House of Lords
Thursday, 5 May 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
My Lords, the Government’s consultation paper, A State Pension for the 21st Century, published on 4 April 2011, sets out two high-level options for state pension reform. Following the consultation process, the Government will be considering all the responses to our options for delivering a simpler and fairer state pension. The media reports of a £155 a week pension are based on speculation of how much this single-tier state pension could be worth if it is introduced in the future. However, no decisions have been made on how to change the state pension system.
My Lords, I congratulate the coalition on this far-reaching decision, which will help many pensioners in the future at whatever level the figure starts. What specific mechanism will the Government deploy to ensure equal treatment between the existing recipients and the new entrants to the state pension at the commencement date?
My Lords, the reform is based on future pensions rather than on existing pensions. We will seek to protect existing pensioners during the period of transition, but the future reform depends on the consultation exercise, and the mechanisms that we will use will be those arising as a result of that.
Does the noble Lord accept that two different levels of state pension—one for existing pensioners and one for new pensioners—are exactly the kind of injustice for which, in other circumstances, were it challenged at a judicial review, a challenge would be upheld?
The Government will seek to avoid such a situation. Indeed, that is the reason for the consultation. I think all noble Lords will agree that this is a necessary reform that needs to be addressed by the Government, who want to take things forward. The programme for this is not one of rushed implementation. It is likely to be legislated for not in this Parliament but in some future Parliament.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that it would be highly desirable to extend the new state single pension to all pensioners if it can be done within the cost framework and the time limits available. However, does he agree that the new single simplified state pension will not only substantially tackle pensioner poverty but, equally important for the future, will mean that it is safe to save? It will lift people above means-testing, and therefore every penny of their savings will be enjoyed by future pensioners.
My Lords, will my noble friend take very seriously indeed the problem that will arise with pensioners who currently have a state pension but will not be raised up to the £155 level when the new pension comes into effect? These are the very people who have been so badly treated by the earnings link being cut and who have a lower pension than those in many other European Union countries.
My noble friend makes a very good point. We would expect people who traditionally do not build up significant amounts of additional pension, such as women and low earners, to gain under a single-tier pension. Conversely, those who expect to build up much more significant amounts of additional pension, such as higher earners and those with longer working lives, will no longer be able to do so under a single tier. So there will be a redistribution within the pensions system which the single tier will be able to operate.
Given that two-thirds of those in occupational pensions presently face a life of poverty—that affects 20 million out of the present UK working population of 30 million—how confident are the Government that means-testing will be eliminated from the new state pension system? Have they any estimates for how many will still be means-tested after this policy is introduced?
We will publish full costings on the whole programme. I think the House will accept that the current situation has arisen over a period of several Governments. I hope the noble Lord will consider that the Government are doing the right thing in seeking to address the issue, but I cannot answer his question in detail.
My Lords, have the Government found a way of ensuring that some women are not particularly affected by the changes? A small number of women seem to be suffering because of the changes. I hope the Government have found some way of alleviating that problem. Will that also affect additional benefits that might be claimed by those suffering in this manner?
I remind my noble friend that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, clearly indicated, one group of people who are likely to benefit from this introduction are women pensioners who have not had the opportunity to accumulate benefit through the current pension system.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, described these proposals as far-reaching but, as the Minister himself has acknowledged, there is a lot of uncertainty about what the shape of this will be, and indeed about whether it will ever come to fruition. One thing is very clear from the consultation document; there will be no new money attached to it. There will therefore be not only issues of equity between existing pensioners and new pensioners but, among the new pensioners, clearly some element of redistribution. Will the noble Lord say something about that?
In an earlier answer I indicated that there would be high earners over a longer working life whose accumulation of benefit would be less as a result of these proposals. However, the whole programme is designed to benefit those who have not normally, under the existing system, had the opportunity to accumulate a basic state pension that is adequate for their retirement. That must be the strategy that we seek to address. Anything involving pensions is a long-term programme and must seek consensus across Governments if we are likely to succeed.
My noble friend said with some confidence earlier that legislation in this area would be for some future Parliament and not for this one, and that it is the Government’s policy that no amount of extra money will be added to this proposal. Given that we are talking about implementation following legislation a number of years hence, in what financial circumstances would my noble friend consider the possible addition of extra money to fund the proposal?
I cannot speak for future funding that will be available to the Government for this or any other programme. At the moment, as far as government finance is concerned, we all know that we seek to tackle the deficit. This is a priority within Government, but I note the underlying subtext of my noble friend’s question.
Education: English Baccalaureate
My Lords, anecdotal evidence suggests that the English baccalaureate is already having an effect in terms of opening up opportunities for pupils to take qualifications in key academic subjects. We will continue to monitor teaching, as we do at present, through the school workforce census, which will collect information annually on the subjects being taught by all teachers in maintained secondary schools. We will also be examining trends in GCSE entries.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he explain the process by which the core subjects in the English baccalaureate were put together at the expense, as some see it, of other equally merited academic subjects? Is he aware that schools are now putting pressure on pupils to focus on those English baccalaureate subjects regardless of their aptitude, so that the school will perform well in the new league tables? If he agrees that pupils should not be shoe-horned into those narrow curriculum choices, what is the department doing to ensure that they are given a broad range of curriculum options and can flourish and excel at subjects they enjoy?
I agree with the point that children should not be shoe-horned into choices that are not appropriate for them. I think that everyone would accept that children are different, that there is no right way for any particular children and that vocational options as well as academic options should be fully available. It would be wrong if schools were forcing children to do things that were not right for them or were forcing them to change subjects halfway through their course. The point of the English baccalaureate is to try to make sure that a number of key academic subjects are available to as many children as possible. If one starts at the point that what one wants to do is to get children from all backgrounds, particularly from poor backgrounds, to get to university, and to keep those options open to them, the subjects in the English baccalaureate are the kinds of subjects that will help those children to progress to A-level and from A-level to university. The correlation between the subjects that the Russell group has said that it would look for and the subjects in the English baccalaureate is very close.
Would the Minister agree that state school pupils should have equal opportunity with those in the private sector to achieve the English baccalaureate and that restoring modern languages for all pupils at key stage 4 would be a very important and enormous step towards giving them that opportunity?
As I hope I have already indicated, I would like as many pupils as possible to have a chance to study academic subjects, if that is appropriate for them. Modern foreign languages would be a good example of that. As the noble Baroness will know, the question about their place in the national curriculum stages is part of the curriculum review. I know of the case that she makes, and I hope and believe that one consequence of the English baccalaureate will be to encourage the take-up of modern foreign languages and reverse the sharp fall that there has been in recent years.
Does the Minister accept that broad-brush monitoring cannot look in detail at what is happening at school level, and that the Government cannot control individual school timetabling? Is he aware that schools are already staffing up for the subjects covered by the English bac at the expense of other subjects? How can he ensure that children are not limited as to the choices that they want to make for their own future ambitions by what the school is doing and the way it is timetabling and staffing up for the English bac?
My Lords, one problem has been that children have been limited in their choices and some of that limitation has applied to some of the key academic subjects. That is what we are keen to open up. We are trying to open up more choices.
I agree with my noble friend that the Government cannot monitor every school and should not seek to micromanage those schools. The English bac is part of what we are trying to do more broadly to encourage more information about school performance. I hope over time that with the provision of more information, whether it is on the vocational or academic qualifications being offered, schools and parents will work out for themselves what is the most appropriate mix of subjects for the children in those particular schools to study.
My Lords, I know that the Minister is concerned to ensure that those currently disengaged from schooling become re-engaged. Many of those young people are more engaged by learning by doing—by creative and vocational learning—than by the narrower academic styles of learning incentivised by the English baccalaureate. What advice would he give to head teachers? Should they focus on doing well in the English bac or in engaging the disengaged?
As is often the case, the issue is not either/or but both/and. I agree strongly with the noble Lord that one wants all schools to do what is right for their children. I take the point about engagement; that is why I am supportive of studio schools. Alongside things like the English bac, which is to try to get more of a focus on academic subjects, I want to encourage and promote things like the studio school movement precisely to give some of those disengaged children the chance to learn practical skills and then re-engage with school. There are also UTCs, as well as the review of the vocational qualifications. I hope that that is all part of the picture. I do not see this as a black-and-white choice or as saying that all children should go down one route rather than another.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the deep and widespread concern that, in narrowing the compulsory subjects in the English baccalaureate, there will likely be a reduction in religious studies and religious education learning—rigorous academic subject that it is—and a consequent reduction, which is already happening, in places for PGCE training of RE teachers? Underlying that, there is the likely erosion of religious literacy, particularly among more able and older teenagers, which is essential in our diverse society. Would he be prepared to consider adding religious education to the other excellent humanities subjects of geography, English and history?
My Lords, I am aware of and understand the views expressed particularly by church schools about RE. The choice of subjects currently in the English baccalaureate is not meant in any way to imply that subjects that are not in are less worthy or less academically rigorous. Fortunately, even though RE is a compulsory part of the curriculum, the number of children taking GCSE RE has been increasing—and I very much welcome that—whereas the proportion of children taking history and geography has been decreasing. In seeking to redress that balance, I understand the strength of the feeling that there is in church schools, which do a wonderful job in educating our children. It is always the case that the English baccalaureate is not fixed in stone, and these things need to be kept under review.
