by 10 minutes, most recently on the constitutional renewal Statement last June. Although there is always pressure on time in this House because noble Lords take their duties very seriously on all matters of business, it is by no means the case that Statements have always been extended over the past 13 years. For example, when the White Paper on House of Lords reform was published in July 2008, there was no extension of time; nor was that done in October 2008 or January 2009, when a succession of Statements were made by the previous Government in response to the turmoil in the financial markets and the banking sector. However, that is not to undermine the fact that this House always has the right to make its representations with regard to the tabling of business through the usual channels and, on occasion, through other means.
I note in particular two points that the noble Lord has just made. First, he claims that the debate will not take place until next month. I gently remind him that it is a matter of merely 10 days. In that period the expectation is that Peers will have the opportunity to look at further developments arising from today, such as further Statements that may appear from other departments. Therefore, all Members of the House will have a greater opportunity to make an impact on that debate. It is, of course, our responsibility as the usual channels to act in the best interests of all Members and we work together very closely to achieve exactly that.
With regard to the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that extra time was not granted yesterday, as far as I am aware no request was made in respect of yesterday’s Statement. However, I am pleased that we have achieved agreement on today’s.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for the manner in which I raised the issue yesterday. However, on the substance of the issue, I have been overwhelmed by noble Lords from both sides of the House saying they agree with me that it was strange that we had only 20 minutes for Back-Bench questions, and the House was up before 7 pm. There were so many people who wanted to participate in yesterday’s debate, not just on the Labour side but distinguished former service chiefs and many other people with a lot to say. Now we have a Statement on a comprehensive spending review that covers five years and every department of state, but we are getting only an extra 10 minutes. I hope that the Chief Whip will respond positively to my noble friend’s request and say today that they will agree that this matter should be considered in an appropriate way, so that some flexibility is allowed.
My Lords, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to dispel, I hope, misunderstanding about the procedure of this House. Certainly yesterday the House abided by the correct procedure as laid down in the Companion, which guides all our behaviour. If changes are made to the Companion procedure, it is only after discussion by the Procedure Committee and, of course, the decision thereafter by the whole House. That is a continuing development. With regard to the representations made to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, clearly all Peers who wish to take part in a debate on yesterday’s matters will have the opportunity to do so in a non-time-limited debate on 12 November. That follows the pattern of the previous Government. I was always grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, when that was offered by the previous Government and we complied with that. It provided a time, uninterrupted by other Statements on a Friday, to listen fully to the views of experienced noble Lords in this House on defence matters. I am sure that we will enjoy that again. With regard to the latter point made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I would never prejudge or exempt any Leader’s Group from action. It is for the chair of that group to make decisions—not me.
Perhaps I may briefly try to be helpful. Am I to understand that we are—as I think we are—to have the Statement repeated? This is ludicrous. Most people have watched this on television, been in the other Chamber or can read. When we come to review the way we organise ourselves and the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, looks at this issue, I hope that the noble Baroness might give a strong recommendation that in these circumstances we do not require the full Statement to be read out.
My Lords, the genuine joy of this place is that novel points can excite great interest. I am sure that this is something that will be further discussed. I am very interested by that proposal, but of course today we will follow the procedure that the Statement will be repeated by my noble friend.
Comprehensive Spending Review
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“Mr Speaker, today’s the day when Britain steps back from the brink and when we confront the bills from a decade of debt; a day of rebuilding, when we set out a four-year plan to put our public services and welfare state on a sustainable footing for the long term, so that they can do their job of providing for families, protecting the vulnerable and underpinning a competitive economy. It is a hard road, but it leads to a better future.
We are going to bring the years of ever-rising borrowing to an end. We are going to ensure, like every solvent household in the country: that what we buy, we can afford, that the bills we incur we have the income to meet and that we do not saddle our children with the interest on the interest on the interest of the debts we were not ourselves prepared to pay.
Tackling this budget deficit is unavoidable. The decisions about how we do it are not. There are choices, and today we make them. Investment in the future, rather than the bills of past failure: that is our choice. We have chosen to spend on the country’s most important priorities: the healthcare of our people; the education of our young; our nation’s security; and the infrastructure that supports our economic growth. We have chosen to cut the waste and reform the welfare system that our country can no longer afford.
This is the context of the spending review. We have, at £109 billion, the largest structural budget deficit in Europe—this at a time when the whole world is concerned about high deficits and our economic stability depends on allaying those concerns. We are paying at the rate of £120 million a day—£43 billion a year—in debt interest, this at a time when we all know that the money would far better serve the needs of our own citizens than those of the foreign creditors we borrow from. We have inherited from the previous Government plans—if you can call them that—that envisaged our national debt ratio still rising in the year 2014. Not a single penny of savings had been identified. Indeed, they are plans that envisaged the Chancellor of the Exchequer standing here in 2014 presenting a spending review that still had years of cutting public spending ahead of it. That is why last year the IMF warned this country to accelerate the reduction in the deficit. That is why the OECD, the Governor of the Bank of England and the CBI all agreed with the IMF.
The action we have taken since May has taken Britain out of the financial danger zone. The immediate reductions to in-year spending have bought us a breathing space in the sovereign debt storm. The creation of an independent Office for Budget Responsibility has brought honesty back to official forecasts. I can confirm to the House that the OBR and its new chair, Robert Chote, have audited all of the annually managed expenditure savings in today’s Statement.
The emergency Budget in June was the moment when fiscal credibility was restored. Our market interest rates fell to near record lows, our country’s credit rating was affirmed and the IMF went from issuing warnings to calling our Budget “essential”. Now we must implement some of the key decisions required by that Budget. To back down now and abandon our plans would be the road to economic ruin. We will stick to the course, we will secure our country’s stability and we will not take Britain back to the brink of bankruptcy.
In the Budget, I set out the tax increases we were prepared to make, including on capital gains at the higher rate, pension relief on the largest contributions and, for the first time, a permanent levy on banks. We also had to increase VAT, where, fortunately, we were able to benefit from the preparatory work of the previous Government. But I made it clear that spending reductions rather than tax rises needed to make up the bulk of the consolidation. That is what the leading international evidence suggested worked best. So I set out spending totals for the coming years and announced some £11 billion of welfare savings that would help achieve them. I also set out a new fiscal mandate for the public finances to eliminate the structural deficit by balancing the cyclically adjusted current budget over five years, by 2015-16. We set a target of national debt falling as a proportion of national income by that same year. We explained how, for reasons of caution, we will achieve both these objectives a year earlier in 2014-15.
I can confirm that the spending plans I set out today will achieve a balanced structural current budget and falling national debt on that same timetable. I can further confirm that the current spending totals I set out in the Budget for each of the next four years are the same as the current spending totals I set out today. They have not changed. Next year, current expenditure will be £651 billion, then £665 billion the year after and £679 billion the year after that, before reaching £693 billion in 2014-15. The House will note that current spending is rising, not falling, over this period. This is partly because, even with the measures we take today, debt interest payments will continue to grow in these years. Debt interest payments will reach £63 billion in 2014-15—for it takes time to turn around the debt supertanker—but I can now report to the House that against the plans we inherited, one of the departments which suffers the greatest cut today, and at the steepest rate, is the department for debt interest. Debt interest payments will be lower by £1 billion in 2012, then £1.8 billion in 2013 and £3 billion in 2014—a total of £5 billion over the course of the spending review. That is the equivalent of 16 new hospitals or the annual salaries of 100,000 teachers.
At the Budget, I also set out my plans for capital spending over the next four years. I can now tell the House that capital spending will be £51 billion next year, then £49 billion, then £46 billion, and £47 billion in 2014-15. That is about £2 billion a year higher than I set out in the Budget. Given the contractual obligations we inherited from the previous Government, doing anything else would have meant cutting projects which would clearly enhance the economic infrastructure of the country. This has no direct impact on whether we meet the fiscal mandate or the year in which the debt ratio starts falling. So total public expenditure—capital and current—over the coming years will be £702 billion next year, then £713 billion, £724 billion, and £740 billion in 2014-15. In real terms, public spending will be at the same level as in 2008. Our public services and our welfare system will be put on a sustainable long-term footing and we will make sure that the financial catastrophe that happened under the previous Government never, ever happens again.
I turn now to the spending decisions and the three principles I propose to apply to the choices we have to make. First, on reform, in every area where we make savings, we must leave no stone unturned in our search for waste and we must deliver the changes necessary to make our public services fit for the modern age.
Secondly, on fairness, we are all in this together and all must make a contribution. Fairness means creating a welfare system that helps the vulnerable, supports people into work and is also affordable for the working families who pay for it from their taxes. Fairness also means that, across the entire deficit reduction plan, those with the broadest shoulders should bear the greatest burden; those with the most should pay the most, including our banks.
Thirdly, on growth, when money is short, we should ruthlessly prioritise those areas of public spending which are most likely to support economic growth, including investments in our transport and green energy infrastructure, our science base and the skills and education of citizens.
Let me explain now how these principles have guided our specific decisions. First, on reform, I believe that the public sector needs to change to support the aspirations and expectations of today’s population, rather than the aspirations and expectations of the 1950s, so the spending review is underpinned by a far-reaching programme of public service reform. We saw over the past decade that more money without reform was a recipe for failure; less money without reform would be worse; and we are not prepared to accept that, so we have begun by squeezing every last penny that we can find out of waste and administration costs.
Our ambition in this review was to find £3 billion of savings from the administrative budgets of central government departments. With the help of the Green review and the work done by my right honourable friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, I can tell the House that we have gone further than we thought possible in cutting back-office costs. Quangos will be abolished, services will be integrated, assets will be sold and the administrative budgets of every main government department will be cut by a third. The result is this: we promised £3 billion of Whitehall savings; we will deliver £6 billion.
Of course, there is understandable concern about the reduction in the total public sector headcount that will result from the measures in the spending review. We believe that the best estimate remains the one set out by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. It has forecast a reduction in headcount of 490,000 over the spending review period. Let us be clear: that is over four years, not overnight. Much of it will be achieved through natural turnover, by leaving posts unfilled as they become vacant. Estimates suggest a turnover rate of over 8 per cent in the public sector. But yes, there will be some redundancies, which will be up to the decisions of individual employers in the public sector. That is unavoidable when the country has run out of money.
We feel responsible for every individual who works for the Government and we will always do everything that we can to help them to find alternative work. In fact, in the past three months alone, the economy created 178,000 jobs. So we should remember that, unless we deal with this record budget deficit decisively, many more jobs will be in danger in both the private and the public sector.
The Cabinet Office and the Treasury will oversee the programme of Whitehall savings. Both departments will lead by example. The core Cabinet Office budget will be reduced by £55 million by 2014-15. Additional allocations will be provided to fund electoral reform, support the big society, establish community organisers and launch the pilots for the national citizen service, which will give young people, for the first time, a right of passage to citizenship.
In recognition of the challenges faced by the voluntary and community sector, I am establishing a one-year £100 million transition fund to help those facing real hardship. The Treasury will see its overall budget reduced by 33 per cent and we will share the department’s enormously expensive PFI building, which my predecessor -but-one signed up to, by moving part of the Cabinet Office into the same premises.
The Chancellor is also a royal trustee, and I want to say something briefly about the Civil List. As I outlined in the Budget, the 10-year settlement expired this year, and no provision for a new settlement had been made when we entered office. Her Majesty has graciously agreed to a one-year cash freeze in the Civil List for next year. Going forward, she has also agreed that total royal household spending will fall by 14 per cent in 2012-13, while grants to the household will be frozen in cash terms. In order to support the costs of the historic diamond jubilee, which the whole country is looking forward to celebrating, there will be a temporary additional facility of £1 million. After that, the royal household will receive a new sovereign support grant linked to a portion of the revenue of the Crown Estate, so that my successors do not have to return to the issue so often.
Central to this review is the reshaping of our public services. First, there needs to be a dramatic shift in the balance of power from the central to the local. A policy of rising burdens, regulations, targets, assessments and guidance has undermined local democracy and stifled innovation. We will completely reverse this. We will give GPs power to buy local services, schools the freedom to reward good teachers, and communities the right to elect their police and crime commissioners. Secondly, we should understand that all the services paid for by government do not have to be delivered by government. So we will expand the use of personal budgets for special education needs, children with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We will use new payment mechanisms for prisons, probation, and community health services, and we will encourage new providers in adult social care, early years and road management.
For local government, the deficit we have inherited means an unavoidably challenging settlement. There will be overall savings in funding to councils of 7.1 per cent a year for four years. But to help councils, we propose a massive devolution of financial control. Today, I can confirm that ring-fencing of all local government revenue grants will end from April next year. The only exception will be simplified schools grants and a public health grant. Outside of schools, police and the fire service, the number of separate core grants that go to local authorities will be reduced from more than 90 to fewer than 10. Councils and their leaders will remain accountable, but they will no longer have to report on 4,700 local area agreement targets.
The local government settlement includes funding for next year’s council tax freeze to help families when their budgets are too tight. We are also introducing tax increment finance powers, allowing councils to fund key projects by borrowing against future increases in locally collected business rates. Some in local government have concerns about the financing of social care. I can announce that grant funding for social care will be increased by an additional £1 billion by the fourth year of the spending review and a further £1 billion for social care will be provided through the NHS to support joint working with councils, so that elderly people do not continue to fall through the crack between two systems. That is a total of £2 billion of additional funding for social care to protect the most vulnerable.
We will also reform our social housing system, for it is currently failing to address the needs of the country. Over 10 years, more than half a million social rented properties were lost. Waiting lists have shot up, families have been unable to move, and, although a generation ago only one in 10 families in social housing had no one working, this had risen to one in three by 2008-09.
We will ensure that social housing is more flexible. The terms for existing social tenants and their rent levels will remain unchanged. New tenants will be offered intermediate rents at around 80 per cent of the market rent. Alongside £4.4 billion of capital resources, this will enable us to build up to 150,000 new affordable homes over the next four years. We will continue to improve the existing housing stock through the Decent Homes programme, and we will reform the planning system so that we put local people in charge, reduce burdens on builders and encourage more homes to be built, with a new homes bonus scheme.
Within an overall resource budget for the Department for Communities and Local Government that is being reduced to £1.1 billion over the period, priority will be given to protecting the disabled facilities grants. This will go alongside a £6 billion commitment over four years to the Supporting People programme, which provides help with housing costs for thousands of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
In recognition of the important service provided by the fire and rescue service, we have decided to limit its budget reductions in return for substantial operational reform.
