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Lords Chamber

Volume 722: debated on Thursday 25 November 2010

House of Lords

Thursday, 25 November 2010.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Oxford

John Lawrence, Lord Bishop of Oxford, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Bishop of Newcastle and the Bishop of Lincoln, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield

Peter John Hennessy, Esquire, having been created Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield, of Nympsfield in the County of Gloucestershire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Radice and Baroness Shephard of Northwold, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Violence Against Women


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks by Baroness Verma on 21 July (HL Deb, cols. 1056-7), what action they have taken to reduce violence against women.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on raising this important Question today, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I know the noble Lord is very concerned that this issue remains at the heart of addressing violence against girls and women. The Government’s ambition is nothing less than ending all forms of violence against girls and women. This is a key priority for us, and we will be setting out our guiding principles in this area over the spending review period. A detailed range of supporting actions will be published in the spring.

I am grateful to the Minister for her Answer. I understand that a Statement may be made in the Commons at 11.30 am. I am sure she will agree, as probably will the whole House, that the assistance of the independent advisers on violence against women and young girls has been effective in reducing the amount of violence and, in particular, in saving public moneys which have been expended in these areas.

I congratulate the Government on extending the funding for them through 2010 to 2011, but we would like to know whether funding will be extended through to the end of this Parliament. The questions are simple: will the money be maintained at the current levels, will it go up or will it go down? Surely, it must go up if the Home Secretary’s ambition is to be realised.

My Lords, we have committed to providing more than £28 million directly to those specialist services that the noble Lord has raised. This will cover the spending review period, so that MARACs, IDVAs, ISVAs and SARCs will be fully funded. Because the issue is so huge, we recognise that there is so much more to be done, but we need to do it via voluntary groups as well as ensuring that funding is in place.

Will the Minister tell me whether she is aware that today is also the 25th anniversary of the first meeting in the Grand Committee room of the 300 Group to get more women into Parliament? Does she think that more women in Parliament might help to do more on this issue of violence against women, which I did a bit on in the United Nations?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. I congratulate her on the work that she did 25 years ago, on which we need to build. Of course, better representation in public life, whether it is in national politics, local politics or public bodies, is crucial to ensure that the voice of women and their policies are addressed fully and properly. I look forward to her support as we ensure that through the Equality Act many of these issues will be addressed.

My Lords, it is clear that there is still no Minister with specific responsibility for ensuring coherence of effort across the MoD, FCO and DfID to combat violence against women internationally. Does the Minister think it is really possible to maximise efforts to combat violence against women without a Minister with explicit responsibility for diplomatic oversight and co-ordination?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a crucial point, and I accept that the only woman in those three departments is me. However, I want to point out that all three departments take very seriously the issue of prioritising the role and position of women globally. I would urge the noble Baroness to have some faith in those Ministers and Secretaries of State. They know that there is a job to be done and, while they are male and may not understand all the tiny details, it is for us to educate them.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of Refuge, the domestic violence charity. Does the Minister accept that, in order to support women who are the subjects of domestic violence and children who are caught up in violent situations, highly specialist training and skills are required and that these need to be supported too?

My noble friend is absolutely right. That is why the more than £28 million we have earmarked is directed towards those specialist services to ensure that victims are given the best possible support.

My Lords, female genital mutilation is a cruel and barbarous form of violence against women. What action are the Government taking to put an end to female genital mutilation in this country, and what can be done to bring about a prosecution under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003?

My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness for all her work in raising these issues. Some 66,000 women subject to FGM are living in England and Wales. We need to ensure that practitioners in front-line services are better informed so as to recognise that this practice is prevalent, particularly among certain communities. We need to be able to address these issues much earlier on so that victims feel confident that they will be given support once they have been raised.

The noble Countess raises an important issue which perhaps I need to take away. We know that there are many abuses which lead to domestic violence, and I am sure that anger management will be involved.

My Lords, violence against women is abhorrent wherever it happens, but what is happening to women in the Congo on a daily basis is absolutely shameful. Do we have any specific programmes in the region?

My noble friend is right to say that it is abhorrent. Violence against women in the form of rape is taking place not just in the Congo but in many other countries. We will do our level best, through our international departments and working with other organisations, to ensure that those women receive the kind of support they require.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence and of the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence. The noble Baroness rightly alluded to the commitment of the Government in relation to domestic violence advisers. Can I ask her about the specialist domestic violence courts and the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference? She will know that the work of all these bodies has led to a reduction in domestic violence of 64 per cent. What do the Government intend to do in order to maintain the commitment of the last Government in relation to those additional resources?

My Lords, we are committed to ensuring that we have in place the best support systems for victims. Of course it means that it is necessary to review the current systems just to ensure that we are addressing the issues as fully as we can or whether we can address them better.

Sexual Assault Referral Centres


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to maintain and increase the services provided by Sexual Assault Referral Centres.

My Lords, the Home Office and the Department of Health have allocated £2.2 million to new and existing SARCs this year to help increase and improve the services they offer to victims of rape. We have announced today in a Home Office publication, Call to End Violence against Women and Girls, that further Home Office funding to support the development of SARCs will be made available over the next spending review period. Further details will be announced in due course.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sorry that we are having this discussion when we have not yet seen the statement, which would have been very helpful. I am pleased that a further 13 SARCs will be established but perhaps I may probe a little further about the funding. The Minister indicated an allocation of £2.2 million but that is a legacy from the previous Government. What is the future funding going to be? Will it be direct government funding; will it be matched funding and, if so, what would be the consequence if locally it was not possible to match that funding; or will it be purely local funding? If either matched or local funding cannot be provided, are the Government prepared to allow SARCs either to close down or not be established?

The noble Baroness is aware that SARCs are funded on a partnership basis between police forces and PCTs and that therefore the majority of funding already comes through local sources. The Stern report recommends that in future there should be partnerships between police forces, local health bodies and local government. Central funding, which will come out of the £28 million that my noble colleague has already announced over the next spending review period, is intended to assist, above all, in set up and development, and in encouraging areas of the country which do not yet have SARCs to have them. Beyond that, we see this as being very much a partnership between police forces and local health bodies.

My Lords, the Minister will know that follow-up work for victims of rape and sexual assault is often carried out through the voluntary sector. Voluntary organisations find it very difficult indeed to maintain their funding as they are often not seen sympathetically by the general public despite their services to victims. What support do the Government intend for the incest and rape support lines that give so much help to victims?

I should perhaps explain to noble Lords that SARCs—sexual assault referral centres—are part of the statutory sector and rape crisis centres are part of the voluntary sector, with additional funding from government bodies. We recognise that continuity of funding is a huge problem for voluntary bodies under all circumstances. Part of government efforts, both under the previous Government and this one—let us be clear that there are no partisan differences in the approach to this difficult area—involve raising public awareness and changing attitudes, both within the public services which deal with these issues and within the wider public. This will help to increase awareness and reporting and reduce the incidence of offences.

My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, the National Health Service makes a major contribution to these centres. Does he share my regret that the Department of Health is closing down its monitoring unit? Will he assure me that GP consortia will be instructed by the Government to continue funding these centres when primary care trusts are closed down?

My Lords, one of the underlying motifs of this Government is that central government does not always know best. Incidentally, I have been trying to discover over the past few days why it is that West Yorkshire does not yet have a SARC. The pattern of distribution over the country leaves some rather large holes in Yorkshire. There is much better provision elsewhere. Noble Lords will know, particularly if they have read this morning’s Guardian, that the oldest SARC—and in many ways the best SARC—operating is in Manchester. The centres are not evenly distributed around the country but certainly central government intends to give every encouragement possible for all local agencies, including local health bodies, to give every support to these centres, which provide a very valuable service.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether SARCs have helped to improve the rate of prosecution and conviction for rape and sexual assault and whether they have encouraged further reporting of assaults? Underreporting is notable.

My Lords, there have been some encouraging developments in this regard. I am told that the reporting of rapes has increased by some 16 per cent during the past year. We all know that the level of reporting is part of the problem. For cases which get to court, there is a 38 per cent conviction rate for rape and a 58 per cent conviction rate overall—people are often convicted for other offences but not for rape. There is movement in the right direction, but there is still much to be done.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 44 per cent of children in custody report abuse, that 23 per cent of children in custody have been in local authority care and that one in three girls in custody reports sexual abuse? Will he discuss with his colleagues whether more of these girls in custody might go down the welfare route rather than the criminal justice route?

My Lords, how will the Government ensure the continuation of funding for existing centres given the very large reductions in both police and local authority budgets within the area where many of the services are supported?

The noble Baroness is aware that we are in difficult circumstances. We are giving every encouragement for all these local services to be continued. They are not cheap. The three SARCs operated within London cost £4 million between them. The excellent centre in Manchester costs £1 million. Most of them are partnerships between the police and local PCTs and are paid roughly 50 per cent by each.

Western Sahara


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their assessment of the situation in the Western Sahara has altered following the visit of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Alistair Burt, to Algeria this month; and what progress they hope to make relating to the region during their presidency of the United Nations Security Council.

My Lords, my honourable friend Alistair Burt, the Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, had useful discussions in Algeria about Western Sahara, although these have not altered our overall assessment of the situation. We support UN-led efforts to resolve the dispute by encouraging the parties to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution. The progress of negotiations is slow, but we are committed to using our current presidency of the Security Council to advance a resolution. The Security Council convened on 16 November to discuss recent violence in the territory.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Does he agree that one of the difficulties is lack of pressure from the rest of the world due to the virtual ban on journalists and politicians visiting the camps where the Saharawis suffer so much? Will he take further steps through our presidency of the UN Security Council to see that that ban is lifted? Will he also support the call of Amnesty International for an independent inquiry into the recent violence, in which an unknown number of people died?

I thank my noble friend for her question. Yes, we are pressing further for better access to the protest camps to see exactly what went on and we are looking at reports from those on the ground. As to an independent commission, we support the idea of a human rights monitoring mechanism. Exactly how it would work is yet to be decided, but our Government have put forward a series of options as to how a commission should operate in what the diplomats call a “non-paper”—a term which I never quite understand. We have made a series of suggestions about how we should carry forward a human rights monitoring mechanism and how it would work to bring better pressure to bear in line with what my noble friend suggests.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware—to take his point further—that after the deferral of the informal talks at the UN, reports are coming back that probably 36 people were killed and more than 700 injured when Moroccan security forces broke up a protest camp of the Saharawi people in Western Sahara? Does he share my concern that after four visits to the region by the UN envoy, Christopher Ross, it seems that his efforts may well follow the same fate as those of the earlier special envoy, James Baker, who after four years saw his plans come to nothing? Finally, will the Government use their best efforts to ensure that the previous ideas are brought forward again—that is, to introduce an autonomous Western Sahara authority, with the idea of following it as soon as possible with a referendum on Saharawi independence?

We most certainly share the concern, which is demonstrated by the fact that, as we have current presidency this November of the UN Security Council, we have made a special point of raising the issue and seeing how pressure can be applied. That is the right way forward, and we will proceed on that basis. Will my noble friend repeat his second point, because I want to answer it?

I thank the Minister for that opportunity. I am seeking an assurance that the Government will press for the resurrection of the previous concept of the Baker plan, which was, first, to establish an autonomous Western Sahara authority, with a view to following that in due course with a referendum on independence for the Saharawi people.

We want the referendum, but we do not make a prejudgment on the different solutions, of which autonomy would certainly be one. We want to see the Saharawi people of Western Sahara in a position to determine their own future via a referendum, whatever model then results. Certainly that is our aim.

My Lords, can I help the Minister as to what a non-paper is? It is a document that sets out your policy without any commitment to be bound by it. Perhaps the best analogy is the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election.

I am sure that the noble Lord’s vast diplomatic experience can be applied on a whole range of issues in all parties and all sides of the House, as well as in the political establishment generally. I am very grateful to him for explaining to me more clearly an area that I did know about, but with which he is more familiar than I am. When these phrases come up, I always want to establish exactly what they involve. In this case, the paper contains a very firm and useful series of suggestions about how we take the human rights monitoring mechanism forward, and I believe that it will form a basis for a more constructive approach than we have had generally in the past on this whole unhappy issue.

Does my noble friend agree that this whole saga does not reflect very well on the United Nations organisation? It must be more than 15 years since I visited the temporary refugee camps in Algeria. Is there any news from the last visit that Mr Ross made to the region and the talks that went on in New York between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan Government earlier this month?

I do not think that there has been vast progress. I had the opportunity to have discussions with Ambassador Ross, and we talked about the disappointments of the past and the lack of progress made. The situation has now flared up again because of the camps and the violence to which my noble friend Lord Chidgey has just alluded, which has reinforced the need for a serious and stronger approach by the UN. We seek to strengthen UN involvement to bring this long-standing dispute to some kind of conclusion.

North Korea


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the implications of North Korea’s military action against the Republic of Korea.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my non-financial interest as the chairman of the British-North Korea All-Party Parliamentary Group.

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, this was a completely unprovoked attack by North Korea on South Korean troops and civilians, which will lead only to further tensions on the Korean peninsula. Such belligerence by North Korea increases its international isolation. The North Korean regime has again demonstrated callous disregard for human life, for international law, and for its own interests. The Prime Minister spoke yesterday to the UN Secretary-General and to President Lee Myung-bak, about the need for the most effective possible international response.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is not this provocative and calculated act, the 150th breach of the armistice since 1958, a sobering reminder—along with the revelation at the weekend of an industrial complex for the enrichment of uranium—of the central importance of engaging China in finding a way forward? Otherwise, are we not likely to face a catastrophic conflict of the order of the one that occurred 60 years ago, when nearly 3 million people died on the Korean peninsula? Has the Minister had the opportunity to reflect on the recommendations in the report which I sent him following the visit to Korea by myself and my noble friend Lady Cox last month, especially on the importance of encouraging China to broker direct talks between North and South Korea with a view to concluding the war? There is neither war nor peace, merely a shaky armistice. Until the war is concluded, it is unlikely that progress on the six-party talks, which have now fallen by the wayside, on human rights or on any other question is likely to occur.

I think the noble Lord already knows that I have read his excellent report, which is a very useful contribution to putting the situation in perspective. Of course, China is in many ways the key to this. They are the ones who will have to decide how to act responsibly in relation to their troublesome neighbour and protégé. We believe that the main thrust is to get the six-party talks going again. They have faltered but they are the right way forward and we will do everything we can to assure, first, that there is the strongest possible response to this latest outrage and, secondly, that the six-party talks are started again so that we can begin to bring some sense to the actions of this unpredictable, erratic and dangerous regime.

My Lords, from this side of the House I share the condemnation of the actions of the North Korean Government. Indeed, the Shadow Foreign Secretary issued a statement on that on Monday. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on what is, as the Minister already commented, their excellent report on their recent visit. Can the Minister amplify a little the role that Europe might play in this latest problem and how we might find a way to build some of those bridges? Does Europe have a part to play—again, with China and others—in trying to ensure that the six-party talks continue and that we bring some sense into what is a very dangerous situation?

Certainly, the EU’s voice and weight are always valuable in these situations but our main thrust, at the moment, is in concentrating on getting the six-party talks going. We are not members of those talks but we have an embassy in Pyongyang, as the noble Lord knows, which is a useful gathering and advisory point for this whole process. Perhaps I should elucidate that, at this moment in the United Nations, we are waiting for South Korea to call formally for a meeting of the Security Council—that is: the P5, plus Japan and South Korea, plus two. I believe that they are about to do that but it is a question of getting everything prepared and lined up so that there is a strong and effective response. That is what is going on at the moment but we will certainly consult and move closely with all our EU colleagues in seeing how they can reinforce and make more effective the overall situation.

Given the gravity of the present situation, my intervention may seem slightly starry-eyed. However, does my noble friend recall the formula put forward by that distinguished Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for handling the Anglo-Chinese problems over Hong Kong: the forward proposition of one country, two systems? He may recall that but does he know that, quite apart from that, Deng Xiaoping more than once made plain to me his approach to the Korean problem? He thought that the same formula of one country, two systems might conceivably provide an approach towards resolving that problem as it existed even 20 years ago. Granted the dominant influence of China in this context and the fact that we have, as my noble friend said, had an embassy in Pyongyang for 10 years—but not the United States—is there not perhaps some scope for Her Majesty's Government in seeking to create a bilateral Sino-British initiative, which might contribute in a different way along the Deng Xiaoping lines towards not just a solution of the major problem but resolution of the six-party talks?

My Lords, of course I well recall the Hong Kong process, which has been successful and in which my noble and learned friend played a highly significant and effective part. We have lessons to learn from that and we should see how it could be applied. The difficulty here is that the performance of the North Korean regime is heavily under the influence of China, which would be in a position to bring a sense of responsibility to it. Furthermore, the two systems that we had in Hong Kong were a system as laid down by Beijing and our own patterns of moving towards democracy and anticorruption in Hong Kong. It was an admirable marriage of two systems. However, in this case, the system that is left in North Korea is not a very attractive one; in fact, it is highly unattractive and not in line with the insistence on more peaceful behaviour that is necessary in the region. So I listened closely to what my noble and learned friend said, as he has great wisdom and experience on these matters, but I do not see an immediate analogy or indeed a basis for advice to our friends in Beijing.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

Moved By

That the debate on the motion in the name of Lord Young of Graffham set down for today shall be limited to 3½ hours and that in the name of Viscount Bridgeman to 1½ hours.

Motion agreed.

Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2010

Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 2010

Post Office Network Subsidy Scheme (Amendment) Order 2010

National Minimum Wage (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2010

Motions to Refer to Grand Committee

Moved By

Motions agreed.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved By

That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 6, Schedule 9, Clauses 7 to 19, Schedules 1 to 8, Schedules 10 and 11.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord McNally, I beg to move the Motion standing in his name on the Order Paper. It may be helpful if I give the House a brief explanation because it replaces a Motion that had been tabled and was due to be agreed yesterday. However, following constructive discussions earlier this week with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Government withdrew the original Order of Consideration Motion on the Bill, and we have now come forward with the revised Order of Consideration Motion before the House today. The noble and learned Lord made the case that the revised order of consideration would be for the benefit of the House as a whole in structuring discussion on the Bill and would help to speed its passage. I was happy to agree and I am sure that the whole House will be receptive to these propositions.

I express my gratitude to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his constructive approach to this. The revised Motion will help the constructive discussion of the Bill, which will require the responsible scrutiny that I know the House will give it. That scrutiny will necessarily be long, but I am sure that it will be worth while.

Motion agreed.

Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [HL]

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved By

That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, Clauses 4 to 20, Schedule 2, Clauses 21 and 22, Schedule 3, Clauses 23 to 26, Schedules 4 and 5, Clause 27, Schedule 6, Clauses 28 to 31.

Motion agreed.

Liaison Committee: Second Report

Motion to Agree

Moved By

That the Report from the Select Committee on new proposals for committee activity (2nd Report, HL Paper 61) be agreed to.

My Lords, the report sets out our recommendations on some suggestions for new committee activity. Two of these suggestions were ones that we had considered before, for a committee on regulation and a Joint Committee on the UK Statistics Authority. For the reasons set out in the report, we decided against recommending either of these suggestions to your Lordships. We thought that it would be difficult for any committee on regulation to scope and plan its work, and we had doubts about the impact that any inquiry would be likely to have, given the significant changes in the regulatory environment in train or in prospect. Nor did we renew our support for a Joint Committee on the statistics authority.

Since we last reported on this in 2008, the role of parliamentary oversight has been discharged primarily by the Public Administration Committee in the House of Commons. Given that scrutiny arrangements exist and that they appear to be working, we were unpersuaded of the case to seek to supplant them through the establishment of a different and more elaborate scrutiny mechanism.

The last proposal was for an ad hoc committee on HIV/AIDS in the United Kingdom, and this is the proposal that we commend to the House. Although we accept that there is no imminent deadline for an inquiry, we considered that it would be timely. We did not think that it should be too lengthy, so we recommend that an inquiry should be concluded by the Summer Recess next year.

Finally, as health policy is a devolved matter, we recommend that the scope of the inquiry is limited to issues of general relevance throughout the United Kingdom and does not extend into consideration of issues particularly to the devolved nations.

Motion agreed.

Health and Safety: Common Sense Common Safety


Moved by

To call attention to the report to the Prime Minister Common Sense Common Safety on the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture; and to move for papers.

My Lords, it has been some 21 years since I last opened a debate in your Lordships' House. Over these years, our House has changed, for many who used to grace your Lordships' House are, alas, no longer with us. However, one thing that I am certain has not changed is the courtesy and attention which all in your Lordships' House display towards our debate.

Towards the end of last year the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, asked me to review the operations of health and safety laws and the compensation culture. I published my report on 15 October, after the Cabinet had accepted it in its entirety. I was continuing to work on the process of implementing the 40 or so recommendations across Whitehall. As many in your Lordships' House will know, that is no longer possible, but I have every confidence that the outstanding matters in my report will be implemented in full.

Let me begin by saying that due to the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, one of the more successful pieces of legislation, this country has the lowest number of non-fatal accidents at work in the EU and the second lowest number of fatal accidents. This does not, of course, mean that we can afford to be complacent in any way about health and safety, and nothing in my report will reduce safeguards in hazardous occupations. My review deals only with non-hazardous activities, where the health and safety risks are very low but the level of bureaucracy is unacceptably high.

When I first started my work, I assumed, as perhaps many in your Lordships' House would assume, that this was somehow all to do with intrusive legislation emanating from Europe. Alas, I found that this was not so, for much was home-grown, often not because of any laws or regulations but because of the practices adopted by unqualified consultants and untrained health and safety officials in both the private and the public sector. Unfortunately, the sometimes excessive recommendations of an untrained consultant were often followed to the letter, not because the client believed that they were appropriate but because they feared that if they did not follow the advice, their accident insurance policy might in some way be defective. Their concern was heightened largely because of excessive advertising on daytime television and the radio by claims management companies that made them worry that they could be sued on the slightest pretext and have to pay massive damages. Indeed, if you consider the many ways in which government has enabled people to sue—the availability of no-win no-fee contracts, the availability of after-the-event insurance, the actions of the claims management companies that harvest claims in order to auction them off to the solicitor who will pay the most—the world would seem a very unfair place to many small and medium-sized companies.

My report came down firmly on the side of Lord Justice Jackson’s report on civil litigation costs. I am delighted that the Ministry of Justice announced last week that it had started consultations with a view to implementing the report. Lord Justice Jackson came out against the claims management companies and their excessive advertising. I look forward to the outcome of these consultations. In addition to the implementation of the Jackson report, my report recommended that we extend the road traffic accident scheme that was introduced earlier this year in respect of personal injuries arising from traffic accidents across all personal injury claims.

The great advantage of this simplified system is that it enables claims to be settled very quickly. It takes 18 months to settle a personal injury claim using the current system. As a result, it is highly likely that the claimant will not return to work until the case is settled, probably on the advice of their lawyer. In these circumstances, it is possible that the claimant may never return to work. The RTA scheme has demonstrated already that claims can be settled in as little as three to four months. Not only would we have the advantage of much lower costs, saving the National Health Service many tens of millions of pounds a year, but there would be an increased likelihood of the claimant returning to full-time work.

There are other concerns about the abuse of health and safety legislation. All too often it has been used as an excuse for inaction. There is the by now infamous case of the pancake race last Shrove Tuesday in St Albans, where a local authority health and safety official, who arrived just before the off, decided that, as it had rained the night before, he would stop the race. In the event, he let them proceed, provided that they walked the course. I had our lawyers look at this incident; they could not decide under what authority the official acted.

This is not a unique case. In the course of my inquiry we heard of many people who were concerned about the improper use of health and safety legislation. We have now agreed that, should this happen in the future, you can ask the official concerned to put his legal authority for the decision in writing. Any citizen will have the legal right to refer that case to the ombudsman, who has agreed to give an answer within a fortnight. If the event was cancelled without proper authority, the local authority will have to pay compensation. I do not believe there will be many cases of local authorities paying compensation, but it will make officials think twice or more before coming out with arbitrary decisions.

A further area of concern was the bureaucracy imposed on teachers. I found that if a teacher wished to take a class out, he or she had to complete a 12-page pack of forms eight weeks in advance and then get them signed off not only by his or her superior in the school but by the local education authority. This applied every time a teacher wanted to take a class out. Really, this has nothing to do with the safety of a class when it is out of school—that depends mainly on the vigilance of the teacher—but it is an additional and unnecessary burden on an already hard-pressed teacher. Now, all that will happen is that a pupil, when they commence school, will bring along a letter of consent to all sports and outings, signed by their parent or guardian. Of course, all parents will continue to have the right to withdraw their child from any particular trip or activity.

Another area has given rise to general concern. At the time of the heavy snows last February, much was stated in the press about the danger of clearing the snow in front of your house. It was widely stated that if you did so and someone had an accident, you could be liable. Nothing was further from the truth, for voluntary acts do not generally make you liable, but this is once again one of those areas where perception becomes reality. My report recommends that we legislate to make this absolutely clear. I hope, and anticipate, that space will be found this Session in which to do so.

When I travelled round the country, I also found that local authorities were sending their health and safety inspectors to exactly the same premises to which they were sending their Food Standards Agency inspectors. As a result of my report two things will happen. First, I recommend that we merge food inspectors and health and safety inspectors so that each visit covers both areas. Secondly, we are introducing a scheme that will encourage every restaurant and store selling open food to display the results of their inspection at the entrance, and all premises will be marked on a score from five down to zero. I recommend that noble Lords do not go near a restaurant with a score of zero, for about 1 million people a year suffer from food poisoning, some 20,000 end up in hospital and, alas, some 500 die. I believe that such a scheme would provide upward pressure on standards, as has been found to be the case in California where there is a scheme of this nature. It is voluntary for the first year, but should the uptake not be satisfactory we have agreed to make it compulsory. I hope that it will operate in time for the Olympics as it would be a great boon to our tourist industry.

I have covered only a few of the 40 or so recommendations contained in my report. There have been few criticisms of the report’s content, save perhaps from a small minority of personal injury lawyers. I hope that over the next year the report’s various provisions will come into effect and that health and safety will become less of a joke and resume its rightful place in the protection of people in the workplace. It is probably too soon to say but it is my impression that over the past few weeks there have been far fewer stories about health and safety in the press—I have noticed one or two other stories as well—but only time will tell. I beg to move.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Young, for securing this debate. In politics, it sometimes seems that the greatest health and safety risk is the act of thinking aloud. However, it is only by risking controversy that we achieve anything. I am glad that the noble Lord speaks his mind, because too often politics is governed by caution, not frankness.