My Lords, around 300,000 people have left north Sudan for the south in the past six months. Around three-quarters have settled in rural rather than urban areas. There have been two meetings in Khartoum with South Sudan Caucus Ministers to discuss reintegration needs and regular meetings with the Government of Southern Sudan. A major meeting on reintegration needs will take place in Juba on 17 to 18 May.
My Lords, the United Nations Secretary-General estimates that that figure of 300,000 will have increased to 550,000 by the end of the interim period. If three-quarters of them are to be resettled in rural areas, what provision is being made by the UN for training and support for people who may have no previous experience of agriculture and horticulture? Is UNMIS prepared to offer protection to those returnees who have resettled in areas of conflict, particularly in Abyei and in Unity state?
My noble friend is right: this is a serious problem. There are various estimates of the numbers concerned. These are voluntary refugees heading south and there are enormous problems. Some 24 per cent have settled in urban areas, 76 per cent in rural areas. The problems of their reintegration and resettlement and of how they can adjust to new conditions are the top priority for the constant discussions that are going on, both those that I have mentioned and the regular ones that the troika of the UK, the US and Norway has fortnightly with the United Nations. These worries are being addressed but the numbers are large and the process is difficult to manage. However, we will make progress.
My noble friend also mentioned Abyei, which is on the border and was not able to join South Sudan. There have been ugly and violent developments there. We urge consultation and careful support from both Khartoum and Juba to ensure that militias and armies are not heavily involved and that proper consultation takes place, but these, along with South Kurdufan and the Blue Nile province, are all very difficult areas where there is considerable political tension.
Is the Minister aware that, with the advent of the rainy season, the problems of returnees will be severely exacerbated, particularly if they have not been resettled with adequate shelter? The rainy season also brings increased vulnerability to diseases such as malaria and gastrointestinal and respiratory tract infections. There is as yet inadequate healthcare for the existing population. Will DfID be able to assist the Government of Southern Sudan with these escalating problems?
As the noble Baroness knows extremely well, because she is very close to this problem, DfID has got substantial programmes. We do not assist with the funding, transportation and movement of refugees, but we most definitely invest heavily in the problems of solving reintegration that I have already described to my noble friend. That is what is being done. DfID is now committed to providing assistance over the next four years at the rate of £140 million a year for both north and south; £90 million each year for the next four years will go to the south. A very substantial proportion will go into precisely the problems the noble Baroness has raised.
My Lords, will the Minister comment on the intransigence being shown by the SPLM in allowing political space to opposition parties? How are the UK and other international donors responding to this? Is there any intention to invest in the capacity of political parties in Southern Sudan and increase their legitimacy, and to encourage the Government of Southern Sudan to loosen their grip and prepare for a broad-based Government in that country?
The noble Baroness is most definitely right. Of course we want to see more political activity and a downgrading and standing back of the militia wings of these political parties. It is the militias that lead to violence and difficulties, within both Southern Sudan and the three provinces I have already named. That is what we seek to do. The more we can move away from militias, killings and violence and have a proper political process, the better chance there is for this new nation of Southern Sudan to prosper, which we all want to see and should welcome and encourage in every possible way.
Yes, there are indeed. We are moving ahead on that front. South Sudan will have an independence celebration on July 9, where there will be senior ministerial attendance; I cannot say precisely what it will be. This will place South Sudan in the comity of new nations. I am also glad to say that one of its aspirations—it is not for us to decide—is that it should join the Commonwealth of Nations. This encourages me, although it is of course a matter for all 54 members to decide and not just the UK.
Does the Minister agree that Juba, the capital, has some of the features of an old frontier town with the promise of oil revenues and a get-rich-quick mentality? Thousands of people are coming into this town, and yet DfID is wholly concerned with health and education. Those are good priorities, but what about employment, especially in the small business sector? Many of these northerners have skills that can be employed.
It is not quite true to say that DfID is wholly concerned with the two areas that the noble Earl mentioned. DfID has an elaborate programme which takes account of the need for economic development for smaller business enterprise. It is very concerned with the reintegration of the thousands coming from the north. It is a wide programme. There is a big and very effective team of 35 people from DfID in Juba, who provide the platform on which my department—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—also works. This is not a backward or diminished operation. It is a very strong one. We are determined to support this new nation as effectively as we can in all sectors.
World Development Report 2011
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord and other noble colleagues across the House on meeting the challenge of living on £1 a day to raise awareness of the challenges facing the poorest people in the world. The Secretary of State welcomed this excellent, challenging report last month at the World Bank spring meetings. Its key messages are consistent with our commitment to spending 30 per cent of UK aid on supporting conflict-affected and fragile states. Her Majesty's Government will focus development efforts on 20 fragile states, working to strengthen government institutions, civil society and the private sector, and increasing support for security, justice and jobs. We are urging the World Bank and the United Nations to implement the report’s recommendations.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her comments. This excellent report highlights the centrality and importance of building national institutions in both conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction. It also highlights the urgency that is required in the reform of international responses to conflict and in conflict prevention. It details in a very comprehensive way the importance of these matters for development and reaching the millennium development goals. Will the Government step up their efforts both to take a lead in pursuing reform of the international response to conflict and to prioritise stabilisation at the centre of our overseas development assistance?
We agree completely with the noble Lord and recognise that the UK alone cannot deal with the challenges of conflict and fragility. Therefore, it is crucial that the World Bank and the United Nations also put the necessary reforms in place to improve their effectiveness in fragile states. The Secretary of State has already discussed the development report with the World Bank at its spring meetings, and has highlighted the specific reforms that need to take place.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Saferworld, which works on security sector reform. Does the Minister agree that all those exposed to the problems of the third world over the years recognise that one of the biggest of all generators of poverty is conflict, and that too high a priority cannot be given to conflict prevention and resolution? Does she also agree that one of the problems is that very often the security systems of these countries exacerbate the problem, and that effective security sector reform is another high priority? Of course, we must also do more to strengthen moves to control the arms trade, and the moves by the United Nations, on which Britain is leading, are crucial.
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about many of the issues that he has raised today. That is why focusing 30 per cent of aid on those countries where fragility and conflict have set back the ability to move forward has been a key reform to how DfID works. Through our bilateral reviews, we recognised some of the countries where we needed to change how we gave aid to them, directing it to the causes of conflict rather than just looking at poverty.
My Lords, in the context of the Government’s two declared priorities of focusing additional resources on fragile states and simultaneously ensuring that there is value for money, how does the Minister respond to the view strongly expressed in the World Bank report that in countries where governance and financial systems are weak it will not be possible to account for every penny spent?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is also aware that unless we direct what we are doing and have a focus we will not be able to address any of the difficulties that those conflict-ridden countries are facing. This is not about saying yes to this and no to that but about a combination of both. I think the noble Baroness is also aware that, through our reviews, we have been able to work very closely with the multilateral agencies to ensure that we are directing our aid to where it is most required.
Chechnya and the North Caucasus
My Lords, if I give the Russians full marks for anything, it is for their success in so largely isolating the Caucasus from the sustained focus of international attention and analysis. With the exception of a handful of courageous and determined journalists and brave NGOs, very few have managed to penetrate life there and to reveal and understand it as it is. I fear that for too many editors and NGOs it may have slipped into the “too difficult” category. They should persevere; they are acutely needed.
Much of the Caucasus is claimed by the Russians as part of the federation. Russia is a full member of the Council of Europe. The raison d’être of the Council of Europe is to strengthen democracy, accountable government, human rights, the quality of justice and the rule of law among its member states. Few member states are without skeletons in the cupboard; none is perfect; and that certainly applies to the UK. However, I hope that, as members of the Council of Europe, we all strive to improve performance. Therefore, when we speak out about the conduct of another member state, we should do so as part of a common struggle by all member states. We should do so in a spirit of humility, aware of our own shortcomings. We see the European convention, based as it is on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a recognition of the value, worth and dignity of all people. Remembering the realism of those who drafted them in the aftermath of the cruel experiences of the Second World War, we see them as a pillar of sustained, civilised, stable and secure society. Where human rights prevail and freedom flourishes, the danger of extremism and associated terrorism can be marginalised. Where they are absent, there will be alienation, and alienation too easily produces a recruiting ground for extremists and terrorists.
Counterproductivity in the way we respond to extremists, however sinister, blood chilling and provocative they may be, can make an insecure situation still more dangerous. We have to support each other in constantly demonstrating the highest standards and principles not just in rhetoric but in action. The soldier or policeman, immigration official or prison officer who maltreats those with whom they are dealing becomes an agent of instability and insecurity. What they do is not just wrong and a denial of the very principles we claim to hold dear, it is treacherous by playing into the hands of the extremists, and by aiding and abetting them and, indeed, those who manipulate them. Hearts and minds, when on our side, are the cornerstone of our society; when they are not, they become its biggest threat. It is in this context that I move this Motion.
In the Caucasus, Russia is still, by her direct or surrogate action, too often contradicting her commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and driving people into the arms of the extremists. In January 2000, I was part of a Council of Europe delegation to Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, led by the late Lord Russell-Johnston, who was then president of the parliamentary assembly. In Chechnya, we could not reach Grozny as the security situation was still too grave; we got close and could hear the dreadful bombardment. A couple of months later, as rapporteur to the parliamentary assembly on the conflict and accompanied by a small group of assembly members, I went again. We were among the first from outside Russia to visit Grozny after the bombardment. It was a ghost town. No building we could see appeared undamaged. Most had been totally destroyed. Those that remained standing looked as though it might well be necessary to demolish them before rebuilding. We were all stunned into silence. The few people still in the city were somehow surviving among the ruins. We talked to some of them. There were absolutely no public services. Everywhere the bombardment seemed to have been indiscriminate.