I turn to reforms in our security and defence. Yesterday my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out the conclusions of the strategic defence and security review. He explained in detail how we will protect the British people, deliver on our international obligations and secure British influence around the world. This spending review provides the resources to do just that. The budget for the Ministry of Defence will reach £33.5 billion in 2014-15, a saving of 8 per cent over the period. On top of this settlement, we will continue to provide out of the reserve the resources that our forces in Afghanistan require. As a Chancellor, I believe strongly that if we ask our brave service men and women to risk their lives on our behalf in active combat, then we should give them all the tools they need to finish the job.
But our international influence and our commitments to the world are determined not only by our military capabilities. Our diplomacy and development policy matter, too. Savings of 24 per cent in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget will be achieved over the review period by a sharp reduction in the number of Whitehall-based diplomats and back-office functions. There will be a focus on helping British companies win exports and secure jobs at home, and, with the help of UKTI, we will attract significant overseas investment to our shores.
I can also confirm that this coalition Government will be the first British Government in history, and we will be the first major country in the world, to honour the United Nations commitment on international aid. The Department for International Development’s budget will rise to £11.5 billion over the next four years. Overseas development will reach 0.7 per cent of national income in 2013. This will halve the number of deaths caused by malaria. It will save the lives of 50,000 women in pregnancy and 250,000 new-born babies. Whether working behind the counter of a charity shop, volunteering abroad or contributing taxes to our aid budget, Britons can hold their heads up high and say, even in these difficult times, that we will honour the promise we made to the very poorest in our world.
Our aid budget allows Britain to lead in the world. It may be protected from cuts but not from scrutiny. I have agreed with my right honourable friend the Development Secretary a plan of reform that reduces administration costs to half the global donor average, ends the aid programmes that we inherited in China and Russia, focuses on conflict resolution and creates an independent commission to assess the impact of the money we commit.
I turn now to security at home. Protecting the citizen is a primary duty of government. Our police put themselves in harm’s way to make the rest of us safe, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. But no public service can be immune from reform. Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary found in his recent report that significant savings could be made in police budgets without affecting the quality of front-line policing. Tom Winsor is leading a review of terms and conditions which will report on how the police service can manage its resources to serve the public even more cost-effectively.
Using independent forecasts for the precept, the settlement I am proposing today will see police spending falling by 4 per cent each year. By cutting costs and scrapping bureaucracy, we are saving hundreds of thousands of man-hours. Our aim is to avoid any reduction in the visibility and availability of police in our streets.
Our new national security strategy judges terrorism to be one of the highest risks facing this country. Therefore, I am prioritising counterterrorism over the review period, in both the Home Office budget and the single intelligence account. We have been assured that this will maintain our operational capabilities against al-Qaeda and its affiliates and against Northern Irish terrorist threats. This will enable us to meet the terrorist threat and protect the Olympic Games in 2012. Overall, the Home Office budget will find savings of an average of 6 per cent a year.
The Ministry of Justice’s budget will reach £7 billion by the end of the four-year period, with average savings of 6 per cent a year. A Green Paper will set out proposals to reform sentencing, intervene earlier to give treatment to mentally ill offenders, and use voluntary and private providers to reduce reoffending. Over the period, £1.3 billion of capital will also be provided to maintain the existing prison estate and fund essential new-build projects, but plans for a new 1,500-place prison will be deferred. The Law Officers’ Department will reduce its budget by a total of 24 per cent over the period, with the Crown Prosecution Service greatly reducing its inflated cost base. Reforms will also be required to streamline the criminal justice system, close underused courts and reduce the legal aid bill. We need fair access to justice, but provided at a fair cost for the taxpayer.
All the reforms I have spoken of—to Whitehall and the way services are provided, to local government, and to our defence, security and justice system—will improve both the value for money for taxpayers and the service provided to the public. Next month, each government department will publish a business plan setting out its reform plans for the next four years, so that their priorities are clear and the public can hold them to account.
Reform is one of the guiding principles of the spending review. So too is fairness. Let us be clear. There is nothing fair about running huge budget deficits, and burdening future generations with the debts that we ourselves are not prepared to pay. How ironic that it was the previous Labour Prime Minister himself who once observed:
“Public finances must be sustainable over the long term. If they are not, the poor … will suffer most”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/7/97; col. 303.]
That is why we are restoring order to our public finances before that is allowed to happen.
A fair Government deal with the deficit decisively—that is what we are doing today—and a fair Government make sure that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden. The distributional analysis published today shows that those on the highest incomes will contribute more towards this entire fiscal consolidation, not just in cash terms, but also as a proportion of their income and consumption of public services combined.
I completely understand the public’s anger that the banks that were so appallingly regulated over the past decade, and whose near collapse wrought such damage on the economy, should now be contemplating paying high bonuses. We are overhauling the system of regulation that we inherited so that the Bank of England, with its clout and reputation, is put in charge. We have set up the Independent Commission on Banking to look at the structure of the industry, and next year we will receive its report.
Today we set out very clearly, for all to take note of, our objective in taxing the banking industry going forward. We neither want to let banks off making their fair contribution, nor do we want to drive them abroad. Many hundreds of thousands of jobs across the whole United Kingdom depend on Britain being a competitive place for financial services. Our aim will be to extract the maximum sustainable tax revenues from financial services. We will assess what those maximum revenues could be—not just in one year, but over a period of years.
We have already decided, in the face of opposition from the previous Government, to introduce a permanent levy on banks. The legislation will be published tomorrow. Once fully effective, the permanent levy will raise more net each year and every year for the Exchequer than the one-year bonus tax did last year—and I note that the previous Chancellor now admits that it failed to curb behaviour and was not sustainable.
However, that is not enough. We want the banks to pay not just by the letter of the tax law, but by its spirit. A year ago, the previous Government announced in a fanfare that they would require banks to sign up to the code of practice on taxation. I have asked the Revenue how many of our leading 15 banks actually signed up. The answer is four—four out of 15. That is what happened when they were in office: all talk and no action. I have instructed the Revenue to work with the banking sector to ensure the remaining banks have implemented the code of practice by the end of next month.
We also need to address the situation under the last Government where the gap between the taxes owed and the taxes paid grew considerably. So in this spending review, while the HM Revenue and Customs budget will be expected to find resource savings of 15 per cent through the better use of new technology, greater efficiency and better IT contracts, we will be spending £900 million more on targeting tax evasion and fraud. This additional £900 million is expected to help us collect a missing £7 billion in tax revenues.
Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated anymore. We estimate that £5 billion is being lost this way each year—£5 billion that others have to work long hours to pay in their taxes. This week we published our plans to step up the fight to catch benefit cheats, and to deploy uncompromising penalties when they are caught.
That brings me to the wider welfare budget. A civilised country provides for families, protects the most vulnerable, helps those who look for work, and supports those in retirement. That is why one of the first acts of this coalition Government was to relink the basic state pension to earnings, and guarantee a rise each year by earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent—whichever was higher. Never again will those who worked hard all their lives be insulted with a state pension increase of just 75p. But this guarantee of a decent income in retirement has to be paid for at a time when people are living much longer than anyone predicted. We should celebrate that fact, but also confront it. Lord Turner’s report on pensions, commissioned by the last Government, acknowledged that a more generous state pension had to be funded by an increase in the pension age. Even since its publication, life expectancy has risen further than it predicted.
Before the summer we launched a review on increasing the state pension age, and that has now concluded. As a result, I can today announce that the state pension age for men and women will reach 66 by 2020. This will involve a gradual increase in the state pension age from 65 to 66, starting in 2018; and it will mean an acceleration of the increase in the female pension age already under way since this April. From 2016, the rate of increase will be three months in every four rather than the current plan of one month in every two. Raising the state pension age is what many countries are now doing, and will by the end of the next Parliament save over £5 billion a year—money which will be used to provide a more generous basic state pension as we manage demographic pressures.
Earlier this month, we also received the interim report from John Hutton’s public service pension commission. I am sure the whole House will want to thank John for this excellent and independent piece of work. I welcome his findings, and I hope that they will form the basis of a new deal that balances the legitimate expectations of hard-working public servants for a decent income in retirement with the equally legitimate demands of hard-working taxpayers that they do not pay unfairly for it.
The elements of this new pension deal are clear. We should accept that public service pensions continue to provide a form of defined benefit, and that there is no race to the bottom of pension provision. We want public service pensions to be a gold standard. At the same time, we should accept that they must be affordable.
When these public service pension schemes were established in the 1950s, taxpayers made half the contributions. Today they make up two-thirds of contributions, and the unfunded bill is set to rise to £33 billion by 2015-16.
We should accept, as John Hutton does, that there has to be an increase in employee contributions, although I also agree with John that this should be staggered and progressive. That means that the lower paid and those in the Armed Forces are protected and the highest-paid public servants, who get the largest benefits, pay the highest contributions. We will await the full commission report next spring before coming to any conclusions on the exact nature of the defined benefit and progressive contribution rise. We will also launch a consultation on the fair deal policy, but we will carry out, as the interim report suggests, a full public consultation now on the appropriate discount rate used to set contributions to these pensions. From the perspective of filling the hole in the public finances, we will seek changes that deliver an additional £1.8 billion of savings per year in the cost of public service pensions by 2014-15, over and above the plans left to us by the previous Government.
It is also clear that the current final salary pension terms for MPs are not sustainable, and we anticipate that the current scheme will have to end. We will make a further Statement following the publication of Lord Hutton’s findings.
The welfare system is also there to help people of a working age when they lose their job, have a disability, start a family and need help with low pay, but the truth, as everyone knows, is that the welfare system is failing many millions of our fellow citizens. People find themselves trapped in an incomprehensible out-of-work benefit system for their entire lifetimes because it simply does not pay to work. This robs them of their aspirations and opportunities, and it costs the rest of the country a fortune. Welfare spending now accounts for one-third of all public spending. Benefit bills have soared by 45 per cent under the previous Government. In some cases, the benefit bill of a single out-of-work family has amounted to the tax bills of 16 working families put together. This is totally unsustainable and unfair. The previous Government promised reform and flunked it. We will deliver.
My right honourable friend the Work and Pensions Secretary is setting out proposals, with my support, to replace all working-age benefits and tax credits with a single, simple universal credit. The guiding rule will be this: it will always pay to work. Those who get work will be better off than those who do not. It represents the greatest reform to our welfare state for a generation. It will be introduced over the next two Parliaments at a pace that ensures we get this right. I have set aside more than £2 billion over this spending review of resources to make this happens and it will go alongside our new work programme, which we are also funding today. Drawing on the skills of the voluntary sector and private providers, the work programme will provide intensive help to those looking for work and support for those who could look for work but currently lack the confidence or skills to try.
The Department for Work and Pensions will make savings to help to deliver these schemes by increasing the use of digital applications and reducing overheads. We will also be seeking substantial savings from the rest of the £200 billion benefit bill on top of those already identified in the Budget. As I said in June, the more we can save on welfare costs, the more we can continue other, more productive, areas of government spending. In the massive public consultation we conducted over the summer, the overwhelming message we received was that the British people think it is fair to cut welfare bills in order to protect important public services.
So today I announce these further welfare savings. We will time-limit contributory employment and support allowance for those in the work-related activity group to one year. This is double the length of time that applies to contributory jobseeker’s allowance. We will increase the age threshold for the shared-room rate in housing benefit from 25 to 35, so that housing benefit rules reflect the housing expectations of people of a similar age not on benefits. We will give local authorities greater flexibility to manage council tax, together with direct control over council tax benefit, within an overall budget that will be reduced by 10 per cent from April 2013.
We will align the rules for the mobility and care elements of disability living allowance paid to people in residential care, generating savings but enabling us to continue with this important benefit. We will freeze the maximum savings credit award in pension credit for four years, thereby limiting the spread of means-testing up the income distribution.
We will further control the cost of tax credits by freezing the basic and 30-hour elements for three years. We will change the working tax credit eligibility rules so that couples with children must work 24 hours per week between them. We will return the childcare element of the working tax credit to its previous 70 per cent level. We will also introduce a new cap on benefits. No family that does not work will receive more in benefits than the average family that does go out to work. That is a tough, but fair deal. Of course, those in receipt of disability living allowance, working tax credit or the war widow’s pension will be excluded.
Taken together, all these welfare measures I have outlined will save the country £7 billion a year. But we want to ensure that low-income families with children are protected from the adverse effects of these essential savings, because this Government are committed to ending child poverty. I can announce today that I am increasing the child element of the child tax credit by a further £30 in 2011-12 and £50 in 2012-13 above indexation. This will mean annual increases of £180 and then £110 above the level promised by the previous Government. This will provide support to 4 million lower-income families. I can confirm that using the same model as we inherited, the spending review will have no measurable impact on child poverty over the next two years, while we await the conclusions of the report by the right honourable Member for Birkenhead.
Let me now turn to the universal benefits. I have taken the difficult decision to remove child benefit from families with a higher rate taxpayer. I wish that it were otherwise, but I simply cannot ask those earning just £15,000 or £30,000 to go on paying the child benefit of those earning £50,000 or £100,000. The debts of the previous Labour Government, and the need to make sure that the better off in society also make a fair contribution, make this choice unavoidable. It also means that no further changes to child benefit are required. Child benefit will continue to be paid in the normal way to the great majority of the population from birth until a child leaves full-time education at the age of 18 or even 19. We can afford to do this because, according to the latest independent estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility, removing child benefit from higher rate taxpayers saves Britain £2.5 billion a year.
We will also keep the universal benefits for pensioners, in recognition of the fact many have worked hard and saved all their lives. Free eye tests, free prescription charges, free bus passes, free TV licences for the over-75s and winter fuel payments will remain exactly as budgeted for by the previous Government, as promised. I am also turning the temporary increase in the cold weather payments introduced by the previous Government into a permanent increase. In my view, higher cold weather payments should be for life, not just for elections.
So, too, are the promises we make on the National Health Service. The NHS is an intrinsic part of the fabric of our country. It is the embodiment of a fair society. This coalition Government made a commitment to protect the NHS and increase health spending every year. Today, we honour that commitment in full. Total health spending will rise each year over and above inflation. This year we are spending £104 billion on healthcare, capital and current combined. By the end of four years we will be spending £114 billion. We can afford this in part because of the decisions on welfare that I have just announced and because we have made tough decisions in other parts of the government budget. But to govern is to choose, and we have chosen the NHS.
That does not mean that we are letting the health department off the need to drive forward real reform and savings from waste and inefficiency. Productivity in the health service fell steadily over the past 10 years, and that must not continue. By 2014, we are aiming to save up to £20 billion a year by demanding better value for money. But the money we save will be reinvested in our nation’s healthcare.