I declare an interest as director of Warwick Manufacturing Group and as an engineer who has long been concerned with product design and industrial processes. As a young engineer, I remember developing systems to prevent machine operatives from developing posture problems, so avoiding the back injuries and arthritis that manifested themselves 20 or 30 years later. Indeed, the whole subject of industrial ergonomics sprang from research into safety at work. It was not a joke but an ally in building a better workplace and improving productivity, so how did “elf’n’safety” become a national bugbear alongside the jobsworth and the traffic warden? I believe that the answer is a lack of balance. Health and safety regulation becomes unbalanced when processes designed for hazardous activities are applied to low-risk environments.

In many ways, the emergence of a health and safety-conscious society has been a success. Even in the past decade, as the noble Lord mentioned, the number of fatal injuries at work has declined. The Labour Force Survey identifies a fall of 45 per cent in non-fatal injuries. That is good news. There have been fewer deaths and fewer injuries. Only half the reduction in fatalities is due to the changing nature of British industry. It is improved safety that makes up the rest of the difference.

Where you see good, well established manufacturing businesses with high productivity and quality control, you invariably also find a strong health and safety record. At Jaguar Land Rover, more than 50 people are employed specifically to work on health and safety. This is not a legal requirement. The managers simply see it as part of good business practice. We need a broader culture of partnership between business and health and safety inspectors. In hazardous occupations, this is happening. The HSE makes it a priority to work with industry groups such as the Confederation of British Metalforming to produce sensible advice for companies. For example, the Manufacturing Technologies Association contributed to the HSE’s work on standards for safety in machine tools.

Sadly, once you leave the shop floor and go to the small business, the office or the village hall, the reputation of health and safety plummets. After all, health and safety originated in industry; that was where the problem was. It is tempting to see this as a result of media exaggeration. Yes, many of the stories that we hear are myths, but the myths persist for a reason. In yesterday’s Birmingham Mail, there was a story about “topple tests” in a local cemetery. These tests apply pressure to gravestones to see if they fall over. Families whose gravestones fell down were charged £500 for repairs. The Government, the Health and Safety Executive and the industry body all said that these tests were not needed, but they went ahead anyway. It is this sort of activity that gives health and safety a bad name.

We need a proportionate management of risk. Studies have shown that, for a pilot, even the slightest change in a display can have a major impact on safety. The same is not true in most offices and small businesses, yet too often the same level of risk avoidance is demanded. As a result, nearly 40 per cent of small businesses say that health and safety regulations are an obstacle to success. For many small businesses, a fear of being sued for negligence, as the noble Lord mentioned, leads them into a twilight world of misleading information and overfussy guidance.

Often, these policies come not from government but from the small army of consultants who advise businesses on workplace safety. For small businesses, those independent consultants are the main source of information on health and safety. Many are reputable, but some have little interest in making the regulations understandable. The more confusion there is in the interpretation of regulations, the greater is the need for consultancy. It can be nothing more than a gravy train. This leads to high cost. The Better Regulation Executive reported that avoiding pointless health and safety advice could save small businesses £140 million a year.

The solution is clarity and simplicity, not laxer safety rules. We should make it simple for businesses to do their duty by taking reasonable steps to prevent risk. I therefore support the report’s proposal of 20-minute checklists for offices, shops and charities. They should provide clarity that this is all that is required from business. Next, we need to ensure that independent consultants offer good, straightforward advice. Today, the HSE recruits inspectors from industry and puts them through training that provides an understanding of business needs. The report suggests a qualification requirement for consultants, with the HSE taking the lead in validation. I agree. I further suggest that it would be sensible to use the HSE’s existing framework of training as the basis of such a qualification.

The crisis of health and safety in this country is not one of legislation; as the report says, our legislation is effective. It is not one of fatalities or injuries, on which our record is excellent. The crisis is one of communication, complexity and consultants. To change that, we need simple rules and easily understood, common-sense regulation, not gold-plated regulation. Therefore, I entirely agree with the report, which I would like to see supported and implemented fully.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Young for his report and, in particular, for the wide range of aspects that it covers because of the range of interests that have to be accommodated in this very complex process, which needs to be simpler. A good health and safety regime must be able to get the balance right, and it is that balance that I will talk about first. Two watchwords that have been mentioned already are protection and proportion: the need to protect people in the workplace and to provide a proportionate response to risk. Getting the balance right between risk and the cost of precaution is the important challenge for us all.

Of course, saving lives and preventing injury must be in the forefront of everything that we do. In practice, as we all know, many people are getting the balance wrong. We have heard indications of that this morning. Some people are going too far, which leads to the sort of myths that we have regularly heard about and seen. We have just heard about pancakes. I suspect that many noble Lords will remember the story about mortarboards. Metro reported that students on graduation were not allowed to throw their mortarboards into the air, for fear that the sharp points might damage their heads when they came down. Just this month, the Liverpool Daily Post reported that potted plants would not be permitted because they were a health hazard. On the other hand, although these are myths, people are still being hurt in easily preventable accidents because not enough has been done to ensure safety. We need to draw the right balance.

I am very glad that my noble friend stated that the problem is not health and safety legislation, but its application and interpretation. He said that, alas, he could not find a problem with European legislation, and I hope that he and his colleagues will take that to heart. It is not European legislation but perhaps its transposition to the UK that is sometimes at fault. The noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, talked about gold plating. Sometimes we have difficulty identifying gold plating in legislation that has been transposed. Are we providing a belt and braces or adding extra things that do not need to be there? Perhaps the Minister will comment on these issues.

My one concern about the report is the emphasis that it places firmly and primarily on the demands and pressures that health and safety legislation imposes on business. I would have preferred a report in which first principles were laid out: a discussion at the head of the report laying out the key issues, such as the purpose of such legislation and how we achieve a proportionate response. One thing missing, I find, is an indication of how many opportunities are lost in life as a result of the legislation—in particular, the play opportunities for young people, many of which have been lost because of health and safety concerns. These overarching issues are raised in the report, so it is a matter of emphasis and where they occur. I welcome the fact that the report covers the issues, but the emphasis is strongly on business, which unbalances the detailed arguments.

I agree that, in that balance, there must be a smaller burden on small and medium-sized enterprises. The compensation culture, with its no-win, no-fee cheques, must be curbed, but we must balance this with a life and injury-saving safety culture in all places of work. Worker safety is a serious matter that risks being trivialised by the often-quoted tales, some of which I referred to just now, which are reported frequently in the media and often turn out to be absolute myths.

However, as with many aspects of life and society—and the noble Lord said this at the outset—perception is all. Perception of a compensation culture has made business fearful of being sued. That perception has been fuelled by aggressive advertising and, for example, by those firms that make it their business to scan road traffic accident and court reports so that they can approach the injured party to seek business. I have no idea how successful such firms are in getting business, but it is clear to me that, if such approaches did not provide an income for claims firms and the associated legal companies that take on the cases, those firms would not engage in this sort of cold-canvass advertising, so there must be a profit in it. The recommendation to which the noble Lord referred for a simplified system for personal injuries in accidents of this sort is very much to be welcomed.

I want to touch on a couple of specific issues. The first concerns training for consultants. It is very important that we provide a qualification structure for those who work in this area. One of the consequences of having a partly unqualified workforce in this area is that people who are unqualified are likely to say, “Let’s strip out all risk from the workplace”, when in fact that is not quite straightforward and it is certainly not the intention behind the legislation.

Secondly, I want to say one or two words of caution about combining local authority health and safety and food safety inspectors. I draw on my experience of the E. coli outbreak in south Wales last year and the subsequent Pennington review, which made it quite clear that there were major faults in the food safety regime. I want to make sure that we do not lose those sorts of skills by combining functions.

Overall, however, I welcome the report. The challenge for the Government now must be to produce a well-rounded response—I am sure that they will do so—that looks beyond the report’s emphasis on the cost to business and takes a wide perspective on the issues raised as a whole. Therefore, when the Minister comes to sum up the debate, I would welcome his views on the need for a multifocused response.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young, on initiating this debate and I welcome his report. I have to admit that my contribution will be devoted to one issue that is deeply affected by three of his recommendations, which propose: a shift from a system of risk assessment to a system of risk-benefit assessment; a review of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act to separate play and leisure from the workplace context; and the abolition of the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority and the replacement of such licensing with a code of practice. I note with interest that the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority is not one of the organisations threatened with abolition or merger in the Public Bodies Bill.

As I have said before in this House, the only raw material that every nation has in common is its people and woe betide a nation if it does not do everything possible to identify, nurture and develop the talents of its people—all its people—because, otherwise, it will have only itself to blame if it fails. For the past 15 years, I have been working with those at the bottom of the national pack—namely, offenders and those at risk of offending. You often find that they have been neglected in a whole variety of ways, including by parents and schools, but when notice is taken of them and opportunities are put their way, they seize them and demonstrate abilities that can be harnessed and developed to the benefit not only of themselves but of the communities in which they live. At the heart of that process is challenging people to do things that they did not think they could do, because the resulting self-esteem is the key to further progress. Many of the challenges involve risk.

Here, I declare an interest as a member of the advisory board of Youth at Risk, which is an organisation involved in providing those challenges. For several years, Youth at Risk has been working in the hardest of inner-city areas and in young offender institutions. For the past three years, it has been running community transformation programmes for 10 local councils across the United Kingdom that are designed to work with young people at risk of poor outcomes. During this time, the organisation has worked with more than 1,700 young people and 2,200 adults, of whom 100 per cent reported that they were able to develop more stable relationships, 63 per cent said that their self-esteem had been improved and 75 per cent reported that they were more able to support others. Typically, those young people included 80 per cent with behavioural, social and/or emotional problems; 60 per cent who were involved in gangs; and 30 per cent who were involved in gun and knife crime.

The evaluation found that the programme successfully engages with vulnerable young people, who engage because they are inspired by the opportunity to change their lives. The statistics prove that they are more determined to achieve as a result. At the same time, the programme has been rolled out in schools and now works with young people who have challenging behaviour that is destructive to their and others’ learning. The programme looks after those whose self-esteem, belief and aspirations need development as well as very able pupils who are at risk of becoming young offenders. All that has been summed up in a poem by two young participants of which I would like to quote one verse:

“Ready to work together so that we might stand tall,

We've learned all about pride before a fall.

As I said there’s no us and them, there’s no square,


Like the challenge course, life is no breeze;

We’re about bringing mountains to their knees”.

Despite all that evidence, the sad fact is that Youth at Risk is having to withdraw its programme from one of the councils because the health and safety restrictions being imposed in effect remove the ability to undertake any form of challenging programme that contains the slightest risk. However, the results of overcoming fear and surmounting challenges are clear for all to see. If ever there was an example of the truth of an unenforceable rule that I found displayed on an Army notice board, “A breach of common sense is a breach of the rules”, this is it.

Like other noble Lords who have had the privilege of visiting our Armed Forces in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, I came back exhilarated and humbled by that experience. The Armed Forces demonstrate very clearly how today's young people respond to challenge and risk. What do those responsible for taking risk out of their lives think about the impact on the future of our country of risk-averse generations? As the Prime Minister says in his report,

“We simply cannot go on like this”.

Of course, health and safety is important but the collective madness that is daily exercised in its name is not only a breach of common sense but is endangering our present and our future.

I hope that the recommendations in the report will be actioned as swiftly as possible before yet more community transformation programmes have to be cancelled. Organisations such as Youth at Risk are performing a job of national importance. Woe betide us if we do not do everything that we can to support them and to prevent what they are doing for our present and our future being itself put at risk by all the unnecessary restrictions, which are so clearly described by the noble Lord, Lord Young, in his admirable report.

My Lords, Members of the House may be aware that I chair a task force looking into the red-tape burdens on small charities and voluntary groups. In our work, we come across some of the themes to which my noble friend has referred in his report. Therefore, I congratulate him on at least three grounds: first, for having pulled the threads together of a highly complicated matter in a commendably brief and to-the-point report; secondly, for not just stating the problem, which is the easy bit, but for coming forward with some practical suggestions for solutions and ways forward; and, thirdly, for not showing slavish opposition to regulation because regulation has a place, but equally for dealing with the question of myth busting. Problems can lie not just with the regulator but with the regulatee and the enforcement agencies. However, there is a problem, and my noble friend is right to have highlighted it. Last Friday, on a visit to one of the schools in the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme, I mentioned my role and was told, “We’ve just had all our mechanical pencil sharpeners removed because portable appliances have to be tested every year, ours haven’t been tested, and therefore they’ve had to be taken out of service”. There is a problem.

In the research we are doing for my report, one of the basic questions we are asking ourselves is: what stops a person volunteering or becoming a trustee? There is no simple answer to that. Some people say time, some say family pressures, some say business pressures, but behind them all lies the frequently expressed concern about being sued or becoming involved in litigation. Some will argue that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear and the law will support you in due course, but the fact of the matter is that for the non-lawyer, the time lapse between the offence and coming to court, the potential costs, the psychological pressure—your wife saying, “Darling, is our house at risk?”—and the uncertainty about the outcome remain, rightly or wrongly, major disincentives.

This argument also fails to take into account the inequality of arms that appears to have grown up between prosecution and defence in recent years. While I entirely accept that we must ensure appropriate access to justice for our fellow citizens, the present risk-free approach has played a major role in the growth of what my noble friend and others have described as the compensation culture. For me, the combined effect of conditional fee arrangements, claims management companies and after-the-event insurance appears almost entirely malign. I hope that the Government will follow up the recommendation in my noble friend’s report, at least in this aspect.

The elephant in room, to which some noble Lords have already referred, is a major issue in the background of our deliberations. It is risk. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that zero risk is not only unattainable but, if it were attainable, it would be undesirable. If our society is to have any dynamism or creativity, an element of risk is essential. I do not think I am alone in that view; many commentators support it. We need to have a mature public debate about the level of risk that our society is prepared to accept. We need to have this debate away from the appalling emotional pressure of specific events. As a parent, one can only sympathise with other parents faced with the dreadful injury or death of a child. The regret, sadness and anger lead to media campaigns—and sometimes, I regret to say, to some opposition activity—which place great pressure on the politicians of the day to do something.

We need to think about the aspects of the risk equation. There is the knee-jerk regulation, the stable door and the bolted horse but, more importantly, there is the referred risk. Noble Lords will be familiar with the idea of referred pain, where you pull your back in one place but the pain shows itself in another place. Risks are transferred. Noble Lords will recall that there was a bad crash at Hatfield in Hertfordshire in October 2000. A train travelling north at 125 miles an hour came off the rails and four people were killed and 70 were injured. Railtrack found that the crash was the result of the fragmentation of the track as the train passed over it, so speed limits of about 20 miles an hour were imposed. Trains were delayed and cancelled and, as a result, people ceased to travel by train and travelled by road instead. Road travel is much more dangerous than rail travel, and actuaries will tell you that as a result of that in the 30 days after the Hatfield crash five more people died on the roads than would have done in normal circumstances, so we need to think about what shutting off one particular risk may cause in another area.

Another aspect of this is the impact on the social fabric of our society, on the giver as well as the receiver of a service—a social service perhaps. Not only is the receiver of the service deprived of something that he or she would like, but the giver, seeking to put something back into society and to do something for their fellow citizen, is equally deprived. We need to find a way to distinguish between systemic risks leading to a need for regulation and what, in that rather unfortunate but nevertheless accurate phrase of Donald Rumsfeld, can be described as “stuff happens”.

Finally, we need to consider the impact of regulation and the regulatory burden on the destruction and undermining of people’s confidence in their own judgment. Someone might say to you, “It has been covered by the Health and Safety Executive; it has been covered by the Criminal Records Bureau”, as if this absolves them of further responsibility. The fact is that it does not change the risk; it has merely altered the responsibility for it. If my noble friend’s report begins to redress that balance and to restore self confidence, it will not have been a report in vain.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young, for having initiated this debate. I am sure that, like me, having spent many years in business and industry, he is somewhat frustrated at how the adherence to some of the health and safety regulations has impacted on the normal day-to-day running of businesses, small and large, to such an extent that in some cases it may become counterproductive or burdensome.

We find ourselves with a host of rules and regulations in the workplace, where, to put it bluntly, it sometimes feels as if the world has gone mad. I appreciate that the introduction of these regulations was designed to reduce the number of accidents and deaths in the workplace, which in turn would, for example, prevent loss of work hours and save costs to the NHS, but as with all new regulations there is a spin-off or side-effect. It relates to the new industries that sprout up commercially to exploit vulnerabilities that exist in companies, small and large, that strive to be compliant.

I refer, first, to the so-called health and safety consultants or experts. Your Lordships may be surprised to hear that there is no mandatory qualification required to call oneself a health and safety consultant. Indeed, any of your Lordships could become one, which in itself tells a story. In many cases, the advice given is no more than common sense. There is a lack of awareness. For example, the Business Link website offers excellent advice and guidelines as well as checklists where companies can see what they need to do to be compliant. Despite that, companies employ these so-called experts to give advice and in many cases there is an overkill scenario in order to justify high charges.

Compliance has highlighted certain areas or facets in businesses that can expose people to financial claims. In some cases, the cost of indemnity insurance or extra staffing has made certain parts of businesses unviable. The cost of liability insurance has rocketed, particularly for small companies that carry out some form of physical work or service, such as hairdressers, restaurants and builders. Running a small business now not only requires the focus on competitiveness of the general day-to-day running of the business, but also gives rise to the burden of worrying about possible claims, which in some cases could even bankrupt these small companies or seriously damage them financially.

This brings me to my next topic—the compensation culture that has been referred to. I referred earlier to industries sprouting up and one such industry is claim management companies. They advertise on TV implying that they can get consumers substantial amounts of money for injuries that they have sustained. To add insult to injury, some of them are simply brokers who sell their inquiries on to solicitors; they are not solicitors themselves. I point out here that National Accident Helpline is not one of those organisations.

The legal system in this country was one that we could be proud of compared to the ambulance-chasing activities of our cousins in the United States. However, since, I believe, 1999, it has been possible for lawyers here to work on a contingency basis offering a no-win no-fee basis to their clients. While this change had some genuine and positive merit in assisting deserved causes, like all things it has been exploited in most cases to bring derisory claims against companies.

The issue concerns claims from a certain breed of people, some of whom have had the seed of an idea to make a claim planted in their minds from those terrible adverts that they see on TV. The mechanism, as I am sure your Lordships will know, is that the client becomes somewhat irrelevant in the overall scheme of things. The client is simply a catalyst among the solicitors, the claim management companies and the new breed of litigation insurers. It is the client from whom these people make their money. Once equipped with a client, these people become a massive thorn in the side of companies that have substantial assets or their own indemnity insurance. I do not wish to get into too much detail on what contingency lawyers charge, but it is near to outrageous that they can in some cases get double their normal fee.

However, most claims end up being settled by negotiation. Despite knowing that the claim is derisory, companies recognise that to defend it fully will cost a lot and those costs are not recoverable on victory, as the plaintiff usually has no assets. Commercial decisions are made by defending companies that have learnt that fighting on principle is simply bad for the balance sheet. The new breed of these—I am sorry to call them this—vulture-type lawyers knows this only too well, as do some insurers. It is almost a licence to print money if you can convince a member of the public to make a claim. I have even heard of members of the public being paid a modest fee of, say, £500 up front if they agree to become a plaintiff.

Something has to be done about these rogues. The Government should, first, examine what the Advertising Standards Authority can do. I am sure that, if they so desire, they can tighten up the regulations as to what promises can be made and make advertisers issue warnings in the advert to the effect that they are not lawyers and that bringing false claims is an offence. Perhaps, more importantly, there needs to be reform in the law. The Law Society needs to clamp down on some of these unethical lawyers and set some examples. Dare I suggest that, if it was ever possible to make those lawyers responsible themselves to pay for abortive costs when they lose a derisory claim, it would, I can assure your Lordships, kill off this industry in one fell swoop?

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for introducing this important debate and I declare my various non-paid interests as president of the National Health and Safety Groups Council, president of the London Health and Safety Group, vice-president of RoSPA, having been its president 24 years ago, and, finally, honorary vice-president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, as well as having close links with other organisations in the field of health and safety.

I take this opportunity to thank IOSH for its continued sponsorship of RoSPA’s annual health and safety awards schemes, which are held in May in Birmingham and in September in Glasgow. This year, over three days, RoSPA gave out more than 1,700 health and safety awards, with 1,000 people attending the banquets on three consecutive evenings, compared to the handful of awards that we gave out in my time at the Guildhall over a lunch. We are very grateful for that continued support.

I know from discussions with IOSH that it welcomes the Government’s review. It is not before time that we have a national debate on health and safety to help to clear the confusion and the negativity surrounding this profession and to restore its good name as a foundation block for a successful and confident society. It would like the public focus to be on the serious issues of preventing injury, illness and death through work activities, rather than the trivial nonsense we read about all too often in some sections of the media.

However, questions are raised in my noble friend’s report, Common Sense Common Safety. These include whether a drive to cut red tape will mean a cut in standards in health and safety. IOSH fully supports any effort to rein back on unnecessary bureaucracy, but in the weeks and months ahead the welfare of workers is on the line. We are told that this is a time of austerity and a time when the Government are looking at managers to cut costs and for entrepreneurs to set up the new, fledgling businesses of tomorrow. Has it ever been more critical, then, to protect people at work?

I refer to those people who take on new tasks and responsibilities in a downsizing organisation or those trying to get a new business off the ground and learning new skills on a tight budget. Enterprise is to be encouraged, but surely not at any cost. It is one of our country’s great achievements that it has one of the best health and safety records in Europe. This success has been built on a strong legal framework, a steadfast enforcer of standards in the Health and Safety Executive and an unstinting commitment by dedicated health and safety professionals to maintaining standards.

How, when the HSE faces a cut in its budget, will it handle an increase in its workload? How, when health and safety is so widely misunderstood, can improvements be made in educating people about the real issues that we face in protecting them from illness or injury at work? How, in this environment of cost-cutting and streamlining, will business afford the same safety levels for its workers? My noble friend’s report details his own views on how to make things easier for organisations to address health and safety, making it less bureaucratic and time-consuming, but IOSH would like to see greater clarity on how this would happen without compromising health and safety standards. Here, the devil is in the ambiguity. IOSH looks forward to working with the Government to scrutinise the proposed health and safety legislation and to address what should be our first concern: how to keep people healthy and safe at work in the difficult months and years ahead.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate this subject. As author of a report for the previous Government last year on the underlying causes of construction fatal accidents, I see that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has tried to cut the Gordian knot in some of the same areas that I tackled: the role of insurance companies, the gold-plating by some paid health and safety consultants, and the need for a common set of qualifications for health and safety consultants. In my contribution, I want to make a distinction between paid consultants and unpaid health and safety representatives, which I think is an important one. I pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of trade union health and safety representatives who, over the years and with little appreciation, have helped to keep our workplaces safe. In the discussion about proportionality and the need to do something about the jobsworth mentality and the killjoys, let us not forget that important work still needs to be done by unpaid volunteers who keep our thoughtlessness and carelessness in check.

Reading between the lines of the noble Lord’s report, I suspect he faced the same difficulty as me in pinning down insurance companies as to their role and responsibilities. I was conscious that there was insufficient published information on which to base reliable conclusions for my report, except to say that the issues are worthy of further exploration. I refer to discount schemes and safety incentives, and the possible sponsorship by insurance companies of safety advisers. Insurance is a highly competitive industry with specialist insurance covering large construction markets and low-margin premiums for the bottom end. It is a cutthroat business, but that does not absolve insurers from their responsibilities in this area. If the recommendations in the noble Lord’s report succeed in winkling out more co-operation from the insurance industry, he will indeed have performed a valuable service.

The report also touches on the accreditation of paid health and safety consultants and recommends a process to ensure that assessments are proportionate. During the six months I spent drawing up the report on the construction industry, I met 175 representations of organisations with an interest in the industry. It did not take me long to realise that there are well established organisations with long and honourable traditions of health and safety—dare I say entrenched?—which makes any progress slow and difficult. Of course the possession of a common accreditation or a common core of agreed standards, which might be more achievable, does not guarantee proportionality. Indeed, proportionality is unlikely to be achieved when there is money to be made. There are too many seagulls around this particular liner.

I was reassured by the noble Lord’s words in the executive summary that none of the recommendations applies to hazardous occupations,

“where the present system … is nevertheless effective in reducing accidents at work”.

I hope that the Government will keep their foot on the pedal when it comes to the construction industry. Although we claim that we are among the best in the world, it is a matter of shame that, through accidents at work, we kill between 40 and 100 construction workers every year. Last month, in the course of one week alone, seven construction workers died in separate accidents. The underreporting of accidents under the regulations—RIDDOR—is a national scandal, and I hope that the report’s recommendations on this area will improve matters. However, I do not have time to go into the detail of this.

Each death is a family tragedy. I spent time last year with six families who all felt as if the whole system was against them. To make fun of “elf ‘n safety” in their company or to talk about the compensation culture would have been a sick joke. If proportionality is to work, we must take much more seriously the issue of fatalities in the construction sector.

I refer also to occupational health. Far more workers die from the chronic effects of ill health caused by or made worse at work. Some 20 tradesmen—electricians, plumbers and so on—die every week from asbestos-related disease. In addition, 12 construction workers die each week from silica-related lung cancer. That is 32 workers a week, which means that one worker will have died during this debate. I make a plea to the Government to keep the pressure up on prevention.

Some marvellous work is being done by large and small construction companies, as well as by the trade associations, in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive, to prevent fatalities and accidents at work. It is not sufficient for the HSE to revert to being the policeman for health and safety, because it simply does not have the resources to carry out that role effectively. Working with companies and key trade associations to change the culture is the most effective way for the future. Those companies that concentrate on prevention show, by their record, that on the whole this works. Do not let us wait for blood on the concrete before taking action.

Finally, I referred earlier to the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Young, to cut the Gordian knot. As noble Lords will know, Gordius, king of Phrygia, tied an intricate knot that supposedly could be undone only by the future ruler of Asia. Along came Alexander the Great, who cut it with his sword. If the noble Lord’s report brings some proportionality into health and safety while upholding the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and thus saving lives, he will truly be an Alexander.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate and to mention something which I hope falls fair and square within the scope of the admirable report of the noble Lord, Lord Young, but which is not explicitly mentioned in it. I refer to the health and safety aspects of the use—or, rather, the lack of use—of many hydrotherapy pools and the specialist equipment in them, and the disturbing evidence which the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign is amassing that shows what a widespread problem it is. I declare an interest as a vice-president of that organisation.