The people of Chechnya have suffered grievously in their history, not least from the brutality of Stalin. However, this was Russia at the beginning of the new millennium and now a full member of the Council of Europe. As we travelled, we became increasingly aware of the indiscriminate and ruthless action of the Russian army and security forces. Within both Chechnya and Ingushetia the plight of the displaced people was terrible.
Over the next few years as rapporteur, I visited Chechnya and Ingushetia seven times. In connection with that work, I visited Russia several times more. I was able to meet officials, senior Ministers and the heads of the FSB. We had very candid exchanges about the situation. I became increasingly disturbed and exasperated by the contradictions that I was seeing and experiencing that were presented for the purposes of the Council of Europe, and by their counterproductivity. The situation was constantly strengthening the appeal and influence of the very extremists who were perceived by the Russians as the threat to Russia. The anguish of the disappearances, the absence of justice, the indiscriminate destruction of villages, the extra-judicial killings, the house burnings, the intimidation of witnesses, the victimisation of the relatives of the accused and the torture were grim.
The coldblooded deliberately targeted assassination of that courageous journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was unflinching and steadfast in her commitment to integrity and truth, speaks for itself. She was a challenge to journalists throughout the world, and she was not the only one who paid dearly for their brave work.
Worst of all and pervading everything was the culture of immunity. When challenged, the authorities would regularly plead that investigations into complaints had been initiated. However, the total absence of any convincing outcomes to such investigations was glaringly obvious. The cynical and fundamentally flawed and imposed so-called constitution came out of no widespread public discussion and with no sense of popular ownership or acceptance. Together with the manipulated elections and the selective electoral roll that followed, this for me became the last straw. This and far more was the story I encountered during my four years as rapporteur.
Of course there has been no monopoly on abuse or atrocities. Totally unacceptable behaviour has also been the story of the rebels and extremists. They have been responsible for reprehensible and counterproductive action, but what they have done has been eclipsed by the scale of the Russian action. That action, and more recently that of its surrogates and tyrannical henchmen such as Kadyrov, the present so-called President of Chechnya, has been out of all proportion. Many of the Chechens who took to arms did so in desperation. As they saw it, it was the only way to defend the nation’s identity and integrity. Others certainly were drawn to wider global terrorism. The ruthlessness of the action by the Russians and their surrogates has blurred the dividing line. It has become a powerful generator of recruitment for the global terrorist cause.
Last year, on behalf of the All-Party Group on Human Rights, together with Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP, I visited Chechnya after some six years. Jo Swinson and I cannot thank too warmly Nicole Piché, the administrator of the all-party group who worked so hard to make the visit possible and who accompanied us. I also thank those at the Foreign Office who gave so much practical support, not least financial, at ministerial, official and embassy levels.
On the surface, the physical rebuilding of Grozny and some other prominent places is impressive. It is a setting that totally contrasts with early 2000. However, it is impossible to vouch for the quality of the buildings or the means by which access to, for example, housing can be secured. We heard doubts on both scores. The new mosque in Grozny is formidable, at least on the surface. The school premises and medical facilities that we were able to visit were striking, as was the quality of some of the professionals with whom we were able to speak. However, the packed meeting of students in a main hall at the university was a profound disappointment. With senior university administrators on the platform, try as we did, we could not get the meeting to open up. Subsequently, we learnt that the previous day, students had been cautioned to toe the line.
The physical changes, whatever their real merit, are simply not matched by improvements in the quality of freedom, justice and human rights. Some suggest that there is at least greater stability, but we came away convinced that any stability there was was the sterile stability of tyranny and fear. Indeed, it was sinister. In the North Caucasus as a whole, it has been calculated that more than 1,700 people were killed or injured in 2010 alone. We were apprehensive about the suppressed pressures and the continued, inevitable growth in the influence of extremism, with all its implications for global stability. The disappearances, torture, witness intimidation, victimisation of relatives of the accused, house burning and extra-judicial killings continue. In the absence of a convincing system of justice, so continues the culture of impunity and the failure to call anyone to account, let alone to punishment.
The so-called Parliament is frankly synthetic: 37 of its 41 MPs are drawn from the United Russia Party. There is no evidence of its holding those in power to account. As was found six years earlier, the official human rights bodies are clearly an arm of government. They have a chilling effect on NGOs rather than supporting them. Nobody has yet been brought to justice for the death of Natalia Estemirova, another incredibly brave journalist who refused to compromise on her commitment to truth. A couple of years ago, she greatly impressed those of us who met and heard her here in Westminster shortly before her assassination.
The European Court of Human Rights has made more than 150 judgments condemning the Russian Federation for serious human rights violations across the North Caucasus. As Human Rights Watch and others have established, other than some limited assistance in the form of financial compensation, little has been done to pursue those responsible and to hold them accountable before the law. Still, the argument is too often used that investigations have been initiated without any sign of their being concluded. The absence of a wholesome civil society leaves a gigantic gap. There are a number of NGOs, ranging from the outstandingly courageous and professionally convincing, such as Memorial, based in Moscow itself, and now being pursued by Kadyrov in the courts on criminal charges of subversion, to the relatively tame state groups in Chechnya itself. It must be said that some Chechen-based NGOs strive to be independent, but it is a hazardous road to take.
It is impossible to look at Chechnya or the North Caucasus region as ends in themselves. In too many ways, they are symptomatic of what is wrong in Russia itself. Corruption is another gigantic, all-pervading reality. As the contagious consequences of the political sickness of Chechnya spread across the whole region, not least Dagestan and Ingushetia, the process of generating a recruiting ground for global terrorism continues, with all its implications for global security.
It need never have been so. I believe that there is still a chance to win nationalist rebels into a political process if that process is genuinely inclusive and free of too many preconditions. The process of any solution will have to be owned by a convincing cross-section of the parties. Northern Ireland, while of course in many ways different, illustrates what can be achieved with courage and imagination.
As we seek to build co-operation with the Russians, as we should and must, in meeting the immense global challenges which confront us all, I hope the Minister can reassure us, first, that no stone will be left unturned and no opportunity missed to bring home to the Russians that they are making global security more difficult to achieve by the way they have been handling the Caucasus and they must change course; to persuade them that no sustainable, enduring solution can be imposed by the military and security services and that there has to be a genuinely wholly inclusive peace process owned by the parties.
Secondly, I hope the Minister can reassure us that the UK will do everything within its power to provide effective muscle—which is lacking at the moment—in the Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg to persuade the Russians of the imperative of pursuing to a convincing conclusion the action for which the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment has called, holding to account those responsible for abuses and putting in place effective arrangements to prevent a repetition of those abuses. Thirdly, working with the diplomatic representatives of other friendly countries, our embassy in Moscow should be encouraged to find ways to give all possible support to the building of a thriving civil society in Russia and the Caucasus and to find ways of assisting those who strive for human rights. Fourthly, the Government should ensure with our European Union partners and allies that Chechens and others from the region who are at risk are protected and have access to asylum. Finally, the Government should provide tangible support, both within the Caucasus and in the diaspora, for building up the professional and skilled human resources necessary to build a sustainable future for Chechnya and her neighbours when a stable political solution emerges.
The Chechens and the people of the North Caucasus have suffered for too long. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in this debate, and I congratulate him on having secured it. He and I have known each other well for the past 45 years. All those years ago we took part in Anglo-American conferences on Africa, as did the noble Lord, Lord Howie, whom I am glad to see in his place.
This is an important debate on Chechnya and the North Caucasus. The noble Lord has drawn attention to the extraordinary rise of Mr Kadyrov, who seems to have become a ruthless dictator in Chechnya and has almost totally succeeded in creating a potential Islamic caliphate in that region. The regime clearly suits Russia—to which I want to apply my remarks, because Chechnya is still nominally part of Russia. The relationship also suits Chechnya, as it is only too glad to reap the vast amount of money that Russia is bucketing into the place. However, how long Mr Kadyrov’s admiration for Russia, and for Mr Putin in particular, will last is an interesting source of speculation. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the Minister will allow me to talk in broader terms about the Russian approach to the whole of the Caucasus region, and to discuss what should be the response of our Government, and the wider governments of NATO and western Europe, to this situation.
I want to discuss the situation in the South Caucasus—in Georgia, and particularly in the troubled states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. I am a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Last November, in Warsaw, I presented to that assembly Resolution 382, which was extremely critical of Russia’s policies on Georgia and those two territories. The resolution condemned Russia’s failure to allow displaced citizens of the two territories to return to their homes and criticised its failure to comply with the European Union-brokered ceasefire agreement and to withdraw to the positions it held before the conflict with Georgia. It also criticised Russia for blocking the extension of the OSCE and United Nations missions to Georgia into the two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. An international monitoring mechanism is therefore absent from those two territories.
The resolution that I presented urged the Government and Parliament of the Russian Federation, as well as the de facto authorities in Abkhazia, Georgia and South Ossetia, to reverse the results of what the independent international fact-finding mission on the conflict in Georgia and other international documents have described as ethnic cleansing; to allow the safe and dignified return of all internally displaced persons to their homes; to allow the European Union monitoring mission unimpeded access to the territory of the two regions; and to ensure access to international humanitarian aid by those who need it.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly unanimously agreed the resolution. Indeed, it followed a previous policy which it adopted immediately after the conflict between Russia and Georgia and removed some of the Russia’s rights and privileges to join in the assembly’s activities. Russia, like a number of other non-NATO member states, participates in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly as an associate member.