As the independent forecasts we published in the Budget show, we need to make these savings to deal with our ageing population and the rising costs of new medical treatments. But there are also new services we can offer. A new cancer drug fund will be provided, spending on health research will be protected and we will prioritise work on the treatment of dementia. We will expand access to psychological therapies for the young, elderly and those with mental illness. We will fund new hospital schemes, including the St Helier, the Royal Oldham and the West Cumberland.
For health spending, as for other spending announcements, there will be consequential allocations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Barnett formula will be applied in the usual way, which means that the increase in health spending and the relative protection of education spending will feed through to the devolved resource budgets. It means that all three nations will actually see cash rises in their budgets, albeit rises below the rate of inflation. For Scotland, the resource budget will rise to £25.4 billion in 2014-15. For Wales, it will rise to £13.5 billion, and for Northern Ireland, it will rise to £9.5 billion. In Scotland, we are proceeding with the implementation of the Calman reforms. In Wales, we will consider with the Assembly Government the proposals in the final Holtham report, consistent with the Calman work being taken forward in Scotland.
In Northern Ireland, the collapse of the Presbyterian Mutual Society has caused great hardship, and people have been left without their money for too long. I can confirm today that we will provide the Northern Ireland Executive with £25 million in cash and a £175 million loan to help those who have lost their life savings.
We will also help those across the United Kingdom who have lost money as a result of the collapse of Equitable Life. For 10 years, the Equitable Life policyholders have fought for justice. For 10 years, the previous Government dithered and delayed and denied them that justice. It is time to right the wrong done to many thousands of people who did the right thing, saved for their future and tried not to depend on the state, and then were the innocent victims of a terrible failure of regulation. So let me make it clear. I accept the findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman in full. I have read the advice of Sir John Chadwick, and I thank him for it, but I do not agree with the level of compensation his analysis suggested. I agree with the ombudsman that the relative loss suffered is the difference between what policyholders actually received from their policies and what they would have received elsewhere. The Parliamentary Ombudsman herself recognised that a balance had to be struck between being fair to policyholders and fair to taxpayers, particularly when many budgets and benefits are being cut. But money we pay out has to come from general public expenditure. I have decided that the fair amount to pay out in total is in the region of £1.5 billion, two-thirds of which will be found in this spending review period. Those who had with-profits annuities are particularly hard hit, as they were retired and were unable to move their savings elsewhere. As a result, the Government will cover the cost of the total relative loss suffered by these deserving people. The scheme will start making payments next year.
These measures and our welfare reforms mean that it will always pay to work. Benefit savings will help us protect key public services like the NHS. There is help for those who have saved and lost everything. These are fair decisions, consistent with the second principle of this spending review.
The third and final principle centres on growth and promoting a private sector recovery. By restoring macroeconomic stability, we have brought certainty to businesses. By cutting business taxes, we are giving business the freedom to compete. Today’s review builds on these steps because, even when money is short, we should prioritise those areas of public spending which are most likely to support economic growth. That is what we are doing in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Administration will be cut by £400 million. Twenty-four quangos will be cut. Lower-priority programmes like Train to Gain will be abolished. Adult learners and employers will have to contribute more to further education. This means that today I can announce the largest ever financial investment in adult apprenticeships, an increase of more than 50 per cent on the previous Government, helping 75,000 new apprentices a year by the end of the spending review period.
We will maintain and invest in the Post Office network and protect community post offices.
We will come forward with our detailed response to Lord Browne’s report on higher education funding and student finance, including our plans to provide financial support to encourage those from the poorest households to stay in education. Our universities are jewels in our economic crown and it is clear that if we want to keep our place near the top of the world league tables, then we need to reform our system of funding and reject—as, to be fair, many opposite do—the unworkable idea of a pure graduate tax. Clearly, better off graduates will have to pay more, and this will enable us to reduce considerably the contribution that general taxpayers have to make to the education of those who will probably end up earning much more than them.
Overall, average annual savings of 7.1 per cent will be found from the Department for Business budget, the minimum it was asked to find. Within those savings, however, the Secretary of State and I have decided to protect the science budget. Britain is a world leader in scientific research and that is vital to our future economic success. That is why I am proposing that we do not cut the cash going to the science budget. It will be protected at £4.6 billion a year. Building on the Wakeham review of science spending, we have found that within the science budget significant savings of £324 million can be found through efficiency. If these are implemented, then, with this relatively protected settlement, I am confident that our country’s science output can increase over the next four years.
We will also invest £220 million in the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation at St Pancras, fund the molecular biology lab in Cambridge, the animal health institute in Pirbright and the diamond synchrotron in Oxford.
Research and technological innovation will also help us with one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time—climate change—and it will support new jobs in low carbon industries. So today, even in these straitened times, we commit public capital funding of up to £1 billion to one of the world’s first commercial scale carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. We will also invest over £200 million in the development of offshore wind technology and manufacturing at port sites.
Yesterday protestors scaled the Treasury urging us to proceed with our idea for a Green Investment Bank. It is the first time anyone has protested in favour of a bank. We will go ahead. I have set aside in this spending review £1 billion of funding for the bank, but I hope much more will be raised from the private sector and the proceeds of future government asset sales. The aim of all these investments is for Britain to be a leader of the new green economy—creating jobs, saving energy costs, reducing carbon emissions.
We will also introduce incentives to help families reduce their bills. We will introduce a funded renewable heat incentive. Our green deal will encourage home energy efficiency at no upfront cost to home owners and allow us to phase out the warm front programme. Overall, the total resource settlement for the Department of Energy and Climate Change will fall by an average 5 per cent a year but there will be a large increase in capital spending, partly to meet unavoidable commitments on nuclear decommissioning.
Defra will deliver resource savings of an average 8 per cent a year, but we will fund a major improvement in our flood defences and coastal erosion management, and that will provide better protection for 145,000 homes.
Britain’s arts, heritage and sport all have enormous value in their own right, but our rich and varied cultural life is also one of our country’s greatest economic assets. The resource budget for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will come down to £1.1 billion by 2014-15. Administrative costs are also being reduced by 41 per cent; 19 quangos will be abolished or reformed. All of this is being done so we can limit four-year reductions to 15 per cent in core programmes like our national museums, the frontline funding provided to our arts and Sport England’s whole sport plans. We will complete the new world-class building extensions for the Tate Gallery and British Museum in London. The Secretary of State will provide details of further projects shortly. I can also announce today that in order that our nation’s culture and heritage remains available to all, we will continue to fund free entry to museums and galleries. There is ongoing provision of the £9.3 billion of public funding for a safe and successful Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012.
We have also approached the BBC to ensure that it, too, makes its contributions, as a publicly funded organisation, to savings during this spending review. I am pleased to confirm that we have struck a deal this week. The BBC will take from the Government the responsibility for funding the BBC World Service and BBC Monitoring, as well as part-funding S4C. This amounts to some £340 million of savings a year for the Exchequer by 2014-15. To ensure that the cost of these new obligations is not passed on to the licence-fee payer, the BBC has agreed a funding deal for the full duration of its charter review. The licence fee will be frozen for the next six years. This deal helps almost every family and is equivalent to a 16 per cent saving in the BBC budget over the period, similar to the savings in other major cultural institutions.
The BBC has also agreed to reduce its online spend and make no further encroachments into local media markets to protect local newspapers and independent local radio and TV. It will also contribute to the £530 million we will spend over the next four years to bring superfast broadband to rural parts of our country that the private sector will take longer to reach. Pilots will go ahead in the Highlands and Islands, North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Herefordshire. All of this will help encourage the growth of our creative industries as a key part of the new economy we are seeking to build.
After our defence requirements are met, the Department for Transport will receive the largest capital settlement. Over the next four years, we will invest over £30 billion in transport projects—more than was invested during the past four years. £14 billion of that will fund maintenance and investment in our railways. Direct bus subsidies will be reduced, but statutory concessionary fares will remain. The cap on regulated rail fares will rise to RPI plus 3 per cent for the three years from 2012, but that will help this country afford new rolling stock as well as improve passenger conditions.
The Secretary of State will set out how more of the transport money will be allocated next week, but I want to tell the House today about some projects that will go ahead, for let us remember that, even after these tough spending settlements, the country is still going to be spending over £700 billion a year. In Yorkshire and the Humber, capacity on the M62 will be expanded, £90 million will be spent to improve rail platforms across various towns and cities and we will also improve line speeds across the Pennines. In the north-east, £500 million will be spent refurbishing the Tyne and Wear metro and Tees Valley bus network. In the north-west, we will invest in rail electrification between Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Blackpool, and we will provide funding for a new suspension bridge over the Mersey at Runcorn.
Rail and roads are devolved to the Scottish Executive, as are roads in Wales, but I can tell the House that major rail investments around Cardiff, Barry and Newport will go ahead. In the East Midlands, the M1 and A46 will be improved. In the West Midlands, we will extend the Midland Metro and completely redevelop Birmingham New Street station. In the south-west, we will fund improvements on the M5 and M4, and the new transport scheme for Weymouth. In the east of England, colleagues will be delighted to know that the A11 to Norwich will be upgraded.
Around London, we will widen the M25 between 10 different junctions and complete the improvement to the A3 at Hindhead, while in London, on top of the Olympics, a major investment in our capital city’s transport infrastructure will take place. Crossrail will go ahead and key tube lines will be upgraded for the 21st century. That is nothing like the complete list.
So, yes, we are saving money and putting the state on a more sustainable footing, but even then we will still be spending tens of billions of pounds on Britain’s future infrastructure. Next week we will also set out our national infrastructure plan so that private money is also put to work in building for this country the economic infrastructure that our businesses need. Our regional growth fund will also help us do that. As promised, £1 billion has been found for the fund over the next two years—money designed to lever in private investment in areas of our country where it has been too absent over the past decade. I can announce today that I am providing close to half a billion pounds extra in the third year for the regional growth fund.
Long-term investment in the capacity of our transport, our science and our green energy will all help move Britain from its decade-long dependence on one sector of the economy in one part of the country, and the ruin that that led to.
The most important ingredient that a 21st-century economy needs is well educated children who believe in themselves and aspire to a better life, whatever their background or disadvantages. In June, after the Budget, when the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I turned our attention to how to allocate spending between government departments, we set ourselves a goal. We wanted to see if it was possible, even when spending was being cut, to find more resources for our schools and for the early-years education of our children. I can tell the House that we have succeeded. It has meant other departments taking bigger cuts, but I believe strongly that this is the right choice for our country’s future.
There will be a real increase in the money for schools, not just next year or the year after, as the previous Government once promised, but for each of the next four years. The schools budget will rise from £35 billion to £39 billion. Even as pupil numbers greatly increase, we will ensure that the cash funding per pupil does not fall. We will also sweep away all the different ways in which money is ring-fenced so that schools can decide how to spend their money as they see best.
We will also introduce a new £2.5 billion pupil premium that supports the education of disadvantaged children and will provide a real incentive for good schools to take pupils from poorer backgrounds. This pupil premium is at the heart of the coalition agreement and at the heart of our commitment to reform, fairness and economic growth.
Parents, teachers and community groups will be supported if they wish to establish free schools. We will fund an increase in places for 16 to 19 year-olds, and raise the participation age to 18 by the end of the Parliament. That enables us to replace education maintenance allowances with more targeted support.
We will also provide support for the early years of our children. The increased entitlement to 15 hours a week of free education for all three and four year-olds, introduced under this Government, will continue. Sure Start services will be protected in cash terms, and the programme will be refocused on its original purpose. We will help them further by introducing for the first time 15 free hours of early education and care for all disadvantaged two year-olds so that these children have a chance in life and are ready, like the rest of their class mates, for school.
Overall, the Department for Education will be required to find resource savings of only 1 per cent a year. Central administration will be cut by one-third and five quangos will go. The capital budget will have to bear its share of the reductions. As the House will know, we have had to phase out the hopelessly inefficient and overcommitted Building Schools for the Future programme, but £15.8 billion will be spent to maintain the school estate and rebuild and refurbish 600 schools.
I repeat: the resource money for schools, the money that goes to the classroom, on the broadest definition, including all the main grants, will go up in real terms every year. It is a real investment in the future of our children and in the future growth in our economy.
Mr Speaker, let me conclude. The decisions we have taken today bring sanity to our public finances and stability to our economy. They deal decisively with the largest budget deficit that this House of Commons has ever had to face outside of wartime. We have had to make choices about the things we support. Today I have announced real increases in the NHS budget and the resources for schools, as well as new investments in the economic infrastructure of our economy. I have also announced real reductions in waste, and reforms to welfare, and through this we will reshape public services to meet the challenges of our times. During the process of this spending review I have received many submissions, including one from the party opposite that the average cut for unprotected departments should be set at 20 per cent over the coming four years rather than the 25 per cent that I anticipated in my June Budget. I have examined this proposal carefully and I have consulted the published documents of my predecessor, the right honourable Member for Edinburgh south-west. Because of our tough but fair decisions to reform welfare and the savings we have made on debt interest, I am pleased to tell the House that it has been possible, and the average saving in departmental budgets will be lower than the previous Government implied in their March Budget. Instead of cuts of 20 per cent, there will be cuts of 19 per cent over four years, so I thank them for their input and look forward to their support.
This coalition Government faced the worst economic inheritance in modern history. The debts that we were left threatened every job and public service in the country, but we have put the national interest first, made the tough choices, protected health, schools and investment in growth, reformed welfare and cut waste, made sure that we are all in this together and taken our country back from the brink of bankruptcy. A stronger Britain starts here. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, we must all be grateful to the noble Lord for expending the energy to repeat the long Statement that we have just heard. It may have appeared rather dull—a number of noble Lords on the Benches opposite fell asleep—but it is a massive gamble. The Government are gambling the jobs, homes and well-being of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of the British people on the hope—fingers crossed—that this will be a price well worth paying; for, make no mistake about it, that is the bet that the Government are placing. They are staking the misery of thousands, and the serious weakening of major British industries and institutions, on the belief that this gamble will not only restore growth to the British economy but restore it at a greater rate than would have been the case if the economic measures embodied in the March Budget of my right honourable friend Alistair Darling were left in place. Can the Minister tell us how many jobs will be lost in this gamble, including not just the loss of public jobs—we know that that number is 500,000—but of private sector jobs, too? Or will he simply confirm that he does not know the answer to that question?