I am grateful to Mr Mark Field from Droitwich for getting to the bottom of how the perceived problem of health and safety is causing many hydrotherapy pools to stand empty when they could be helping so many people, in particular children with incurable, progressive conditions. Mark Field is the father of Murray, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Mark is also the health and safety manager for a small manufacturing company in the West Midlands. He has held this position for a number of years and holds a 2008 national general certificate in occupational health and safety—July 2006 specification. Mr Field is no chancer and has a great deal of respect for health and safety legislation, which is there of course, as we have heard, to protect both the working population and the general public. However, he is convinced that some companies and organisations—including, I fear, the NHS—use certain legislation to hide behind.

The typical response from an organisation wishing to protect or limit access to its hydrotherapy pool is to say that the pool cannot be used because there are no staff available and health and safety policy precludes its use by anyone other than a competent member of staff, or because there are no trained staff available and the health and safety policy precludes use by untrained personnel. I shall cite two good examples from the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. Brislington Enterprise College is a newly built school in Bristol with a hydrotherapy pool. It was built under PFI, which was supposed to allow community use at weekends and holidays. However, once built, the contractor said that that could not happen because of health and safety issues. In another case, in Essex, a muscular dystrophy patient said: “I’ve been frustrated by the failings of the NHS to provide hydrotherapy and suitable physiotherapy. I was referred several years ago but the local NHS hydrotherapy pool was out of use for two years. When it reopened I was told staff could not help me due to health and safety regulations”.

So what can be done? According to Mr Field, a simple change to the company’s or organisation’s health and safety policy is needed to allow competent persons, either employees or non-employees, to use the pool and equipment, such as hoists, after a short instruction course by the organisation. Parents of boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, for instance, are very well versed in how hoists work as they have to use them all the time. They have already received training in the use of lifting and hoisting equipment and, although hoists and lifts can vary in their design, I am sure that they do not change very much. The organisation could even charge a small fee for training competent people to use the equipment. I am sure the parents and helpers of children with severe mobility problems would be willing to get together to minimise the cost. I do not expect my noble friend the Minister who is to reply to the debate to know whether this may be a feasible way forward—although I do know that he is a swimmer—but I would be grateful for a reply in writing later, perhaps with a copy for the Library. I should make it clear, having said he is a swimmer, that I think hydrotherapy pools would be far too warm for him.

Following on from my Oral Question on Tuesday about hydrotherapy, there is general agreement that the need is very great and that it is a terrible waste for many of these wonderful pools to be lying empty for much of the day because of the lack of trained staff. If this small change was made to a company’s or organisation’s health and safety policy, and more competent people were thereby authorised to enable those who need hydrotherapy to use these pools, what a breakthrough that would be.

My Lords, it has become something of a convention in maiden speeches to acknowledge the friendliness and assistance which new Peers receive on arrival in your Lordships’ House. I express my own thanks not because of the convention but because of my sincere appreciation of the many instances of help and guidance that I have received from all the staff, some of whom I know from Committee Rooms 1 and 2 in a rather different capacity. Noble Lords, when spotting a lost figure, have been quick to engage and I have been the recipient of much good advice. I know that many noble Lords consider that the House is overcrowded and even that there should be a moratorium on further appointments, but they do not let it show.

Some have expressed polite curiosity about me, and it may assist if I give the House some brief answers to questions that might be posed. My name is pronounced “Faulks”—as in “Old Folks at Home”—thereby distinguishing me from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. The physical resemblance I bear to the novelist Sebastian Faulks is not a coincidence—I am his brother—and in answer to a possible supplementary question, sadly I have not, unlike many noble Lords who are here and those who are shortly to arrive, written novels. The limit of my published output is as a contributing editor to the snappily entitled Local Authority Liability—not much chance of a film there.

I said that I had received much local advice from noble Lords. However, on the subject of maiden speeches, that advice was by no means consistent. By some I was told that as it is not necessary to be particularly relevant, and certainly not controversial, it might be better to choose a subject I know little about. That left me with quite a lot of choice. However, the compensation culture is a subject with which I do have some familiarity. I declare an interest as a practising barrister who has spent the past quarter of a century defending increasingly imaginative claims brought against public authorities. I was also a special adviser to the Department for Constitutional Affairs on the compensation culture in 2005 and 2006.

In that context, as an outsider to Westminster I was very impressed by the wide-ranging nature of the inquiry and the consensus that emerged despite party differences. The conclusion was that there was not in truth a compensation culture but rather the perception of one. One of the results was the passing of the Compensation Act 2006, which declared that judge-made law was indeed the law and put the language of the House of Lords Judicial Committee into statutory form. It is not legislation that is often relied upon in court. Legislation is not always the answer, or certainly not the complete answer.

However, the compensation culture, whether based on hard facts or on perception, remains an important issue, with its stultifying effect on so much that is good about our society. I very much welcome the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, full as it is of eponymous common sense.

One of the report’s many merits is the broad-ranging implementation strategy. The role of legislation is only one part of this; indeed, it is a battle to be fought on many fronts. The report recognises the tawdry and unedifying aspects of personal injury litigation that have developed—the crude advertising, referral fees and the fact that too often claims become about costs rather than the merits of the case. All these are an embarrassment to most lawyers, and I welcome the suggestions in the report that should reduce, or indeed eliminate, many of the more unattractive features of the compensation landscape.

Another strength of the report lies in the fact that it represents the aspiration of many Administrations: namely, joined-up government. There are frequent references in the report to the recent proposals for reform of civil litigation funding and costs and to the proposals for reform for legal aid. The case for reform is described in the latter as being guided by,

“the desire to stop the encroachment of unnecessary litigation into society by encouraging people to take greater personal responsibility for their problems”.

So there is a clear policy at work in addition to a broad aspiration.

I have only one reservation about the report: the omission of any significant reference to the Human Rights Act. Whatever views on that there are in the coalition Government and outside, those of us who act for public authorities on a regular basis know that they face a wide variety of claims that are based upon it. Such claims have become an expensive and complex feature of litigation in this area. I appreciate that we may have to wait for the commission under the Deputy Prime Minister to report on the Human Rights Act, but it may be worth emphasising that you can be passionately in favour of human rights as a concept and have distinct reservations about the way in which the Human Rights Act works in practice.

In the rhetoric that surrounds the compensation culture, there is the undeniable implication that many of those who act for the claimants are unscrupulous or, in the popular phrase, “ambulance chasers”. I have to say that, although I almost invariably act for defendants, the type of lawyer who acts for claimants very rarely matches this stereotype. Most work very hard for their clients, many of whom are seriously injured and who need their legal representation to enable them to obtain compensation. I very much hope that one of the results of the steps that the report envisages will be a restoration of the reputation of lawyers who practise in this field.

Nor have judges entirely escaped criticism. Although, sadly, it does not always accept my submissions, the judiciary in this country is of the highest quality, both in its intellectual calibre and its incorruptibility. Despite the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, I remain proud of a legal system in which so many members of my family have played a part in the past 100 years.

As I stand here in the quiet of the Chamber, I can hear the not-so-distant sound of galloping hooves bringing news of reform to your Lordships’ House. I do not know for how long I will remain a Member. It is, however, an extraordinary privilege to be here at all.

My Lords, it is my privilege to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Faulks for what I believe to have been one of the best maiden speeches that we have heard in this Chamber. Not only is my noble friend known as a supreme advocate but also he has a fine balance in his attitude towards right and wrong, which we heard in his reference to the Human Rights Act. He is also a foremost barrister. He gave us an indication that it is about 37 years since he was called to the Bar, but last year he achieved a great accolade in becoming the “Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence Silk of the Year”. I think we all know why. It is because he has established an outstanding reputation as one of our foremost legal practitioners. We look forward to many speeches from my noble friend in the future.

Declaring my interest as a partner now for 41 years in the national commercial law firm Beachcroft LLP, as president of the All-Party Group on Occupational Safety and Health and as deputy president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, I am delighted that my friend opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Jordan, is going to follow me. He is my president, and I am sure that I shall agree very much with what he says.

I warmly welcome the report of my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham, not least for the clear and concise way in which he has covered some complex problems. It is this simplifying style which must surely underpin our approach to the whole issue of the compensation culture and how to solve it.

This debate is remarkable because I found myself in complete agreement with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, said. Claims management companies or “claims farmers”, as I prefer to term them, seem to specialise in trying to make the system more mysterious and more complex. In truth, that suits their purposes, because the more complex is the process, the more it is alleged that you need specialist advice to unlock its mysteries. Complexity is the friend of the claims farmer; simplicity and clarity are the enemies.

We have heard many speeches today about whether we have a compensation culture. My first contribution on this subject was to a debate in the other place on the report of the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury, chaired by Lord Pearson, as far back as 1978. I have not changed my views since then. I shall not repeat them now, except to make three short points: first, sadly, I believe that we now have a compensation culture; secondly, the solution is to put genuine claimants back at the centre of the whole process; and, thirdly, health and safety legislation must now focus on what business can do, not on what it cannot.

In his report of 2004, Sir David Arculus found only a perception of a compensation culture, but no-win, no-fee excesses, coupled with a system of lawyers paying ever growing referral fees to claims farmers and others, have created a regime in which the high-pressure selling techniques so clearly outlined by my noble friend can flourish. With those advertising techniques that we are now seeing, a claim for compensation is seen not as the means by which genuine claimants can receive proper redress, but as some sort of windfall or bonus.

Sir David Arculus's views were based on statistics as to claims costs from 2000, which predated the use of conditional fee agreements. We now have the advantage of the compendious review of civil litigation costs by Lord Justice Jackson—one of my partners at Beachcroft, Andrew Parker, was one of the assessors in that review. I pay tribute to Sir Rupert not only for the breadth of his report but for the way in which he has considered all the vested interests and has delivered recommendations which are in the public interest. It is a salutary lesson to us all. My noble friend Lord Young is right to conclude that the Jackson review should be implemented in full. What that means in practice is that the attitude of the claims farmers which I have described has to be removed, so that any incident must not necessarily lead to compensation but could and occasionally should lead to some form of redress.

Today's claimant is told that he needs a lawyer on no win, no fee, a claims farmer, and an “after the event” legal expenses policy to cover the risk of losing. All those mouths need to be fed. By the time the lawyer, the farmer, the broker and the others have had their cut, the claimant's interests trail in in some remote fourth or fifth. That is why I wholeheartedly endorse the conclusions of both Sir Rupert and my noble friend that we must have strictly controlled legal costs in all injury claims of up to £25,000 in value. I am delighted to hear that my friends and colleagues in the National Health Service Litigation Authority have also put forward a proposal to my noble friend which I strongly support.

The approach in health and safety has now to change from “you can't” to “you can”. No one will deny that we have made great strides in reducing fatal and serious accidents. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, concluded correctly by echoing the words of the Prime Minister in the foreword to the report: “We simply cannot go on like this”. This time, we really can deliver and we must follow this through in the way that my noble friend has so clearly outlined.

My Lords, I declare an interest as president and a trustee of RoSPA, whose mission is to save lives and reduce injuries. It welcomes any attention focused on the issue of health and safety, and Common Sense Common Safety does that. However, the misplaced emphasis in this report on the headline-grabbing compensation culture undermines the importance of health and safety and belittles the tremendous achievements that this country has had in making it a safer place to live and work.

Since the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act was introduced, the number of fatal injuries to employees has fallen by 84 per cent, while the number of reported non-fatal injuries has fallen by 75 per cent. Yes, some of that improvement will be accounted for by the changing nature of the world of work in Britain, but the overwhelming part of the improvement was down to the comprehensive nature of the legislation and the tireless work put in by management, trade unions and workers to make Britain’s world of work a safer place. Of course, we will support many of the report’s recommendations. For example, simple risk assessments are needed by small firms. But this report is titled Common Sense Common Safety, and the coalition Government have missed a major opportunity to show the public their commitment to health and safety. Instead, we are being given what appears to be a rushed report, which seems to be more about pleasing the tabloids than a well researched and sober assessment of the changing nature of threats to life and limb in this country.

While the report is very strong on measures to deal with some unprincipled and greedy members of the legal profession, it has three major health and safety weaknesses: a lack of professionalism, a lack of in-depth understanding of health and safety, and a general lack of balance. The lack of professionalism is illustrated by the importance given to the examples of health and safety overzealousness, such as local authorities banning public events and people’s fear of litigation caused by aggressive advertising by personal injury lawyers. Of course, these are damaging to the image of legitimate health and safety but, instead of commissioning objective research to measure and understand the true extent of these problems, the noble Lord has relied simply on hearsay evidence, including alarming newspaper reports and personal anecdotes. There was no attempt to measure the true extent of this sort of problem objectively by commissioning surveys or other research.

However entertaining stories about “elf ‘n safety” silliness might be, safety policy needs to be based on proper evidence-gathering and good analysis. A lack of in-depth understanding of health and safety was shown when the noble Lord said that his report was not aimed at health and safety in industry. He goes on to divide the world of work crudely into low-hazard workplaces such as schools, shops and offices and high-hazard workplaces such as manufacturing and construction. The reality of health and safety in today’s economy is not quite so simple. Even in schools, shops and offices, while the hazard profile is much less than in manufacturing, there are still important issues to tackle such as fire prevention, musculoskeletal disorders, work-related stress and safe maintenance—and, as my colleague has mentioned, possibly asbestosis.

More worrying to us, the report ignores completely the question of work-related road crashes. Three to four times as many workers are killed while out on the road as part of their job as die in all workplace fatal accidents put together. Workers who travel 25,000 miles a year in cars and vans are more at risk of being killed on the job than workers in deep-sea trawlers.

Based on what he has heard, the noble Lord has concluded that health and safety consultants are a major source of bad advice. Some are, but to suggest from that that small firms should not seek outside help or advice on health and safety unless they really need it is just not helpful, when we, who work on a regular basis trying to improve health and safety, are trying so hard to spread the message about the national network of health and safety groups and the free advice and help that they and many others can bring to small and medium-sized businesses, where many accidents occur.

Throughout the exercise, the noble Lord was pressed to take a balanced view. Yes, we should bear down heavily on those who really are overzealous on health and safety but, at the same time, we should make a priority of the need for more action to deal with businesses that are still not doing enough and are still having accidents. The noble Lord has failed to get across the message that there is still a lot more to do on health and safety. The general underlying message that the report seeks to convey is that health and safety is a problem limited to industry, and essentially a problem that has now been solved. He puts a lot of emphasis on the alleged burden of health and safety regulation on business—and we back his emphasis on that. But he seems not to have chosen to balance that by looking at the costs of accidents and ill health on business and families. He has failed to promote the message previously adopted by all parties that good health and safety is good business, and that prevention pays. Ask the most efficient and profitable companies in this country. Last year, 152 workers were killed in workplace accidents and there were more than 230,000 reportable injuries, with 1.3 million people suffering from work-related ill health conditions and 36 million working days lost. The cost to UK society as a whole exceeded £30 billion.

With those frightening figures, the Government’s decision as part of the spending review to cut funding by 35 per cent for the Health and Safety Executive is as incomprehensible as it is dangerous. I hope that this debate gives the Government cause to reflect and, in contemplating any legislation, that the content of that legislation will leave the British public in no doubt about their commitment to their health and safety.

My Lords, I am delighted not only that we have an opportunity of an early debate on my noble friend’s compelling report but that I have the privilege of following the excellent maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Faulks. I should like to address the report’s recommendations that would have an impact on the media. I declare an interest accordingly as a director of the Telegraph Media Group and chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance.

My noble friend’s report makes an unanswerable case for the reform of the system of conditional fee arrangements that are the genesis of the compensation culture. I am sure that those who constructed the Access to Justice Act 1999 that ushered in those arrangements had the best of intentions, but the law of unintended consequences, as the report perceptively highlights, has had a pernicious and deeply damaging impact on freedom of expression. I would go so far as to say that, even bearing in mind the highly unwelcome growth of the so-called super-injunction, I believe that there is currently no more serious threat to media freedom or the public’s right to know than the unfettered use by claimant lawyers of CFAs backed by the toxic combination of 100 per cent success fees and after-the-event insurance.

First, there is the question of cost. It is not uncommon, as evidence submitted to Lord Justice Jackson’s review revealed, that libel and privacy actions against newspapers end up with damages of as little as £5,000 with a cost of 20 times or more that amount. That is a frightening prospect, which could put some small publications out of business. I cannot overstate the deeply difficult commercial realities for much of the media. The perfect storm of profound structural change with a severe recession in advertising has left many publications battered and bruised. Too many local papers—the engines of local democracy—have closed and many more may do so. The issue of CFAs could be a significant component in that.

Even more important is the chilling impact on free speech. It is now too common that newspapers will fail to defend a claim, no matter how spurious it might be or how important the issue, because they cannot afford to take the risk. CFAs have become a seriously distorting factor in the editorial process, with issues often avoided because of fear of the consequences. The role of scrutineer, which is inherent in a free press, is undermined. My noble friend’s report rightly states that,

“the Government should adopt Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals as soon as possible”,

to end the recoverability of CFA success fees and after-the-event insurance policy premiums, which Lord Justice Jackson described as,

“the most bizarre and expensive system that it is possible to devise”.

I wholeheartedly agree with that, but my great concern is the question of speed.

The need for swift and decisive action is very real and urgent because the provision of news and information to the public is at stake, but for far too long there has been masterly inaction. The first government review of CFAs took place as long ago as 2003. Since then, there have been countless reviews about the crippling impact of the regime including annual official consultations, research, consultation papers and, to the best of my knowledge, at least two Select Committee inquiries. The first of this year’s crop of consultation papers, which seem to come round as frequently as the first cuckoo in spring, devoted an entire appendix of seven densely written pages to covering information about seven years of inquiries about proposals for CFA reform.

Your Lordships’ House backed interim measures, which did not require primary legislation, to deal with the issue of CFAs in the dying days of the previous Parliament, but the proposals failed at the final hurdle in another place. Now, as my noble friend has said, we have another review seven years after the first. The irony is that, with the exception of some of the claimant lawyers who have a vested interest, everyone seems to agree. Lord Justice Jackson supports reform. The Ministry of Justice and Select Committees have supported reform. Much of the senior judiciary—including the Master of the Rolls, who gave such a warm welcome to Mr Justice Jackson’s review—and the regional and national media support reform. This House supported reform. Yet we are still waiting as the problems grow ever more acute.

The latest consultation paper envisages that changes to the law and to civil procedure will be necessary to introduce these vital reforms. Encouragingly, the new business plan from the Ministry of Justice that was published recently states that the Government will bring forward the necessary primary legislation in the spring of 2011, immediately after implementation plans have been finalised in the light of the consultation response. As the Prime Minister rightly says in his foreword to my noble friend’s excellent report,

“Now we need to act”.

After seven years of prevarication under the previous Government, can we have a clear commitment to a timetable and an assurance that the necessary legislation will not be further delayed? There is a great deal at stake.

Can I ask the noble Lord to comment on the proposal in the Jackson report to replace conditional fees with contingent fees, whereby the plaintiff’s lawyer would take a slice of the damages?

It seems to me, my Lords, that that would be an admirable way forward. The Jackson report has had widespread support from within the media and I hope that it is implemented as soon as possible.

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The report is interesting, although I have considerable reservations about some of its conclusions.

When I was very young, I worked in the accident claims department of a major insurance company. The claimants were often working people, who believed that their injuries arose from their working conditions. They had to submit to the most rigorous examinations by the doctors working for the company. I began to feel considerable sympathy for the claimants. I did not stay in that employment as, in those days, there were negligible career opportunities for women in insurance, as in much other employment. I left and went to work for a trade union, eventually became an official and, at senior level, became responsible for the legal aid scheme that was made available to members.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Young, took submissions from the TUC and from individual unions. I have of course spoken to the chief health and safety official at the TUC about the report. However, the noble Lord, Lord Young, has very little to say in his conclusions about the major and important role played by unions on behalf of their members. Health and safety is a major part of our function. We are not only concerned to ensure that our members are provided with support to enable them to pursue claims in court but anxious to ensure that health and safety at work is improved. We use all the means at our disposal to ensure that this happens.

One of my early experiences in this House was in connection with a Bill that I introduced with the backing and briefing of my union. The Bill arose from the appalling Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea. At the Cullen inquiry, at which we represented our members, it transpired that many employees had been concerned about safety but, as they were on short-term contracts, they were afraid of being victimised—that is, not re-employed—so they had not drawn attention to the hazards that they had observed. I introduced a Bill in this House, which was originally drafted by my noble friend Lord Wedderburn, with the idea of protecting employees in the industry against victimisation when acting as safety representatives or members of a safety committee. I discussed the Bill with the then Minister—at that time the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who was, I am glad to say, extremely supportive—and the Bill was adopted in this House and in the other place and became law. In due course, the provisions were incorporated into much larger and even more comprehensive legislation.

I refer to this to indicate that unions are concerned not only to secure compensation for injured members but to play a part in ensuring that the working environment is as safe as possible. We welcomed the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and we believe that its advent, and that of the Health and Safety Executive, is responsible for the substantial and very welcome decline in the number of accidents and injuries at work. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to ensure that safety representatives are elected and are able to perform their important work. Furthermore, legal services should be readily available to employees who feel that they have suffered as a result of negligence in their working environment. Certainly, we in my union always supported members in such circumstances.

I was not completely happy when no-win, no-fee arrangements were introduced. I understand that the reason for their introduction was to ensure that people who did not have funds should nevertheless have access to justice, although it seemed likely to me that the only cases that would be taken on by lawyers operating on that basis would be what might be called dead-cert cases. Yet some of the most important advances have been made when cases that looked doubtful—and in which there has been an element of risk—have been taken and been won. That is of course part of the function of the unions.

That brings me to an aspect of the report and, in particular, statements in the foreword by the Prime Minister, with which I am not at all in agreement.

“A damaging compensation culture has arisen”,

the Prime Minister says. He also says that,

“the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower”,

yet the report makes it clear that, although this may be a perception, the reality is very different. For example, under the heading,

“Annex D: Behind the myth: the truth behind health and safety hysteria in the media”,

some of the stories that appeared in the media are repeated and shown to be quite untrue. I hope that we do not have more legislation based not on fact but on perception created by media misrepresentation. It is in everyone’s interest that workplaces should be as safe as possible. That is also true of situations outside the workplace, which are dealt with in the report.

I do not believe that the report in any way justifies the introduction of legislation that would make it more difficult for people who felt that they had been damaged to attempt to secure compensation for their injuries. It is noticeable that many stakeholders who provided evidence did not believe that there was a growing compensation culture in the UK. That is certainly the view of the TUC. If an attempt is made on the basis of the report to introduce legislation that would make it more difficult for people who feel that they are justified in claiming for injury, I shall oppose it and so, I expect, will many of my noble friends.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the balanced report of the noble Lord, Lord Young, as well as his declared belief that,

“our entire approach to risk assessments needs to change across the board”.

I want to make two points: one particular and the other general. First, bureaucracy is not confined to the application of health and safety regulations, as in some of the cases that other speakers have cited. The following are some questions that have been drawn to my attention from a form sent by the Care Quality Commission to dentists to complete:

“How do you ensure that the views and experiences of people who use services are listened to and acted upon when running your services? How have the views and experiences of people who use services, their carers and representatives influenced your service priorities … ? What are you doing to increase the influence people have on the planning or delivery of the services? How do you ensure people’s equality, diversity and human rights are actively promoted in your services?”.

This is one of the misapplications of human rights that that noble Lord, Lord Faulks, referred to in his delightful maiden speech. The questions continue:

“How does the promotion of equality, diversity and human rights influence how you deliver services across the range of regulated activities?”.

How are dentists to answer these kinds of questions? They are addressed to qualified professionals, cost many thousands of pounds and take many wasted hours to complete. In the words of the dentist who sent the form to me, “It’s barmy”.

My second, more general point is about the anti-risk society, which has been partly fostered by the so-called precautionary principle. The principle is now so widely accepted that it has almost become an 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not take unnecessary risks”. Tony Blair once declared in a major speech:

“Responsible science and responsible policy-making operate on the precautionary principle”.

In fact, the principle is either so obvious that it does not need stating, so vague that it is useless or—alas, more frequently—formulated in a form that is positively harmful to progress. A lot of the time it says, in effect, “If there is serious evidence that what you do may cause harm, be careful”. Who could possibly disagree?

The second form of the principle, contained in various laws and regulations, of which the Cartagena protocol solemnly signed by Governments is probably the most important, is so verbose, complex and vague that I defy anyone to explain clearly exactly what it says. It can be interpreted to mean anything. I will not cite the full protocol because of, first, lack of time and, secondly, tedium. The main use of the principle, however, is in the form with which I am concerned, defined in these terms:

“When an activity raises threats of harm … measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not … established scientifically”.

Note the absence of the need for scientific advice. As a result, it is usually requested that a new process or innovation be proved safe before it is licensed or permitted. That means that the principle can be invoked, as it often is, by press campaigns, by campaigns by green lobbies or by public fears and alarms.

No wonder that the principle is the favourite slogan of green fundamentalists—the Prince Charleses of this world who want to go back to nature, who are suspicious of modern science and whose cry is essentially, “Stop the world, I want to get off”. It has, for example, led to the near-universal ban on growing GM crops in Europe, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that in more than 12 years of their cultivation outside Europe they have caused no harm to health or the environment. They are now grown in an area of the world that is more than four times the size of the whole of the United Kingdom.

The principle has led to an anti-risk climate in which potential harm is no longer weighed against benefit. Carl Djerassi, the man who invented the pill, has said that in today’s climate the pill would never have been licensed. Aspirin, which has turned out in many ways to be a wonder drug, would also be banned because it can cause harm. These are only a few of many examples.

Generally, obeisance to the principle helps to foster the anti-risk society. Excessive caution is the watchword of pessimism. At a seminar yesterday, Matt Ridley, the author of many splendid books, reminded us of a Woody Allen joke. Mankind, he said, is at a crossroads. One sign reads “To despair” and the other “To extinction”. We must make up our minds.

It is high time that the principle was completely abandoned. It represents the triumph of the Jeremiahs. It is the victory of the Spartan spirit, fearful of the terrors that change may bring, over the Athenian spirit that looks for new worlds to conquer—the victory of the Luddites who want to stop innovation over those who want to try it out.