Since the assembly took that firm action to remove Russia’s ability to join in the assembly’s activities, I have become increasingly concerned at the way in which NATO member states have progressively softened their attitude to Russia’s aggressive obstinacy over Abkhazia and South Ossetia in this ongoing crisis, as they have previously done to its aggressive attitude to Chechnya itself. This became clear to me a few weeks back, in April, when I attended a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s standing committee with the leader of the United Kingdom delegation, Sir Menzies Campbell, who is a Member of the other place. A proposal was put before us to restore to Russia most of the rights and privileges that we had removed only a short time before. The United Kingdom delegation voted against the proposal, and we almost found ourselves isolated but for the three Baltic states and Romania. I was shocked at the way in which so many NATO states are softening their attitude to Russia’s continuing aggressive behaviour, particularly in the whole of the Caucasus region. A cynic might say that a vote in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is not all that significant. However, the line taken by various NATO member state delegations is a straw in the wind indicating the views of their respective Governments.
My purpose this morning is to urge the United Kingdom Government to continue to take a very firm line with Russia, even if others do not want to do so. The softer approach that seems to be becoming more popular will only encourage Russia to continue to take an aggressive approach to the problems that we face in the whole Caucasus region.
Russia's policy is well known to us. It is attempting to control the flow of oil from Azerbaijan, the Caspian region and Kazakhstan beyond. It would love to control all the flows and all the pipelines. One cannot help but feel that if it could extend its influence in the South Caucasus area to the whole of Georgia, rather than to the two territories about which I have talked, it would then effectively control all the oil that comes out through Baku in Azerbaijan to the West.
My purpose in speaking this morning concerns the whole of the Caucasus area. I hope that the Government will continue—I am sure that this is their intention—to take a very firm line with Russia, even if some of our friends are falling away in that quest.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Jopling, who has experience and knowledge both of the Council of Europe and the North Atlantic Assembly over many years. It is a particular pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on taking the initiative, initiating this debate and putting forward his Motion on Chechnya and the North Caucasus.
My pleasure is augmented by a recollection. My noble friend Lord Jopling talked about 40-plus years ago. I will not go back that far, but I am still entitled to go back to 1973, when I first came across Frank Judd MP, as he was then. He was a junior Minister in the Foreign Office and sat on the Labour Benches. He came on the first historic visit that we made in November 1973 to the People's Republic of China, prior to the Edward Heath visit that followed the Nixon thaw with China. I well recollect the awe and inspiration I felt around Frank Judd. I embarrass him deliberately today with this praise, because it is due and I have been meaning to say it for many years. He has a deep knowledge and passion for human rights, international civic rights, the protection of minorities and new techniques for dealing in a kindly way with the international migration problem that we have in many parts of the world. Frank Judd's links with the UN over the years have also been a tremendous inspiration.
In those days in the People's Republic of China, the cultural revolution was still on, although it was fading away at the edges. We saw China in a totally different guise from how it is now, after its tremendous transformation. That experience showed the need for the democracies of the world, and western democracies in particular, to be very vigilant about how countries change internally. China remains a one-party state. There has been some opening out of the National People's Congress and so on, but the country retains a command economy, despite a huge input now of private enterprise.
One only hopes that the fact that Russia achieved democracy in its own form after the collapse of the Soviet Union will lead—it has not happened yet—to the genuine creation of a lasting and durable democracy, which Russia has never had. Because of that, Russia can continue to be tyrannical and brutal, particularly in the more geographically extreme areas of the federation. I share the dismay of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Jopling—and I use his words—at the rage and brutality of the Russian intervention in these areas. The word “overkill” is unfortunate because it can be taken out of context, but we saw almost a deliberate overkill in response to so-called terrorist rebellions—they were immediately classified as terrorism, although some people would say that there were freedom fighters—in Chechnya and elsewhere. There was overkill physically, too. What happened to human beings and to buildings, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, was really disturbing in Russian terms. We know, too, how there was a reaction to some incidents which took place when, tragically, innocent human beings were killed and wounded in Moscow and elsewhere. There was a measured reaction to contain the problem, but when dealing with the human rights aspects either of countries wishing to be autonomous or of regions and provinces seeking more local freedoms within the federation structure, there is the need for Russia to respond to that.
My pleasure is followed by a feeling of great embarrassment on my part about this debate. This is the first time that I have ever pleaded with the House to give me leave, but I have to leave this debate early. I do so with genuine sincerity and I apologise that this is a day of voting on a number of important aspects. The Liberal Democrat Party is particularly concerned with one national aspect, the referendum on AV, and therefore we will all be engaged later on. I am able to go out later than some of my colleagues who have already gone to urge our voters out for the referendum. That is why I have to leave this debate early. I hope that, in future, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, will continue to speak to me from time to time despite this impertinence on my part. I hope that the Front Benches will grant me leave to leave early today. It was not possible for another of our foreign affairs team to speak in this debate.
I will stay in the debate as long as possible. Unfortunately, my embarrassment is augmented by the reality that I also have a lunchtime meeting with an official who is coming from overseas. That was fixed four and a half months ago, whereas I am standing in for a colleague at short notice in this debate. I have to do that at 1 o'clock but I shall stay in this debate as long as I can. My double embarrassment in that respect is then completely transmogrified into pleasure again that, after my few words about these matters, more expertise will come from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, who knows so much more about them than I do. I pay tribute to him, too, and the work that he has done in bringing the Muslim international community together with the Christian and other faith and non-faith communities throughout the world for peace and general international understanding.
Concerning Chechnya, surely it behoves the Government to be deliberate and emphatic today—even if I am not there right at the end, and I apologise in advance to my noble friend Lord Wallace for that reality. I understand completely what my noble friend on the Bench below the Gangway meant in his intervention. I feel very bad about it, as it is the first time I have ever done it, but I have to persist. However, I ask my noble friend Lord Wallace to reassure us that the Government really will, definitely and emphatically, repeat, reiterate and reinforce our determination to make representations to the leaders of the Russian Federation and to those in the Russian Parliament—particularly in the majority party, which is so dominant in their system after the last election—that they must now begin to indicate that there really will be a greater human rights reform in those outlying regions of the federation. It should be not only in the Muslim parts but in Georgia. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, mentioned the south Caucasus countries, but there is also what will happen in the future in places such as Armenia. All those things have some linkage.
It is very important both for the European Union as a whole and the UK Government in particular, with our interests in those matters, to ensure that we make very strong representations to the Russians and do not allow that softening-down process to which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, referred. It sounds very sinister and disturbing. I hope, too, that the Labour Front Bench—having I hope forgiven me, in the guise of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, for my impertinence in leaving the debate later—will add its support so that it will be a joint Front-Bench effort to persuade the Russians to be very careful and cautious in future about the way that they handle these delicate and tragic matters.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dykes. He is a great man and has plenty of work to do this afternoon to convince some of his voters, so I have no objection if he leaves early.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Judd on securing this debate and thank him for giving me the opportunity to discuss the human rights situation in the North Caucasus and, especially, in Chechnya. I express my special thanks to Human Rights Watch for providing me with excellent information for this debate. I am told that first-time visitors to the capital of Chechnya—Grozny—now see a modern city with new construction, high-rise skyscrapers and modern infrastructure, as described by my noble friend Lord Judd. You can easily assume that the people of that city enjoy all the freedoms, rights and privileges enjoyed in any other city in the Russian Federation. However, that is not the case for many Chechens. President Kadyrov’s autocratic rule is described by many as a,
“clan-mafia model of political power”,
that is ruthless, oppressive and corrupt.
Human rights defenders in Russia remain vulnerable to harassment and attacks, and those working to end impunity for abuse in the North Caucasus are especially at risk. While the Russian leadership has spoken out about the importance of normal working conditions for NGOs, it has failed to react to repeated and open threatening statements about human rights groups that have been made by the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, and other high-level Chechen officials. In summer 2010, a prominent human rights lawyer from Dagestan, Sapiyat Magomedova, was severely beaten by police in the city of Khasavyurt. Although the alleged perpetrators have been identified, they have not been brought to justice. There has also been no justice for the brazen murders in 2009 of human rights defenders working in North Caucasus, including the murder in July 2009 of Natalia Estemirova, the most prominent human rights activist in Chechnya, and it is unclear whether any of the investigations have examined possible official involvement or complicity in these crimes. Meanwhile, Oleg Orlov, the chairman of the Memorial Human Rights Centre and one of Russia's most prominent human rights defenders, remains on trial on criminal slander charges for saying that Chechnya's leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, bore political responsibility for Estemirova's murder.
Violations of women's rights are another growing concern, with authorities in Chechnya unambiguously condoning the pelting with paintball guns of unveiled women on the streets, resulting in the hospitalisation of at least one woman in summer 2010. In a July 2010 television interview, Chechnya's leader Kadyrov professed his readiness to “award a commendation” to the men engaged in this crime and said that the targeted women deserved such treatment for not being dressed with sufficient modesty. A March 2011 report by Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases of women being harassed in the streets of Grozny for not covering their hair or for wearing clothes deemed too revealing. Chechen authorities have also banned women refusing to wear headscarves from working in the public sector or attending schools and universities. Moscow, meanwhile, has remained silent in the face of these blatantly abusive policies.