The key component of this gamble is the hope that private sector growth will step in to fill the jobs and income gap left by the Government’s withdrawal from economic responsibility. That was made clear at the time of the June Budget. As we have heard, the Chancellor made clear in the Statement that the Budget and this Statement have to be taken together to assess effectively the impact on the economy, so I refer to table C3 in the Budget 2010 document. There it is made clear that the contribution of government expenditure to growth over the next four years will be relentlessly negative in every year—it will reduce the growth rate of the economy. It is also made clear that the gap cannot be made up by consumer spending as unemployment rises and standards of living fall, so what are the Government betting on? In the Budget report they forecast that growing business investment will make a contribution to the growth of GDP three times greater than it did in the prosperous years 1999 to 2008. On top of that, the Government say that the contribution of investment in housing will be double that in the good times, and that the contribution of net trade will be positive, whereas it was negative in every year of the earlier period. That is pretty difficult to believe. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research does not believe that. Its July report, Prospects for the UK economy, found that government spending cuts will reduce potential growth below that expected from Alistair Darling’s policies in every year from 2011 to 2015. In updated projections published yesterday, the institute finds that the Government’s policies will result in yet lower growth and consequentially higher deficits than they forecast.
There in a nutshell is the gulf in economic policy between the Conservative Government and this side of the House. Our policy is to support growth and investment in order to cut the deficit; their policy is to cut the deficit, and hope. The House will recall that the Government displayed their gambling instincts in the Budget report by presenting various outcomes for the economy with probabilities attached—those fan diagrams that we heard so much of—but that device seems to have disappeared from Spending Review 2010. If we look at the probabilities that the Government put forward, the Chancellor argues in the Budget Statement that there is a 30 per cent probability, a one-in-three chance, that growth in 2015 will be zero. Given that the Government admit that such outcomes are not just possible but likely—a one-in-three chance—will the Minister confirm, as Mr Osborne stated at the weekend, that,
“we have to see this through, and the course which I set in the Budget is the one that we have to stick to”.
In other words, even though his own published statements recognise that his policy might be a disastrous failure, he will not change it. If the bet does not pay off and even more people are ruined than he currently contemplates, there will be no change of policy. There is no plan B.
This is being done, we are told, because the country is bankrupt and expenditure cuts are necessary to survive the “sovereign debt storm”. Will the Minister confirm that interest rates payable on UK debt fell throughout the “sovereign debt storm”, both before and after in-year spending cuts? Not only was the UK’s financial standing never at risk, sterling has become a safe-haven currency during eurozone difficulties. The truth is that the scale of today’s cuts has nothing to do with the overall fiscal position. The truth was revealed by the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, in the Finance Bill debate in this House on 26 July this year. He said:
“we cannot afford a public sector of the size to which it had grown”.—[Official Report, 26/7/10; col. 1220.]
He also stated that there must be,
“a complete re-evaluation of the Government's role in providing public services”.—[Official Report, 26/7/10; col. 1217.]
That is what this spending review is all about. It is about an ideological commitment to cut the size of the public sector, and I give the noble Lord credit for being so honest to admit it.
Before turning to the scale of the cuts, I would be grateful if the noble Lord would help me with a rhetorical device that the Chancellor uses in his Statement. Whenever a spending increase is announced, it is announced in terms of a sum of money and, as is the way with these things when millions or billions of pounds are involved, it all sounds very impressive. However, when cuts are announced, they are announced as percentages—4 per cent here, 6 per cent there—so that they do not sound quite so bad. Will the noble Lord tell the House what a 7.1 per cent annual reduction in funding for local councils means in money terms? What do the 24 per cent cuts in the budgets of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice actually mean in money terms? What do they mean in terms of access to justice and prompt justice for all? How much money is being taken from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in annual cuts? We are told not the actual figure but that there will be a reduction of 7.1 per cent a year—say, 30 per cent over the period of the review—in the budget of the department that is supposed to support growth and innovation in this country.
Turning to higher education, I declare an interest as a university teaching officer. I am sure that all sides will welcome the commitment to protect the science research budget in money terms, although the real value will inevitably be eroded by inflation. Will the noble Lord tell the House what is happening to the teaching budget in science and engineering? What will happen to the research and teaching budgets in the arts and humanities? As for the future of the planet, what is the money value of the 20 per cent-plus cut in the Department of Energy and Climate Change budget and of the 35 per cent cut in Defra funding? The Minister should not be shy and hide behind percentages but tell us the numbers.
The most important number is the figure for cuts in the welfare budget, because the Government have committed an intriguing sleight of hand. Some departmental budgets have been cut by less than was expected. The noble Lord was delighted to make fun of the Opposition when he referred to only 19 per cent cuts in departmental budgets. Some sweeteners have been added, too. How have those been paid for? They have been achieved by cutting the welfare budget. A complex series of changes was announced in the Statement. Have the Government made an impact assessment of the changes, many of which will impact on Britain's poorest and most vulnerable families? Will the Minister tell the House the overall money value of the cuts in welfare spending, and will he confirm that more is being cut from welfare spending than from all the departmental budgets added together?
All independent assessments have found that the Government's measures will reduce growth over the next five years. That reduced growth will reduce the real income of future generations. That is the real burden that this Government are imposing on our children. The burden will fall immediately on the next generation, including the 15 to 25 year-olds who are desperately looking for a job or a university place or just a chance.
Of course, the gamble may come off, and we all pray that it will. But should it not, this irresponsible approach to dealing with the aftermath of the international financial crisis will impose a loss of real income on generations to come. Today and in the future, Britain will be paying the price of this Government’s gamble.
My Lords, for the Opposition to describe as a gamble all that we have done in a radical spending review seems incredible. Whey they were in government, they put more and more money on the table, doubled their bets and got credit until the music stopped. We were then left with the largest budget deficit in peacetime history. Now they have the gall to come here and say that what we are doing to put order back into the public finances is a gamble. It was absolutely unavoidable that we had to clear up the mess that we were left with. The overwhelming probability, in the commentaries that have continued to be published since the Budget, is that the plan will deliver what my right honourable friend the Chancellor said it would deliver.
The noble Lord talked about unemployment. As I have made clear, the independent estimates of the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast a reduction over four years of 490,000 employees in the public sector. However, the same OBR forecast done at the time of the Budget said that, in every year of the forecast period, total employment in the country would rise and unemployment would go down. To put that into perspective, it is worth remembering that in the last consolidation of national finances in the wake of the recession of the early 1990s, between 1992 and 1997, 690,000 jobs were cut from the government workforce, but they were more than absorbed by the increase of 1.7 million in private sector jobs. That has been done before under a Conservative Government and will be done again.
I begin to feel my age in this House when my old speeches are read back to me. It is very good and useful that the noble Lord reminds us of exactly what we said we would do and have done, which is to combine the necessary retrenchment with radical reform of how the public sector goes about its business. The combination of saving hard-working taxpayers their money with introducing radical reform is nowhere better demonstrated than in the welfare arena. The move over two Parliaments to a universal credit system is the most radical change in welfare for many decades. The noble Lord asked me who would pay for that change and all the other changes. The tables are all there at the back of the document explaining that the top quintile of the population will bear the largest share of the burden. There the noble Lord will find tables and analysis, which the previous Government did not care to show the nation in any spending review. However, I repeat that those who can afford to bear the greatest burden will pay for the change.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his slightly back-handed compliments on science, although I will take them as well meant. He clearly appreciates that the effort we have made on investment in science and wider infrastructure is absolutely critical to the medium-term growth of the economy. That is why we have maintained the science base in cash terms. I do not know whether, out of the science expenditure, we can provide calculators to noble Lords so that they can make calculations from percentages to money terms and so on, but perhaps that is something that those looking at procedures can look at.
The question on social housing gives me an opportunity to draw attention to how we can deliver so much more if we apply decent disciplines to public expenditure. We will deliver 150,000 new units of social housing in the next four years at a cost of £4.4 billion. In the previous four years, the previous Government built 170,000 new homes at a cost of £11 billion—another indication of the sort of waste that is of the past.
Coming back to the big questions of growth, which are absolutely critical, I know that the OBR, international forecasters and forecasters from the City are all forecasting continued growth this year, sustained and rising for the next few years. In the second quarter of this year, we had growth of 1.2 per cent and we had new jobs created in the first quarter—
Thanks to the stabilisation of the economy and the confidence that came with the new Government, we had second-quarter growth of 1.2 per cent and more than 300,000 new jobs.
Lastly, whose policies are these and where is the endorsement coming from? The noble Lord talked about the interest bill, so perhaps I may put it to him this way. The day before the election, the Government of the United Kingdom were paying 96 basis points more than the German Government for 10-year money. That was the increment that we had to pay over what Germany was paying. As of the moment that the Chancellor sat down this afternoon, those 96 basis points had reduced to 56. That represents a saving on a daily basis of millions of pounds that eats into the £120 million daily bill of interest that the previous Government left us with.
My Lords, I have to confess an interest in this subject, although it is rather a reminiscent one. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, my mind went back about 30 years to when I introduced my third Budget to deal with the economic legacy of the Labour Government whom we had displaced. Today, the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has not begun to offer anything by way of alternative policy that can be considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I wonder whether he was one of the 364 economists who wrote to the Times after my Budget to say that everything that we were proposing was wholly wrong, without offering any alternative. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who is not in his place, was one of the leading signature seekers in that exercise. This is not just a frivolous point. They were no doubt sincere in their enunciation but, almost on the day following that and for the next eight years, we had steady, sustained economic growth, inflation came down from the huge figure that we had inherited from the preceding Labour Government and, in the end, unemployment also began to come down.
It is worth reflecting on those points. The central defect with which the Government are grappling is comparable. The Government are borrowing £1 pound for every £4 that they spend and the rate of interest that they are paying is costing £120 million a day more than would otherwise be the case. There is no doubt whatever about the necessity of a comprehensive spending review. No one has challenged that. The review has been undertaken with a wide range of sophisticated skills. It has addressed not simply that central problem but a wide range of other policy questions—almost the complete government programme.
My Lords, my question is: will it not remain essential for months and indeed years ahead to have a similar economic discipline to that being imposed so far in this comprehensive spending review? Also, given the many features with which the Chancellor has dealt today, is not this review absolutely inescapable? It is not merely a comprehensive spending review but a continuous spending review, to which the party opposite has offered no alternative policy but in which the policy of the Government has been clearly set out comprehensively and with courage.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon for reminding us of the confidence that we can have in the tough decisions that this Government have taken. He was the architect of a similarly bold, tough and successful consolidation of the public finances in the early 1980s. This is indeed an important lesson for us. I agree with him that this must be driven through in the way in which he describes. He points out that the Opposition have provided no alternative policies, but it is worse than that: I understand that, when listening to my right honourable friend’s Statement in the Chamber, the shadow Chancellor sent out an e-mail in his name—I do not know how he did it—asking the public or whomever he was e-mailing for any ideas so that the Opposition could formulate an alternative policy. We look forward to hearing the outcome.
My Lords, I have a specific question for the Minister. Will he answer the question that my noble friend Lord Eatwell asked and turn the percentages into numbers, particularly the contribution to be made by the welfare budget? When my noble friend asked that question, I noticed that there was some scribbling going on in the Box and a note appeared shortly afterwards. Perhaps the Minister could share that note with us.
My Lords, I could sit here for a long time, get out my calculator and work these things out. All the numbers are set out in the book; there still seemed to be copies in the Printed Paper Office when I came into the Chamber. There are probably more important things to be talking about now.
My Lords, very many of us are eager to see the big society, with its vision of neighbourliness, prevail. Neighbourliness requires a particular care for children, who are a gift and not a commodity, and for poorer families. Given that many children and poorer families will be badly affected by the reduction in benefits, can the Minister tell us where this lost support may be found in the future for children and poorer families?
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for drawing our attention to the question of children, which I shall come back to. In respect of his question about poorer families, I draw the House’s attention to the new section at the back of the document, which for the first time lays out the effect on the deciles and quintiles of the population of all the measures that we have taken in the spending review and the Budget. It confirms the fairness of the overall construct—namely, that those who can afford to pay more will do so and that the poorest in society are protected.
The spending review will provide additional support to the most disadvantaged children at every stage, particularly in education, and will support social mobility. As I said when repeating the Statement, free early years education will be extended to 15 hours and care will be given to the most disadvantaged two year-olds. Critically, we will introduce a £2.5 billion pupil premium. There will be more generous maintenance provision and a scholarship fund of £150 million to underpin higher education funding for disadvantaged children. The entire spending review has taken fully into account the needs of children, particularly in education. The coalition Government have taken action to protect families. Overall, there is no measurable impact on child poverty from all the model changes for the next two years.
My Lords, the Minister has confirmed that public expenditure will go up in actual terms. Historically, 40 per cent was deemed to be the sensible level of public spending expressed as a percentage of GDP and a sensible balance between the private sector and the public sector. Is the Government’s aim to get back to that 40 per cent figure on a regular basis? In this environment, one would need to do that anyway regardless of the budget deficit. In that sense, I welcome the reductions in the welfare budget, which were badly overdue. Although spending on the National Health Service has been ring-fenced, the efficiency savings there are also very welcome and I think that the whole public would agree with them. However, in the coalition Government’s spirit of the transparency, the Chief Secretary revealed to us yesterday that 500,000 jobs would be lost in the public sector, a figure that the Minister has confirmed today. How confident are the Government of those jobs being replaced in the private sector? How confident are they that they have done enough to stimulate growth in the private sector, particularly against a backdrop of increased capital gains tax and higher rates of tax in every area? How difficult will it be?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for drawing our attention to the important question of the balance between the public and the private sectors, which had got completely out of kilter under the previous Government. I repeat that this is not just an exercise in cutting back expenditure, necessary and unavoidable though that is; it also entails a critical rebalancing of the public and the private parts of the economy. What we have announced today will take the public sector part of the economy back towards that 40 per cent figure. In answer to the question about the absorption of the inevitable job losses in the public sector, I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the fact that, in the past quarter alone, the private sector generated 178,000 new jobs. That was in one quarter, so we should be confident, when the Office for Budget Responsibility believes that overall employment in the economy will rise year by year, that that indeed will be the case and that the inevitable reduction in public sector jobs will be more than absorbed.
My Lords, a lot of attention has rightly been paid to the effect that the Statement will have on public sector employment. Will the Treasury urge all departments to examine a range of measures, such as part-time working and a complete freeze on bonuses and increments, all of which have already been widely adopted in the private sector and would have the effect of reducing to a minimum the number of public sector job losses?
I thank my noble friend Lord Newby for drawing attention to the fact that departments will be encouraged to take the maximum opportunity of flexibility in pay and other conditions in the way that he described to mitigate the effects of the inevitable job reductions in the public sector. We will also be introducing a number of other measures to mitigate those job losses, which of course we very much regret. For example, we are introducing the regional growth fund and there is the protection that comes with the wider pension reforms. With assistance from Jobcentre Plus, there will be a further range of measures to mitigate the effects of the job losses in the public sector.
My Lords, we have agreed to extra time for this Statement, but perhaps we should, as a matter of courtesy, give priority to those noble Lords who sat through the reading of the Statement, rather than those wandering in five minutes before the end.