I welcome the paper that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has produced. The right to cross new frontiers of knowledge, which science stands for, should be promoted, but the anti-risk society would seek to stifle it at birth. That would mean a world without excitement, exuberance, imagination or innovation, doomed to gradual economic and intellectual decline. It would be a paradise, with the greatest respect, only for lawyers.

One of many good things that the coalition has started to do is reintroduce some common sense into the assessment of risks. I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young, on his report, which I hope will be the start of a more general common-sense revolution.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Young, on what I found to be an exceptionally interesting and thought-provoking speech. One hopes that the Government will lose no time in implementing his recommendations. The Motion refers to both health and safety legislation and the compensation culture. Of the two, it is really the latter that is the villain of the piece; without it, schools, local authorities and so on would not be nearly so zealous in implementing health and safety legislation to the letter, and even gold-plating it, for fear of the financial consequences should anything go wrong.

With that in mind, it is right today to pay tribute to the late Michael Cocks, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, whom some of your Lordships will remember. He had previously been a Member of Parliament for Bristol South. Almost 15 years ago, on 20 December 1995, he introduced a debate highlighting the malign consequences of the litigious society that was taking root in Britain just as America was trying belatedly to curb its own. Lord Cocks, who emphasised that he was not being party political—this most surely is not a party-political matter—was chiefly concerned about the threat that this compensation culture posed to the NHS and to the medical profession generally but, of course, his words apply equally to businesses, particularly small businesses that do not run to a compliance department and whose directors or partners are far too busy running their businesses to take time off to spend a day or more fighting accusations of mis-selling or, more often, discrimination and so find it cheaper to settle out of court, even though they may be totally innocent, as the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, pointed out. In the main, such people cannot afford the understandably high premiums now demanded for litigation protection.

I was at that debate, and what was surprising and disappointing was the lukewarm response of both the Government and the then Opposition to Lord Cocks’s speech. Clearly, at that time, Britain had not learnt from the transatlantic experience and did not realise that the introduction of the no-win no-fee system, among other things, would encourage ambulance-chasers to flourish and the British public to become more and more litigious, thus making life much tougher for the medical profession and for honest, well run businesses, which constitute the great majority, as well as for a small minority that behave badly in one way or another.

In his speech, Lord Cocks quoted, in col. 1612, a headline in the Sunday Times of 12 November 1995, which read, “Huge legal suits threaten US firms. Litigate and make your fortune”. Indeed, we were just starting to hear about McDonald’s customers on the other side of the pond being awarded a small fortune for having been served coffee that was rather too hot and so forth. Now, it seems that litigants are making a small fortune on this side of the Atlantic. The Sunday Telegraph reported on 21 November that a 46 year-old woman had, in the space of 10 years, won half a million pounds from a variety of employers, having never held a job for more than 26 months. Almost the worst feature was a payment of nearly £21,000 for “hurt feelings”. Compare this award with the generally much smaller amounts awarded to our soldiers seriously wounded in Afghanistan. One has no quarrel with damages awarded by a tribunal for proven, properly calculated loss of earnings, but quite disproportionate awards for alleged injured feelings are another matter altogether.

Consider a case, justifiably slated in the press and on local radio a year or two ago, where a woman in a headscarf applied for a job with a small hairdresser’s near King’s Cross. She was told, “If we give you this job, you realise you’ll have to remove your headscarf while working—not while travelling to and from the shop—since our policy is that our customers should be able to see our various assistants’ beautiful heads of hair, made even more beautiful by the skills of our salon”. The applicant refused to contemplate doing so and sued for discrimination. Despite the tribunal acquitting the hairdresser of discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion and so on, the applicant was none the less awarded £4,000 for hurt feelings. The ways of the law are weird and strange.

Almost as curious is the case of a 19 year-old girl who had been working in a store for a year or so and applied for the job of manager. It was explained to her that a manager needed plenty of experience and the ability to deal with the unexpected and with a wide variety of people and that, regrettably, she was too young. She disagreed and took the matter to court; she was awarded several thousand pounds in compensation, a large proportion of which was, once again, for injured feelings. Naturally, in the whole spectrum of compensation culture, hurt feelings play a minor part, but the present state of affairs not only encourages people to magnify minor grievances that they might otherwise have shrugged off but encourages some people to try to get rich quickly by means of litigation.

Some years ago, during the Major Administration, a Conservative Front-Bench spokesman in this House expressed the view that £1,000 should constitute the maximum award for injury to feelings, a proposition that I welcomed then and still endorse today. I am certain that most members of the public would endorse that view, too. I suggest, without much optimism, that the Government should give serious consideration to such a cap.

My Lords, as a result of my noble friend Lord Young’s introduction to this debate, it seems to me we ought to amend our Standing Orders to include the phrase “re-maiden speech”. I thank him for his reappearance and for agreeing to meet me towards the end of his inquiry.

Health and safety is a subject that concerns every one of us; it gets the blame for a whole range of activities being stopped, and all noble Lords have their own pet stories. These activities bear little or no relevance to the current law on which the Health and Safety Executive depends. The one good thing that the previous Government did in this area was to combine the commission and the executive. Their failure, however, was not to put a stop to the culture of blame which has pervaded this country for many years and stopped the incorrect attribution of no-risk policies to the HSE as the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, will know only too well.

Almost exactly a year ago, I received a letter in which my correspondent asked, “Why can’t we enjoy warming ourselves around the school bonfire on 5th November any more?”. She also asked, “Why can’t our children have a few sparklers?”. The answer in both cases was that someone might burn their fingers and sue. She was quite right, as is my noble friend’s report. He cites the reasons for this on page 19—the introduction of conditional fee agreements, the growth of after-the-event insurance and the proliferation of claims management companies, which my noble friend Lord Hunt described as claims farmers. I am not sure whether that is an accurate description; to me, farmers proliferate themselves and their crops, whereas I am not sure whether claims management companies do.

This report makes the point that the enormous number of claims management companies are a direct, if unintended, consequence of no-win no-fee legislation. Like any business, these companies are in it to make a profit; they clearly do, or they would disappear. Although they are regulated, my noble friend believes that more regulation is necessary, especially in the field of advertising, which is done in such a way as to make individuals believe that they can claim compensation for the most minor of incidents. In this connection, I was alarmed to find a text message on my mobile on Tuesday this week saying, “Our records show that you may be entitled to £3,750 for the accident you had. To claim for free, reply YES to this message”. Needless to say, I have not had an accident.

I believe that there are two reasons for successful claims—first, the leniency of the courts towards the claimant, and, secondly, the cost of court proceedings, which includes staff time and costs over and above those of instructing a solicitor and leads, in many cases, to out-of-court settlements. If the report of Lord Justice Jackson was acted upon, conditional fee and insurance claims would cease to be recoverable from the losing party in litigation. This would immediately put a damper on the number of court cases. My noble friend Lord Young told us that the Ministry of Justice is consulting on this report as a whole. That is important, because among Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals is the suggestion that lawyers’ fees should be capped at 25 per cent of the reward and that general damages should be increased by 10 per cent. We have been told of screams of anguish from some claims management companies and the solicitors in question, but it seems to me that here we have a carrot and stick proposal. As in the case of breaking the opticians’ monopoly on the supply of reading glasses almost 25 years ago, if the Government conclude that the proposals of Lord Justice Jackson are correct, they should get on with it. I am also told that although contributory negligence is well established in law, very often the courts do not give it enough weight in coming to their judgments. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on this when he winds up.

It may be a little provocative but we should consider two organisations—or rather aspects of organisations—that it should be impossible to sue directly. The NHS runs an insurance scheme that seems to work to a greater or lesser extent, but neither schools nor the police seem to be properly insured—and, if my somewhat off-the-wall suggestions are accepted, nor would they need to be. I do not see why teachers on school property or the policeman on the beat should be sued at all. I would continue to make teachers responsible for their charges on, say, a visit from Tunbridge Wells to your Lordships’ House, as occurred the other day; and the police responsible for the mistreating of arrestees in police stations. I am, however, convinced that the absence of a clip around the ear of a misbehaving youth is one of the reasons for youth crime. If parents will not or cannot control their children, or give them the sort of guidance that we were all blessed with from our parents, let us leave it to the people whom we, as a society, charge with keeping law and order.

Over the years I have identified two employees that exist in every local authority. The first is a planning officer, who has nothing to do with this debate. The second is the environmental health officer, who most certainly does. I believe he sees his job as preventing the local authority being sued. This is the wrong attitude and it is not what he is there for. I agree with the report that, if the environmental health officer bans such events as bonfires or playing conkers on school grounds, he should give his report in writing and, in extreme cases, have his actions referred to the local authority ombudsman. I also agree that it is ridiculous that parents should have to sign a consent form for every school outing. The ideal would be for the pupil to hand it in on the first day he attends a new school. The present situation is a complete and utter nonsense.

I have just time to refer to the adventure activities licensing scheme, which my noble friend in his report suggests should be abolished. I will not go into detail but I observe that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, agrees with me that it is not in the Public Bodies Bill. Since my noble friend says that his report is being considered favourably on the whole, could the Minister tell us what has happened to that proposal?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young, has done us a great service by bringing a common-sense approach to the so-called compensation culture. Yes, it is long overdue. He has prescribed the right medicine for many of the symptoms but I wonder if he has really understood all the causes of the illness. Other noble Lords have suggested that the causes are greedy claims farmers and vulture lawyers—not, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, whom I congratulate on his maiden speech. Are there any other reasons? Could it be that pressure at work causes people to act unreasonably when something unfortunate happens? Is it that people fear that there is an imbalance between pressure at work and the reward—not just monetary but in satisfaction? Do people feel that they are victims of injustice at work and the system is against them, as my noble friend put it? The compensation culture could just be a way of getting their own back.

It is many years since I ran my business but I certainly do not forget how difficult it was to get the right balance between putting undue pressure on people and the need for progress. It is not easy to get creative tension right. I was reminded of this the other day when a booklet called Stress at Work arrived on my desk. It is a useful publication by the British Academy Policy Centre. My noble friend Lord Jordan also mentioned this. The British Academy is not the only one concerned about this. The Health and Safety Executive is also concerned. It has produced a formula for measuring stress at work. In 2004 the Health and Safety Executive produced a guide for managers on how to reduce stress at work. Its US equivalent says on its website:

“The workplace is the single greatest source of stress”.

We all know why people get stressed at work. There is the nature of their work, the pressures from above and below, the competition, the interpersonal conflicts, the bureaucracy and the distorted work-life balance. It now takes two incomes in a family to pay for a home. There is the pressure to stay connected when away from work. Many of us have been there; many of us in this Chamber know what it is all about. Some of us can get out of the kitchen if we do not like the heat, but for most of us that is impossible. We need the income and, yes, we also need some job satisfaction. We also know the economic cost of absenteeism, high staff turnover and poor performance, and the social costs to health and family relationships. Why not add the cost of excessive claims when an opportunity presents itself when something goes wrong? It is hard to make legal claims for stress but far easier to make them for physical injuries that are apparent. Why not double or triple them to include stress?

Is this an unreasonable analysis? I do not think it is. The situation will get worse. There will be much more part-time and temporary work instead of full-time jobs. There will be cuts to staff, with the rest loyally taking on the extra work. There will be the stress and conflict of redundancy. People will feel that they always have to be present, even when there is good reason to be absent. The economic crisis might not reduce absenteeism but it will certainly increase stress. If there is a connection between stress at work and the compensation culture, it will only increase with the recession. Certainly, the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Young, need to be implemented but surely, at the same time, measures to reduce stress at work need to be implemented by both the private and public sectors.

There is nothing new in this. As I have said, the Health and Safety Executive laid this out in 2004. Well before that, most people knew of the need to be fair, to give people more say at work, and to give people the opportunity to have control over their future and a say over change, either through their union or their representatives, as my noble friend Lady Turner said. There is a need to be more flexible and more family-friendly over working hours, and to design jobs so that they are less stressful. We must also ignore those who say that these soft management skills are pointless. Indeed, the Minister had better take note. His boss, the Prime Minister, is touching on this today when he speaks about measuring general well-being.

My question to the Minister is: does he agree with me that there is a connection between stress at work and the unreasonable demands of the compensation culture? If so, will the Government ensure that the Health and Safety Executive’s recommendations to managers are implemented in the public sector, where the Government are a major employer? I am sure that many public sector and private sector managers already do this; after all, it is common sense and good management practice. If this is done, hand in hand with the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Young, we may avoid a lot of trouble, unhappiness and expense.

My Lords, I warmly welcome this debate and the report produced by my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham. It is pleasing to read that it has received broad acclaim as a distinctive catalyst for change in advocating a more measured, proportionate degree of protection from litigation for businesses, shops and schools. It is a start as a retraction from the current culture of fear of those who are too easily able to seek redress through compensation. As well as seeking to liberate businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones that employ more than five people, the proposals will have a significant positive impact on the voluntary sector and on extra-curricular educational activities.

Of course, it takes only one tragic accident to give the impression that the law, particularly the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, is wanting. The press can misreport and exaggerate. However, accidents, injuries and work-related illnesses must continue to raise important questions in seeking always to prevent and protect under common and criminal law. The fact that in 2007-08 there were 2.7 fatalities for every 100,000 employees and more than 100,000 non-fatal injuries, although one of the lowest rates in Europe, still cautions us against complacency.

Critical to achieving the right balance is the proposed production of a code of practice that in its detail and clarity will not be prescriptive but will be a guide to allow a determination of what is reasonably practical in setting up sensible health and safety protection specific to individual cases. I applaud the idea in the report that a specific code for schools and colleges be implemented to replace the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, to be highlighted separately within the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act. This will assist schools in managing the safety aspects of outdoor activities, allowing for healthy and acceptable degrees of risk.

In the field of employment law, an employer has to be seen to be acting reasonably within the law in management and behaviour in the workplace. Just as tribunals sit to pass judgment on the reasonableness of the behaviour and actions of employers to their employees, courts can better pass judgment with reference to a code of practice in health and safety. The question can therefore be asked: did the employer, the shop, the school take all reasonably practical steps to assess and implement risk mitigation? The onus must remain on businesses and schools to understand the guidelines and comply with the code of practice.

Under the auspices of the Health and Safety Executive, the proposal for a network of properly accredited health and safety professionals is welcome. There is the prospect of better advice on the definition for customers of what is deemed to be reasonably practical, but there must be a significant change in culture in respect of low-hazard small businesses, sole traders and individuals in good Samaritan roles. These categories have most to lose from those who abuse compensation claims. Businesses whose turnover is modest can be disproportionately adversely affected, or even made bankrupt, if they are not covered by insurance.

As my noble friend Lord Faulks mentioned in his excellent maiden speech, the Compensation Act 2006 addresses some of these issues. In determining, and possibly reducing, negligence claims, courts are allowed to have regard to a sense of perspective on and a proportionate response to the nature of an activity, its future desirability and its benefit for society or the community. Such changes to health and safety regulation are highly desirable in developing the role of the voluntary sector. As I highlighted in my maiden speech, empowering and encouraging more individuals as volunteers to enlist for local tasks or projects is a crucial step in shifting responsibility from the state to the local level. It is a considerable disincentive to helping in the community, in offering care or running a pub, if the threat of civil negligence is prevalent. I hope that the Government will exempt from negligence those who have acted in good faith in helping others where an incident has occurred without deliberate cause, perhaps through extending the Crown Prosecution Service codes of practice where protection is offered to those who intervene in a crime.

In the spirit of sensible protection, I urge the Government to introduce a fast-track process for referral to the ombudsman of a perceived unfair decision by an authority not to hold an event such as a village fête or concert so that it can still have the chance to proceed and not incur cancellation costs. To echo the title of the report, common sense must be the overriding feature of health and safety protection. There must always be a “bottom line” defence: in other words, a necessary protection from unscrupulous employers or cavalier outdoor adventure managers.

The legal framework and new codes of practice must lead to a liberation: that is, to freeing up society to help itself, to being proactive, and to individuals taking personal responsibility. The changes will engender greater confidence to encourage creativity and innovation in new businesses and to encourage schools to stimulate and educate children in riskier sports and other activities outside the classroom.

My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority and patron of the Mountain Training Trust.

The report of the noble Lord, Lord Young, is very valuable and welcome and gets most things absolutely right, although there are one or two areas where further thought and work are needed. I want to highlight two points, one in each category. First, I give the report more than full marks for its comments on the role and availability of adventure activities in education. Giving pupils and children a sense of adventure, a taste of the great outdoors and the opportunity to engage in climbing, canoeing, sailing or other potentially dangerous and risky activities is an absolutely essential and valuable part of their education. This is particularly true for children and pupils in our inner cities who have virtually no other access to the great outdoors. Adventure activities induce a sense of risk, responsibility, teamwork, self-reliance, self-esteem and the full development of a child’s potential and had a profound impact on my own upbringing. The two weeks that I spent on a school expedition in the north-west highlands of Scotland changed my life. The opportunity for other children to enjoy that sort of opportunity has diminished severely over recent years as a result of the risk averseness within the system, and we need to do something about it. Absolutely anything that can be done to implement the noble Lord’s proposals to free up opportunities for adventure for pupils and children will be enormously welcome.

The second area I want to highlight is that of no-win no-fee legal compensation claims, and especially the role that advertising plays. We need to do more work on the role of advertising because I venture to suspect that the principal problem here is the product itself rather than the way in which it is advertised. I have a number of observations to make. First, it is surely important that ordinary people of limited means have access to justice and remediation if they suffer the consequences of someone else’s negligence. Secondly, it is important that information about the availability of redress, and how to access it, is readily and prominently placed in the public domain. Thirdly, as the report itself acknowledges, the perception is that there has been an explosion in no-win no-fee compensation claims; in fact, the reality is that there has not. Fourthly, existing evidence on the role that advertising plays in stimulating unjustified claims is equivocal at best.

In 2006, the ASA, with the then Department for Constitutional Affairs, part funded comprehensive research into the effects of advertising on the compensation culture. It was an important piece of detailed work, because advertising is, of course, a complex medium. It works on many levels and it is not always easy to work out what role it plays, given that there might be a number of different influences on the behaviour of individuals and claimants. The research, The Effects of Advertising in Respect of Compensation Claims for Personal Injuries, aimed at discovering what effect this sort of advertising had on the perceptions and attitudes of its audience, and what detrimental or beneficial effects it had. The central finding of the research was that it appears that advertising cannot be blamed as the primary source for fuelling the compensation culture. The research shows that consumers receive information from a wide variety of sources, and it is a combination of those sources that gives rise to the false impression that there is an increased level of compensation claiming.

That research was carried out some years ago. It is important that before rushing to change we should probably update that research and find out more. As I have already said in reply to the generous letter of the noble Lord, Lord Young, to me as chairman, we at the ASA will very warmly welcome any new evidence that his team might have unearthed or might wish to unearth, and we will consider it very carefully indeed. Any regulation, as the Government rightly believe, must be based on sound evidence and be fair and proportionate. In the mean time, the self-regulatory system, of which the ASA Council is the independent arbiter, will robustly apply the current rules in order to provide protection for the consumer and to avoid any misleading or inaccurate selling.

I have time for just one other point. A particular issue might need addressing separately—the offering of inducements by claim management and claim introduction companies to entice people into claiming. This practice deserves early examination, and I suggest that the principal mischief is not the advertising of inducements but the existence of a system that allows the possibility of an inducement. That is what I urge the Government to look seriously at.

This is a valuable report. In many respects, it says enormously sensible things. On one or two things, we need to do more work.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Young, on introducing this debate on Common Sense Common Safety. I so hope that his positive mind will soon be back at the centre of government.

The more society is regulated, the less room there is for common sense. Regulation becomes so all pervasive in the official mind that there is no room for natural morality. I should like particularly to draw your Lordships’ attention to the effects on society of the safety regulations that are being introduced by the Independent Safeguarding Authority and the Criminal Records Bureau.

Unintentionally, and yet insidiously, we are developing an unhealthy culture of suspicion that is the antithesis of the big society which the coalition, and indeed the country at large, would like to be developed. CRB vetting now includes 16 year-olds teaching younger kids to read, parents volunteering at school, and foster carers and friends running after-school clubs. All are subject to more stringent security tests for those activities than for selling explosives. Why not include postmen, milkmen and van delivery drivers? Where will it all end?

Of course, no parent wishes to see their children damaged by the action of paedophiles, but, in overall national terms, the level of aggressive paedophilia is minute and the incidents are vastly overblown by the press. A parent might think that the work of the Criminal Records Bureau safeguards their children, but that is in fact a total delusion. The Criminal Records Bureau can record only those who have had a criminal record, not those who have tendency to criminality; such people still get the job. The fact remains that most cases of paedophilia are caused by near neighbours, close relations or online operators, none of whom comes under the vetting procedures. The whole vetting exercise gives an illusion of probity without actually achieving the serious ends that it purports to achieve.

While some may welcome this illusion as being better than nothing, we are building up a society of mistrust, which even discourages adults from stepping in to help children in trouble for fear of being considered potential molesters and being reported to the police. Increasingly, we live in a society where adults distrust each other, and children are taught to regard everyone with suspicion. Paradoxically, vetting schemes further undermine the concept that the best protection for children is the vigilance of other adults.

Millions of people now face checks—many of them volunteers who particularly resent being told that they have to register with the ISA before continuing to offer the service that they have been providing for years. Such vetting assumes that people are guilty until proven innocent, and is gravely undermining the voluntary sector just at the point where we need it more. The bureaucracy to which volunteers are subjected is completely out of proportion to the informal and low-key nature of their activities. Checks cover flower arranging in a cathedral, working on a local newsletter, visiting elderly people to chat and do crosswords, or listening to children read in a school.

Child protection rules mean that volunteers are treated with suspicion and are subjected to humiliating and invasive procedures such as being accompanied to the toilet in schools, being asked to wear ID badges including their CRB number, and even being asked to list all their places of residence for the past 10 years. It is no wonder that volunteers feel totally disrespected or find the procedures insulting. They do not want to reveal personal information or have someone rummaging through their personal details. They resent paying £64 to the registering authority when they are giving their time for free. No wonder the CRB checks are killing voluntarism; indeed, they are a dagger at its heart.

As things stand, imagine a school trip being cancelled when a vetted mother, who was to accompany the children, falls ill and another requisite character cannot be found. Well, the simple way around all this is, of course, for all adults to be registered, and that is precisely what will happen. The logic is that the majority of the adult population will sooner or later find themselves on the vetting database. That cannot make sense. The whole procedure is doing far more harm than good and destroys the very roots of a caring society. Indeed, it is more likely to put our children in greater jeopardy, because instead of relying, as we used to, on references or word-of-mouth recommendations and common-sense observation, we rely on the vetting and barring scheme which, by its very nature, is far from infallible. All the bits of paper in the world cannot predict what someone is going to do.

It is good that the Government are considering scaling back the whole procedure to common-sense levels. However, therein lies a problem. These schemes are doing immense harm to our whole way of life, our national psyche and trust between individuals. The Government should have the courage to scrap these schemes or society will destroy itself. However, if, in an effort to change, the Government have to take the route to abolition step by step, they could at least first exclude all volunteers from any vetting or barring scheme. A mother should not be required to register on a vetting database before she goes to her child’s school. The process of CRB-checking volunteers is a common policy of councils, voluntary organisations and sports bodies, which is enforced by official bodies such as Ofsted and the Child Protection in Sport Unit. The process leads to more than 700,000 CRB checks every year and probably achieves next to nothing. Councils should be told that this is unnecessary, harmful and wrong.

The Government must roll back the child protection bureaucracy from at least voluntary activity, which is currently obstructed by many over-the-top child protection rules. These are as off-putting and as damaging as CRB checks themselves; and therein lies the problem of excessive precaution and over-interpretation—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, in his introduction.

In conclusion, I recommend a book that puts this far better than I can: Licensed to Hug by Professor Frank Furedi, published by Civitas. Its very title explains the damage that we are doing to our society, which between us we must try to prevent. The harmful futility of the work done by the Criminal Records Bureau, albeit with the best intentions, is another example of the damaging effects and the unintended consequences of overregulation. Sadly, it is only one example of the many hundreds of bad regulations that are not only destroying sensible and good human relationships but doing incalculable harm to our economy through the inefficiencies that they incur and the mistrust that they engender. We in this House all hope that the debate secured by my noble friend Lord Young will see a return to proportion and common sense in the regulatory world.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the board of the Food Standards Agency. I do not speak for the agency in this House—we are a non-ministerial government department and we have Ministers in the four Parliaments of the UK who do that—but I will say, on behalf of the board and staff, how grateful we are for this report and for the care and attention to detail that the noble Lord, Lord Young, has given to our proposals for the food hygiene rating system, which is covered at length in the report and is due to be launched next week. We had a short telephone conversation about aspects of the system in the summer. I hope that the rest of the report’s recommendations will also be implemented, but I will come to that in my final points.

I take second place to nobody on health and safety matters. I made my maiden speech in the other place in March 1974 on health and safety; I served on the standing committee for the current health and safety legislation; and, as a manager in manufacturing, I was red-hot on health and safety matters in all of the companies in which I worked. As a Member of Parliament, I used to get complaints about health and safety matters—indeed, the former coroner of Birmingham drew my attention to some of the construction difficulties—and I gave attention to those issues. We have heard some examples of such difficulties from these Benches today, but we have not heard about the catastrophic rate of accidents in the farming industry. I make these points because my noble friend Lord Jordan laboured the point that the report deals with some issues but ignores other areas that are fundamental to the health and safety of people at work. I see no contradiction whatever between the contents of the report and the need to take health and safety matters incredibly seriously in manufacturing, mining, construction and farming. In fact, you could implement the report as a way of being much harsher on sectors in which people are being killed on a daily basis. Those are the sectors in which the risk is high but sometimes ignored.

I will draw your Lordships’ attention to three items. First, the noble Lord produced his report, as I understand it, as a one-off before he became the business tsar. I looked at those two roles quite separately. However, if No. 10 has problems with noble Lords saying things, I invite your Lordships to check what Howard Flight, who has not yet joined us in the House, said this morning—these things happen. You can tell the truth of a story, but you may not tell the whole story. Why be hanged for telling only half the story? There are some people for whom things have never been worse and will get worse still, but it is also true that, for some people, things have never been better. Telling half the story cannot be a hanging offence—that is my defence of the noble Lord, Lord Young.