Fuelling the climate of impunity for abuses in Chechnya is Russia's persistent failure fully to implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on applications from Chechnya, which we have already heard about. The court has to date issued some 165 judgments holding Russia responsible for grave human rights violations in Chechnya. While Russia has generally paid the required monetary compensation to victims, it has failed to implement the core of the judgments, which entails conducting effective investigations and holding perpetrators accountable. The authorities have also failed to take adequate measures to prevent the reoccurrence of similar abuses with the result that a steady flow of new complaints are being lodged with the court every year. The practices described stand in stark contrast with the Kremlin’s welcome rhetorical commitment to human rights and the rule of law.
The UK Government should seize every opportunity to convey, in the strongest terms possible, concern about this inconsistency, along with an expectation that the Russian Government take concrete steps to address it. Such steps should include fostering a normal working environment for civil society organisations and activities, and ensuring that they are protected from persecution and harassment; ensuring a thorough and transparent investigation into Natalia Estemirova’s murder and the other murders of activists, including the possibility of official involvement in these crimes; dropping criminal charges against Oleg Orlov; publicly disavowing unlawful counterterrorism-counterinsurgency practices, holding accountable those who engage in them, and acknowledging the role that they play in destabilising the situation in the region; putting an end to the local rule of forcing women in Chechnya to observe a dress code and acting to protect the rights of women to a private life and personal autonomy; and implementing fully judgments by the European Court of Human Rights on Chechnya, including conducting effective investigations and holding perpetrators accountable, and taking adequate measures to prevent similar abuses from reoccurring.
I should also like to draw the attention of your Lordships to the worsening situation in Dagestan. The law and order situation in Makhachkala is now worse than in Grozny. Corruption from government officials, and from Ministers to school teachers, is ignored. Life for ordinary citizens is becoming unbearable.
Finally, I am invited to attend a peace conference in Grozny later this month. I feel that after my contribution in your Lordships’ House I probably will not be welcomed but if Moscow takes any notice of what I have said, it is a price worth paying.
My Lords, it is rare that we have an opportunity to debate matters North Caucasus and it is a particular pleasure for me in that I have majored on the South Caucasus and central Asia in the years since independence. Therefore, while focusing my remarks principally on Chechnya, I wonder whether I might be excused attempting to put today’s debate into context, particularly the aspect relating to security.
The majority of contributions this afternoon have addressed human rights issues. However, sustainable solutions can come about only as a result of the right political environment on the ground, with all the benefits that flow from that. It is with that in mind that I believe it is important to remind ourselves of some of the background, together with Russia’s long-held vulnerability and policy to protect its core area surrounding Moscow and down into the Volga region, and Russia’s lack of geographic barriers to protect it.
The basis of Russia’s national security have been three expansions to the natural border barriers marked, first, by the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan; secondly, the Carpathian mountains on the far side of Moldova and Ukraine; and, thirdly, the Greater Caucasus mountains on the southern side of the Muslim republics. The Greater Caucasus mountains, which are separate from the Lesser Caucasus mountains in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, are the most important as they are the closest to Russia’s core and historically have kept out the Ottomans and the Persians. So it always has been a geopolitical imperative to hold the Muslim republics. It is not a perfect plan but it is the basis of Russia’s national security.
The North Caucasus region is a multiplicity of ethnicities split into seven territories including North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan. The majority of the northern Caucasus people are Sunni Muslim, but while there are many different blends of Islam as well as pockets of Orthodox Christians, Jews and Buddhists, religion is not the source of discontent in the region. Animosity and disputes are nearly wholly derived from territorial issues between each of the ethnic groups, and with the region being one of the toughest in Russia and then the Soviet Union for the Kremlin to clamp down on.
During the Second World War, Moscow removed hundreds of thousands from the North Caucasus in order to split the populations, ensuring that they could not consolidate with the Germans into a force to rise against the Kremlin. Over the decades these populations returned to the region, and on into the 1990s at the demise of the Soviet Union. The implosion sent shock waves throughout the region, with the first dispute forcing the Russian state to react not in Chechnya, but to an inter-ethnic conflict between Muslim Ingushetia and Orthodox Christian North Ossetia in 1989 with their dispute over territory. The conflict demonstrated to Moscow how complicated it would be to define the status of each of these regions, how much autonomy to give them, and how to prevent them from fighting among themselves, and all of this at a time when Russia was concerned that the region would rise up against the Russian state. These are the issues that haunt the Kremlin today.
Chechnya is the largest anxiety to Moscow, as it has been for more than three hundred years, with the two regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia to a lesser degree, and the remaining four republics even less so by comparison. Chechnya lies on a lowland that, unlike its neighbours, gives it reliable food supplies, and on a bed of relative energy wealth. So no matter if Chechnya is dominated by the Russians, rising up against Moscow rule or aligning politically with the Kremlin, the focus on the Caucasus by the Russians will always be on the Chechens first. The first war ended in 1996 with little more than a stalemate, in effect an embarrassing defeat for the Russian military. This upset was another nail in the coffin of attempts to westernise and democratise.
The Russian people were sick of a chaotic country. It had endured already what many perceived as a weak leader in Yeltsin, a broken economy, a massive financial crisis, its main state enterprises taken up by oligarchs, an invasion of foreign entities, all compounded with defeat in the Caucasus. The Russian people wanted only one thing: change. And so there was the rise of a strong leader who was willing to take back control of the country, no matter what it took. President Putin came into office with a precise checklist: consolidate politically under one party loyal to him, oust foreign influence, seize strategic economic assets, crush the oligarchs and rehash the Chechen problem. Putin reacted to the atrocities and launched the second Chechen war in 1999, but the problem this time was that the Chechen insurgence was nothing like that which took place during the first.
A massive shift had taken place in the region between 1996 and 1999. Chechen militants had been infiltrated by foreign ideology, shifting the militants’ goal from a nationalist strife for independence to a jihad in order to create an Islamic state. With this came new tactics not often used in the region: large-scale terrorism. The Kremlin’s declaration of the second Chechen war brought a string of terrorist attacks across Russia, starting with the co-ordinated apartment bombings in Moscow, Buynaksk and Volgodonsk. In the years to come, this terrorism evolved into regular train and subway bombings, the Moscow theatre siege, the twin airline bombings and Beslan.
Islamism in the region gave the Kremlin another tool in order to crush the insurgency. In the early 2000s, Russia began to split the nationalists from the Islamists and set them against each other. Moscow pulled the nationalists into alliances and loyalties with the Russians, offering them power and money in exchange for their help against the Islamists, and so the Chechen nationalists began fighting alongside the Russian forces against the Islamists. Over the mid-2000s, nearly all the Chechen Islamist leaders were killed, thus enabling the declaration of the war being over by 2009. With the war officially over, Chechnya remains today a delicate and complex republic, with its problems and insecurities resonating throughout the region.
The Catch-22 is this: in setting up an alliance with the Chechen nationalists the Kremlin was compelled to empower them. Whereas the Caucasus emirates, representing Islamic militancy, were successfully broken into smaller militant groups with no real co-ordination, the Chechen brigades were given free rein to use traditional guerrilla warfare and—unapologetically—torture, together with specialist training by the Russian military, to squash the Caucasus emirates.
The Chechen brigades are now an elite fighting force in the region, currently numbering 40,000, whereas the Russian forces in the region have dropped from 110,000 to around 50,000, nearly equal to that of the Chechens. The Chechen brigades have also been given licence to secure the neighbouring region of Ingushetia, but here is the rub: the Kremlin has petitioned them to expand their security reach into Dagestan but the bitter rivalry between Chechnya and Dagestan will erupt into war once again if the Kremlin allows Chechen forces to cross the border.
Looking forward, other difficulties in the short term and the long term arise. First, although the rebellion in Chechnya has ended, this does not mean the end of militancy. The militant groups in the Caucasus are fractured and disorganised; however, they still hold the capability to strike at soft targets. So while the large-scale attacks of the past, such as Beslan and the apartment bombings, are most likely over, small attacks such as those on the Moscow subway and Domodedovo Airport will continue. The Kremlin has come to accept this reality, as have most of the Russian people.
This leads to the second problem: whereas Russia has accepted that smaller attacks will occur, Moscow is focusing on preventing any attack, no matter how small, when large international events take place. Russia is hosting two major events in the next decade—the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup in Moscow. The Olympics in Sochi are of immediate concern as it is a mere 500 kilometres from the Chechen capital. The Russian Government have been considering their choices, with a distinct possibility of a firm military option being implemented. The killing yesterday in Chechnya of a top al-Qaeda militant, who co-ordinated foreign rebels in the North Caucasus, will reinforce this.
The third issue concerns the mid term. Even though the Chechen wars are over, the traditional rivalry between the Caucasus republics remains, with the largest between Chechnya and Dagestan. Dagestan is still without a suitable security plan by the Kremlin, although the current thinking by Chechnya is to set up Dagestani brigades like those in Chechnya. However, there is no real leader in Dagestan under whom to establish such a force. With the strengthening of the Chechen brigades, it has become a real concern in Dagestan as to whether it can trust the Kremlin to control its rival Chechnya.