I take it that the Government themselves acknowledge that the recovery is fragile and that, by reducing planned public expenditure and increasing taxes so drastically—the Statement rather skated over the taxes aspect—thereby taking demand out of the economy, they are taking some risk, at the very least, with that fragile recovery. In that context, was it sensible to announce the reduction of public sector jobs by 490,000 before publishing the detailed departmental plans from which, presumably, that figure was derived? As a result, not merely the holders of the 490,000 jobs but the whole public sector—millions of people and their families—will be deeply anxious about their future and will be reducing, perhaps drastically, household expenditure. That will take more demand out of the economy quite unnecessarily in a context where we require the reverse of that.
My Lords, I think that what the country has really been worried about is how the Government would deal with this horrendous deficit problem. What underpins the prospects for renewed, sustained growth is that we have reduced the deficit as a necessary precondition and that we have done so in such a way that the markets are convinced that we are serious about it. The latest official data show that GDP grew strongly, by 1.2 per cent, in the second quarter. It is the substantial accumulation and growth of government debt that risks that ongoing recovery and that is what we have dealt with.
My Lords, one thing is absolutely clear, which is that Mr Gordon Brown inherited the most favourable economic situation of any Chancellor since the war and left behind an enormous problem for the coalition to deal with. However, as anyone who has had experience of this sort of exercise will know, it is remarkable that the Treasury, officials and Ministers have managed to produce such a comprehensive review in such a short time, dealing with everything from Equitable Life to coastal erosion to measures overseas to deal with malaria and so on. What is being overlooked is that the Statement mentions not only cuts but a number of increases in public expenditure. It is really, apart from dealing with the deficit, a reappraisal of the priorities that we ought to have. From that point of view, it does exactly the right thing. Indeed, there is no cut. Public expenditure, as I understand it, is to go up from £651 billion to £693 billion. That is scarcely a cut by any standard. That is the kind of number that the noble Lord on the Front Bench was asking for.
May I put this question to my noble friend? It is difficult to ascertain from the Statement what the effect will be on aggregate demand. Will it reduce aggregate demand in the economy or will it increase it? If it is going to increase it, clearly the Bank of England will need to take that into account. If it is going to reduce it, it is important that action should be taken to offset the cuts that are being made by quantitative easing or whatever may seem appropriate. Could the noble Lord tell us: is this something that increases or decreases aggregate demand?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Higgins. I will relay to my right honourable friend the Chancellor and to all the very hard-working officials in the Treasury his generous words, which confirm that this is indeed a radical, fair and comprehensive spending review. In answer to his question about demand, clearly, with the independent projections from the Office for Budget Responsibility and all the other commentators of consistent growth going forward, demand will indeed increase. The question of what role the aggregate increase in the money supply plays is one on which, as we know, the Governor of the Bank of England continues to be very much focused as he leads on the conduct of monetary policy.
My Lords, the devil is in the detail, as has been said before. The Statement says that pension savings credit will be frozen for four years, saving in total—on page 11 of the Red Book—£1 billion from pensioners. The state pension will rise with earnings, so that pensioners not in need of pension credit will be better off, which is good, but poorer pensioners dependent on pension savings credit will find that the income and the increase in state pension will be offset by the freeze in the savings guarantee and they will be worse off. Better-off pensioners will be better off, while poorer pensioners will be worse off. Is that fair?
Answer the question!
We need to look at it in the overall context of what the Government have done for elderly people, because this is important. The critical decision is that the Government, as announced before, will meet their commitment to uprate the basic state pension by whichever is the highest—earnings, prices or 2.5 per cent—from April 2011, as well as preserving other key pensioner benefits, which people have questioned, including the winter fuel payments, the free TV licences, the bus travel, the eye tests and the prescriptions. I am grateful for the question on the detail but I think that it gives me the opportunity to emphasise the overall deal for pensioners, which we think is important in this spending review.
I congratulate my noble friend and the Chancellor on the excellent Statement, which shows great courage as well as great care in taking forward the mess that we inherited from the previous Government. The previous occupier of his office—the noble Lord, Lord Myners—was almost certainly correct when he assured this House that we would end up making a profit and getting our money back from the bank bailouts. Given that, should we not make it absolutely clear to the country that we have had to take these measures, which Members opposite are complaining about, because for years Mr Gordon Brown as Chancellor and Prime Minister made this country live beyond its means and was borrowing at the height of the boom; and that, despite these measures, our debt as a nation will increase? Could my noble friend tell me how much our national debt will have increased by, despite these measures, by the end of this Parliament? Given that number, how on earth can we take seriously Members opposite who are criticising what is a responsible programme from my noble friends and from our coalition partners?
My Lords, I think I would probably faint at this moment if I even mentioned the debt number. The critical thing is that the debt will peak and we will bring it down, as we said we would, within this spending review. I am grateful to my noble friend for stressing that it has indeed been a courageous and careful exercise that is enabling us to make sure that the debt tops out and starts to come down within the spending review period. He reminds us that a twin failure of the previous Government caused the mess that we are in: first, as my noble friend points out, the great increase in public expenditure that we could not afford; and, secondly, the complete failure to regulate our banking system properly, which caused the whole house of cards to come down. I can give my noble friend the numbers on the public sector net debt, which will go up from 53.5 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 to a staggering 70.3 per cent in 2013-14 before we bring it down to 69.4 and 67.4 per cent by 2015-16 thanks to the measures that this Government have announced today.
Stoddart! Cross Bench!
He is not a Cross-Bencher.
Yes, he is; he is an independent Labour Cross-Bencher. The Government have ring-fenced health and overseas aid. Is there not another item that has been ring-fenced? It is our net contribution to the European Union, which is £6.7 billion this year. Would the Minister agree that if that were reduced by 20 per cent, it would enable 55,000 more nurses, policemen or teachers to be employed? Should our country not come first rather than subsidising other countries?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for a question that reminds us that we are working extremely hard as a nation to live within our means. It is equally important that within Europe the European Union also lives within its means. The Government will be doing everything they can to make sure that proper financial discipline is applied to the European budget this year and for the next spending period. I do not know, but I have a sense—I might like to ask on the subject—that the Labour Members of the European Parliament were today voting to allow the European Union to have its own tax-raising powers to fund a separate pot of money. The present Government want to see proper discipline applied to European Union expenditure.
My Lords, the noble Lord said that fairness is important to his Budget. He went on to say that a civilised society protected the most vulnerable. Yet in 21st-century Britain 30 per cent of disabled people live below the poverty line. What specific measures are proposed in this spending review to reverse that and to give some fairness and justice to the most vulnerable in our society?
My Lords, as I have reiterated, at the absolute centre of this spending review is the universal credit, which, over the next two Parliaments as we bring it in, will go to the heart of the challenge the noble Lord poses. As to the provision for disabled people, people with long-term conditions account for around 70 per cent of the NHS budget, which is the area of spending being protected above all others.
People with disabilities and social care needs will also benefit from the additional resources given to social care within the health and local government budgets. People with care needs are also being protected from the extension of the single-room rate in the housing benefits. Finally, of the measures to which I should draw the attention of the House, families where someone claims a disability living allowance will be exempt from the new cap on total household welfare payments. Care for disabled people is absolutely at the heart of this review.
My Lords, my noble friend was accused by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, of ideology in pursuing the excellent programme that he set out in the Statement. Will he confirm that it is necessity and not ideology that has driven today? Will he further confirm that we inherited the largest deficit in the G20 and an economy where public sector productivity had gone backwards for most of the previous 13 years? We found budgets, such as defence, which were overcommitted to an extent more than the annual budget. Will my noble friend confirm that we are committed to restoring efficiency and effectiveness to public spending, which are principles that eluded the Benches opposite for the previous 13 years?
My Lords, it is only right to say thank you. Northern Ireland, historically and geographically, has been very closely associated with Scotland. As a result, the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland is the largest Protestant communion in that province. The problems of the Presbyterian Mutual Society have been a running sore for several years. Will the Minister take note that there will be widespread appreciation across Northern Ireland that this problem has finally been addressed in the Statement?
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for drawing attention to the fact that the Presbyterian Mutual Society has been a long-running issue which was not gripped by the previous Government. Whether it is that or properly compensating the policyholders of Equitable Life, we have got on and made what we believe to be fair decisions which were dodged by the previous Government.
My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to answer my noble friend Lord Eatwell’s question about universities? Does he agree that the Browne review can in no way cover the costs of teaching, which we need, in the universities which contribute so much to our economy beyond the STEM subjects and so much to our civilised society?
I am very happy to endorse absolutely that sentiment of how critical it is to support the finest universities in the world, which stand up with the universities of the US at the top of all the league tables. While we preserve critical elements of science spending, there needs to be a fundamental rebalancing—that is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Browne, proposed in his report—between what the state can afford to pay and the contributions paid by those who benefited from a university education. That is what we are proposing.
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums (Civil Sanctions) Order 2010
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this order, which is to be made under Schedule 19C to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as amended by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, permits the Electoral Commission to impose civil sanctions for breaches of the party funding regime established by the 2000 Act. The Committee on Standards in Public Life conducted a review of the Electoral Commission in 2007. It found that currently:
“The only sanction that the Electoral Commission has if the parties do not comply with legislation is to name or shame or, if the offence is sufficiently serious, it can refer it to the Crown Prosecution Service for criminal prosecution”.
The committee recommended a new system of penalties to enforce the regulatory framework set out in the 2000 Act. The 2009 Act was intended to tighten the controls on spending by political parties and candidates, and part of that process was to strengthen the regulatory role of the Electoral Commission. As such, that Act gave the Electoral Commission new powers to investigate potential breaches of party funding law itself rather than have to refer most things of any potential seriousness to the police and to apply a range of civil sanctions as an alternative to criminal prosecutions. We are keen to fulfil this commitment, one that was made by the previous Government.
Following Royal Assent to the 2009 Act, the Electoral Commission initiated a consultation on its proposed enforcement policy. The responses to the consultation and the commission’s resulting recommendations were considered by the Government during the development of the order, alongside the valuable technical advice which was received from the Electoral Commission itself. The 2009 Act inserted into the 2000 Act the key principles behind the powers to impose civil sanctions, including the type of civil sanctions that will be available to the commission, broadly how they will operate and the right of notice prior to the imposition of sanctions, and appeal to the county court or sheriff thereafter. The powers closely mirror those set out in the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008, which established a sanctions framework for analogous regulators.
It is important to make it clear that these new powers are intended to supplement, and not to replace, the existing ability of the police to investigate an offence, and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a criminal prosecution. Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the order specifies those offences that will be capable of attracting either criminal or civil sanctions depending on what the commission, the police and the CPS think is the right approach in each case. An individual cannot be proceeded against for the same wrong by the civil and criminal routes. Part 2 specifies these restrictions and requirements that will be capable of attracting only civil sanctions.
Part 3 ensures the continuation of provisions which are currently set out in Section 147 of the 2000 Act and which will be removed from the Act when the new powers are commenced. These provisions enable the commission to impose a sanction on an organisation for the act of one of its officers for a limited range of transgressions. The list set out in Part 3 reflects the list currently set out in Section 147 of the 2000 Act with the addition of Section 41(1), failure to keep accounts, and Sections 41(4) and (5), failure to maintain accounts for six years.
By contrast, those offences in the 2000 Act which are not included in Schedule 2 to the order will remain subject only to criminal sanctions. Examples of such offences are in Section 61(2), knowingly giving false information to a party treasurer, or withholding information with intent to deceive, as set in Section 148(1), or altering, suppressing, concealing or destroying, or permitting the same, of documents relating to the financial affairs of a supervised organisation or individuals.
The standard of proof for imposition of penalties remains of a criminal standard. This has always been the intent as the aim is not to weaken the standard of proof required for a penalty to be imposed but, rather, to improve the processes that link an offence or some other contravention of the rules to enforcement action, and to ensure proportionate action.
Four categories of civil sanctions are being made available which, taken in conjunction with the existing penalties, the Government and the Electoral Commission believe will allow the punishment to fit the offence. There will be fixed monetary penalties, discretionary requirements, stop notices and enforcement undertakings. The first two require positive action by the person concerned and are the type of sanctions that require a criminal standard of proof being imposed. Fixed monetary penalties have been set at £200 and will be used for minor breaches. Discretionary requirements can take the form of a variable monetary penalty up to a maximum value of £20,000 or, alternatively, an instruction to take specified actions. A stop notice acts much like a civil injunction, requiring the person, political party, recognised third party or permitted participant to cease activity immediately. A criminal standard of proof is not required before a stop notice is imposed but, of course, if the person concerned is not committing the breach that they are required to stop, the stop notice would not cause them any difficulty. Enforcement undertakings are where the Electoral Commission accepts a proposal from a person that outlines the action that they will take within a specified period with a view to preventing the recurrence of an offence or contravention.
A second level of sanctions is available where the initial sanction is not complied with. The order provides for monetary penalties to be increased if not paid on time and to be recoverable as if they were payable under a court order. If a person fails to comply with a non-monetary discretionary requirement, the Act enables a monetary penalty to be imposed. The order sets the level of these non-compliance penalties at between £500 and £20,000. A failure to comply with a stop notice is a criminal offence under the Act. While an enforcement undertaking is being complied with, the person who gave the undertaking is protected from other sanctions under the Act, but if it is not complied with the full range of sanctions becomes available to the commission.
It is important that the Electoral Commission has the correct tools to regulate and tackle non-compliance with the law on party funding in an effective, proportionate and fair way. The Government believe that the order before us today, in combination with the powers inserted into the 2000 Act by the 2009 Act, will give the commission those tools. The Electoral Commission has published its enforcement guidance setting out how it intends to use the new civil sanction powers and how it intends, wherever possible, to use advice and guidance proactively in order to assist individuals and organisations to meet their legislative requirements. I commend the draft order to the House.
My Lords, I rise not to oppose but to ask questions on this matter. My experience of the Electoral Commission—although this may have changed—was that people were not allowed to become commissioners if they had been agents or senior officials of parties in the previous 10 years. This meant that we were denied the expertise of retired party agents from the main political parties, and even minority parties. When the commissioners were meeting, it therefore meant that when any ideas came up and those around the table were, perhaps, executives or previous executives of local authorities, they never had the background to know what happened at grass-roots level when political parties were seeking the support of the electorate. They did not have experience of putting leaflets through doors, going into housing estates or, sometimes, even of speaking to electors. I would hope that this matter has been resolved. It would be excellent if the Electoral Commission was able to get commissioners who were previously national or assistant national agents of political parties.