The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, has been the only speaker to mention the good Samaritan issue. Given that almost half the country is currently covered in snow, in my local town of Ludlow I have flashed the noble Lord’s report in front of the local council because of this nonsense about the clearing of snow. The report makes it absolutely clear that there is no evidence from the Lord Chief Justice that anyone has ever been done as a result of snow clearing. If you clear the snow and wash it out with water that freezes, that is negligence. If you clear the snow, sweep it away and it is dry, that is a voluntary Samaritan issue that you cannot be prosecuted for. I do not deny that we need clarity in the law. The issue of local authorities and their inconsistent approach, which is covered on page 26, must be dealt with.

I turn to the issue of low-risk establishments. A place may look low-risk, but just because people are not wearing boiler suits does not mean that things are not dangerous. Laboratories, shops and offices can be dangerous, depending on the nature of the equipment and the substances that you have to use. You have to be careful and use common sense. That is not the same as what we know are high-risk establishments. A drilling rig is a high-risk establishment. Do not lecture us about big blue-chip companies taking everything really seriously—go and talk to the directors of BP. These things must be looked at in the round to see where the risk is. We must assess the risk and then manage it proportionately. The point made in the report is crucial.

My final example from the report that I have not heard mentioned so far—I missed only two contributions when I had to leave the Chamber—relates to the important issue of voluntary activities, which are covered on page 29. I have a message for the Minister and the Government. Left as it is, the big society agenda will go straight down the plughole unless something is done. The Stalinists in local government, who do not want the big society agenda because they want to do everything themselves, will try to snuff out every local initiative that comes from residents and will hide behind health and safety legislation to stop the operation of the big society. If that is the Prime Minister's big idea, he must do something about that because such initiatives will disappear if this report is not implemented.

That leads me to my final point. The noble Lord, Lord Young, says in his introduction that these reports gather dust. From my experience of Whitehall, which lasted only 11 years and was very short, I say that his report will gather dust. The report cuts right across the piece, so nothing will happen unless somebody with get-up-and-go is charged with dealing with it. The noble Lord was supposed to be dealing with it, but the issue is quite separate from that of his role as business tsar. I say to the Prime Minister that letting the noble Lord, Lord Young, go is a sign of weakness. I am not accusing the Prime Minister of weakness; it is a sign of weakness in the Government. If the report is to be implemented, that will not be done by saying to each department, “Will you and your Ministers play your part, please?”. In my experience, such reports are not implemented but must be driven forward in a positive way. It will not cost a lot to do that, but everyone will benefit if it happens. Society will benefit, regulation will benefit and we will have a happier society, which was mentioned in the speeches this morning. However, if nothing is done about the management of this report, I say to the Minister in all sincerity that it will not get implemented. My central plea is that someone should be put in charge of ensuring that the report is implemented, because that is the desire of everybody.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Young, for his overdue visit to our House and for introducing this debate in what cannot be the easiest of weeks. I am sure that he will forgive me if I on the Front Bench do not exonerate him in quite the same effusive way as my noble friend Lord Rooker did. I also offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, on a most impressive and entertaining maiden speech.

We welcome this debate, which gives us an opportunity to focus on health and safety and, in particular, to tackle the myths, exaggerations and half-truths that surround and undermine it. We will make common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Young, in his endeavour to improve the understanding of health and safety and the status of practitioners. However, we do so because we believe robust health and safety provision is a fundamental hallmark of a decent society and should be seen not as a burden on business but as an integral part of good business practice and a fundamental right for workers. My noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya made it clear that those companies with good health and safety systems have good management systems generally and good bottom-line performance. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, that I do not think that there is a conflict between good health and safety provision and liberating business.

Like a number of noble Lords, I celebrate the huge progress that has been made since the passing of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974—legislation that has stood the test of time. We have a good record, which is consistently one of the best in Europe. Since 1997, all measures of injury at work have shown improvement, yet the number of people who are still killed or harmed at work demonstrates how much more we need to do. We have heard the statistics. In 2009-10, more than 23 million days were lost through work-related ill health and some 5 million days were lost due to workplace injury. My noble friend Lord Haskel spoke about stress and the HSE’s management standards. We quote statistics but these are individual lives—careers interrupted, family finances put in jeopardy and aspirations dashed. Although no one should support an overzealous and disproportionate application of health and safety regulation, we also need to be mindful of non-compliance. It is disappointing that, so far as I can see, the report makes no positive recommendations on issues such as enforcement, prevention or, indeed, direct responsibilities.

Our approach must remain embedded in the principles of the 1974 Act, which rightly places the responsibility for managing risks on those who create them. We have to recognise that there are now many more SMEs and that fewer companies are unionised, which means that they miss out on the knowledge and worker engagement that has made a fundamental difference to many workplaces. In this context, we support what the HSE has encapsulated in its strategy: the importance of working together; the need for co-operation between co-regulators; and the essential role of leadership and worker engagement. We also need to be clear that those who fail in their duties are properly held to account.

We agree that these matters would be made easier in an environment where there was a better understanding of risk and where businesses were not frightened into seeking to eliminate all risk or to refrain from activity because of the fear of risk. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the tragedy of young people being denied opportunities because of risk aversion. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, took us into the area of GM crops, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him down that path this afternoon. My noble friend talked with passion about outdoor activities and about how those could be prevented from happening if we create and sustain an environment that is too risk averse.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, seeks to improve the perception of health and safety by tackling what is described as the growth of the compensation culture, which he asserts drives risk-averse behaviour. It is asserted that the compensation culture is compounded by businesses—particularly smaller ones—seeking the advice of health and safety consultants, who are often unqualified and some of whom deliver excessive and costly advice. As we have heard, the report’s recommendations cover issues such as tackling compensation, providing simplified risk assessment for what are termed low-hazard workplaces and raising standards for health and safety advisers. The noble Lord recognises that the problem of a compensation culture is one of perception rather than reality. In that I believe he was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, but it seemed to be at odds with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who suggested that it was a reality. On the basis of perception, it is difficult to discern how pervasive the compensation culture is and to discern the evidence for such a judgment, although the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, had no doubt that it is pervasive.

However, I suggest that there is another side to this coin. The reality is that many people who are injured or made ill by their work never access compensation and, for those who do, the settlements are a million miles away from the amounts reported in the press and, indeed, from the example referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. On a very specific issue, perhaps in his reply the Minister would update us on progress in tracing old employer liability policies. Despite improvements, there are too many sufferers of long-latency occupational diseases who do not access compensation.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, is a little ahead of his Government on the recommendations in Lord Justice Jackson’s report, which of course was commissioned under the previous Government. We consider this to be an important piece of work, focusing as it does on the challenges of facilitating access to justice at proportionate cost. We look forward to the outcome of the consultation on abolishing recoverability of CFA success fees and ATE insurance premiums. We also await the deliberations of the Legal Services Board on referral fees.

A number of noble Lords—in particular, my noble friend Lord Sugar but also the noble Lords, Lord Skelmersdale and Lord Hunt—spoke about the problems, challenges and activities of claims management companies. We heard from my noble friend Lord Smith of Finsbury that we need to look again at the role of advertising and we need to test the earlier research, which suggested that advertising was not a major contributor to these matters.

We can certainly support efforts to dispel misconceptions surrounding the risks of litigation arising from voluntary acts. That is particularly relevant, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, with what looks like the onset of snow. The noble Lord, Lord Young, is right to identify the challenges faced by SMEs and the role that the HSE has played in helping them to understand what is required. The development of pro forma risk assessments, awareness raising and education as well as engagement via trade associations have all contributed to improvements. There are recommendations for the HSE to do more: to produce simplified interactive risk assessment forms for offices, classrooms, and shops; to produce periodic checklists; to consolidate existing regulations; and to provide separate guidance for SMEs. Doubtless the HSE will respond in its usual highly professional manner, but can the noble Lord, Lord Young, or the Minister comment on the HSE’s capacity to cope with these and other demands that the report imposes in the light of the 35 per cent reduction in its resources? The HSE already has to cope with a difficult balancing act in allocating resources between its enforcement and prevention activities. I think that the HSE has about 1,300 frontline inspectors and, excluding nuclear and major hazard installations, these inspectors cover nearly 900,000 premises and 15 million workers.

The noble Lord’s report defines low-hazard workplaces as those where the risk of injury or death is minimal, but that seems totally to ignore health issues. Of course, the same health and safety laws do not apply to all workplaces. There are major hazard regulations, which rightly impose far more prescriptive standards on potentially dangerous sites. However, the general health and safety law that applies to all workplaces is designed to be proportionate to the varying risks. These risks might include threats of violence and abuse of shop workers, MSDs for office workers and exposure to hazardous substances for cleaning staff, and there is still plenty of asbestos around in schools. Therefore, we can support improved ways of helping businesses to understand the identification, management and control of risk but not any moves to remove them from the requirement to risk assess. Periodic checklists may help, but they must not just engender an unthinking tick-box approach.

We are supportive of the proposals to raise standards and the development of the health and safety profession. Indeed, that got under way on our watch, so why would we not do so? The challenges will relate to encompassing the technical and the practical, and low-level support as well as more sophisticated requirements. I say to my noble friend Lord Sugar that, as well as being a health and safety adviser without any qualifications, he can also call himself an accountant.

There are wider educational issues about embedding health and safety in the curriculum and in a range of professional qualifications, as well as creating awareness in our schools. We should also recognise the substantial and knowledgeable input from the trade unions and safety representatives, to which my noble friends Lady Donaghy and Lady Turner referred. I say to my noble friend Lady Turner that I think the “not required back” arrangements are still in operation in the offshore sector.

Local authorities play a vital role as co-regulators of more than 1 million workplaces. They have a strong partnership with the HSE and there is increasingly joined-up working among authorities. The report comments, in particular, on the primary authority scheme and notes its successes, but the report also suggests that the scheme needs strengthening to address inconsistent enforcement. I would support that. Like the HSE, local authorities will be under enormous financial pressures with cuts to resources of some 28 per cent, which are to be front-end loaded. The noble Lord’s recommendations for local authorities concern refusals to hold events. I accept that from time to time local authorities, like others, may prevent certain activities from taking place. We have heard about the St Albans pancake race and about problems with the hydrotherapy pools from the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. Sometimes such things come from the overzealous application of health and safety rules using health and safety as a shield, but that cannot be supported. I question how often that happens. I was unable to identify any data on how often events are banned by local authorities, but doubtless the Minister will be able to provide that in his winding up.

Like my noble friend Lord Jordan, I think that the most striking thing about the report is how little of it is actually about health and safety. Most of the proposals are about food safety or public safety—important as they are—but there is no awareness of the problems around occupational disease and no recommendations on issues of prevention. The noble Lord sees the matter only from a perspective of freeing business from the burdens. Nevertheless, I hope that the report will in some way contribute to bringing back a sense of proportion. I end by quoting IOSH:

“For every silly health and safety news story there are countless unreported stories of untimely death, terrible injury or debilitating disease. This is the reality of health and safety going wrong. We need to remember that an estimated 5,000 people’s lives have been saved since the Health and Safety at Work Act … Many thousands more have been saved from suffering serious injury and disease”.

We have a responsibility to argue the cause of health and safety as well.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Young, on his work in investigating the concerns about the perception and application of health and safety legislation, together with the rise of the so-called compensation culture, resulting in the report that we have been debating this afternoon, Common Sense Common Safety. This report has been widely welcomed and is fully supported by the Government as a turning point for health and safety. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulks on his admirable maiden speech. I can expect to see this Chamber adopt the position of an old folks’ home if he continues in that vein.

Today’s debate has given the House an opportunity to discuss the operation of health and safety laws, and we have had a debate of great quality from many noble Lords. Interestingly, there has been general support—not unanimous support—for the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are fully supportive of the report and individual departments are making progress in implementing the proposals. The great majority of them are included in departments’ published structural reform plans. Picking up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about the need for a champion, I think the fact that these recommendations are now embedded reduces that need significantly. A small number of the recommendations do not fit neatly into a single government department’s purview and the review implementation team is currently working with the relevant government departments to ensure that these recommendations also are taken forward.

I particularly want to focus on the work of the Ministry of Justice and the Health and Safety Executive. The Ministry of Justice has a central role in the implementation of the compensation recommendations, while my department is the sponsor department for the HSE. That said, the recommendations impact on many other departments in government and I commend them all for their swift and positive response to recommendations and for their recognition of the need for change.

We must emphasise that this is not change for change’s sake. We need to build on the achievements of the past and recognise that, when responsibly applied, health and safety and the compensation system have an important part to play in making all our lives better. That is not in dispute. It is right that people should be protected from risk at work, whether in potentially dangerous environments such as oil rigs, construction and farm yards, or in lower-risk areas such as shops and offices. It is also right that those who, due to the negligence of others, are injured or made ill from their work or the work of others should have the right of redress. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and we fully endorse it. The issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, so rightly brings out, is that we need to regain a sense of proportion.

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which was pioneered by Lord Robens, was ground-breaking at the time of its introduction with the switch of emphasis from detailed prescriptive legislation to goal-setting regulations. However, his vision has now been distorted by overinterpretation, as my noble friend Lord German pointed out. Rules intended to protect workers in high-hazard industries have been overzealously applied to low-risk workplaces. Consultants encourage businesses to take unnecessary actions to avoid litigation. No-win no-fee adverts encourage people to seek compensation for genuine accidents, rather than to take responsibility for their own actions. These factors have led to pointless risk avoidance.

The Government have therefore welcomed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young, as a milestone on the road to restoring proportionate health and safety. We need to push back against the use of health and safety and compensation, which become paralysing rather than protective. The emphasis should be on addressing real risks and preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work-related activities.

The Health and Safety Executive is already working to implement the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Young, especially those aimed at low-risk businesses. One example is an online risk assessment tool for those working in low-risk office-based environments which can be completed in 20 minutes. I hope that goes some way to satisfying the concerns expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Bhattacharyya and Lord Sugar. That particular tool will help employers to consider relevant hazards in their offices and think about how to control them. It will also help employers to avoid unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy. A similar tool is out now for consultation to ease the paperwork burden that teachers face; tools for low-risk shops and for charity shops will be put out for consultation next month and the HSE will consult on similar guidance for small firms.

There is also the new occupational safety consultants register, which will be launched in January 2011. The register will provide businesses with details of safety consultants who have met the highest qualification standard of recognised professional bodies and who are bound by a code of conduct that requires them to give only advice which is sensible and proportionate. That may help to stop the gravy train referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Bhattacharyya and Lord Sugar, and by my noble friend Lord German.

The Ministry of Justice has been equally as prompt as the HSE in addressing my noble friend Lord Young’s recommendations. I shall touch on two areas in particular. The first is the concern about conditional fee arrangements and the culture surrounding them. The noble Lord, Lord Sugar, referred to the rogues in the industry. This point was touched upon by my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Black. As the House knows, last week we launched a consultation on Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations on the reform of civil litigation, which will close on 14 February. It is in the structural reform plan of the Ministry of Justice, and the Government are very committed to this issue, which we will seek to implement rapidly, although it is up to the Secretary of State at the MoJ to confirm that.

Secondly, in March next year, the Ministry of Justice will launch a consultation on the reform of civil justice, covering the extension of the road traffic accident personal injury scheme. This consultation will address three aspects of the recommendations by my noble friend Lord Young. It will look at introducing a simplified claims procedure for personal injury claims similar to that for road accidents, explore the possibility of extending the framework of such a scheme to cover low-value clinical negligence claims, and explore the option of extending the upper limit for road traffic accident personal injury claims to £25,000.

These are specific examples of our response to the recommendations by my noble friend Lord Young, but noble Lords have raised a number of wider points that I will do my best to address in the time available. I shall start on a warmer note with the request from my noble friend Lady Thomas about hydrotherapy pools. I have to admit that I do not know off the top of my head what the situation is, but I do know that they are likely to be a lot warmer than the 6 degrees centigrade that Highgate men’s pond was this morning. I will put a letter in the Library when I have found out what the situation is.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked me about progress on tracing an employer’s liability policies. I cannot give him very much hard information. All I can do is assure him that this is receiving my full attention to get a satisfactory outcome. I know this is an important matter, I am in discussion with various bodies and I hope to get some resolutions, although the matter has not been made easier by the current court case about the definition of when a loss occurs.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale asked about the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority. The HSE is taking forward my noble friend Lord Young’s recommendation to abolish that authority. Its work will be replaced effectively by a code of practice.

My noble friend will forgive me for not being able to answer him off the top of my head. I am not absolutely sure about how that abolition will happen. I will write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

My noble friend Lord German and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about the SR settlement of the HSE and the reference to cuts among local authorities in this area. I hardly need to confirm that the HSE faces the kind of spending restraint that is seen in the rest of the public sector. Its current funding of £228.8 million will be reduced by 35 per cent over the SR period to around £150 million. The HSE is looking at how to maintain the position of health and safety in the country within that context and looking at its approach, and will report on how it will manage within that financial environment.

My noble friend Lord German and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, observed that there was a lack of evidence in my noble friend Lord Young’s report. I think I can speak for him in saying that there was wide consultation with stakeholders in the course of his review. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, raised whether we are talking about reality or perception. My noble friend Lord Young’s report said that perception becomes reality at a certain point. The fact that people read silly health and safety myths in the media on a regular basis affects behaviour, has an impact and does not encourage a sensible and proportionate approach to risk. This dialogue about what is perception and what is reality does not properly take that point on board.

Gold-plating was raised by my noble friends Lord German and Lord Vinson. It is at the heart of what the Government are doing in this area. We need to position health and safety as an enabler for business and citizens. The Government strongly support that approach. We know that it is central to the HSE’s new approach in the context of the financial rigours that we are facing.

The noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Sugar, raised advertising. The claims management regulator has already agreed to look at the code regarding offering inducements and plans to close this loophole by April 2011. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, in particular, will welcome that assurance.

My noble friend Lord Vinson and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, talked about bureaucracy and the criminal records check system. The clearly excessive bureaucracy adds little to our real safety and has become part of the perception problem. Such checks fall outside the HSE’s remit, but I will bring the concerns on that to the attention of colleagues.

My Lords, perhaps I may draw the attention of my noble friend to the fact that 100,000 people in this country are checked 30 times each and every year.

I fully accept the concern of noble Lords on that issue and, as I say, we will push this point. In conclusion, good health and safety, particularly in low-risk areas, should be simple and straightforward. It should be about protecting people from real risks, not trivial risks. I believe that the approach of my noble friend Lord Young will help to put the focus back on managing serious risks and to dispel the myth that health and safety is a killjoy activity designed to place burdens on business, take the fun out of life and stop people from enjoying everyday activities. We will not make the United Kingdom a safer place by wrapping everyone in cotton wool and avoiding all risk. We will do it by being exemplars of a common-sense, proportionate approach to risk management, by giving people confidence to exercise judgment and by ensuring that advice and guidance is competent and fit for purpose. I commend the work and the report of my noble friend Lord Young, and I look forward to the successful implementation of his recommendations.

My Lords, I am grateful to the House for this contribution to discussion on health and safety. I will not detain your Lordships much longer, but I would like to say just three things and to make one general observation. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, not only for his thorough endorsement of my report, but for the way in which we have worked together with his organisation. Next week, at Bluewater, the Scores on the Doors scheme will be introduced, which I believe will not only make a long-lasting contribution to the health of the nation but be a valuable boost to tourism.

I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, on his point about incitement to litigate, but I ask him also to look at the volume of advertising, which I believe has increased remarkably and markedly since 2006. The noble Lord, Lord Jordan, has the honour to be president of RoSPA. Perhaps I may say that I fail to recognise his description of my report. Furthermore, in the past three weeks I have had two meetings with his officials and none of those points was raised with me.

Finally—to give a general observation—the laws and the regulations are there. The one thing not dealt with is people and I am afraid that individuals, from time to time, take all these rules and regulations and assert petty authority or take extreme views. The only antidote to that is common sense and that I commend to your Lordships’ House. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Railways: Investment


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on the Government’s plans for investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock. These plans build on the announcement by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the outcome of the spending review. As we have consistently said, tackling the deficit is our top priority. By taking tough decisions on current spending, we are able to secure our future growth by making vital infrastructure investments.

Over the next four years, we will provide £14 billion of funding to Network Rail to support capital maintenance and infrastructure investment, and £750 million for high speed rail. We will also fund the Crossrail project, the Tube upgrade programme, light rail projects in Birmingham, Tyneside, Nottingham and Sheffield, and provide additional funding to franchisees for extra rolling stock. I can also confirm today that we will fund and deliver the Thameslink programme in its entirety, virtually doubling the number of north/south trains running through central London at peak times. This huge investment will link Sussex, Kent and Surrey, through central London, with Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

The original programme for the rebuilding of London Bridge station, to increase through-running as part of this project, was always ambitious, with substantial risks around delivery and operation of existing services during construction. To reduce these risks, we have reprofiled the delivery of the programme to achieve completion in 2018. This will enable Network Rail to make the further efficiencies in the design and delivery of the programme that we require to ensure value for money. Passengers will start to benefit from incremental improvements on the Thameslink route from 2011.

As part of the Thameslink programme, we will procure a new fleet of trains, with up to 1,200 new carriages. This is in addition to 600 new carriages which will be provided for the Crossrail project. Together with the Tube upgrades, these projects represent a step change in rail capacity in London, providing a significant boost to economic growth potential in the capital. New Thameslink and Crossrail rolling stock will enable the redeployment of hundreds of serviceable electric carriages currently used on Thameslink services. These carriages belong to rolling-stock leasing companies, but we expect that they will be available at competitive leasing prices for use elsewhere, thus justifying further electrification of the network.

As a first step, I can announce today that Network Rail will electrify commuter services on the Great Western main line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury over the next six years. Electric trains will speed up journeys, improve reliability and reduce the impact on the environment on these busy routes.

The Chancellor also announced on 20 October the electrification of the lines between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool, an investment of up to £300 million. I expect work in the north-west to begin next year and to be completed at around the same time as work on the Thames Valley commuter lines in 2016. Some sections will be completed well ahead of this, notably Manchester to Newton-le-Willows in late 2013, allowing new electric trains to operate between Manchester and Scotland. As with Thameslink, we will require Network Rail to keep a tight rein on costs.

The redeployment of electric rolling stock to these routes will, in turn, free up hundreds of diesel units for train operators to lease as they become available in the period after 2015. This will be welcome news to passengers. The Public Accounts Committee recently found that many services are unacceptably overcrowded, and I understand the frustrations of rail travellers who have to travel on packed trains. More investment is clearly needed. That is why I argued for additional rail investment in the spending review, and it is also why I have taken the difficult decision to allow regulated fares to rise by 3 per cent above inflation for the three years from 2012 in order to help us to pay for these investments.

In January 2008, the previous Government published a plan to bring 1,300 additional carriages into service by March 2014. This plan was never deliverable. In total, only 206 of those 1,300 carriages had entered service by May this year. My predecessors quoted a grand total of rail carriages, but never referred publicly to the fact that delivery of that total was subject to so many caveats and qualifications as to render it effectively meaningless. According to their published plan, the 1,300 carriages were not final and were subject to,

“value for money, affordability … linkages with other interventions or with other rail projects … infrastructure constraints … supply chain constraints”,

and even “credibility”. It went on to say in the document that,

“the final outcome could well be different”.

In other words, not so much a plan as a press release. So let me set the record straight: I can confirm today that an additional 650 carriages will have been delivered to the network between 6 May 2010 and March 2014. This is in addition to the Thameslink and Crossrail carriages I have already mentioned.

But it is not just about rolling stock. Network Rail has already started work on station improvements, with funding confirmed for developments at Reading, Birmingham, London King’s Cross and Gatwick Airport. Investments on the east coast main line, the Midland main line, improvements in Yorkshire on trans-Pennine routes around Manchester, and in south Wales will improve the line speed, reliability and capacity of services.

Beyond these investments, there are far-reaching decisions to be made about intercity services. In February 2009, the Intercity Express Programme, launched by the previous Government, identified the Agility Trains consortium as the preferred bidder to build a new fleet of intercity trains. Then, this February, my predecessor invited Sir Andrew Foster, former head of the Audit Commission, to provide an independent assessment of the programme. Sir Andrew presented his report to me at the end of June, recommending further work on the Agility Trains proposal and a detailed study of the alternatives. I can now tell the House that we have narrowed down the options from the four Sir Andrew identified to two. I have ruled out the option of requiring passengers to change from electric to diesel trains at a point in their journeys, recognising the value to passengers of preserving through-journeys. I have also ruled out the option of a wholesale refurbishment of the existing Intercity 125 fleet, some of which dates back to the 1970s.

The remaining options are, on the one hand, a revised lower-cost Agility Trains proposal that envisages a mixed fleet of some all-electric trains and some electric trains equipped with underfloor diesel engines, and on the other hand, a fleet of new all-electric trains that could be coupled to new diesel locomotives where the overhead electric power lines end. Both of these options would allow us to preserve through-journeys between London and those parts of the rail network which are not electrified. Both of them would deliver faster journey times. For example, we expect to see time savings of at least 15 minutes for the journey between Cardiff and London, bringing it to below two hours.

This is a major decision that will affect intercity rail travel for decades to come, and we must get it right. To address the outstanding issues on choice of train type and further electrification on the Great Western main line, additional work will be required within the department, with Agility Trains and with the Welsh Assembly Government on the business case for electrification into Wales. When this work and discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government and with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales have been concluded, I expect to announce a final decision on the Intercity Express Programme and on further Great Western electrification in the new year.

The package I have announced today has been possible only because this Government have been prepared to take tough decisions in order to protect investment in Britain’s future. This is a commitment to our railways which will benefit Britain for generations to come. I commend the Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for repeating this important Statement on investment in a crucial mode of transport in this country—the railway. I find a little tendentious the Government taking pride in investment decisions as if the groundwork had not been laid in the past. I hope the noble Earl is not suggesting, for instance, that there was a decision to be taken about continued investment in Crossrail or that Thameslink might have been abandoned, given the vital nature of both developments and the existing investment in these crucial services to the capital. When one is talking about long-term investment and the necessity for a Government to build upon the work of their predecessors—where often such investments are bound to span beyond the lifetime of any particular Administration—I hope the noble Earl will appreciate, as will the House, that tendentious criticism is ill placed. It is better that one should emphasise how the needs of the nation are being served.

I fear that an aspect of this approach may be reflected in the fact that the Statement contains some less attractive news as well as the confirmation of certain projects. Let me deal first with the projects which are being confirmed, both of which are subject to delay—Crossrail by one year and Thameslink by two. The adduced reason for this is that London Bridge station is subject to major reconversion, redevelopment and change. Whoever doubted that? The idea that the difficulties with London Bridge are a ready explanation for additional delay will not wash. What reflects the delay, of course, is the extent to which the Government are prepared to commit resources.