The last issue is twofold and the most dangerous of them all. While the Kremlin has created an elite fighting force in Chechnya—made out nearly all of former militants—and empowered it with regional wealth, military training, arms and a right to do as it pleases, its forces in the region nearly match those of Russia. The Kremlin is singularly uncomfortable with this but felt it had no other option in order to win the second Chechen war. Russia has a large demographic problem which will particularly manifest itself in both the workforce and military in a decade or so. The effect on the Russian military is the most troubling—the Kremlin is already downsizing its forces and will continue to do so. At the same time, the only population in Russia that is growing is the Muslim population, from the current 12 per cent of the population to an anticipated 20 per cent in 2020. The effect of that will be that ethnic brigades and militant forces in the Russian Caucasus grow rather than decrease and that the balance of power in the region tips in future, unless the Kremlin can devise an alternative. It appears that Moscow is for the moment currently devoid of that strategy.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Judd for bringing Chechnya and the North Caucasus to our attention. As he told us, he was for four years the rapporteur on Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, trying in his characteristic way—as we heard in his intervention in the fourth Question preceding this debate—to encourage dialogue rather than conflict between the Russians and Chechens.
Most people in the West associate Chechens with the hostage-taking episodes of the Ostrava theatre in Moscow and the school in Beslan. These acts were inexcusable but it should be pointed out that the deaths in the theatre rescue were caused by the poison gas used by the Russians and that the Beslan rescue operation was handled violently when dialogue might have resulted in the release of some or all of the hostages. Both these operations were masterminded by the notorious Shamil Basayev and were strongly condemned by the late President Maskhadov, leader of the Chechen resistance, and his representative in exile, Akhmed Zakayev, who has given his opinion that Basayev has done more than the Russians to damage the Chechen cause.
My interest in this area comes from a somewhat hazardous unofficial visit to Chechnya with a small health charity in 1995 during the first of the two phases of the Russo-Chechen war. Our safety was guaranteed by General Maskhadov, in charge of the Chechen resistance. We stayed in the homes of ordinary Chechens behind the lines, although there were no established lines. My overall impression was of the generosity and resourcefulness of the Chechen people but also of the corruption, cruelty and unnecessarily destructive methods, particularly in Grozny, of the occupying Russian army. Some of the weapons used by the Chechens had been bought from hungry, underpaid Russian soldiers. We heard eye-witness accounts from former inmates of the so-called filtration camps of murder, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of arbitrarily arrested prisoners. Families often had to pay a ransom to receive the bodies of their murdered relatives.
Historically, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out, the North Caucasus has for nearly three centuries been a problem for Russia. The Chechens—only some 1 million—have been the most persistent of the Islamic North Caucasians in their resistance to Russian domination. The worst event in Chechen history came in 1944 when Stalin deported the whole population of Chechnya, Ingushetia and some neighbouring republics—except for those who hid in the forest—to faraway Kazakhstan and Siberia. They were packed into cattle trucks and some estimates say that about half of them died from starvation, privation and disease. As the noble Viscount said, Stalin’s reason for this was that the Chechens were planning to collaborate with the Germans when they reached the Caucasus—which of course they never did. When the deportation took place, they were in full retreat. After Stalin’s death, the survivors were allowed to make their own way back, to find that their land and houses were occupied and had to be bought back or taken by force. Even so, the Russians gave part of Ingushetia to North Ossetia—an act that caused lasting resentment.
This experience of deportation has left a searing folk memory. No family was unaffected. However, Chechens then showed themselves to be astute in business and some became quite well off. A minority resorted to shady Mafioso-style business, including kidnapping and extortion. This has been used by some Russians to blacken all Chechens. They and other North Caucasians have become Russia’s hate objects and are targeted and often beaten up by a racist, fascist youth cult that has recently grown up in Russia.
When the USSR disintegrated in 1991, the Chechens declared unilateral independence. Dzhokhar Dudayev, a Chechen general in the Soviet air force, was elected President in a free, fair election on an independence ticket. However, Chechnya’s independent status was not accepted by the Russian hierarchy. Later, President Yeltsin thought he would gain popularity, particularly with the military, if he regained Chechnya through “a short successful war” in 1994. It did not work out that way. After initially capturing Grozny with heavy losses, the Russians were humiliated by Maskhadov’s skilfully led guerrilla army, who recaptured the city. By then, in 1996, the war had become deeply unpopular in Russia and a peace treaty with Maskhadov was negotiated. In an internationally monitored election, Maskhadov was elected President in 1997 to replace Dudayev, who had been killed by a Russian missile.
There followed an anarchic period with some foreign aid workers, including two British Telecom workers, being murdered. The perpetrators were thought to be a militant Wahhabi Islamic sect from outside Chechnya, wishing to drive all foreigners out—they largely succeeded. Others blame the Russians and their attempt to destabilise Chechnya and give the Chechen Government a bad name.
As the noble Lord said, in 1999 the blowing up of apartment blocks in Moscow and Ryazan, which was blamed on Chechens without any evidence, and a Chechen incursion into Dagestan, which was not sanctioned by Maskhadov, were used by the then Prime Minister Putin to launch a full-scale military assault on Chechnya to assuage the humiliation of Russia’s earlier defeat. Grozny, already half destroyed, was further devastated, to leave the picture that my noble friend Lord Judd found. The Chechen forces were eventually reduced to guerrilla bands based in the mountains and forests. Maskhadov was traced and killed, as was Shamil Basayev, Chechnya’s enfant terrible. The Russians have now reduced their military presence, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out. The former Chechen resistance fighter, Ramzan Kadyrov, was installed as President by Putin. He now heads the repressive state described by my noble friend Lord Judd.
This time, the Russians have been generous in their support of Kadyrov’s regime as compared with the interwar years when they gave not a penny in reparation for the damage they had done. On the surface, as my noble friend said, Grozny has regained its former handsome status but the absence of the rule of law and arbitrary arrests and disappearances have still carried on, as revealed by several journalists and my noble friend’s human rights delegation.
Russia, as my noble friend said, has repeatedly been found guilty of human rights breaches by the European Court of Human Rights. Putin, however, tries to suppress this information, as indicated by the murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova. The perpetrators have still not been brought to justice. Murders have not been confined to Russia and Chechnya; in 2002, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was Maskhadov’s chosen successor as President, was murdered by Russian agents in Doha, in Qatar. The culprits were caught but released and congratulated when they returned to Russia. His successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, was killed in Chechnya. In 2009, a prominent Chechen activist was murdered in Vienna—and so the story goes on.
The most notorious overseas murder is, of course, the polonium poisoning of the former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, where the evidence clearly pointed to a Russian, Andrei Lugovoy, as the culprit. The Chechen connection is that Litvinenko was the co-author of a book called Blowing up Russia, which gave very plausible evidence that the Moscow apartment explosions of 1999 had been carried out by FSB agents and not by Chechens. He also accused Putin of being responsible for the death of Anna Politkovskaya at a public meeting just before he was poisoned.
The conflict has other international dimensions. It has been estimated that there are 150,000 Chechen refugees in the EU. I have personally assisted a number of Chechen asylum seekers in this country. Deaths in Chechnya are hard to measure accurately, but they are estimated to be between 80,000 and 100,000 out of a population of 1 million. My noble friend has always warned that the repressive methods used by the Russians and now Kadyrov will lead to the radicalisation of the Chechens, who normally practise a moderate form of Islam akin to Sufism. This has now happened, with Doku Umarov, who claims he is the true leader of the Chechens but is rejected by Akhmed Zakayev, calling for an emirate of the north Caucasus and a jihad against Russia, Israel and the West. To the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, I would say that what Kadyrov is doing in forcing an Islamic code on the Chechen people is very different from the widespread caliphate or emirate that Umarov is calling for. How seriously he is taken by the North Caucasians is open to question, but there is no doubt that there are frequent violent acts against Russian-appointed administrators and security forces in several North Caucasian states. That was described well by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. Umarov claims responsibility for the recent devastating suicide bombing at Domodedevo airport in Moscow.
What can we suggest that the Russians do who are faced with this situation? First, there should be greater economic investment and job creation in the area, which is extremely poor and has massive unemployment. There should be an amnesty for the remaining resistance fighters, an end to arbitrary arrests, a return to the rule of law and compensation for those whose homes have been destroyed. As soon as possible, there should be internationally supervised free elections. Then we might see an end to kidnapping and suicide bombing.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and to all those who have taken part in this debate. The noble Lord has returned to these issues very regularly, and the House should feel grateful for the fact that he has. He pressed the then Labour Government in March 2005—I remember the pressure—and has consistently done so since. He has reported today on the key role that he played in the Chechnya fact-finding mission of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, which he undertook with Jo Swinson MP in February 2010. It is noteworthy, I think, that all these efforts have consistently met with all-party support. It has been one of the better examples of recognition of a significant problem. I suspect that some of that all-party support has come about because of the depth of knowledge that the noble Lord is able to impart. I know that he has made 11 visits to Russia and Chechnya and is regarded very widely as having excelled in his four years as rapporteur for the Council of Europe. Very much of what he says is accurate and authoritative and should be treated as such.
To paraphrase some of the main conclusions, which have been shared by other noble Lords, the noble Lord has argued that the Government of Chechnya are very rarely held accountable for their actions, however dire they might be; that its institutions have neither the capacity nor the desire to hold anyone to account for those actions; and that the conduct of the Government under law is consistently poor and is undermined by a judiciary that lacks independence and is unable to protect witnesses, and therefore has at its heart a corrosive dynamic that makes the effective impact of the law so much less.
Security forces in effect enjoy impunity. Crimes are committed by them in an open and completely unashamed way. There is consistent evidence from very many reporters of torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. These crimes have allegedly been committed by people who have been named frequently in the European Court of Human Rights and the judgments of that court but who are after being named very much more likely to be promoted in the security services of Chechnya than ever to face any kind of justice whatever. My noble friend Lord Ahmed spoke powerfully on these points as well.