Sometimes in political parties, volunteers are required to take office. Sometimes, on a cold winter night, it is not so much a volunteer but a conscript who becomes the party treasurer or some other officeholder. If a political organisation got into difficulty, it would be very sad if an officeholder, having taken office in good faith while expecting the support of others, made a mistake through inexperience and was charged in any way as being a wrongdoer. Can the Minister help me on that?
It should be borne in mind that the Electoral Commission is in many ways an inexperienced organisation because, as noble Lords might remember, there was a shambles in the Scottish parliamentary elections because of electronic voting. Since the Electoral Commission participated in that new voting system, there was a requirement to bring in an adviser from Canada to investigate the matter, because there would have been a conflict of interest in the commission being involved in it.
My Lords, I can take my text now from the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, because I have been an active member at every sort of division of party activity for over 50 years. I want to take this opportunity to ask the House to think a bit about the volunteers who make our democracy happen. These are the people who, through all the circumstances that the noble Lord referred to, make it possible for democracy to be effective in this country. These people seldom end up on green or red Benches. They are rarely quoted in the newspapers or on television, but they are the essential manpower and womanpower for running our democracy.
During the passage of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, to which my noble friend has referred, all three major parties made this point. As the Minister responsible, Mr Michael Wills—as he then was—said,
“we must also address legitimate concerns about the burden of reporting relatively small donations in the context of the public's interest in bigger political donations ... we must never forget that political activity in this country is largely carried out by volunteers—selfless people who give their time and effort to political parties across the House. Without them, none of us could function effectively in representing our constituents”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/09; col. 590.]
Mr Jonathan Djanogly, the then Conservative spokesman, agreed. He said:
“I stress that we should be encouraging engagement at the grass-roots level of politics ... I am sure that all hon. Members will be aware that the voluntary levels of party structures and local fundraising are normally entirely divorced from the more complex upper echelons of party funding”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/09; col. 605.]
My honourable friends in that House and my noble friends and I in this House made similar points throughout the discussions on that Bill, as the noble Lord who was then in charge of the Bill will confirm.
Schedule 2 to this order, as my noble friend has pointed out, sets out 69 offences that already exist under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. These are 69 ways in which local parties or associations and their officers—volunteers, in the main—can fall foul of the law. In principle, creating the possibility that these offences can, at least in the first instance, be removed from the sphere of criminality by bringing in civil sanctions instead is welcome, and I acknowledge precisely that point, which was made by my noble friend.
The Explanatory Notes make clear, however, that the criminal offences will remain. It is not a question of all those criminal offences being removed; it is simply that they will not necessarily be there at first instance. People will continue to be prosecuted in the criminal courts where there is evidence that they have acted knowingly or recklessly. Almost by definition, therefore, the new civil sanctions will apply to people who have made any of the 69 mistakes. Five more transgressions are also added to the list. These are the sort of non-offences that will not be susceptible to criminal prosecution but will be open to the civil sanctions that my noble friend has described.
I am sure that no one in your Lordships’ House doubts the importance of probity, accuracy and good record-keeping if we are to have a transparent system of political donations and campaign expenditure. However, we have to make sure, as the noble Lord has just said, that we do not set up an impossible task for those volunteers at local level—for example, the party chair who approaches an activist and says, “I’d really like you to stand to be the honorary treasurer of the St Albans Liberal Democrats. It’s not much work, you don’t have to worry; you won’t have any legal responsibilities and you’d really be very good at it”. I suspect that many of us in our time have asked people to do precisely that sort of job. Those putative officeholders whom we might try to cajole in future might look at the order that we are discussing today and think twice.
I hope that my noble friend can provide reassurances on two points. First, what de minimis provision is planned so that volunteers and their local parties are not penalised for small, innocent mistakes? My noble friend may say that of course the Electoral Commission will acknowledge when there is a genuine mistake and it will give advice, guidance and so on—I have worked with the Electoral Commission and I have great respect for its activities—but it is one thing to say that; it is not so easy to do it.
Secondly, is this order simply a small, interim step on the way to the full-scale reform of all the corruptive influence of the present situation that we face regarding party funding? Our worry on these Benches should not be about whether a treasurer in the Much-Puddle-Under-Ditchwater constituency Labour Party, the Nether Wallop Conservative association, or even the St Albans Liberal Democrats has notified or failed to notify the Electoral Commission of his or her change of address. That is the sort of issue that is addressed by this order, but it is not the big issue that we should be addressing. Instead, surely, the target should be the offshore bankrolling of political parties and the inexorable arms race in campaign spending. So I ask my noble friend when the Government will return to the much more urgent issue of the potentially corruptive influence of so-called big money in our political system. I am sure that my noble friend will recall that the coalition agreement stated:
“We will … pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics”.
A useful report has come out this week, Funding Political Parties in Great Britain: A Pathway to Reform by Democratic Audit, which explains the issues that we should be addressing with regard to the problems in our democratic system. Noble Lords will recall that the cross-party discussions under Sir Hayden Phillips came close to agreement on capping donations, a lower cap on national expenditure in elections, a cap on all party expenditure during each Parliament and—an important suggestion—the opportunity for political donations to be given the same tax concessions as charitable donations. That last could be introduced without any explicit increase in the already substantial state funding of our political parties and democratic system, of which the Labour Party is now the main beneficiary.
Looking at the whole range of these issues, it is surely a ludicrous anomaly that when the Reverend Ian Paisley asks his followers for donations to his church, they benefit from tax concessions, but if the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, seeks financial support from his followers for his political party, they cannot get that tax concession. That is surely absurd. What does that say about the relevant integrity and public spirit of those volunteers who make our democracy work? Even campaigning charities can benefit from tax concessions while democratic parties cannot.
I hope my noble friend will also recall that we on these Benches—those Benches, as it was—he, I and courageous Labour rebels, succeeded in amending the Political Parties and Elections Bill to prevent foreign-based billionaires spending huge sums to influence the outcome of British elections. Mr Jack Straw subsequently caved in and stopped the implementation of that measure before the recent general election. Will we now return to that very important issue? Will my noble friend give your Lordships' House an explicit assurance that cleaning up this mess will not be postponed any longer? The democratic audit reminds us that the role of the Electoral Commission is critical to this whole exercise, as, indeed, my noble friend has already said. However, the report states:
“The capacity of the Electoral Commission to enforce compliance and penalise non-compliance represents the other principal concern with the current arrangements … Further additions to the regulatory framework will almost certainly require that the Commission is granted additional powers to investigate and to enforce compliance”.
I think that the democratic audit was thinking not of that putative treasurer of the St Albans Liberal Democrat association, but rather of the much bigger, wider ways in which our democratic system can be undermined. Again, it seems we have to ensure that the sledgehammer of investigation and policing implied in this order is reserved for cracking the big nuts—the really big-scale attempts to corrupt our democratic system.
The introduction of these new disciplines and the failure to make progress on the bigger reforms threaten to discourage further individual, voluntary involvement in the democratic process, as the noble Lord, Lord Martin, said. Our political parties are wholly dependent on the commitment, enthusiasm and self-esteem of volunteers. Truly active involvement in the public life of our country, through the political parties, is an essential element in the so-called big society. The order is, of course, useful but it is a tiny answer to a much bigger problem.
My Lords, I shall be fairly brief but I cannot resist commenting that it is slightly ironic that we should be debating this matter on the afternoon when staff in the Ministry of Justice—whether front-line staff or those who work in the main office—are being decimated by a Statement made in another place. The staff who produced this order and the Bill, which became the Act, are the ones who will have to suffer. It seems to me ironic that we should discuss such a good order on the very day when they are to be decimated as a result of government policy.
I thank the Minister for outlining so clearly and in such detail the statutory instrument that we are being asked to approve. We support the order, which is hardly surprising as it flows from two Acts of Parliament introduced by the previous Government. As we have heard, the civil sanctions were introduced by the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008, and these regulations flow from the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009. As it happens, I played a small part in taking both those Bills through this House, so I am interested in the order which flows from those Acts.
The use of civil sanctions was not approved without controversy in this House when it considered the Bill. Their use, as opposed to criminal proceedings, is a flexible, sensible and proportionate step for many of the offences—for that is what they are—committed under the 2000 and 2009 Acts. As has already been said, criminal proceedings are appropriate and necessary in cases where a person has acted in a knowing or reckless way, but I hope that those cases are rare.
I say this with perhaps more feeling than some. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, on this and, no doubt, that of the noble Lord, Lord Martin. I was a constituency Labour Party treasurer for many years and now, for my sins, I am a chairman of a constituency Labour Party.
I am very grateful to the House for that acknowledgement. Both as treasurer and chairman I could be affected by the legislation that is now on the statute book.
I congratulate the Electoral Commission on the note it sent to noble Lords on this order, but I invite it to use its considerable powers—and they are considerable, as has been pointed out in the debate—with care, tolerance and humanity, bearing in mind the voluntary nature of so much political activity in this country. We support the order.
My Lords, I shall reply briefly to this debate. I am sure that we are all impressed by the climb of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, from treasurer to party chairman. Disraeli called that climbing the greasy pole.
I shall also respond briefly to the noble Lord’s point about the Ministry of Justice. Twelve years ago, I served on an inquiry, initiated by this House and chaired by the late Lord Slynn, into whether the ethos of public service was still alive and well in our Civil Service after the changes that had taken place in the 1980s and 1990s. Our report stated that yes, it really was alive and well—people in our public service were motivated by a sense of public duty and public service. Since returning into government five months ago, my experience has been such that I would not change a word of that report. I have been much moved and impressed by the dedication of the public servants with whom I have worked at all levels. I am well aware that percentages are meaningless for the individuals concerned. For them, the unemployment is 100 per cent. Therefore, we will try to manage the changes that we judge to be inevitable with a duty of care to those people and with as much humanity as we possibly can.
I am very familiar with this topic because more than a decade ago I was on the Benches opposite arguing about the Bill and many of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Martin, raised. I remember the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and myself, as two former party officials, pointing out that the Bill was couched in terms that made the treasurership of a political party sound like one of those golden prizes in politics, whereas the hard truth is that it is usually given to someone who has inadvertently left the room at the wrong time. It was argued at the time that the commission would have all kinds of talents except perhaps the most valuable talent of all—the ability to run elections at the sticky end for the political parties. The most recent appointments to the commission have been an attempt to remedy that, because the nominees have come from the political parties. I hope that that answer meets the point that was raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Martin, and my noble friend Lord Tyler asked whether the heavy hand of sanctions would come down on inexperience or on genuine mistakes. The Electoral Commission, in putting forward how it wants to approach these matters, said:
“We recognise that many of those responsible for complying with the law on party and election finance are volunteers … The new civil sanctions will allow us to use more constructive approaches to secure compliance in cases where the law has been broken. For example, we could issue a statutory notice designed to improve future compliance, rather than just imposing a less flexible penalty such as a fine.”
As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, a lot of work was done on this before the general election, and this order reflects that. The thinking behind it is that the Electoral Commission was faced with using either a tap on the wrist or a criminal prosecution. The order gives it a range of measures. What is in the order, and what is in the remarks that I made when I introduced it, is the point that the Electoral Commission is in no doubt that proportionality will be expected of it. With political experience in the commission, I hope that it will be able to use these powers with due proportionality and that there will be no sledgehammer, as the noble Lord, Lord Martin, and my noble friend Lord Tyler feared.
My only other point is in response to my noble friend Lord Tyler, who asked about the funding of political parties. This is a firm commitment in the coalition agreement. It was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. I am tempted to say that the Government will move directly to the measure as soon as reform of the House of Lords has passed, but that might be seen as not the kind of commitment that the House is looking for. As my noble friend Lord Tyler said, noble Lords on all sides of the House know that in the previous Parliament we came very close to getting agreement on party funding. The coalition Government are committed to try again and we hope, as the Opposition are nodding vigorously, that if we initiate a new attempt to get agreement on party funding, we will succeed this time.
I absolutely agree with everything that the noble Lord has said, but if he wants to know the reason why the talks on political funding failed—as Christopher Wren said when asked for what his monument would be—he should look around him. It is the people with whom he is in coalition who have prevented it happening.
I would prefer to leave those matters to the historians. We are looking forward. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is making a report. The report to which my noble friend Lord Tyler referred is on my desk at the moment. I think that we have a really good chance of taking matters forward. As I have said before, all the major parties have at some time or other faced problems, embarrassments and difficulties because of our way of funding political parties. If we really apply ourselves early in this Parliament to the problem, we could and should find a solution.
I commend the order to the House. It will help the party activists. I finish by endorsing the comments made by my noble friend Lord Tyler and the noble Lords, Lord Martin and Lord Bach, who all have campaign medals as party activists. Nothing annoys me more during a general election than knocking on a door only to be told by some proud person that they never vote and that we are all in it for what we can get. We know that our democracy works because of the tens of thousands in every political party who are willing to do those hard, dull jobs such as sticking things through doors and knocking on the doors of perfect strangers to engage them in discussion. They are the people who make our democracy work. I pay tribute to them and hope that this order will make that voluntary work a little easier.
Subsidiarity Assessment: Seasonal Workers (EUC Report)
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of seasonal employment (COM(2010)379, Council Document 12208/10) (First Report, Session 2010–11, HL Paper 35).
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion in my name on the Order Paper. With your Lordships’ leave, I shall also speak at the same time to the second Motion in my name.
The report before the House is the first of its kind. This is the first occasion on which this House is being asked to exercise new powers under the Treaty of Lisbon that allow it to communicate to the European institutions a formal opinion that, on a particular topic, legislation by the European Union is unnecessary. I stress that word “unnecessary”. Legislation may be desirable, but if so, the member states could enact it at national level. It is not necessary for the European Union to legislate. That principle of subsidiarity has been part of Community law for a long time and was first enunciated in the Treaty of Maastricht nearly 20 years ago. The Treaty of Amsterdam added a lengthy protocol on the application of the principle that included the words:
“The Community shall legislate only to the extent necessary”.
However, it was only on 1 December last year, with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, that national parliaments were granted the right to give, in a reasoned opinion, their view that a particular proposal for European Union legislation did not comply with the principle of subsidiarity and that the Commission—the originator of the proposal—should have an obligation to review it if enough parliaments did so.
The procedure for the House to deliver a reasoned opinion was suggested by the Procedure Committee in its second report of last Session. Its recommendation, which the House agreed on 16 March, was that, when the European Union Committee comes across an EU legislative proposal that in its view does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, it should produce a report with a reasoned opinion to that effect for debate by the House. That report is debated as usual on a Motion to Take Note, as we are doing tonight, but alongside that, as noble Lords will see, is a free-standing Motion inviting the House to support the reasoned opinion and to instruct that it should be forwarded to the presidents of the three European institutions. That second Motion, which we are debating along with the first, is of course amendable and divisible.