This is also true in areas where much greater disappointment will be felt. The limited commitment to the Great Western mainline development leaves adrift any commitment to electrification in Wales. In fact, the commitment to electrification does not go beyond Oxford in these proposals, and so south-west England will also be disappointed with this limited position.

It has been suggested that the Secretary of State for Wales is so concerned for her constituents with regard to the potential high-speed rail line that she is prepared to resign if it is not readjusted. She has her constituents’ interests properly at heart and, as Secretary of State for Wales, she has also the interests of a nation at heart. It would therefore behove her to think about the implications of the limited service and investment in rail in Wales in these proposals as well as her own constituency.

This gives me the opportunity to emphasise the fact—which is true with regard to the high-speed rail link, but perhaps more pronounced, as with all other rail investments—that we have to appreciate that delays cost heavily not only on the resources of the nation but also upon private citizens. If we are not clear about important routes, private citizens will sustain the costs of planning blight. I have no doubt about the difficulties involved in planning the route of the high-speed rail link and the noble Earl will know that we were committed to that development. I hope that when the Statement is made in the new year a similar commitment will be reaffirmed by this Government. I hope also that it will be recognised that it is important to define that route clearly and quickly. Whatever problems there may be for rural England—I do not underestimate the issues for an area of outstanding natural beauty such as the Chilterns—one must also recognise that uncertainty about the route going to Britain’s second city, Birmingham, has colossal implications for planning blight in that area and costs to citizens and businesses. After all, given that the high-speed rail link is predicated on the economic benefits that it will bring to the nation, we should be careful to minimise the cost. We shall scrutinise critically the new year announcement in those terms.

Tendentious reference was made to the 1,300 carriages planned by the previous Government—we also had £1.2 billion of investment scheduled for that. The noble Earl has reiterated the Statement, so I know where its origins lie—namely, with the Secretary of State. If it is contended that the previous Government had submitted a piece of paper rather than a plan, such conjecture is subject to parliamentary scrutiny and freedom of information. It is quite clear that the Permanent Secretary at the department thinks that the plans that were laid for 1,300 carriages were clear and were to be developed. Where does the figure of 650 come from? Well, I am not the leading mathematician in the House, but even I can work out that it is exactly half of a number which the noble Earl pretends had been plucked out of thin air. It had not been plucked out of thin air; it was part of a departmental plan for 1,300 carriages to which we were committed and of which this Government are prepared to commit only to precisely half. We will look at that with critical scrutiny as well.

Of course, we welcome the constructive parts of the Statement; for example, with regard to electrification in the area around Manchester and Liverpool. We recognise that these projects cost significant sums of money and we know that there are limits on public expenditure. There was anxiety on all sides that the Government’s commitment to reducing the fiscal deficit might lead to an abandonment of future investment in vital infrastructure. I therefore commend the Government on having made a Statement today which meets some clear objectives in those terms. However, it has been expressed in terms that scarcely bear any scrutiny that would be satisfactory to this House.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the measured response of the noble Lord, Lord Davies. We will take on the baton of improving rail services for our people. I accept that a lot of the groundwork was done by the previous Government. I am also proud of the fact that we have avoided the trap of cutting infrastructure investment—the noble Lord touched on that. He referred to some of the slight delays, which I explained in the Statement.

It is important to remember that we have retained the full scope of the Thameslink programme; that is, 24 trains per hour in each direction. I am sure that the noble Lord understands that the decision on electrification to Wales is dependent on the IEP project decision. He needs to understand that all these schemes are interdependent; they are a jigsaw. Today’s announcement on the Thameslink project and its beneficial consequences is just one part of that process.

The noble Lord referred to the HS2 route. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is well aware of the difficulties, but he is extremely persuasive. Some people underestimate some of the mitigating measures that can be put in place. The noble Lord referred also to carriage numbers, and I am sure that he will table numerous written parliamentary Questions to drill down that issue. I look forward to answering them.

My Lords, those of us who take an interest in these matters will welcome many parts of the Statement that the Minister has just made. The previous Government promised an electrified Great Western main line. That line has never ended at Oxford but goes a considerable distance further west than that. Will he give us some assurance that the Oxford of tomorrow does not become the Bedford of yesterday—namely, a terminus for electric trains—rather than the whole line being electrified?

Without getting into the argument between the two Front Benches on the exact number of new coaches, can the Minister give the House some assurance that he will do what he can to see that those coaches are constructed in the United Kingdom? Furthermore, does he accept that the one downside of his Statement is the proposal to allow train operating companies to increase fares by inflation plus 3 per cent? Is he aware that that was a favourite tactic of British Rail in the days of the nationalised industry under successive Governments? Such increases appear guaranteed to choke off new passenger demand, rather than, as the Government’s stated objective supposedly is, to increase the number of passengers carried on Britain’s railway system.

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to electrification past Oxford. He will have to be patient for our determination on the IEP project, but he will not have to wait too long. He asked where the coaches would be constructed. He will know that EU procurement rules prevent us from guaranteeing that coaches will be built in the UK. Personally, I hope that they will be built in the UK, but we will have to see what happens.

I congratulate the Minister on the Statement, which, over the whole country, will be gladly accepted by most railwaymen. I deplore the sentiments expressed on the other side of the House, as this seems to be a great day for railways.

I have a few questions, however. The Statement refers to electrification in the north-west. It is important that Leeds is also included, because services across the Pennines are much slower than they would be and electrification between the west and east coasts makes an enormous amount of sense. The overcrowding of existing services, particularly around Manchester, is a blot on the record of the previous Government, because the crowding standards there are totally unacceptable.

Will the Minister confirm my arithmetic that something like 2,450 extra carriages are included? Reference is made to investments on the east coast main line and the Midland main line. I should like to know the nature of those improvements, because it is not very clear from the Statement. I was concerned about the Secretary of State ruling out the option of a wholesale refurbishment of the Intercity 125 fleet, some of which dates back to the 1970s. I am reliably informed by people in the rolling stock industry that those vehicles and the Mark IV vehicles on the east coast main line are quite capable of being turned into new vehicles, as has already been done for the Wrexham and Shropshire railway. We ought to be quite certain that we cannot use them, because their owners—the rolling stock companies—may lease them to a large number of open-access operators. I believe that any big increase in open-access operations will undermine the franchising process.

The noble Lord talked about bringing the journey time from Cardiff to London to under two hours, but it was under two hours in the 1980s, so that does not amount to much of an improvement. It is the timetable that needs altering—it has been packed with stops here, there and everywhere, making the journey to south Wales much longer than it need be. While we are on the subject of south Wales, my most anxious concerns are about the Severn Tunnel, which is the only way in and out of south Wales. I know that my noble friend in another place will be seeing the Minister on Monday to talk to her about the urgent necessity of doubling the line from Swindon to Kemble, so that there is a viable route between south Wales and London.

My Lords, my noble friend makes several important points. I shall just touch on some of the more important ones. He talked about the future of the HST 125 trains, the possibility of refurbishing them and the possible undesirable effects of those trains staying in the market. There are uses for that rolling stock in the future. One difficulty about that rolling stock is that its operating costs would be higher, while there might be a reliability question. The noble Lord knows how damaging breakdowns are on the system.

The noble Lord talked about the redoubling of the Swindon to Kemble line. That is a good scheme but it is not in CP4. I am making absolutely no commitment, but it could be a CP5 issue. He also talked about the time saving that arises from electrification. He needs to remember that that route is much more intensively used but that electric trains will give greater acceleration, so there will be a big benefit. However, we will keep the timetabling issues under review and make sure that we are not losing any benefits that we could gain.

My Lords, the Statement is couched almost entirely in terms of the impact on passenger traffic on the railways. Can the Minister comment on the Government’s policy for increasing the use of the railways for freight and on what the relevance of the Statement might be to that?

My Lords, we are very keen to move as much freight as possible on to the railway system. The Thameslink project is not relevant to freight but the High Speed 2 project is, because the west coast main line will run out of capacity and, if we do not build High Speed 2, we will not be able to put more freight on to the west coast main line.

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister very much for repeating the Statement. I also thank him for the tone of his replies, particularly in his reference to the previous Administration. As he knows, I had a very minor part in the Department for Transport in that Administration and I welcome what he said. I am aware that, when a Statement is repeated from the Commons, we tend to hear rather more strident language than we normally would in this Chamber. I also endorse much of what the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said. He is too modest. When the journey time between London and Cardiff was under two hours, it was when he was running the western region of British Railways. Indeed, that journey time is not that great an aspiration.

I obviously welcome the continued commitment to High Speed 2, to the electrification programme in the north-west and to the Great Western main line as far as Newbury and Oxford. I should declare an unpaid interest as a member of the First Great Western advisory board. I want to press the noble Lord a little bit about what the mechanism will be for reviewing the possibility of going further west than Didcot. Is there a possibility, for example, that electrification will reach Bristol and is it the case that electrification to Cardiff and Swansea is dependent on the Welsh Government making some significant financial contribution?

My worry about the Statement, which I would like the Minister to address, is the question of overcrowding. He will be aware that the figures from the Office of Rail Regulation show that services in London and the south-east are already seriously overcrowded, particularly on First Great Western, where they worsened from 6.5 per cent of passengers in excess of capacity in 2008 to 8.2 per cent in 2009. The consequence of the cascading of electrified stock from the existing Thameslink service to the new electrified services to Newbury and Oxford is that there will be a delay of four years. I am fearful that overcrowding will increase during those four years.

I hope that the point made by my noble friend Lord Snape about the fare increases pricing people off the railway will not come to pass. Like the Minister, I am anxious to see the railway used to the maximum extent. It would be disastrous if we went back to the sort of policy that existed in the 1970s and 1980s, when the response to passenger demand was simply to put up the fares to choke it off. Will the Minister comment on overcrowding as well?

My Lords, with regard to the noble Lord’s kind words about the difference between this place and another place, I could not possibly comment. The noble Lord talked about electrification out to Bristol. That is an important point. As I said, it is closely linked to the IEP solution and the development of the business case. He talked about a possible contribution from the Welsh Assembly Government. I think that he is thinking along the correct lines. I will talk to the officials and reflect on his points about overcrowding. The decision regarding fares was difficult, but we have to get some more income to pay for the improvements. However, it is certainly not a mechanism to choke off demand and passengers. We want people to travel by rail; we do not want them to travel by car.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the government Statement that he has made is important and will be widely welcomed throughout the country, not just in London but in many other parts as well? Is it not sensible, even in these times of austerity, that plans for capital investment should go ahead and be sustained? In the past, it has been the case that capital projects have been cut back. That is one of the most significant parts of the Statement. I underline the importance of the high-speed service to Birmingham; it is important not just to Birmingham but to commerce, industry and business in the whole of the West Midlands. I hope that he will take it that there is a great deal of support for that new service.

My Lords, it is an important Statement. I also look forward to making further welcome Statements about the development of our railway system. My noble friend is right about capital investment; we are spending for future growth. He talked about the benefits of High Speed 2 for the Midlands, but it would also give benefits much further north.

I thank the Minister for his courteous replies, but is he aware that in our Welsh folklore there is the story of the dictionary that, under “Wales”, states: “For ‘Wales’, read ‘England’”? Is there not a danger here that Wales will be short-changed—just as we were, for example, when at the time of the introduction of HSTs we were given only the hand-me-downs from the east coast main line? Why is more work needed in Wales on this matter, not in the north-west? When the Minister refers to the discussions within the Welsh Assembly Government, does that not mean in effect that the aim of the Government is to force the Welsh Assembly Government, at a time when their resources are being limited, to pick up a substantial part of the bill for the electrification of the line to south Wales?

My Lords, we do not intend to short-change Wales. Wales will benefit from the electrification; indeed, Wales would benefit even if we electrified only to Bristol because the journey time to London will be reduced and the journeys will be more reliable.

My Lords, as someone who travels regularly between Cornwall and London, I have to say that the Statement inspires rather less warm feelings in me than it may in those from some other parts of the country. Again, we see a decision delayed. Can the Minister give some indication of what a decision in the new year means in practice? How quickly will we see a decision on the replacement of Great Western intercity rolling stock? I express my deep concern that, while it is great that making passengers change train has been ruled out, changing the locomotive does not inspire great confidence. I hope that we will see a new diesel/electric hybrid able to run all the way through to Penzance.

The noble Lord talks about the difficulties faced by Cornwall and the West Country. I am well aware of the economic difficulties in that part of the country. He talks about the disadvantages of attaching a diesel locomotive to the front of an IEP train. It is an obvious difficulty, which will no doubt be taken into consideration when developing and assessing the business cases.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the decision on the Intercity Express Programme will be followed very closely in the north-east of England? The Agility consortium, particularly Hitachi trains, is looking to invest £660 million in a plant at Newton Aycliffe in the north-east, which is of course the home of the railway’s first steam engine and the location of the first railway line between Darlington and Stockton. While recognising that there is a great need to ensure that major capital investment programmes are well researched and offer full value for money, I urge my noble friend to bring that decision forward as quickly as possible. It is crucial for the north-east economy and for manufacturing; it would also be a tremendous boost to the north-east at a time when it is seeing lots of public spending restraint in other areas. Will he focus particularly on the point in his Statement on the revised bid put forward by Hitachi and the Agility consortium? I think that I heard him say that it had been resubmitted and was now lower than the other option. At times of fiscal constraint, that might be a clincher.

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s contribution on the importance of the IEP to the north-east. That was no doubt very high up in the mind of the previous Administration, quite rightly. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is fully aware of all these factors and the importance of, as my noble friend put it, a boost to the north-east. My noble friend talked about a lower cost bid. That is welcome as well, but it is important that we select the correct technical solution to the problem of having a bi-mode capability.

My Lords, as one of the small minority of Members of this House who live in the north of England, I congratulate the Government on the large number of measures that are suggested, including electrification in the north-west and improvement to services across the Pennines and in the Yorkshire and Manchester areas, even though the much needed increase in rolling stock is yet again London’s cast-offs, which is what we normally get lumbered with. Nevertheless, it is better than nothing—cattle trucks are better than no trucks at all. Is the Minister aware of the need to reinstate a teeny-weeny bit of track in the Todmorden area, known as the Todmorden curve? That would allow trains going from Burnley over the Copy Pit line to join the old Calder Valley main line between Todmorden and Hebden Bridge to turn right as well as left, and allow us not to improve the rail service from the Burnley and Pendle area to Manchester but actually to introduce one.

My Lords, I am aware of the problem of London’s cast-offs, as the noble Lord put it. However, it is a sensible way of extracting all the capital value from the rolling stock. The noble Lord asked about the Todmorden curve. This was raised by a right reverend Prelate the last time I was asked a question on the railways in the north-west. It amused the House that I knew the answer. The snag is that I have forgotten that answer but I assure noble Lords that it remains the same.



Moved By

My Lords, it is a privilege to introduce this debate at this crucial time, ahead of the police Bill. The subject of the debate is widely drawn and I could not hope to do it justice in the 12 minutes available to me. I will concentrate, therefore, on more specific and, in my view, topical matters.

A matter currently of considerable topicality is that of elected police commissioners. This has excited a great deal of debate. There are those who argue that the present system of police authorities works well, with a structure refined by my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne when he was Home Secretary. They will no doubt argue that the accountability of the chief police officer to the authority works satisfactorily, and that any attempt at political control by the elected councillors is counterbalanced by the presence of the independent members of the authority. Against that is the argument that greater accountability can be enforced through one individual. This is but a summary of the respective standpoints but the arguments hinge on the question of accountability.

The coalition Government are emphatic in their commitment to the operational independence of police forces in England and Wales. In the Home Office publication Policing in the Twenty-First Century there is an assurance that this will not be meddled with. However, alongside this is the determination to elect individuals in the place of police authorities. This, as I have said, is a hotly debated issue both within and outside the police service. Questions have been thrown up on which I should welcome the Minister’s views. The first is: will one individual, replacing the 17 to 19 individuals that there are at present, be able to deliver oversight of the huge breadth that modern policing demands? Secondly, I seek reassurance that politics is not in danger of intruding into police operations; for instance, when an election commitment to which a policing and crime commissioner is bound places him at odds with a chief constable’s professional judgment. Thirdly, I understand that policing and crime panels are intended to act as a check on the commissioner. Will we not be in danger of replicating the present police authorities under another name? I look forward to my noble friend’s comments.

I also touch on the somewhat sensitive subject of special entry. I am aware that there has, to date, been considerable resistance to this within the service. However, there is in place a scheme of accelerated promotion where time on the beat is confined to two years. This is a kind of halfway house to the Trenchard scheme, which was abandoned after the Second World War. However, I suggest that the Minister takes a close look at the outstanding success of officer training in the Armed Forces. Take one example: Sandhurst. Until comparatively recently its cadets were drawn from what is loosely called the “officer class”. Now entry is drawn from all strata of society. The excellence of the end product and the leadership it displays—and leadership is what this is all about—is so impressively visible in Afghanistan. The armed services’ socially broad-based intake makes it, I suggest, a more appropriate template for the police service than has been the case in past years.

There are, of course, differences. A member of the Armed Forces is likely always to have the support and camaraderie of his unit, however small. The police officer, on the other hand, for much of his time on duty is absolutely alone. I accept this, which is why an essential component of any direct entry should be a minimum but meaningful time on the beat. I hope simply that the police service and the coalition Government will keep this matter under review.

It is all about leadership, which brings me to ACPO. It is an admirable organisation and the structure of specialisms by individual chief officers is particularly valuable in making its case to the public. It is also an essential link between the police service and the Government. However, there is a perception out there that ACPO is in practice accountable to no one. That is why I am particularly pleased to learn that Sir Hugh Orde, chairman of ACPO, is on the case. If I understand him correctly, he sees its future not merely as a forum for chief police officers but rather—these are his words—

“to act as the professional voice of policing, that develops the profession from cradle to grave”.

I refer briefly to the amalgamation of police forces. It is an ongoing subject of debate but I detect no great enthusiasm for it at present. But whichever way this goes at national level, this, together with the current financial stringency, has encouraged a positive approach towards the sharing of services such as traffic, forensic, crime, helicopters and so forth, which must be wholly to the good.

We await with some anticipation the publication of the forthcoming Police Bill, but it is worth recalling that the last attempt to stand back and consider the delivery of policing in its entirety was the Royal Commission of 1962 when, incidentally, “Dixon of Dock Green” was in its heyday. People look back to that model of policing with nostalgia but things have moved on and crime has become more sophisticated and more international. “The Bill” picked up where “Dixon of Dock Green” left off and the enormous popularity of that programme showed how much the public identified with a civilian police serving the community. It is true that there is less evidence of the bobby on the beat but times have moved on. Mobility and communications ensure that police officers are able to cover substantially wider areas. However, let it be noted that the 9.6 million crimes measured by the British Crime Survey in 2009-10 represented a fall of 9 per cent from the previous year. Some 4.3 million crimes recorded by the police over the same period represented an 8 per cent drop. The British Crime Survey estimates that the risk of becoming a victim of crime is the lowest since it began in 1981.

A widely aired criticism is that front-line policing is supported by an overly heavy tail, but modern crime is a sophisticated business and child abuse and sex offences are regrettably prevalent. A snapshot of one force showed that in the past 50 years the number of officers in CID rose from 42 to 490, plus 131 in specialised crime units. Then it had no staff at all engaged in domestic abuse, child abuse or sexual offences; now it has 153. Sir Denis O’Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has estimated that the police service is divided roughly 50:50 between those dedicated to visible policing and those delivering specialised services. However, let us not be blind to the realities. The savings that the police service is required to make are considerable. There will, of course, be some gold-plating of back office jobs which will have to be addressed. As we have seen from recent announcements from Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Kent, there will inevitably be some reductions in the uniformed force.

As I have said, the last Royal Commission on the police was in 1962. Since then there have been radical changes in virtually everything that affects the working of the police service: its relations with the public, government and cybercrime terrorism, to name but a few. Is it not time for another Royal Commission, which would, I hope, pre-empt the need for a succession of piecemeal police legislation to which we have been subjected in the recent past? As an indirect result of this, the police service is engaged in its third pay review in seven years. The previous Government vetoed the idea of a Royal Commission, I suspect on grounds of cost and time. I hope that the coalition Government will take another look. I hope that I may make a suggestion: would its incorporation into a wider defence review ease the logistics? It is sorely needed. Perhaps that is another question for the Minister.

It has been well said that every country has the police it deserves. Two hundred-plus years after Trafalgar, we take for granted Nelson’s hold over the Royal Navy. Talking to police officers of all ranks, I am reminded that their hero and role model is Sir Robert Peel, who conceived a civilian force within and at the service of the community.

That is what this nation still essentially requires of the police. Of course, the challenges in the 21st century are ever-more resourceful criminals, the breakdown of the family, the onward march of technology, terrorism and so on, but there is a basic public confidence in a still-largely unarmed police service. Whether this is, in fact, what we deserve may be a matter for debate, but policing in this country remains something in which we can indeed be proud.

We shall, of course, await the police Bill with interest, and I look forward to the contributions from other noble Lords and to the reply from my noble friend.

My Lords, I should declare my background. I was a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority for 10 or 12 years, and I saw some of the changes to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred.

The make-up of a police authority is now quite good. It has members from an independent background, representatives of political parties and some magistrates, although their number has been reduced. The duty of a police authority is to set the budget, which gives the authority a lot of leverage over the chief constable in the way that he operates, and there is a requirement for a policing plan which is built up from ground level. In addition, there is wide consultation with various interest groups, such as the business community, ethnic minorities and farmers. All are well focused on the police authority. It does not attract much newspaper attention, unless something goes very wrong. The public never come to watch and listen. However, the influence of the independent members has completely changed the nature of police authorities since they came into being. One thing that has been brought into police authorities is proper ethnic-minority representation. When I left Thames Valley, four out of the 19 members of the authority were from ethnic minorities.

We received regular updates from the chief constable, who was immediately in contact with the chairman, the vice-chairman or a local member of the authority if an incident was in their area. However, the chief and the team made the operational decisions. They were not above criticism if those decisions went wrong. I can remember one or two cases when we received pretty poor reports regarding things which should have been done. There is an independent police complaints authority, which is extremely thorough in its investigation of any complaints, and a professional standards committee makes sure that officers are doing what is right and it investigates complaints. Operational independence did not mean that the chief constable was above criticism but, crucially, no decision was made for political reasons.

The noble Viscount mentioned elected commissioners. I am very worried as to who would stand and, more particularly, who would vote, because when considering the idea of elections—which is very fashionable and is postulated as a future for this establishment—you always have to ask yourself: when will the elections be, who will vote, and on what platform will they campaign? There is a great danger of people putting forward fairly extreme views, being supported by a few newspaper editors and getting a small percentage of the electorate turning out to vote for them. We would then find that a very professional chief constable would be made subject to the direction of somebody who knows nothing about policing, probably does not know a great deal about anything else and may be propelled simply by prejudice into the role that he adopts. Will the Minister confirm whether there is any body that will control the elected police commissioner; and, if he has to report to somebody, will the Widdecombe rules apply so that the proportion of representation of each of the parties, including independents, will be maintained? That is the basis for running a proper police authority. If there is such a body, will the commissioner have the right simply to brush it aside?

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, also touched on the effect of relationships between the police authority, the Association of Police Authorities and ACPO. Will the police commissioner be independent of these bodies or subject to them? If he or she is subject to them, how will this work? I am very worried also about how an elected commissioner will manage a large and diverse area. We have talked about police commissioners in small areas, but the authority of which I was a member— Thames Valley—covers a vast area that is hugely different from place to place. People in north Oxfordshire might be concerned about hare coursing, whereas people in Slough or High Wycombe might have concerns nearer the other end of the scale.

What will happen to the police commissioner if he is not up to the job? How will one get rid of an incompetent police commissioner? There are procedures for dealing with a chief constable who is not up to the job, but we need to know what will happen to a police commissioner who patently is not. Lastly, will the Minister say whether the police commissioner will be subject to inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary? Will he really be a free agent who will bring something new to the post, or somebody who is not responsible to the members of the community who elected him?

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for this debate to call attention to the role of the police. I declare my registered interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the deputy chairman of a major security company. I will summarise briefly the importance of the history and legacy of policing. I will then say a few brief words about the current concerns over policing. Finally, I will add my thoughts about the Government's proposals for police reform.

I turn first to the legacy. At 6 pm on Tuesday 29 September 1829, the first group of Metropolitan Police officers marched out from a still-being-converted building not far from here called Scotland Yard. They were dressed in blue cloaks and black top hats—deliberately not in red so that they would not be confused with soldiers. They were not in elaborate uniforms like those of the continental gendarmeries. They carried no pistols, swords or knives—merely small wooden batons and wooden rattles to call assistance. They marched out to be greeted with derision and hostility by the London public. Four years later, it was still possible for a coroner's jury to record a verdict of justifiable homicide when Constable Robert Culley was brutally killed by an angry mob simply because he was carrying out his duty. Within a few short years of PC Culley’s death, hostility and derision became acceptance and admiration.

Why am I talking about these things from the past? I do so because I think that they still have enormous resonance for the challenges that police officers face today. Who were those early police officers and what were they asked to do? They were not asked to be soldiers; they were ordinary men drawn from their community for the community. They swore an oath in the office of constable. They were Crown servants with powers and discretion which they had to exercise as individuals. They were accountable as individual constables, not an anonymous group of soldiers taking orders en masse.

The first joint commissioners, Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, in consultation with Robert Peel, who had been arguing for these reforms for seven years as Home Secretary, wrote what I guess today we would call the mission statement for those early police officers. It was very simple and enduring, and it was the mission statement that I had to learn almost as my first act as a new constable in 1967. It read:

“It should be understood, at the outset, that the principal object to be attained is the prevention of crime”.

The men with this role won over a doubting and hostile public within a few short years of policing the streets of London.

If we fast-forward the history through a number of royal commissions and public inquiries, we arrive at the royal commission, already referred to, which reported in 1964—the last and most influential royal commission on policing. It set out the police role as follows:

“First the police have a duty to maintain law and order and to protect persons and property. Secondly they have a duty to prevent crime. Thirdly they are responsible for the detection of criminals”.

It then said some things about prosecution which have since been transferred to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, lastly it said that the police have,

“a long tradition to befriend anyone who needs their help and may at any time be called upon to cope with minor or major emergencies”.