It is very clear, as reports have shown, that the Chechen President encourages the use of any means that deal with those he sees as his enemies. No enemy can escape the environment, which is essentially paranoid in its operation. It is quite right to look, as various noble Lords have encouraged us to do, at Chechnya and Russia together in this. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, made the point with great force that corruption with impunity is a characteristic of both, and there is a deep interpenetration of these facts. I support the noble Lord’s proposition. It would make no sense and would greatly encourage Russia to step back from taking a very clear and principled view about these activities, and I hope that the Government confirm today that that is the view they will take. I broadly agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, about the uneasy coalition between Russia and the nationalists in Chechnya, because it has created an environment of repression in its own right. I hope that I will not embarrass the noble Viscount in saying what a superb overview of the strategic conditions he provided for the House. I greatly appreciate that.
The fundamental conclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and many others come to, including the noble Lord, Lord Rea, is that tyranny generally generates militant extremism as a response. Secure and stable societies based on human rights are, of course, the antidote. It is clear that those who have put that point are far from alone. Leading academic investigators have reached similar conclusions over the years. For example, research at the Free University of Brussels shows that the concentration of power and the brutal exercise of that power by Kadyrov, often in concert with Russia in pursuit of his own material, political, economic and other interests, have produced a response that is itself dangerous to all of us.
That is, without question, a depressing picture. I suspect that those who say that they see more stability must be arguing that that is a relative state. Conflict and terrorism are still there and they are not conducive to stability. Rebuilding and growth have taken place, but they have done so in a grim way and in grim human rights conditions. That is one reason why I think that in our description of this we face a rather more complex picture than we sometimes draw. The UN Commission on Human Rights identified atrocities that have been committed on all sides in the Chechen conflict, a point that I recall was made eloquently in 2005 by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. The pursuit of greater autonomy has been conducted with considerable brutality in its own right, not least in acts of appalling terror against Russian civilians, against schoolchildren at Beslan, against commuters in the attacks on the trains and the metro, and recently, I note sadly, in some of the conflict that is emerging even around events that should be social and enjoyable, like football matches, where groups of neo-Nazi thugs are now attacking each other. I say with the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Rea that on occasion the Russian authorities might well have dealt with situations—the siege of the theatre and other things—with responses that might not have been the most sophisticated that they could have produced, but they did not instigate the attack on the schoolchildren. That is what we should ensure we condemn.
My Lords, I acknowledge that. I suppose I am trying to make the point that responses to terrorist acts can sometimes be badly planned, misjudged and so on, but they occur in the context of the terrorist attack having taken place. The response overall has been pretty brutal and, in the minds of the Russians, has been seen as directed towards them by forms of extremism, and by al-Qaeda in particular. That is what they have used to justify their actions.
However bleak the situation, the need for further discussions is clear, as many noble Lords have said. The need to abide by international legal decisions of the European Court of Human Rights against Russia in the human rights abuse cases is equally clear. The Government could tell us today how they are pursuing these objectives with Russia to ensure that it meets its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. Will they sustain their position, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, asked, on NATO and its Parliament?
I turn to the wider region. I welcome the general style of the approach that has been taken by this Government, and indeed by the previous one, to regional crises. The ethos is well set out in a response to your Lordships’ European Union Committee report on the EU and Russia following the crisis in Georgia. It is a good model for how to deal with many of these issues, and it is important because it shows that however difficult and modest the achievements were in intervening—to try to achieve, first, a ceasefire in Georgia and then, with much delay, partial withdrawals from Georgian territory, except in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were followed by all-party talks—we saw that initiatives can, on occasion, bear at least a little fruit.
Both North Caucasus and South Caucasus are of great strategic significance. Both provide bridges between Europe and Asia. The region is in the midst of huge transitions of populations and resources, and I suspect that the consequences have been that that has given rise to many of the ethnic and interstate conflicts, some of those conflicts becoming full-scale wars. The region is important for its natural resources and as an important intersection of energy supply systems. Both the north and the south are central to Eurasia’s energy and transport corridors, hence the strategic importance of what the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said. The issues that must arise about the management of resources, their fair distribution and the way in which the income yield gets passed to the populations of those countries rather than being held exclusively by small elites are vital. Environmental issues are vital. The pollution issues from the ageing industries of those areas are vital. In some cases, uncontrolled urban growth becomes an acute issue. Collapsing irrigation systems—all of them—call for attention. I am interested to know how the Government believe some of this could be done.
We cannot intervene everywhere and I am not advocating that we should try, but there might be some lessons to learn, at least from the efforts made by one of the near neighbours of the regions. I am referring to Turkey. Turkish policy is focused on intensive efforts to foster regional co-operation—understandably, given its location, both in the southern Caucasus and more generally. It has promoted economically independent projects, some of which have huge potential, including in the northern Caucasus. Turkey’s speed off the mark in supporting independence and recognising emerging nations might have pre-empted some of the decisions that people in the region might have taken for themselves about geographical borders. All in all, though, active economic and state-building approaches appear more likely to have some success than a constant lament, however justifiable, about how bad things are in the region. Do the Government intend to engage more with Turkey, either through the EU or directly, on exploring some of the practical programmes that can be developed in this region and which might be an adjunct to peace?
As I said, we cannot do everything everywhere; were we to try, we would certainly fail. We might, however, have other partners with whom we could engage more vigorously. Have the Government themselves identified partners in these circumstances? What do they think of the programmes of some of those potential partners?
I ask these questions fully aware of the complexity of the region and of the issues that we face, which were introduced so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and debated so ably in this Chamber. I am eager to learn how the Government believe they can assist in fostering peace in the region and in seeing the peace that has been achieved in southern and eastern Europe over the past couple of decades extended further south and east for the greater security of us all.
My Lords, this has been a worthwhile debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for securing it. The Council of Europe Assembly and indeed the NATO Assembly play a valuable role in discussing a range of sensitive regional and international issues. I have often felt that Members of both Houses who take part in those assemblies do not always succeed in bringing back to Westminster some of the useful consultations and investigations that they have had there, so I welcome this report. The Council of Europe plays a part in a range of activities, as has the noble Lord himself over the years.
When I first joined this House, I rapidly became aware of how many Members of it are expert on some of the most troublesome regions of the world. Shortly after I joined this House, working for the Open Society foundation, I went to Yerevan and was told in a hushed voice by the key lady on the corridor of my hotel that I was staying in the same room that Caroline Cox had stayed in only some months before. Some years later I went to Sukhumi with Anna Politkovskaya and others, thinking that I had reached one of the most God-forsaken and abandoned places in the world. As we left, the Foreign Minister said to me, “By the way, would you please give my best regards to Lord Avebury?”. I am aware that there are Members of this House, of which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is one of the most determined, who have spent a great deal of time making sure that we do not ignore conflicts that it is very easy to ignore.
We all recognise that what is happening in the north Caucasus—indeed, across the whole of the Caucasus—is very easy to neglect when so much is happening across the Middle East and when the situations in Afghanistan, across southern Asia and in the Persian Gulf are also extremely complex and active. However, we need to be reminded that what is happening in the north Caucasus is a problem that may well spill over across the region. It was quite right that we talked in this debate not just about Chechnya but also about the north and southern Caucasus. These all spill over.
Much of the population of southern Ossetia fled, in the course of the conflicts of the early 1990s, to northern Ossetia. South Ossetia is now an almost uninhabited territory. Some of us remember that, when the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia broke out in 1991, some of those fighting for an independent Abkhazia came from Chechnya and went back to fight for an independent Chechnya afterwards. These things have unavoidable links. Georgia has a long frontier with Dagestan and Chechnya. There have been and continue to be accusations from the Russians that the Georgian Government have been assisting in supporting rebels to the north. Perhaps unwisely, the Georgian Government have now developed a number of services which broadcast to the north Caucasus. So there is an unavoidable overlap between local conflict and the wider region.
Mention has also been made of the Sochi Olympics, coming up in 2014, which, as a number of diaspora groups remind us, will be the 150th anniversary of the final suppression of the Circassians in the north Caucasus. The Circassians’ descendants spread out across what was then the Ottoman Empire, and are now in Libya, Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere. There are various threats—how credible they are we do not know—that efforts will be made to interrupt and obstruct the Sochi Olympics. That, again, would be a matter of concern to all those who propose to send national teams there. As Members have mentioned, we have seen bombings in Moscow and St Petersburg, claimed to have been conducted by people from Chechnya and Dagestan. So this is not purely a local conflict. It spills over.
We recognise that the layers of bitterness and historical conflict—stretching back to 1989-1991 and, before that, as noble Lords have mentioned, to the Second World War and beyond to the tsarist conquest of the north Caucasus in the 19th century—are all part of what we now have to address. I am glad that Her Majesty’s Government have issued an invitation to Alexander Khloponin, the federally appointed administrator for the north Caucasus, to visit the United Kingdom and, in particular, Northern Ireland, to discuss how to attempt to come to terms with and overcome conflicts with deep historical roots and layers of grievance on both sides. That invitation has not yet been accepted, but it is still very much open.