I turn now to the substance of the matter before us. Most countries rely to a greater or lesser extent on immigrants as seasonal workers, in particular for agriculture and tourism. Nationals of member states are of course allowed to enter other member states as seasonal workers, but that has nothing to do with it. The committee’s report concerns a proposal from the Commission on the entry and residence as seasonal workers of persons who are not citizens of a European Union country. Such people are referred to as third-country nationals. At present, the number of third-country nationals entering each member state and the conditions under which they enter and reside are matters for the national laws of the individual member states. The numbers remain a matter for national law because the treaties so provide, but the Commission’s proposal is for a directive that would unify the laws governing the conditions of entry and residence.
Because immigration is one of those matters on which the European Union and the member states share a competence, the Union can act only if, and to the extent that, the member states cannot use their national laws to govern the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals as seasonal workers. The view of the European Union Committee is that such matters can be regulated at member-state level and therefore should be regulated at member-state level; the Union should not be legislating in this field.
The committee’s reasons for believing that are set out in the report that we are examining tonight. I do not propose to go into the details of them now, but suffice it to say that the European Commission gave four reasons for thinking that action at EU level was necessary. However, none of the four convinced our sub-committee or the full European Union Committee. I am not totally convinced that they persuaded the Government either. In their Explanatory Memorandum, the Government set out the four Commission reasons and stated that,
“the UK would agree that on the basis of (i) at least, the principle of subsidiarity is met”.
Therefore, it seems that they were not very impressed by the other three reasons either. I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether that is the case.
Our committee is not alone in having concerns about subsidiarity. One House of the Austrian Parliament and both Houses of the Czech and Dutch Parliaments have already issued reasoned opinions, and other Parliaments have expressed doubts without going as far as issuing a reasoned opinion. The European Scrutiny Committee of the other place also has concerns. It has not issued a formal reasoned opinion but its chairman has written to the European Union institutions to voice that committee’s concerns.
I think that I should point out one other thing about the directive. Immigration measures, of course, do not apply to the United Kingdom unless we choose to opt in. When we considered the directive on 12 October, the three-month period for opting in still had three days to run. Therefore, when your Lordships’ committee agreed the report, we were not certain whether the Government would opt in. We now know that the United Kingdom has not done so. The fact, however, that an EU measure on these lines would not apply to the United Kingdom does not, in my committee’s view, in any way affect our power, and perhaps our duty, to make the House’s views on the subsidiarity issue known to the European institutions.
Unfortunately, the long Summer Recess has caused problems with the timing of our debate today. The treaties allow national parliaments eight weeks within which to issue a reasoned opinion. For this proposal, the eight weeks expired on 15 October, a large number of the weeks having occurred during our Recess. I make no complaint at all about the timing of this debate. The committee is very grateful to the usual channels for arranging it at such short notice. However, the committee was faced with the choice of sending a report to Brussels which would be in time but which would not be a reasoned opinion of the House, or of waiting until today’s debate so that, if the House were so minded, what went to Brussels was the view of the House and not just of the committee.
The Commission has also said that it will not rely on technicalities in giving weight to views of national parliaments, so we chose the second course. That means that, if the House agrees to issue a reasoned opinion today, it will not count towards the threshold for triggering the formal Lisbon treaty procedures. That threshold could not have been met even if we could have had our debate last week. Therefore, I am confident that the political weight of the opinion of this House will not be in the least diminished.
My Lords, I do not propose to comment on the substance of the Motion. However, I would like to make a few remarks about the process. Like the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I must mention that this is an historic occasion. After all, it is the first time that the House has considered whether it wishes to pass a reasoned opinion. As the effect of a number of reasoned opinions from different member states, when added together, can change the direction of the European legislative process, albeit somewhat tentatively, it is a new form of involvement in the European system of law-making which directly involves parliaments of the member states. It is, of course, in line with the provisions that were brought in under the Lisbon treaty because this House is one of two Chambers of a bicameral parliament of a member state of the Union. Indeed, if I think back to the debate on the Lisbon treaty, there was not agreement about very much but, as I recall, this was one of the few proposals which seemed to command general support.
We are talking about the direct involvement of this House in European law-making. We are not talking about political process; we are not talking about scrutiny; we are not talking about participation in COSAC; and we are not even talking about domestic legislation. We are talking about something very new. It follows that this House is entirely at liberty in these circumstances to take a different view from either the Government of the day or of the other place. They too, in their own way, have their own role in European legislation. As has been explained, it seems that in this instance the Government and this House are more or less at one, both on process and on substance, but that is not necessarily always going to be the case.
As a result, there are two questions I would like to ask the Minister—I hope she has been warned about them. First, what is the Government’s policy towards a draft piece of legislation which they consider to be in breach of the principle of subsidiarity, but of whose substance they approve? Secondly, I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that, in their view, the primary principle for this House and for another place in considering these matters is to ensure that the constitutional integrity of this country’s relationship with the European Union is maintained.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for introducing this debate and for his Motion, which I shall support if there is a vote tonight. It is not my usual practice to congratulate the committee of which he is the chairman; I usually have a lot of criticism. I think that the last time I was able to praise it was for its masterly report on the Maastricht treaty—or it may have been on the Single European Act. However, I congratulate it on its watchfulness and on being prepared to use the one clause of the Lisbon treaty that was any good to put the point of view of this House on the directive.
The directive is long and detailed, so the noble Lord’s explanation of it was very useful. It is entirely correct that he and the committee should challenge it on the grounds that it does not comply with the principles of subsidiarity. His Motion should receive support from all quarters of the House.
The admission of third-country nationals is surely a matter for nation states and not the European Union. The trouble with the Union is that it seems increasingly to want to intervene and interfere in every nook and cranny of national life. It must be confronted on this and I am glad that we are doing something about it tonight. Who comes to this country or any other country, where they come from, why they are here and what they can do is none of the EU’s business; it is absolutely for national Governments and national law. I am glad to hear that the Government are not acceding to the directive, because it would place restrictions on employers and transfer to the European Union powers that it does not already have.
I hope that the Select Committee will continue to get tough. It has a wonderful opportunity to do so. In the face of the welter of initiatives and power grabs that have been coming from the European Commission and the European Parliament since the implementation of the Lisbon treaty, it will be more than ever necessary for it to be watchful. As it now recommends, it should be tough and use the provisions of the Lisbon treaty that allow national parliaments, in particular this Parliament, to make comments and to try to alter or have withdrawn matters that are coming from the Union.
Unfortunately, this debate does not allow me to make a protest about scrutiny override—or perhaps it does. I was concerned that the Government used the scrutiny override to accede to the European investigation order.
I see. Perhaps it is to be agreed. That means that Parliament will have a say beforehand. I am very pleased to hear that.
There is plenty more that I would like to say in this debate, but it is a specific debate and I hope that we will be able to discuss the European Union and our future in it when the sovereignty Bill comes forward. We will have a lot to say but, in the mean time, I hope that the European Union Select Committee will keep up its observations, control and what have you of all the matters coming from the European Union that are not in this country’s interests.
My Lords, I am truly being spoilt today, as I find myself on the speakers list sandwiched—if that is the word—between the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I am sure that the moderation and content of my remarks will satisfy both of them, which is not always the case.
I intervene briefly to support the European Union Committee’s first report of this Session, which assesses whether the proposal for an EU directive on conditions of entry and residence of nationals from third countries for seasonal employment reasons does or does not—and the committee says that it does not—comply with the principle of subsidiarity.
First, because this Parliament, under Article 5(3) of the Treaty on European Union and Article 6 of the protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, can submit a reasoned opinion on Commission proposals to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission itself, it is important that we should use this provision and that it should not go by default. I am glad that the EU Committee has examined this specific proposal and made this recommendation.
Unfortunately, the word “subsidiarity”, which sounds very technical, does not ring many bells in the United Kingdom. None the less, it is important, because it is a serious attempt to define the boundary between potential action at EU level and action by member states under their national arrangements, as in matters of shared competence the EU can act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposal cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states. Just as in this House we have a duty to scrutinise the activities of our Government and to ensure that they do not go beyond what is necessary, so we need also to present our views on the respect of the principle of subsidiarity and proposals being put to the EU institutions.
Although the UK opted out of the immigration regime in the original so-called Schengen provisions and we decided to operate our national border controls, it is remarkable that, in recent years, perhaps the number one concern of citizens has been the question of immigration and our operation of our border controls. None the less, I believe that the entry to and residence in the UK of third-country nationals as seasonal workers can be controlled by market forces and our national arrangements. That is what the EU Committee has said. Otherwise, we would have to follow the EU directive, if the Government had decided to opt in, and I do not think that we should do that.
Finally—this is a last word—those of us who work in this House know that we have been bombarded in recent years by a large volume of national, not EU, legislation, both as Bills and, more particularly, as secondary legislation. In the period from 1 August 2008 to October 2009, for example, 2,366 statutory instruments were made, of which only 94 directly implemented EU law. None the less, if we can avoid a proposal that, in the view of our EU Committee, does not respect subsidiarity, that is good.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Stoddart, I never thought that I would have the pleasure of supporting a report from your Lordships’ European Union Select Committee; but I do so now, and will be happy to support the Motion in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roper. I hope they will not be too embarrassed if I go further and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—who I am sorry to see is not in his place to hear this—and his Home Affairs Sub-Committee on the brevity and clarity with which they have put their case.
This report is perhaps a cause for even greater celebration. As far as I am aware, if your Lordships agree with the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, this evening, it will be the first time that your Lordships' House has voted to prevent a power being passed from this Parliament to Brussels since 30 January 1997, when the House supported a Bill in my name to withdraw from the European Union altogether. So, on the face of it, this report and the vote tonight should be good news for Eurosceptics and the country. I hope it will not detract from what I have said if I ask the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and indeed the Government—I am not quite sure who will be replying—the question: a quoi bon? What chance have we got of actually keeping control of the admission of third country nationals as seasonal workers? What happens next?
As I understand it, and as the noble Lord, Lord Roper, mentioned, I think we are supported in our opposition to this directive by only five other houses of parliament in the EU: the Austrian lower house and both houses in Holland and the Czech Republic. I gather that unhappy noises have also been made in other houses of parliament, including the House of Commons, which has not had the time, or perhaps the inclination, to debate the matter. I hope I am being pessimistic; and so I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and/or the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, who is to reply for the Government, to tell us how they see the directive proceeding from now on. For instance, can the Minister remind us how many member states’ houses of parliament are required to object to this directive before the Commission has to take action? Not much action though—as I understand it, it merely may have to reconsider it and then decide to proceed on its merry way anyway.
Noble Lords will appreciate that I ask this question against the background of Brussels and the Luxembourg Court’s long history of dishonestly interpreting the treaties to allow the EU to take ever more power at the expense of the member states. Perhaps the best example of this has been their use of Article 308 in the original treaty of Rome, which became Article 352. This allowed Brussels to exercise powers that the treaties did not grant, but only,
“in the course of the operation of the common market”.
So, it was designed to facilitate minor tariff adjustments and so on in the original Common Market. Yet over the years this clause has been used: to grant food aid to developing countries; to promote urban renewable in Northern Ireland; to provide assistance to economic reform in Mongolia; to co-ordinate our social security systems; to establish the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights; to fund a £235 million propaganda campaign; to allow Brussels to get involved in the prevention and aftercare of terrorism and in the control of civil emergencies; and, for good measure, to regulate glucose and lactose. I will say no more now, but students of the EU’s ability to abuse the treaties for its power-seeking purpose will find a fuller account of it in your Lordships' Hansard for 18 June 2008, cols. 1073-76.
The situation after Lisbon becomes worse, because Article 308,—now Article 352 in the Lisbon treaty—now replaces,
“in the course of the operation of the common market”,
“within the framework of the policies defined by the Treaties”,
which gives new space for the judicial activism of the Luxembourg Court, and no doubt it will continue to use it.
Before I sit down, in the same vein, could I ask what has happened to the finding in the committee’s 14th report in the 2008-09 Session, The future of EU financial regulation and supervision? That finding was that EU supervision of our financial affairs was not legal under the treaties. It required a treaty change, yet such supervision is proceeding apace and, as far as I am aware, the treaty has not been changed. I ask the Government whether the committee was wrong or whether its views are simply being ignored by Brussels as usual.
In conclusion, I fear the question becomes this: even if the committee is right that subsidiarity should legally apply in this case—and the committee clearly is right—what chance is there that Brussels will go along with its own law? I look forward to the Government’s reply.
My Lords, this is the first time in 20 years that I have spoken in the gap. First, I apologise to the House for that because on the whole I think that debates should proceed in the normal and acceptable way. In my defence, I took the view that this would not be a debate that required a list, but I was wrong.
This is a very strange debate in many ways. I have views on the EU, as most Members of this House will know, and I find myself agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and part-agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I have to say to him that I find it very strange that he sits behind me. There is a little prickling in the middle of my back every time I know he is there.
The place the noble Lord should be is obviously on the other side of the House.
What is to happen in this instance is very simple. When the issue came before the sub-committee, various members of the sub-committee looked at it and thought that subsidiarity applied and that it was incumbent upon the committee to say so. We could have said nothing about it, fairly reliant upon the fact that the Government were going to opt out, in which case, as far as Britain was concerned, it would be pretty academic. On the other hand, we took the view that since this was the first time that this procedure would ever be used, it was important, on an issue of principle, that we should make our views known and that therefore this novel procedure should be explored.
On the whole, the procedure—and it is process not substance that I really want to talk about—has worked. The sub-committee produced its report, it went to the main Select Committee, which approved the report, and it has now come to the House. If the House takes the view that it is invited to take, there will be a reasoned opinion of this House that will go back to the Community institutions. It is an admirable procedure. The only trouble was that we were out of time. It was no one’s fault, but it meant that when the committees were looking at this, there were about three days before the time limit ran out. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, explained at the outset that there was a choice. Either he could write a letter to the institutions in Brussels or we could get a reasoned opinion of the House and send that to Brussels. That is the view that he took, and I support it.
I again apologise for having taken up the time of the House in speaking in the gap.
My Lords, this is a most important debate and I am indebted to the European Union Committee and to its Home Affairs Sub-Committee for the work that they have undertaken. I say to my noble friend Lord Richard that I am delighted that the views of the committee have been made known to us in this way. As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has indicated, this is the first occasion on which the House is being asked to exercise new powers under the treaty of Lisbon. But I would also suggest that it is one of the first occasions on which the new Government’s policy towards the EU has been put to the test.