So to modern policing. I know from my professional roles, from debates in your Lordships’ House and just as a member of the public that there is growing concern and confusion about the role and performance of the police. What has contributed to this erosion of trust in what I might call the policing covenant? The breadth and range of the policing role has been stretched almost to breaking point. Greater Manchester Police recently placed all its reported incidents on Twitter over a 24-hour period. It revealed complex, unpredictable demands from the public which had as much to do with agencies from health, education and local government as they did with policing, and certainly the demands on the police were far more extensive than merely preventing and detecting crime.

The barrage of new legislation in recent years from all shades of government has created hundreds, if not thousands, of new criminal offences and police powers, and an expectation of police action. Every inquiry into something that has gone wrong in policing, every inspection of a police force and every inspection of a major theme such as domestic violence or children at risk, vital though these issues are, generates enormous new demands, new procedures, new forms and new bureaucracies. That is part of the explanation for more police officers being on duty on a Monday morning in warm offices than on a Friday night in city centres; it is partly why, in 2009, 2,600 pages of new guidance setting out how police officers should fulfil their duties were issued in a single year; and it is partly the explanation for some police forces currently recording anti-social behaviour under 48 separate categories of form-filling and box-ticking.

It could be argued that all this has led to what, in other environments, would be described as mission creep and confusion. We now have the following symptoms: a can-do mentality of policing is in danger of being replaced by a risk-averse, criticism-avoiding mentality. In certain circumstances, it is safer to do nothing than to do something. Too often, bureaucracy and box-ticking replace patrolling and response and, in an attempt to do everything, many things are not done particularly well by the police service. Public confidence that the police will respond well has been replaced by much lower, sadly cynical, expectations of the police.

The police covenant with the public and the police legacy are certainly not broken, but they are strained and under challenge. The police service continues to attract and retain some of the finest, bravest men and women in our country. There is no shortage of able, well educated recruits; we could have an all-graduate police service, if that were what we wanted. Because of my links with the police service, I am constantly reminded and humbled by outstanding acts of courage and professionalism, literally on a day-to-day basis. However, we are now on the verge of a major programme of police reform and we have the opportunity to reset and recalibrate the police covenant and police legacy which I have described.

Three interlinked issues will generate those changes and have the potential to improve or undermine policing. First, the police service budgets will be reduced by more than 20 per cent over the next four years, with more than 14 per cent of the savings being front-end loaded and coming in the next two years. That cannot be achieved by salami-slice savings. Many thousands of police and civilian jobs will go and tough and necessary decisions and tough choices will have to be made. The police service cannot be exempt from public sector savings, nor should it be. Mature decisions will have to be made about what can and cannot be done, but there must not be a dishonest pretence that the status quo can prevail or that front-line policing will be unaffected.

The second issue which will affect policing is a fundamental review of police pay and conditions which has been commissioned by the Government. It will report in early 2011. That report must not destabilise police morale and performance, but equally some long, overgrown nettles must be grasped to provide modern, flexible and fair pay and conditions for the police service.

Thirdly, the Government have set out in the Home Office document, Policing in the 21st Century, their programme for police reform. I know that very soon those aspirations will be fleshed out in a Bill before Parliament. I assume that it will, as others have said, contain provisions for directly elected police and crime commissioners, a new national crime agency and many other important provisions. Today is not the day for detailed discussion of those proposals and I look forward to participating in your Lordships' House when we examine the proposed legislation. However, it is important today to flag up some of the issues and criteria that I will be testing and examining when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House.

First, there must be an honest appraisal of the core functions of the police against the available budgets and foreseeable resources allocated to policing. Tough choices will have to be made by police, by politicians and in consultation with the public. We must face up to those tough choices.

Secondly, the historic office of constable and operational police independence must be enshrined within the new overall framework of political accountability, locally and nationally. With or without locally elected police commissioners, police constables and chief constables must not feel that the independent exercise of their historic office and powers is being undermined in some way. Operational independence is vital and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he agrees with that.

Thirdly, if the chosen way forward is to retain more than 40 local police forces with more than 40 new, inexperienced, elected police commissioners, they must be embraced within an effective and integrated network of policing. They must not become, as I fear they could, a disorganised patchwork of policing. Even with a new national crime agency, there will remain a significant requirement for co-ordinated action between local forces big and small to combat terrorism, organised crime and many other issues. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that however the Bill looks in its shape and form, we will be presented with a network of policing, not a disorganised patchwork of policing.

The fourth issue is value for money. Value for money, economies of scale, procurement of goods and services, outsourcing, the development of a cadre of effective police leaders and combating terrorism are vital issues that suggest to me, and have throughout my career, the need for national and regional police organisations and structures. This is in no way to denigrate or detract from local policing and neighbourhood policing being delivered by very local police officers. The Government will have to show how their devolved patchwork of policing will measure up to the operational needs and financial constraints of 21st-century policing.

In conclusion, the office of constable and the historic legacy of policing must be understood and respected, but not fossilised. The role of policing should be reset and recalibrated for the far more complex modern world we live in and in which the police operate locally, nationally and internationally. By all means let us be bold and innovative and let us change, but in doing so, let us renew and strengthen the police covenant with the public and not undermine it.

My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who was a very distinguished senior policeman. In his speech, there were many excellent pearls of wisdom, and I know that when we come to debate the Bill, we will return to them.

I hope the noble Lord will agree that it might be appropriate at this moment to express a personal opinion, with which I hope many noble Lords will agree. I have great admiration for the way in which the Metropolitan Police handled the events of yesterday and the past 24 hours. Like many of your Lordships, I was inconvenienced, but I talked to a fair number of the officers on duty, and I thought they had tremendous patience and good nature and were extremely efficient. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to pay that tribute now.

We should be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for initiating this debate. His experience and interest in this field will be valuable in the progress of legislation. I shall make a brief contribution based upon my experience as an elected Member in the other place for Northamptonshire and my experience of dealing with the Northamptonshire police force, the chief constable and the police authority.

I welcome the forthcoming Bill. I note that in 2008, the previous Labour Government were on the verge of delivering a very similar Bill, and it was a shame that it did not proceed. I think there is—I hope there is—broad agreement between the parties on at least the accountability elements of the draft Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with his local experience in Oxfordshire and Thames Valley, wearing many hats, not least of which is working with the police authority and supporting the police, will debate what needs to be in the Bill not just from national principles but from local experience.

I strongly support the concept of police and crime commissioners throughout the country. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that there has to be some mechanism of co-ordination and exchange of views, but their responsibility, as with elected individuals, would be to help with the strategy and the relationship between the police force and the local community. They should not be involved in controlling operational matters.

It is my understanding that Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is now largely convinced that there is a clear divide between operational responsibility, which is for the chief constable and senior police officers, and the elected commissioners, who should be able to express concerns, worries, issues and suggestions about policing in their local area or neighbourhood. The Bill should ensure that there is this clear division of responsibility.

We should compare and contrast what is likely to happen under new legislation with the control that Home Secretaries for many years have had in influencing and policing in the United Kingdom. In 2009, for example, more than 50 documents of central policy control were issued by the Home Secretary. Another 60 were under consideration. It might be relevant to quote Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation. He said:

“We need to be accountable, but we appear to have such an unnecessary number of quangos and bodies created to check on us that one wonders if this is merely to create jobs than fulfil any useful function”.

A new structure to make it absolutely clear that chief officers will deal with operational matters without interference from those who are elected politicians and that elected commissioners will reflect the views of the local community and are best able to communicate their worries is a sensible and necessary division.

The experience of my noble friend Lord Bradshaw in Thames Valley might vary a little from mine in Northamptonshire. In knocking on doors over 14 years, I found little knowledge and understanding of the role and composition of the local police authority. A commissioner who is directly elected—I hope that independents will stand, and that minorities and those with past political experience will be represented—would be better able to reflect concerns and to make representations. Certainly, the electorate would be better able to understand some of those generally expressed concerns.

My final point has already been made by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. With constraints on expenditure and the problems of reducing budgets for police authorities, it will be helpful to have elected commissioners because not only will they be able to reflect local concerns rather than simply those of the police themselves or of elected Members of another place, but they will, as the elected representative, be responsible for indicating where the priorities should be and how the police have adapted the resources that are available to them in providing the cover that is valued and necessary. I thank my noble friend Lord Bridgeman for initiating this debate, and I look forward to participating in proceedings on the Bill.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bridgeman for instigating this debate. I should like to speak about issues of governance and, in particular, to comment on the recent government consultation paper, Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and people, in the context of forthcoming legislation. My simple question is: will directly elected police and crime commissioners deliver the Government’s aims? That question presupposes, of course, that police and people are disconnected. I cannot speak for the country as a whole, but I have no evidence that in Newcastle or in the Northumbria Police Authority area—here I declare my interest as a councillor in Newcastle and as a one-time member of the Northumbria Police Authority—there is any meaningful disconnection. For the most part, local people are happy with the policing that they receive.

I support the Government’s general direction to improve communication, to make people feel safer and more secure, to enable them to hold the police to account and to ensure that people have a real say in how their neighbourhoods are policed. However, there is no reason to suppose that, if we have directly elected commissioners, the Government’s desired outcomes will be delivered. How does the direct election of an individual covering a very large geographical area or population make the police more accountable—day in, day out and week in, week out—to its constituent neighbourhoods?

There is also an unanswered prior question: to what problem is a police and crime commissioner a solution, and why is it assumed that a single election and a single person will reconnect people and police? I am afraid that I find the proposal deeply unconvincing. Is the proposal designed to reduce crime? Well, it might be, but actually the answer is “Hardly” because crime has been dropping with the current governance structures. Is it designed to improve governance? Well, in my view it will not, for two reasons. First, having directly elected police and crime commissioners will concentrate power rather than disperse it. Secondly, the proposal would build in implicit strains between democratically elected councillors—and perhaps elected mayors—and the commissioners as well as between the commissioners and chief constables. Is that what we want?

What exactly is wrong with the current system? My police authority area has a police authority made up of nine democratically elected councillors, who are answerable to the community at large and to their own electorates, plus eight independent members, including a magistrate, who bring a wealth of different experience to that police authority. The structure is not perfect, but it is certainly more accountable than what is likely to be proposed.

Three major concerns have been raised by the Northumbria Police Authority, whose views will be shared by many other authorities. First, key constitutional changes are proposed that have not been subject to assessment or consideration in the same manner as the constitutional changes made by the Police Act 1964, which were informed by a Royal Commission. Secondly, proposals are being made for a system that has not been tried and tested in the United Kingdom through the operation of a time-limited pilot scheme. Thirdly, the consultative paper makes no reference to a corporate legal entity or statutory body that the commissioner will work within and which will hold the budget, act as employer, and own the real property necessary for the chief constable to deliver an effective policing service. The paper also fails to identity the fundamental requirement of the chief executive and/or monitoring officer role, which is a key role that was introduced as part of the 1994 Act to ensure propriety in the use of powers.

One possible way forward that could meet the wishes of the Government would be to have an independent police board, with the chair taking the title of police and crime commissioner and a board of assistant police and crime commissioners made up, as now, of local councillors and independent members. The board would work together to set the strategic direction for policing within local priorities and budgets and to hold the police to account for performance in all the geographical areas within its police area. To be clear, a purely advisory role for such a board would be unsatisfactory, because that would simply deny it the real teeth needed to maintain its independence.

The extent to which all these proposals are relevant to neighbourhood policing also needs to be considered. The truth is that they matter little. What matters to local people is how effective policing is in their neighbourhoods. People need structures to enable them to communicate directly with police officers and to get solutions speedily for their neighbourhoods. Police authorities and councils already have structures in place to achieve that, which are led by the councillors elected in their neighbourhoods.

The Home Secretary said that commissioners will ensure that police forces will meet local rather than Whitehall targets. That is good, but it begs the question of what is meant by “local”. Many police authorities cover large geographical areas, but what people want is access to police officers at their neighbourhood level to discuss policing issues. That is where accountability must be realised. Neighbourhoods talking to their own police officers—that is how the police can build safer neighbourhoods and build public confidence in them. By comparison, police and crime commissioners could be a diversion. They will spend their time juggling competing demands from the different parts of their police areas. They will court displeasure when they fail to deliver and when they are felt to favour one area rather than another.

The basic flaw in the Government’s proposal is that the commissioner will set priorities for the police force but it is not clear how the commissioner will know what those priorities should be. Will the commissioners have powers, formal or subtle, to interfere in the day-to-day running of the police? Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in responding to the Queen’s Speech, said:

“One of the great strengths of the British style of policing is the balance between … robust accountability at local level and operational independence. The police service is more effective through the freedom to make professional judgments about how we keep people safe, free from political interests”.

I agree with him. For me, this is a fundamental issue when considering how security and policing are best delivered across the country.

As things stand, a police and crime commissioner would appoint the chief constable, set the budget of the force and set the strategic police plan for the area. There would be advisers in the form of councillors and independent members, but they would have no formal powers. I cannot believe that this is wise, for where are the checks and balances that should be a central requirement of our governance of policing? I sincerely hope that the Government will think long and hard about trying to introduce such an untried system of governance.

Many questions arise. Is it wise for community safety partnerships—which, in most cases, have done a very good job in preventing and reducing crime—to be accountable not to their local area but to the commissioner of a much bigger area? Are we in danger of politicising the police in a way that could fuel accusations of partiality? How does the localism agenda fit with having one commissioner per force area? What are the accountability arrangements among the councils, elected mayors and elected commissioners? What budgets will commissioners hold and how will that money be raised? Overall, how will national and local policing be enhanced?

The Home Secretary said that the consultation paper Policing in the 21st Century is the most radical reform of policing for 50 years. That may well be true, but it does not make all of it wise. The Home Secretary went on to say that the police have become too bureaucratic and too much accountable to Whitehall rather than to the people whom they serve. That is also true, but cutting bureaucracy does not require police commissioners; it only requires the Home Secretary to act. Dismantling Whitehall targets is also simple to deliver and does not require police commissioners either. To make police more accountable to the people whom they serve is most simply delivered by neighbourhood governance structures and an independent police board with real powers, as I have suggested.

The Government are proposing many things in policing that can be welcomed. However, the proposal for police commissioners is, in my view, ill thought-out and should be reconsidered.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, on securing this debate, the subject matter of which changed, for reasons unexplained, from the role of the security services and the police in national security to solely the role of the police.

I was fortunate enough recently to be able to take part in the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme. I spent more than 20 days with the Metropolitan Police seeing and learning at first hand what the police in London do and the breadth of responsibilities and activities that the force undertakes. The impressions that I formed are obviously mine and mine alone. I spent a number of shifts with officers in the immediate response cars. It was not as dramatic and action-packed as you see in the numerous carefully packaged television programmes broadcast nowadays of police activity in different towns and cities around the country.

A significant percentage of the emergency calls responded to were more to do with what one might describe as a semi-welfare role: numerous incidents arising from domestic arguments and disputes, elderly people convinced that an intruder was in their home or children allegedly locked out of their homes. However, the officers driving as fast as they safely can to respond to an emergency call do not know exactly who, or what, will confront them when they get to the scene. It could be a domestic argument where the parties have already started to simmer down or where one party has already left the scene. It could be someone with a knife or other weapon that they are prepared to use, or, indeed, it could be more than one person in that category.

I saw a wide variety of incidents, including stop and search, fights in the street, anti-social behaviour, motoring offences, searches of premises for drugs, checks that home curfew orders were being obeyed and street prostitution, as well as the procedures and processes at the police station for dealing with those brought in following arrest. I was struck by the outward calmness of the officers whom I was with—I was with a number of them—and the high and consistent degree of civility that they showed towards those whom they had to talk to, question, challenge or arrest at the scenes of the incidents to which we were called. That civility was, needless to say, not always reciprocated. Police officers do get provoked; they have to deal on many occasions with people whom most of the population would not wish to meet. What is surprising is not the number of incidents where police officers lose their cool, but rather how few such incidents are.

I was struck also by the importance of decision-making by officers when first arriving at the scene of an incident in response to an emergency call. They may be confronted by people who are distressed or aggressive, have had too much to drink, are under the influence of drugs, irrational, highly emotional, prepared to use violence or just plain unco-operative and obstructive. The initial assessment by officers of the position and people with whom they are faced when they arrive at the scene can be crucial in determining whether a potentially explosive situation is calmed down and controlled or whether it simply gets out of hand. The officers have no higher-ranking officer or other manager on hand to whom they can turn for advice. They have to make instant decisions and they have to get them right.

I also had the opportunity to see the full range of responsibilities and activities undertaken by the police—the work done by officers and civilian staff, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, who are not out on the streets but who play a key role in investigating and solving crime. Those engaged in fraud and IT crime do not tend to be caught by officers patrolling the streets or responding to emergency calls; they are apprehended by those doing painstaking and thorough work pursuing leads, seeking and analysing data, interviewing victims and putting together a case that will stand up in court. The same goes for the work of those who attend the scene of a crime and collect possible evidence, seeing whether there is a similarity with evidence from previous crimes or whether it is evidence that, when checked against records, will help to identify the perpetrator. They are not officers and staff who spend their time out on patrol.

There are also specialist units dealing with child abuse and rape cases. They are staffed by officers who do not spend their time patrolling the streets but who seek to provide support for victims at a time of great distress and trauma and to secure the necessary evidence to bring cases to court. There are officers dealing with the threats of terrorism. Once again, they do not spend their time out on patrol but are engaged in collecting and analysing intelligence, working with other agencies and keeping track of the activities of those about whom they have suspicions, with a view to preventing acts of terrorism and, if appropriate, apprehending those who they have good reason to believe are about to act. Many other activities carried out by the Metropolitan Police and, to a less wide-ranging extent, by other forces are directly related to solving and preventing crime but do not in the normal course of events directly involve officers patrolling the streets or driving in immediate response cars, visible to the public.

That brings me to the impact of the Government’s comprehensive spending review and the associated reductions in expenditure on police forces. Claims have been made, not least by the Government, that reductions in expenditure should not affect the front line of policing, but that raises the question of the definition of “front line”. Does it mean officers out on patrol, on foot or in cars, on the streets, or engaged on other activities, such as yesterday outside Parliament, when they are visible to the public? Alternatively, does it mean any officers or civilian staff whose work and responsibilities are directly related to solving and preventing crime, many of whom, as I saw during my time with the Metropolitan Police, are primarily working inside and are not normally visible to the general public? If the Government claim that reductions in expenditure will not affect front-line police involved in solving and preventing crime, I must ask the Minister to give a clear definition of what the Government regard as front-line policing. The Government may believe that too many civilian staff are employed by the police, but there is no question of a reduction being achieved in this area simply by transferring work undertaken by civilian staff to police officers, as this would mean that police officers had less time available to spend on duties and responsibilities that the public might normally expect them to undertake. One reason for civilian staff in the police force is to help to ensure that police officers are not spending their time undertaking duties that do not need to be dealt with by fully trained officers, so that such officers can spend their working time carrying out the role and responsibilities for which they have been trained.

It was with some interest that one read in the press the recent expression of considered opinion by the Minister with responsibility for police matters, Mr Herbert, that more police does not mean less crime. The parallel argument to that is presumably that the Government do not believe that having fewer police runs the risk of more crime, which is a very convenient U-turn in approach for a Government who are significantly reducing the amount of money available for policing. During the election campaign, Mr Clegg said that he would put 3,000 more officers on the streets, so presumably he does not agree with Mr Herbert, who also referred to a previous increase in the numbers of police officers, only a small proportion of whom, he said, were visible and available to the public at any one time. That comment relates to the point that I made earlier that to be engaged actively in solving and preventing crime does not mean that an officer has to be clearly visible to the public, which seems to be what the Minister thinks. Indeed, the Home Secretary appears to think the same, as a Home Office spokesman commenting on the cuts in expenditure said:

“The Home Secretary has been clear from the beginning that it is possible to maintain the visibility and availability of the police on the streets”.

That carries the obvious implication that police officers and civilian staff engaged in solving and preventing crime who are not on the streets are not making an important and decisive contribution. Hence the importance of the Minister’s response, which I hope will be forthcoming, to my direct question as to the Government's definition of the front line when it comes to police work.

A recent survey has suggested that nearly all police forces in England and Wales have frozen recruitment, which, taking account of the existing turnover rate, would lead to a reduction in officer numbers of some thousands. Greater Manchester Police has announced plans for 3,000 job losses over the spending review period, including some 1,500 police officers. The chief constable said that, while there would be a significant reduction in the size of the middle and back offices, it was clear that,

“over the four year period there will also need to be a reduction in frontline police officer numbers”.

Funding for the West Midlands Police is to be cut by 20 per cent in real terms, as is funding nationally, although for the West Midlands the impact is likely to be greater than elsewhere since that force depends on central government for a higher proportion of its funding than any other constabulary in the country, except, interestingly enough, the City of London’s.

Accountants KPMG have estimated that around 18,000 police officers could be lost nationally by the end of the four-year spending review, while the Police Federation has suggested that around 20,000 officers would be lost. At the same time as the numbers of police officers are to be significantly cut, the Government can apparently still find the resources to throw at establishing elected police commissioners. I sensed a certain lack of enthusiasm for elected police commissioners from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and rather more than a lack of enthusiasm from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.

I am sure that some savings can be made through greater efficiency and through changing structures, processes and procedures. It would be stretching it a bit to say that police forces, particularly large forces, are already so efficient that they cannot make further savings in this way. Yet to argue, as the Government appear to be doing, that savings of the magnitude announced can be made without any real impact on the quality and effectiveness of solving and preventing a crime is, at best, a breathtaking statement of unsubstantiated hope about a service where such a high percentage of costs are labour costs.

Fewer police are unlikely to improve communications and contact with the public. This Government will be held to account for the outcome of their decisions on police funding, which they appear to be claiming will not affect what they define as front-line policing—and we await the Minister’s definition of that. I listened with real interest to the thought-provoking speech from the noble Lord, Lord Condon, as I am sure the Minister did. Our policy in government was to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of the crime. The measures that we took helped, along with other factors and thanks to the police, to bring down the level of crime. No doubt this Government also want to be tough on crime but, frankly, their approach to police funding so far smacks rather more of being tough on the fighters of crime.

My Lords, this is the first of many debates that we will no doubt be having on the future of policing in this country as the police reform and social responsibility Bill, which we expect to be published shortly, begins to move through both Houses. I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for that very interesting speech on his own involvement and how he has seen the different dimensions of policing. As someone who is new to this dossier, I was reflecting on how much policing has changed since I first had contact with police forces as a junior lecturer in Manchester. I was dealing with the Irish Government and therefore, for the first time, coming to terms with Special Branch, which in those days was concerned with Irish terrorism. Special Branch today has to deal with a far wider range of terrorist threats.

Some 20 years ago, I was at Chatham House and was asked to chair a seminar of senior policemen about the international dimension of domestic policing. This was early 1989 and it was fascinating to have a number of policemen who thought that this was a small and specialised dimension of what they had to do, although I recall a policeman from north Wales saying that he really needed to train some of his policemen in Dutch because so many Dutch holidaymakers crashed their cars in north Wales every summer.

When, some years ago, I was the chair of EU Sub-Committee F, I was astonished to discover that there were by then police liaison officers in UK embassies throughout the European Union and beyond, that SOCA had been created to deal with the international dimension of British policing and that, according to the national intelligence model, we now have three levels of policing: level 1, the area that the public care most about and are most conscious of, which is local policing; level 2, which is the national policing of cross-border crime by different cross-border police forces; and the increasingly important level 3, which is transnational crime.

The increasing sophistication of crime is something with which we are now all familiar. Organised crime has ceased to be predominantly domestic; it is increasingly cross-border. Forms of international crime include drug-smuggling, international financial fraud, human trafficking—we had an interesting debate on that the other week—and now also cybercrime, on which I was given my first briefing the other day. We are in another world and the pace of change is increasing. I was struck when I read an HMIC report from July this year that said that there is no time for a royal commission, and that the police leadership needs to rise to the challenges of a cessation of the rapid increase in funding that has come in the past few years and the changing tasks that are required of it. The pace of change requires us to respond.

Many people here have talked about the changes in democratic accountability which the Government are proposing. We will have plenty of time when the Bill is presented to discuss in more detail the role of police and crime commissioners and their relationships with chief constables and with the police and crime panels that will, in turn, hold them to account.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the intention is that police and crime panels will consist predominantly of representatives of local authorities. There is, as he rightly points out, a large question about what we mean by “local”. The current structures of police forces and that of local authorities, as we well know, do not fit. That is part of the problem, and part of the reason why the Government are proposing police and crime commissioners to fit these separate entities that are now our largely regional police forces.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked a number of questions about who will stand, who will vote and what they will all campaign on. American experience, which has been prayed in aid in this House as a horror story, has actually led to some rather good police commissioners and indeed elected mayors arriving. We must not necessarily assume that democracy is a dangerous thing that might lead to disaster.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about the future role of ACPO. It will continue to play an important role in providing professional leadership to the police service but, again, discussions are under way about the way in which this association of chief constables will continue to drive value for money and improve the quality of co-operation among different police forces. Noble Lords will be familiar with the discussion over the past few years about whether another round of police mergers was necessary. The decision has been taken that the structural solution of further mergers itself carries costs, and that we wish to promote as far as possible—the previous Government believed this, as well as the new Government—closer co-operation among different police forces. A range of areas, from sharing police helicopters to co-operation across many other areas, can be improved.

The move from SOCA to the national crime agency is also intended to pull further together the different abilities of different police forces and the specialised tasks that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has been talking about, while trying as far as possible to maintain the historic principle of local responsibility for local civilian police forces.

We are concerned about value-for-money savings. Police budgets have increased rapidly over the past five years, and we recognise that they will cease to do so over the next four to five years. Government core funding of the policing will reduce by 20 per cent in real terms over the next four years. Taking into account our precept for local budgets, that amounts to an average—I stress, an average—for police forces of 14 per cent in real terms. In December, we will set out to Parliament exactly what this settlement will mean for each police force. However, I stress that real costs have been imposed on police forces by the previous Government through the central targets and the very detailed guidance. As the HMIC report states:

“In 2009 alone 2,600 pages of guidance were issued to officers setting out how their work should be done; and there are now 100 processes in the criminal justice system, requiring 40 interventions by police officers, staff and specialists. The cost to policing is estimated at £2.2 billion per year”.

Significant savings can be reached through reducing this sort of central top-down bureaucracy. On average, only 11 per cent of total police strength is visible and available to the general public at any time. We are confident that reducing some of these reporting and bureaucratic elements will enable us to maintain the police front line while reducing costs.