I disagree fundamentally with the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart and Lord Pearson, when it comes to matters European, but they are right to put the approach of Her Majesty’s Government under the spotlight. The matter arises from Europe’s need for third-country seasonal workers. The Commission believes that there is a need for low-skilled and low-qualified workers, which will continue expanding; that there is a more permanent need for unskilled labour within the EU; and that these gaps are unlikely to be filled with EU-national workers because, as we well know, such seasonal work is often unattractive.
We are also informed in all the useful documentation that we have been able to see that the Commission sees the proposals before us as part of the EU’s effort to develop a comprehensive immigration policy. It cites in its defence a number of political mandates to justify such action and sees its proposals as contributing to implementation of the EU 2020 strategy and to what it describes as effective management of migration flows for seasonal temporary migration.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has already suggested, because immigration is a matter where the Union and the member states share competence, the Union can act only if and to the extent that the member states cannot use their national laws to govern the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals as seasonal workers. As the noble Lord said, the committee’s reasons for believing this are set out in the report. They do not need repeating. In my view, they are substantive and persuasive.
It is significant that a number of other national parliamentary legislatures have also expressed concerns. Substance to the Select Committee’s reasoning is also given by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, first, at its meeting on 15 September where it concluded that, while there is an appropriate legal basis for the draft directive, the committee was less certain that the measure respects the principle of subsidiarity. At its subsequent meeting on 12 October, the House of Commons committee undertook what can only be described as a very careful analysis of the draft directive and the Commission’s rationale for its actions. It concluded that there were continuing reasons to doubt whether the draft directive complied with the principle of subsidiarity.
It is rather surprising that the Minister for Immigration, Mr Damian Green, did not appear to share that concern. He told the committee that he believed that the draft directive is consistent with the principle. In his argument to the committee, he said that he believed that it complies with subsidiarity on the basis that decisions taken by one member state on the rights of third-country nationals could affect other member states and distort migratory flows. He also suggested to the committee that labour mobility within the EU, especially from new to old member states, may cause or aggravate a shortfall in seasonal labour in the source countries, which needs to be met from outside the EU, and that this inter-relationship argues for EU-level measures to manage the admission of seasonal workers from outside the EU.
I found that a rather surprising analysis by the Minister. As the Conservative Party manifesto seemed to suggest that it would be rigorous in its efforts to prevent,
“further extension of the EU’s powers over the UK”,
one would have thought that one might have had a rather more convincing argument from Mr Green as to the approach that the Government took. It would be helpful to the House if the noble Baroness could define what the Government consider subsidiarity to be. I thought that the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, were extremely important in that context. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that simply because Her Majesty’s Government have decided not to opt into the directive, it does not detract from raising the serious question about their judgment and response to the subsidiarity question.
I end by coming back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Richard, who raised the issue of timing. As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has explained, the long Summer Recess has caused problems. The timing also exercised the Commons European Scrutiny Committee. In its letter of 13 October to the president of the European Parliament, the chairman of the committee, Mr Cash, pointed out that the parliamentary timetable did not permit the Commons to issue a reasoned opinion by 15 October, when the eight-week deadline expired. I know that the committee was aware that the former Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy had already said that the Commission would listen to the views of national parliaments even if there were an insufficient number of reasoned opinions to require the Commission formally to review its draft legislation. However, ideally one should not have to rely on the good will of the Commission in that respect.
I should like to put this point to the noble Lord, Lord Roper. In view of the timetabling difficulty and given that this might arise again in the future, particularly in the circumstances of the Summer Recess, will he consider, in conjunction with the Commons European Scrutiny Committee and the Leaders’ Group in this House which is looking at procedures, whether there is a way of avoiding this problem in the future? Overall, however, from the Opposition Benches, I have no hesitation in supporting the Motions tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Roper.
My Lords, along with the Benches opposite, I am grateful to the committee for its report and for the unusual degree of unanimity and agreement that has arisen in consideration of a matter concerning the European Union. As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, said, this is a first and our debate is about an important issue—the test of compliance of the draft directive with the principle of subsidiarity. Indeed, as he pointed out, the fact that something is desirable is not enough to meet the principle of subsidiarity; it has to be necessary.
I start by responding to the important points raised by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. The Government are a strong supporter of the Lisbon treaty arrangements for national parliaments to be given a direct say in the application of what we regard as the crucial principle of subsidiarity in EU lawmaking. That is defined in the treaty and the Government respect the right, irrespective of their own view, of the Houses to take their view on the European institutions to ensure that the Commission’s application of the principle remains within the bounds of the treaty. We believe that this constitutes an important step towards the democratic legitimacy of the European Union.
I was asked about the relationship between subsidiarity and the policy objective. When considering any directive, the Government’s policy is to assess as a matter of course the proposal on the grounds of subsidiarity irrespective of its substance. The Government carry out the subsidiarity test by checking whether, where the treaty allows for action by both the Union and member states, the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by member states by reason of the scale or the effects of the proposed action and so could be better achieved by the Union. That is the high test. Should the Government conclude that the action cannot be better achieved at the Union level, they would submit their views to the Commission. I hope that that makes it implicitly if not absolutely explicitly clear that the Government’s view is that subsidiarity takes precedence.
Before moving on to the specific issues raised by the committee, I should like to set out the Commission’s position on this directive. As a number of speakers have noticed, the Government have decided that the UK will not opt in to the measure. The UK’s immigration system does not currently provide for the admission of seasonal workers and our view is that our seasonal labour needs can be met from an expanded EU labour force. The seasonal agricultural workers scheme was closed to third-country nationals on 1 January 2007 by the previous Government and within the EU it is now open only to nationals of Bulgaria and Romania. We have no reason to suppose that that supply of labour will be inadequate. The Government have proposed setting a limit on the future volume of non-EU migrants allowed to enter the UK and are carrying out consultations on the options for implementing this policy.
Against that background, it would not have made sense for the UK to participate in an instrument that provides for common rules for the admission of third-country nationals for seasonal work, nor would it be sensible to lock ourselves into a directive that limits our freedom to decide what kind of controls we might want to apply to seasonal workers in the future.
The subsidiarity test is not always as straightforward as it seems, as it depends on an assessment of whether the proposal would have the results that it sets out to achieve. It is clear that in given instances it is possible for lawyers to disagree on these matters and for legal advice to be different, as implicitly noted in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The Commission’s view is that the need for seasonal workers is a “common occurrence” in most member states and that the terms on which one member state admitted such workers could distort migratory flows; it suggests that decisions by one member state could affect other member states. The committee argues that the need for seasonal workers may nevertheless differ between member states and that the treaty on the functioning of the EU recognises that volumes of admissions are for determination by each member state.
The Commission argues that the action is needed to reduce overstaying and illegal entry in an area without internal borders. The committee rejects this view on the basis that it does not see why having common rules would reduce this risk. The Commission’s proposals include provisions that would facilitate repeated re-entry as a seasonal worker on the basis that those admitted as seasonal workers would be less likely to overstay if they had some certainty that they would be able to re-enter after they left.
The Commission’s third argument is that exploitative working conditions need to be addressed by a,
“binding and thus enforceable EU-level agreement”.
The committee has objected that national measures may be equally binding and at least as effective. The test in this case, therefore, depends on whether we think that the intended result is better achieved through collective action.
Finally, the Commission suggests that the measure is crucial for effective co-operation with third countries. The Government share the committee’s assessment that this is unpersuasive given that nothing in the measures provides leverage for negotiation of wider agreements with specific third countries.
The Government take the view that the case for compliance with the subsidiarity principle is arguable, as noble Lords on the Benches opposite have noted, in respect of migratory flows and the risk of overstaying. However, the fact that there is a divergence between the applicability of compliance with this directive and the principle of subsidiarity does not detract from our belief that the view of the House on the European institutions and their duties should take precedence and should not be trumped by the Government’s view on compliance with given articles. The earnest of our view is that we give precedence to the committee’s view despite our differing opinion on the application of subsidiarity in relation to a couple of the clauses.
I am sure that the House will be gratified to learn that the Government are not going to disagree with the Motion being put forward tonight, which is the implication of what the noble Baroness has said. Yet the fact is that the Minister clearly said, at least to the Commons scrutiny committee, that he believes the draft directive complies with subsidiarity. If that is the case on that particular aspect, to what extent does that create a precedent in relation to the Government’s approach to the EU’s clear wish to develop a comprehensive immigration policy? For instance, if the Government are unwilling to argue with the Commission on subsidiarity in relation to this order, does it go wider than that?
The noble Lord grossly overstates what I have just said, which was that in these two instances there was an arguable case. Every single proposition put forward by the Commission will be treated on its merits by the Government and, as I have indicated, it will certainly be subjected first and foremost to the test of subsidiarity. The general position of the Government is well known; we regard immigration as something which is in the purview of the United Kingdom.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again, but when she says it is arguable that that is the Government’s case, that is not what the Minister in the other place told the scrutiny committee. I have already read out what he said. He does not say it is arguable, but that he is satisfied that the draft directive complies with subsidiarity. I would have thought that that sets a precedent for other areas of immigration in which the Commission may wish to involve itself in future.
I am saying that we will treat each of these proposals as put forward by the Commission on its merits. I hope that it will be discouraged from putting forward further proposals by the reaction from member states. It does not follow that, because we have taken a view on a couple of these articles, we will take a wider view of the rights of the European Commission or the competence of the European Union in immigration policy.
I turn for a moment to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. He asked what was likely to happen next. As a student of these matters, he will know quite as well as I do that if one-third of national parliaments object on subsidiarity grounds, the proposal is sent back to the Commission. That is the yellow card; if a majority of parliaments oppose a Commission proposal, it gets the orange card. I do not know how many cards there are on the table, but we certainly regard this process of showing the European Commission what position the national parliaments take as being an important part of the process—and well said that this is a direct intervention in the legislation process of the European Union.
The noble Lord’s other point was about financial supervision and the progress of what the Commission is doing. I am afraid I will have to write to him on that, as it is not something on which I have been briefed. I think it is something in the purview of the Treasury, but I undertake to write to him.
I think the noble Baroness rightly said that one-third of national parliaments would be necessary before the Commission had to think again. As I understand it, we have only five houses of parliament, so there is the difficulty of our being a long way from what is required to make the Commission think again, is there not? Riding over and above that, there is surely the question of the law. Assuming that the committee is right—I think that your Lordships are taking that view this evening—my question was: what hope is there that the law will prevail, or will the juggernaut carry on regardless, as usual?
I would hope, given that this is the first test for the European Commission, that it would take note of the reservations being expressed in a number of parliaments of the European Union, irrespective of whether there are enough for it to be obliged to take notice. There needs to be further discussion in the European Union. If we have one of those situations in which the formal requirement has not been fulfilled but nevertheless it is clear that there are reservations, this is a moment when the Commission should be given pause to think again about the direction in which it is trying to go. I cannot anticipate what the result of that debate might be, but I hope that there would be one.
I can say that, irrespective of what that discussion would lead to, the United Kingdom will not be bound by this directive. We have not opted in and we have no plans to consider so doing after adoption. In the rather unlikely event that there was some consideration of that possibility at a future date, there is no doubt that the Government would take full account of the committee’s view on subsidiarity at that time.
Will the Minister clear up one point? As I understand it, the Government are not going to oppose the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, today. Undoubtedly, the Motion will therefore be passed. But suppose that the Government did not agree with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Roper—then what? The Lisbon treaty refers to national parliaments, not national governments. Can we have an assurance that if the Government disagreed with a Motion coming from the European Select Committee, Parliament would be allowed to make the decision unwhipped?
My Lords, clearly I did not make myself clear enough; I hoped that I had dealt with this point in response to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. It follows from the Government’s position on the sovereignty of Parliament that Parliament’s view on subsidiarity would trump—would come ahead of—the view that we would take on substance. I hope that that is clear.
My Lords, I should perhaps begin in response to something that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the chairman of the sub-committee who was responsible for this report, was unavoidably detained and unable to be here today, but he asked me to let the House know how sorry he was that he could not be here. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, reminded me.
This has been an historic occasion in more ways than one. Not only have we had people who have gained medal honours on one side of the European debate being in favour of this matter and a former Member of the European Parliament, a former Secretary-General of the Commission and a former commissioner all supporting the position, but people who have gained medal honours for taking different positions on Europe over the years have also shown their support for the work of this committee. The committee must therefore be very pleased. I will report that back, and those of my colleagues who are here will have noted it. We appreciate that the work that we have done has been taken so seriously.
I shall comment on one or two of the things that have been said. On the question of the 14th report on the future of European Union financial supervision, I should let the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, know that our Sub-Committee A is doing further work on this subject and will be producing a report to the House before long. The matter is under active attention.
On the question that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, congratulating us on our watchfulness, perhaps I can let him into a secret: another of our sub-committees adopted a reasoned opinion this morning that it will be sending to the full committee. This is not a one-off matter; it something that your Lordships will hear about again, although not necessarily too often. My estimate is that there will probably be six or eight occasions in a year, but we will see. It is interesting that we have already had so many.
One of the reasons I am tackling the matter in this way is to ensure that a formal reasoned opinion will be sent by the Clerk of the Parliaments to the various authorities. It is important to get this on the record, let other Parliaments know what we have done in this regard and offer them encouragement, even though it is now too late to act in terms of the threshold.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, referred to timing. This is a particularly difficult case. The original Council proposal is dated 15 July. The Government’s Explanatory Memorandum is dated 28 July—the very beginning of our Summer Recess. We could not have had a more difficult case as regards timing. However, we considered this matter in this House when we considered the original procedure. The Procedure Committee report, to which I referred in my opening remarks, said that new procedure was,
“subject to review if the timetable proves unworkable”.
In my view it is too early to say whether this is the case but that undertaking is obviously very important.
I have not seen the letter that Mr Green sent to the Commons subsidiarity committee; I have seen only the views on subsidiarity in the Explanatory Memorandum which was sent to both Houses, where the Government seem to hang mostly on the first of the four. We appreciate that different legal interpretations are possible. As the Minister knows, we disagree with the legal interpretation of the Commission’s case and consider that the matter should be queried. However, we are extremely grateful to the Government for giving their opinion but then allowing the House to come to its own conclusion. This is a case of Parliament having an opportunity to act. As I said at the beginning, this is an historic occasion. I am very pleased that we have had this debate and that consensus has been reached on all sides of the House.
Subsidiarity Assessment: Seasonal Workers (Reasoned Opinion)
Motion to Resolve
That this House considers that the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of seasonal employment (COM(2010)379, Council Document 12208/10) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, for the reasons set out in the First Report of the European Union Committee, Session 2010–11 (HL Paper 35); and instructs the Clerk of the Parliaments to forward this reasoned opinion to the Presidents of the European institutions.
House adjourned at 7.17 pm.