Others have raised questions about political leadership.

The Minister has referred to the police front line. Will he define what the Government mean by the front line as far as policing is concerned?

The police front line is increasingly sophisticated because, as I was saying earlier, if we look at what we want the police to do, the police front line is not just what is visible on the street. It is the policeman dealing with domestic violence in a sexual assault referral centre; it is the policeman dealing with financial fraud in the City of London Police which, as the noble Lord knows, is a specialist force for international financial fraud. The front line has become rather more sophisticated in that area, as crime itself has become more sophisticated. The public think of the front line as the police they see on the street. Very often, the public see the front line in police community support officers, who command a great deal of confidence because they are visible. The public see special constables as part of the front line. We pay tribute to our predecessors in government in that the number of special constables has increased from 11,000 to 15,000 over the past four or five years, and we would like to see it increase further. We all recognise that the front line has to include these more specialised and sophisticated areas as well.

Can I be clear: is the Minister saying that the reductions in policing expenditure will not affect the quality and effectiveness of the front line of policing as he has just described it?

That is our aim and intention. We are looking at how far we can reduce costs by reducing reporting requirements, the time spent in the station, and so on. It will be tough, but we will do what we can. That means slashing the bureaucracy that gets in officers’ way. There are a number of reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary; I am sure that noble Lords have seen the two reports on policing in an age of austerity and valuing the police. They show us the direction in which to go. I think the first was commissioned by the previous Government, so I am not being entirely partisan in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Condon, introduced me to a phrase with which I was not familiar before—the policing covenant. I am much more familiar with the military covenant. The idea of the policing covenant is very interesting, and I look forward to debating it further. We want a police force that has the confidence of the public and is highly professional but which feels itself to have, in the broadest sense, public confidence. The management of the demonstration yesterday was a good illustration; we all recognise how difficult it is to maintain this balance. I look forward to hearing whatever the noble Lord would like to feed to me on what he has on that very interesting concept.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, talked about recruitment and accelerated promotion. Recruitment to the police has been affected by the rising proportion of young people going to university. Many of my children’s friends have gone to university with the intention of joining the police and have then done so as graduates. That is part of the way in which the police themselves are changing.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Lord, Lord Condon, raised the question of police pay and the report of the Winsor review. This is not an easy issue. The Government are committed to maintaining the current settlement until its completion. After 2011, however, the Government intend that pay across the public sector for civilians should be frozen for two years after the end of the current agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about ethnic representation. I am happy to say that there has been, under the previous Government, a gradual increase at all ranks in the number of ethnic minority police. It is now approaching 5 per cent among the professional and warranted officers. Among special constables, who are volunteers, it is now approaching 10 per cent. Similarly, 25 per cent of full-time police are now female, as are a third of specials.

The noble Lord, Lord Condon, raised the concept of a network of policing. I have already said that we see ourselves resisting further police mergers but encouraging closer co-operation in specialised units and the sharing of facilities wherever possible. The Home Office business plan sets out that, with a national crime agency, police forces will be encouraged to network as closely as possible. Collaboration is the way forward.

We all recognise the vital importance of this topic. Domestic order is the basis for a stable democratic society. Public confidence in how the police maintain that public order is vital, and civic engagement with the police is the basis for a stable society. I look forward to many future debates on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and on many other aspects of policing. We face a range of future challenges to the maintenance of our borders. I have not mentioned the establishment of a UK police border command, which we will, perhaps, turn to another day. There is the developing use of the internet, with cyberfraud and other matters. There are links to many other themes, such as active citizenship and the greater engagement of the public in taking control of order and anti-social behaviour in their own communities.

We welcome the increase in the number of volunteers from within local communities in recent years. Alongside this, we value enormously the role that professional and highly trained police provide, often in specialised groups, linking across different forces, working through SOCA now and the national crime agency in the future, and working internationally with forces in other states through Europol and Interpol. How best to balance all these competing demands and tasks within a civilian police force is a constant concern to us all. We all appreciate how well our police attempt to do that. We all also understand how difficult a balance it is to strike.

My Lords, I start with an apology to Sir Hugh Orde, whom the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has reminded me is the president, not the chairman, of ACPO.

When I saw the list of speakers I was rather alarmed by the small number, but the shortage of numbers has been well outweighed by the quality of the expertise and experience that has been brought to the debate. I am most grateful to noble Lords who have taken part. I am also grateful to the Minister for the attention he has given to answering the many questions that were raised in the course of the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Referendum Question, Date of Referendum Etc.) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft Order laid before the House on 21 October be approved.

Relevant documents: 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

My Lords, for convenience I shall refer to the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Amendment of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006) Order 2010 as the Schedule 7 order; the draft National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Referendum Question, Date of Referendum Etc.) Order 2010 as the referendum order; and the draft National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Limit on Referendum Expenses Etc.) Order 2010 as the expenses order.

The draft referendum and expenses orders make arrangements for a referendum to be held in Wales on further law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales, and the draft Schedule 7 amendment order makes changes to Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, which sets out the subjects on which the Assembly could legislate following a yes vote in a referendum.

The circumstances in which a referendum can be called, and the parameters of the referendum question, have been prescribed in legislation already passed by Parliament—the Government of Wales Act 2006. That Act provides for primary law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales in devolved areas of policy, if and when the people of Wales decide in a referendum that that is what they want.

On 9 February this year, the National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling for a referendum in Wales. When the First Minister wrote to the previous Secretary of State on 17 February giving formal notice of the Assembly’s resolution, he triggered the process under the Government of Wales Act 2006 which meant that the Secretary of State had 120 days from the day after receipt of the notification either to lay the draft referendum order or set out the reasons for not doing so.

Following the general election, it fell to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales to respond to the Assembly’s call within the statutory deadline. This she did on 15 June, confirming that she would lay a draft referendum order as soon as practicable and, as agreed with the First Minister, work towards a referendum in the first quarter of 2011.

The coalition Government have taken seriously our commitment to hold a referendum. Since we have been in office, we have driven forward working with the Welsh Assembly Government and other key stakeholders to ensure that we would deliver on that commitment. There has been good co-operation, showing that the respect agenda continues to work well.

First, I should like to explain the rationale for bringing forward the draft Schedule 7 amendment order, which, I think it is fair to say, is the most technical of the three draft orders before the House this afternoon. Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 sets out the subjects on which the Assembly could legislate following an affirmative vote in a referendum on full law-making powers and the Assembly voting to commence the provisions in Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. The subjects cover a broad range of areas over which the Welsh Ministers currently exercise executive functions, including housing, planning, local government and the environment.

Schedule 7 also lists exceptions and general restrictions to the Assembly’s legislative competence. Subjects such as economic policy and social security would remain non-devolved in the event of the schedule coming into force. The Assembly’s current powers to legislate are set out in Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006. The schedule lists these powers as “matters” under 20 fields, which correspond to the subject areas in Schedule 7. Matters have been added to Schedule 5 incrementally in recent years by legislative competence orders—LCOs—and framework powers in Acts of Parliament. The effect of this devolution of powers is that the Assembly can now legislate in relatively specific areas in many of the fields listed in the schedule, but its current powers to legislate are narrow when compared with the range of subjects which would be devolved in the event of a yes vote in the referendum. However, some of the amendments which have been made to Schedule 5 enable the Assembly to legislate on specific issues which go beyond the competence in Schedule 7.

The last order updating Schedule 7 was made in 2007, and there is now a need to update the schedule in advance of the referendum to take account of the powers the Assembly has accrued in recent years. There are three main reasons for making the changes set out in the draft order: first, to make clear the full range of powers which would be devolved to the Assembly in the event of a yes vote; secondly, to ensure that the Assembly would not lose any of its current powers if Schedule 7 comes into force; and, thirdly, to ensure that exceptions to the Assembly’s legislative competence accurately reflect the boundaries of the Welsh devolution settlement.

Many of the changes to Schedule 7 made by the draft order insert powers the Assembly currently exercises under Schedule 5. For example, it inserts a new subject on the provision of automatic fire-suppression systems in residential premises, to reflect a matter which is currently included in Schedule 5 and on which the Assembly is currently considering draft legislation. The draft order also amends subjects and exceptions in Schedule 7 to take account of the Assembly’s current powers in areas such as waste, educational transport, the protection and well-being of young adults, and trunk road charging schemes.

The draft order inserts a limited number of exceptions to the Assembly’s competence, where they relate very clearly to areas which would remain non-devolved following an affirmative vote in the referendum. It also makes some minor and drafting changes to simplify the schedule, update references to other legislation and rectify errors in the original drafting.

The Welsh Affairs Committee in the other place undertook scrutiny of the draft order. The committee concluded that the Government are right to ensure Schedule 7 is amended in advance of the referendum on full law-making powers for the Assembly.

The Government worked closely with the Welsh Assembly Government to agree to these changes. The draft order was approved by the National Assembly for Wales on 9 November and by the other place yesterday. The order makes sensible changes to Schedule 7 in advance of the referendum to ensure that the schedule accurately reflects the current Welsh devolution settlement.

I move on to the two other draft orders, which would make arrangements for a referendum to be held in Wales on further law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales. The draft referendum order consists of 28 articles and six schedules and makes the bulk of the provision relating to the arrangements to hold a referendum on further powers for the National Assembly for Wales. Provisions contained in the 2006 Act and in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 also apply to the referendum, but the draft referendum order is necessary to fill out the detail of the arrangements, including the key provisions on the date of the referendum and the referendum question.

The purpose of the draft expenses order is to specify the limits on spending by those campaigning for a particular outcome in the referendum. Both draft orders are subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament. The draft referendum order is an Order in Council which must also be approved by a majority of at least 40 Assembly Members before it can be recommended to Her Majesty in Council. The requisite approval was obtained in an Assembly debate on 9 November.

I turn first to the draft referendum order. The provision that has possibly attracted most attention to date, perhaps not surprisingly, is the referendum question and its preceding statement, as set out in Article 4. There was relative silence before the general election relating to the referendum question. Work had commenced on the drafting of the detailed provisions in the legal instruments. However, at the request of the First Minister, no work had taken place on the key provision within the draft order relating to the question. It is fair to record that in just five weeks following the general election, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales met her statutory obligations, as set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006, reached agreement with the First Minister and referred the question to the Electoral Commission on 23 June.

The commission required 10 weeks to assess the question and report to the Secretary of State. During that time, the commission conducted a thorough assessment of the preamble and question, including carrying out public opinion research, inviting and gathering views from interested parties, including political parties, and seeking advice on both the English and Welsh versions. The commission produced its report on 2 September and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State discussed the findings with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, agreed to the commission’s recommended revision of the question and its preamble, and confirmed the legality of the question as set out in the Government of Wales Act 2006. It is my understanding that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, had also indicated his agreement to the decision to use the revised question.

Apart from the referendum question, the other aspect of the proposed referendum which has attracted attention is the date on which it is to be held. Article 3 provides for the referendum to be held on 3 March 2011. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave careful consideration as to the date of the referendum. The First Minister had made clear representations that he would not be in favour of holding the referendum on the same date as the Assembly elections and that he favoured a referendum in early spring. The coalition Government are committed to working with the Assembly Government in a spirit of mutual respect, and the Secretary of State was prepared to consider carefully any reasonable request from the First Minister in relation to the referendum date.

The Assembly Government had made a commitment to hold the referendum on or before the Assembly elections in May 2011. In October this year, the First Minister announced that his preferred date was 3 March and asked the Secretary of State to agree to this date. The Secretary of State considered the request and agreed that it was feasible to hold the referendum then. A yes or no vote on 3 March would provide certainty on the extent of the law-making powers available to the Assembly in advance of the Assembly elections on 5 May. It was also believed that a 3 March referendum would put enough distance between the campaigns for the referendum and for the Assembly elections to allow arrangements for both to be administered efficiently. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales considered that the request to hold the referendum separately was reasonable, and agreed to the date.

While the other provisions in the draft referendum order have not attracted much attention, they are none the less important, as they deal with how people can vote in the referendum, and set out the rules for how the referendum will be run by the chief counting officer and local counting officers.

I turn now to voting. All those registered to vote in the Assembly elections will be able to vote in the referendum. Schedules 1 and 2 make provision for absent voters—those who vote by post or by proxy—and for the issue and receipt of such ballot papers. These provisions are similar to those that apply for elections. With regard to the running of the referendum, the provisions relating to the chief counting officer, deputy chief counting officer and counting officers are relevant. The chief counting officer will be the chair of the Electoral Commission. Under Article 9, she must do all such acts and things as may be necessary for effectively conducting the referendum in the manner provided for in the draft order.

A counting officer will be appointed for each voting area in Wales, which will be the same as the local authority area. Under Article 11, the chief counting officer can direct counting officers on how they should discharge their functions relating to the referendum, or direct them to take specified steps to prepare for it. Counting officers must also conduct the referendum in accordance with the detailed rules set out in Schedule 3 to the draft order.

The timing of the count itself is not yet decided. The default position is that the count should take place as soon as reasonably practicable after the close of the poll. However, the chief counting officer may direct that the count should take place on the following day. The Electoral Commission has invited views from interested parties, including broadcasters, on when the count should take place. The commission has not yet announced its decision on the timing of the count, but will do so as soon as possible after taking account of all views submitted to them.

There are two further points relating to the draft referendum order that I will make briefly. The first relates to the costs of the referendum. While the costs of the Electoral Commission will be met by the coalition Government, all other costs will be met by the Welsh Assembly Government through the Welsh Consolidated Fund. The bulk of these costs are those of the local administration of the referendum by the counting officers. It will therefore be for Welsh Ministers to make an order dealing with the counting officers’ fees and charges, subject to the draft referendum order being approved and made by Her Majesty in Council.

Secondly, the commission’s report on the intelligibility of the question highlighted the low level of awareness in Wales of the proposed referendum and its subject matter. While of course it will be a matter for the yes and no campaigns to make the case for either vote, there is value in having available an independent and impartial source of information on the subject matter of the referendum. To this end, Article 16 of the draft order provides for the Electoral Commission to take such steps as it thinks appropriate to promote public awareness in Wales of the referendum, its subject matter and how to vote in it. The Government of Wales Act 2006 already gives powers to the Assembly Commission to promote awareness of the system of devolved government, and the commission has launched its Vote 2011 awareness campaign.

The expenses order is a short draft order that sets the spending limits for campaigners who have registered as permitted participants spending more than £10,000, and whose expenditure is therefore subject to regulation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales consulted the Electoral Commission on what those limits should be, as she was required to do under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. She accepted the recommendations, so the spending limits specified in the draft order are as recommended by the commission. Of course, they are set at a significantly lower level than the statutory limits set for a UK-wide referendum campaign. The 2000 Act provides a framework for the referendum and enables the Electoral Commission to ensure that it is run fairly. This draft order varies the time period for individuals and organisations to register with the Electoral Commission and apply to be the lead campaign organisation to campaign for either the yes or no vote by increasing the period to five weeks, taking account of the Christmas and new year holiday period.

This period will be followed by a further two weeks, during which the Electoral Commission will decide whether to appoint a lead organisation for each side. The remaining period of four weeks up to the poll will be for the campaign proper.

I emphasise that what we are talking about here are the limits imposed on spending by campaigners from their own funds, not the spending of public money.

Finally, the draft order makes it explicit that media coverage is not to be regarded as a referendum expense, and therefore broadcasters and newspapers need not register as permitted participants in the referendum in Wales.

I hope the House will agree that it is important that these draft orders are approved and that the people of Wales are given the opportunity to vote and have their say in the referendum next March. I commend them to the House.

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for bringing these orders before us today and for his clear explanation of the quite technical but very important details.

These orders represent an important milestone on the long devolution road which I and many others have been travelling for a number of years. Therefore, I can say today that I am a very happy traveller, seeing us go one step further along that road.

However, even with a successful yes vote, it will probably not be the end of the journey. As the Welsh Affairs Committee in another place said in its report, published on 22 November, on Schedule 7:

“We note that the nature of the Welsh devolution settlement is quite different from those relating to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Schedule 7, in the form it would have after this draft Order was approved, is unlikely to be the last word on the shape and nature of the constitutional arrangements for Wales. We have sought and received assurances that Parliament and the Welsh Affairs Committee will be properly involved in the examination of any future changes to the constitutional arrangements for Wales”.

Following a successful yes vote on 3 March, we are sure to be asked to look at other constitutional matters regarding Wales in the future.

The question to be asked in the referendum, and its timing, have been debated and agreed by the Welsh Assembly, and prior to its drafting the question was subject to significant assessment and revision by the Electoral Commission, as the Minister said. This has now resulted in widespread agreement that the question on the ballot paper is clear and simple to understand.

The date of the referendum has now been agreed. After significant discussion in Wales, it will be held on 3 March 2011—a date that will take us clear of the campaigning period for the Welsh Assembly elections in May. There was concern over holding them on the same day, so it is very good that the referendum will be held on 3 March. However, there may of course be another referendum on the day of the Welsh elections after all.

The order relating to expenses did not need to be approved by the Welsh Assembly. However, it has been subject to scrutiny by the Electoral Commission, whose recommendations were accepted by the Secretary of State for Wales.

The formula for calculating the level of expenses based on the percentage of the vote for each political party is, again, simple and clear, as it is for other permitted participants. That is important as it will enable political parties and other organisations to know what the funding is, as well as ensure that the electorate is fully informed of both the yes and the no campaigns. I think that that information is really needed.

I also welcome the clarification on expenses relating to media coverage, which the Minister mentioned, as there has been some ambiguity about that in the past. It is now clear that such coverage is excluded from declared expenses. In the past, that has been a worry for political parties and those responsible for election returns.

On the order that deals with Schedule 7, if there is a successful yes vote, that part of the Act spells out the full range of subjects over which the Assembly has full legislative competence. The order under debate today is designed to secure that the amended Schedule 7 takes full account of all the changes to the powers of the Welsh Assembly that have been conferred on it by various means since the passing of the Government of Wales Act 2006. This will be a much more effective and less expensive way of legislating across the full extent of the devolved subject areas than the present system of legislative competence orders.

The All Wales Convention has concluded that the changes will save around £2 million per year, which is money that is currently being spent by the rather lengthy process of LCOs. More importantly, they will allow the Welsh Assembly Government to respond to changing circumstances that may require legislative action. I believe that the Welsh Assembly Government and the Assembly Members will be able to deal much more effectively and respond much better to the needs and requirements in the devolved areas, for the benefit of the Welsh people, than they can under the present system. As the Minister said, these three orders were agreed to in another place earlier this week, so agreeing to them today will enable the people of Wales to have their say on whether they want the National Assembly for Wales to have legislative powers in the 20 subject areas.

I am very pleased to support these orders on behalf of my party, as I have campaigned for devolution for many years; I played an active role in the 1997 successful referendum that brought devolution to Wales, and I saw the establishment of the National Assembly of Wales in 1999. Today is an historic day for Wales, and I am pleased to have played my part on behalf of my party, which first gave devolution to Wales. I thank the Minister once again for bringing these orders before us today.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing these historic orders to the Chamber this afternoon. I declare an interest as I am an executive member of the company, limited by guarantee, known as Cymru Yfory, which translates as Tomorrow’s Wales. It has been the campaign organisation for a yes vote in any referendum to come. Obviously, that nails my colours very firmly to the mast. I am very proud to be able to do that because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, says, this is a journey which many of us have travelled for most of our lives and shall continue to travel, but this is an historic step. It is also an historic moment for me because I am probably in the unique position of having been able to vote in the very first trigger vote that took place to set this referendum on its journey in the National Assembly for Wales, and now I am voting on the last vote that sends it on its journey.

I wish to raise a number of issues with the Minister. Clearly, two of the orders are very practical and deal with how a referendum should be held, which is quite right. If we were to measure the matter by the weight of the orders, clearly one of them is very weighty indeed; in fact, the real substance of the order is what will happen after a successful vote in a referendum—and that is Schedule 7. That order will tell the people of Wales what they will be voting for: the powers that Wales will have as a result of a yes vote in the referendum.

I have watched the current Government of Wales Act grow. Schedule 5 to the 2006 Act deals with the powers that are currently held by the National Assembly. However, this document has four pages; at the moment, the same schedule has 38 pages, which deal with the powers that the National Assembly has accrued by steps since 2007, when the Act came into being for the new National Assembly. In the space of three years, those powers have grown step by step, and it has been a very expensive and time-consuming process.

I have been engaged in both ends of the LCO process that provides the framework powers, which is an easier way of getting powers into Wales. A successful yes vote in the referendum will make this process far more efficient and effective and will allow Wales to get on with the job of legislating for itself. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said, the present process is expensive. Noble Lords who have been involved in the Constitution Committee of this House may remember that the environment LCO was the subject of a substantial report from that committee, which was very welcome to the National Assembly. I think that that was part of the process of hurrying along the move towards the implementation of Schedule 7, which will be the next step in the process.

The approach in Schedule 7 is quite different from that of the Scotland Act and the Northern Ireland Act. The Scotland Act lays out the areas in which the Scottish Parliament can operate and lists exceptions where it cannot operate, whereas the Government of Wales Act states the areas in which the National Assembly can operate and gives a very specific list of powers. Therefore, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, that the order before us will not be the end of the journey because Schedule 7 will have to change over time as the world around us changes.

However, a unique point for both Houses at Westminster is that, for the first time, future amendments of Schedule 7 will need to be made by co-decision: there will have to be a decision by the National Assembly for Wales and by both Houses here in Westminster. That will be a major shift because it means that there will be a dialogue about any future changes. It is therefore quite right that these orders should be approved today to try to expand and lay out the powers under Schedule 7. It is obvious to many of us that, if Schedule 7 has had to be amended in the way it is to be amended today—after being on the statute book, but not in operation, for just a few years—other amendments to it will be required in future. Some of us would have preferred the Scottish solution, but we are where we are, and we need to move on.

I have specific questions about Schedule 7. It seems to me that the powers listed are at the heart of what we can do and what can be done within Wales. First, will the Minister reassure me and the people of Wales that no restriction is being made to the current powers of the National Assembly? In other words, will Schedule 7 in any way delimit powers that already exist under Schedule 5? I hope that the answer is no and that the order takes all the powers that we currently have in Wales and moves them into Schedule 7.

Two things concern me. The first relates to highways and transport. For reasons of simplicity, the current Schedule 7 wording has been broken up into four sentences. The first starts:

“Traffic regulation on special roads”

then there are separate sentences: “Pedestrian crossings”, “Traffic signs” and “Speed limits”. I would like some reassurance that all four powers relate to special roads, given that the National Assembly for Wales currently has power over pedestrian crossings, traffic signs, trunk road speed limits and so on.

I mentioned earlier the report by the Constitution Committee of this House on the environment LCO, which took something like two and a half years from its gestation to its being fully put in place. That LCO provided significant powers under the environment field of Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act. I know that there is a move to get powers over, for example, energy generation of over 50 megawatts in Wales. Will the Minister tell me whether there have been any requests for such powers to be added to Schedule 7, so that the people of Wales might know that during the coming referendum?

This has been a substantial journey, in which there have been many milestones. Today is a milestone in setting in train the opportunity for the people of Wales to make their own decisions on whether they would like to have the ability to deal with their own law making—in the specific 20 areas of life over which they have powers at present—without having to come to this House and the other place to seek permission. The order will save a considerable amount of money and time and will give a real opportunity for the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government to bring about the legislative changes which best suit Wales and the needs of the country and which clearly will make the decisions about the life of Wales better.

I hope that the Minister will be able to convince me that there is no clawing back of powers, that there are no delineations and that we can move forward to a referendum campaign on 3 March 2011 in the certainty that a clear set of powers will be available to the National Assembly for Wales.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, and my noble friend Lord German, for their contributions to this important debate. As the noble Baroness said, this is a milestone debate. I also thank them both for the positive support that they have given to these orders. That reflects the fact that whatever side people take in the referendum campaign—it is my recollection that there was unanimity in the National Assembly for Wales that the referendum should take place—it is important that the orders give substance to that aspiration.

My noble friend Lord German asked me some specific questions, which I will attempt to answer. With regard to whether the powers over signs and pedestrian crossings relate only to special roads, the answer is no. They relate to all roads because that is the current position in Schedule 7, and that will not be changed by the order.

With regard to energy generation, as has rightly been pointed out, electricity generation is specifically excepted from Schedule 5 and Schedule 7. The amendment order before us today does not change that. The Welsh Assembly Government have made regular representations to the United Kingdom Government in respect of the boundary to the Welsh settlement on energy generation. This Government have considered those representations carefully, but we do not propose to change the boundary in respect of energy generation at this time.

The noble Baroness and my noble friend talked about their experience as regards LCOs and framework powers. In my short period as spokesperson with responsibility for the Wales Office in this House, I recall debating in Grand Committee in the Moses Room the LCO on housing. I certainly became aware of the path that an LCO takes to reach the House for approval. It will remain to be seen, with the outcome of the referendum, whether that process will continue or whether it will require the co-determination to which my noble friend Lord German referred.

It is important to mark that, while we are amending Schedule 7 today, there is also a legislative proposal before the House for framework powers in relation to the National Audit Office for Wales and the Auditor-General for Wales. There are also two current LCOs on organ donation consent and on highways and transport for cycleways and walkways. It would be wrong today to anticipate what the progress of those LCOs will be, but it may be that Schedule 7 has not yet finished being amended. Nevertheless, I can reassure my noble friend Lord German that the provisions in the draft order amending Schedule 7 ensure that there will be no restriction on the current powers of the Assembly. There will be no loss of powers for the Assembly as a result of the order.

The noble Baroness and my noble friend both referred to this important milestone and the journey. They are in the slightly advantageous position of being able not only to vote—which, obviously, I will not be able to do—but to express their view on the outcome of the referendum. The position of the coalition Government is neutral on the outcome. Through these orders, we are facilitating the referendum. However, perhaps I may conclude by saying that, as a Scot who had the privilege of serving in the Scottish Parliament when it was first established again in 1999, it is a great privilege for me to be able to move these milestone orders. I ask the House to support them.

Motion agreed.

National Assembly for Wales Referendum (Assembly Act Provisions) (Limit on Referendum Expenses Etc.) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft Order laid before the House on 21 October be approved.

Relevant Document: 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Motion agreed.

National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Amendment of Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006) Order 2010

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft Order laid before the House on 21 October be approved.

Relevant Document: 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Motion agreed.

Local Government Bill [HL]

Returned from the Commons

The Bill was returned from the Commons agreed to.

House adjourned at 5.41 pm.