We are also conscious that the demographic change across the north Caucasus, with substantial emigration of ethnic Russians and a rising population of many of these local groups, also raises major issues. I read something yesterday which talked about mounting resistance in Dagestan. There have been a number of explosions at ski resorts and at a power station in Kabardino-Balkaria, so, again, this is not purely a local issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, talked a little about the role of Islam in the area. From all that I have read, this is a difficult area to get a grip on. A Caucasus emirate has been announced which operates to bring together rebel groups in the largely, but not entirely, Muslim republics of the north Caucasus. How much influence that has, and what links it has with groups outside Russia, we are not entirely sure. Claims are made. There has clearly been some external support and fighters over the past 20 years. So far as we can see, however, these are local grievances. It is a local conflict, exacerbated by the violence used by the local security forces, which often drives young men into the forests to join the resistance and then use Islam as part of the rationale for their violence. We must all be aware that the use of Islam can easily become part of a more radical internationalist link.
The potential spillover concerns us a great deal. The Foreign Secretary has made clear on several occasions in discussions with the Russians that, for us, supporting the rule of law and protecting human rights are essential and indivisible from our national foreign policy objectives. These values are part of our national DNA. Discussing them frankly and seeking constructive ways in which to co-operate with the Russian authorities in addressing the challenges they face is an integral part of our bilateral relationship.
Some noble Lords may ask what our leverage over the Russians in this is if we are not prepared to intervene. Certainly, one area of leverage is that the Russian elite wants Russia to be accepted as a great power, as a civilised power and as a European state. Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and of the OSCE. Therefore, our ability to say, “You are not living up to civilised standards. You are not living up to European standards,” continues to have some leverage. There is some evidence that the elite in Moscow is now rather unsettled by what is happening across the Middle East. Its preferred model of an authoritarian modernising state is unsettled by the appearance that the Egyptians, Libyans and others prefer a rather more open society than many in Moscow want. The Foreign Secretary continues to raise human rights and rule-of-law issues, including those in the north Caucasus. We are the only Government in the EU to have a formal Government-to-Government human rights dialogue with Russia. Within that, early this year as well as last year, we talked as much about what is happening in the north Caucasus as about other issues.
On my personal view, having spent some time with Anna Politkovskaya in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and having had long conversations with her about the insecurity of being a journalist in Russia, I feel particularly passionate about the extent to which journalists and civil rights activists, not just in the north Caucasus but across the whole of Russia, are taking their lives in their hands as they now operate. I am happy to say that the Russians repealed the most draconian of their controlling civil society organisations laws last year, and it is possible for foreign Governments to provide support for NGOs. Her Majesty’s Government are providing support for a number of NGOs inside Russia, including Memorial, which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has mentioned. We are doing whatever we can to support the strengthening of civil society in the whole of the Russian Federation.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, asked whether we have others with us. We have some evidence that other NATO members are prepared to soften their approach to Russia. I am happy that the German Government are providing as much assistance as they can to civil society groups in Russia. Nordic Governments are actively concerned with strengthening civil society. As I look around the Chamber, I see the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who I know has been engaged over the years in helping independent academic and other institutions in Moscow.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that if we are looking for partners, the Turks are very useful partners in the Caucasus. The Turkish Government, as the noble Lord will recall, have made considerable efforts to bring Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan together. Turkey has legitimate concerns. The coalition Government regard Turkey as one of our most important international partners for this and for many other reasons.
Noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, raised the question of Georgia. We are doing our best to assist the Georgian Government in the frozen conflicts. We face many obstacles, sometimes from the Georgian Government themselves, and often from the Russian Government, which has blocked the EU monitoring mission from playing the role that it would like to play in these conflicts. The UK continues to offer its strong political support to the EU monitoring mission. We bitterly regret Russia’s decision to veto the continuation of the UN mission in Georgia in June 2009. We also regret that Russia continues to block consensus on an OSCE mission similar to that which existed prior to June 2009. Russia is a member of the OSCE and a member of the UN. Effective international monitoring of what is happening on these contested borders is itself a confidence-building measure, and is therefore strongly to be supported.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked several questions. I hope I have answered most of them positively. He made the comparison with Northern Ireland. Are we willing to push the Russians to change course away from a military security solution? Yes, absolutely—that is what we are doing. That is partly why we suggest that our sometimes bitter experience in some of our own domestic and colonial conflicts may be of relevance to the Russians as they face a not entirely dissimilar situation. Are we using our muscle with Russia in the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers? We certainly are. The whole question of the European Court of Human Rights is now very much on the agenda under the Turkish presidency of the Council of Europe.
Does our embassy in Russia help NGOs? Yes, we are working to support NGOs and to strengthen civil society. Are we helping Chechens at risk? Yes indeed—we are doing what we can. Several Chechens have been offered asylum in Britain and elsewhere in the European Union. We are willing to offer whatever assistance we can to provide a solution, but that requires our Russian partners to be willing to accept assistance, which is not always entirely easy.
The report on human rights from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in June 2010 called the situation in the north Caucasus,
“the most serious situation in the entire geographical area encompassed by the Council of Europe in terms of human rights protection and the affirmation of the rule of law”.
The Government agree with this assessment. Although the UK-Russia bilateral relationship has been a complicated story in recent years, human rights issues have never been ignored. We continue to press them, as did the previous Government, even though one sometimes gets a stony reception. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, may remember a wonderful and very stormy confrontation that some of us, as a delegation, had with the Russian Parliament’s Committee of Foreign Affairs some years ago on this exact issue. I assure the House that this will continue to be the case. I emphasise that this is not just a question for the Government but something that many of us who are involved in relations with Russia engage in inside and outside government.
The Government take the situation in the north Caucasus extremely seriously, on both human rights and international security grounds. Indeed, our foreign policy recognises the deep link between the two issues. Where human rights violations go unchecked, our security and international security also suffer. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for the opportunity he has given us to pay attention to Chechnya and the north and south Caucasus today.
My Lords, I thank most warmly all those who have participated in today’s debate. I know some have made considerable efforts to be here. That is all the more appreciated; I understand that there are a lot of pulls in other directions today. On that, as we have the opportunity across the United Kingdom, in various elections, to participate in a fully democratic system, the people we have been talking about in the Caucasus would give their right arms to begin to have that same opportunity and sense of genuine freedom. If we have any sense of solidarity with people across the world, this brings home the importance of the debate today.
I realise that it is not the practice in such debates to reply in full. Although we have a little time, I will not be tempted down that road. In particular, I thank the Minister for his positive response to my specific points. I have been in government. I know that while you can have an intellectual and moral commitment to do certain things, it is not always possible to follow them through in practice as strongly as the aspiration perhaps suggests. My noble friend Lord Triesman encouraged us to be positive. I would simply say that the Government should feel that they would have all possible support from across the House in making my noble friend’s points a substantial reality, so that when we make representations to the Russians, they are not formal representations but representations made with conviction, strength and determination.
If I take anything away from this debate, it is, first, the depth of specialised knowledge that exists in this House. I know that we are prone to a bit of self-congratulation in the House of Lords, but that is not a bad thing. It has been great to hear that specialised knowledge being contributed to this debate. I have learnt a lot and listened with great attention.
The second thing that has been brought home to me by the debate—I agree with my noble friend Lord Triesman—is that we must try to be positive and look to the positive things that are happening. However, as I am sure he will be the first to agree, events in the Middle East and the southern Mediterranean, to which the Minister referred, bring home dramatically that all this can turn into a pretty fragile reality with dire consequences unless the foundations of societies are right. You cannot build a sustainable, decent society on rotten foundations. Therefore, it is absolutely essential first to put right freedom, justice and human rights. Then you will have a secure society in which economic and social development in every form can effectively take place and be sustained.
That brings me to the third point that I shall take away strongly from this debate—a point that re-emphasises a conviction that I already have, which is no bad thing. We must all snap out of this tendency to think of human rights as a sort of qualitative extra in society: “There is the real stuff of politics and security, and then there are human rights”. We must not forget them and must bring them on board. If I have learnt anything in 33 years in Parliament—but in some ways even more from my professional work outside Parliament, in Oxfam and elsewhere—it is that human rights are an absolute, essential cornerstone of effective security. They are not an optional extra but a cornerstone of stability and sustainability in any form of society. That point has come across very strongly in the debate, for which I am glad.
The final point that I take away—this is not unique to the Caucasus but applies to so many of the other issues that confront us—is that as we look for solutions, we must learn to forgo the temptation externally to manage the situation. Peace cannot be imposed, it has to built, and it is a painstaking process. Peace has to be built by the people who are the parties to the conflict if it is to be a secure and lasting peace. If we want to talk to our Russian friends about anything, it should be that. I do not use the word “friend” lightly, because I want Russia to be our friend. I do not believe that we can successfully approach the future of the global community, highly interdependent as it is, unless we work closely with the Russians. Therefore, we should forcefully bring home to them our own analysis of the situation as we see it, but with the purpose of strengthening our friendship and collaboration with Russia. That should be the objective. However, the reality is that we can do it only if we talk honestly. I happen to believe—I have come to this conclusion after some years of direct experience—that the Russians do not put up with bullshit. They listen when you are talking sincerely, earnestly and toughly. That is what I believe we should do as good friends. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
My Lords, I begin by saying how sorry I am that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, will be answering the debate. I say that not because I am sorry to see the noble Lord, but because the noble Lord, Lord Freud, cannot be here as planned because he has been involved in a motoring accident and has had to be taken to hospital. However, I am happy to say that he is all right and, I believe, will soon be back with us. I am sure that I speak for everybody when I say that we send him our very best wishes for a speedy return to the House.
I thank all noble Lords who have put their names down to speak. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords when I say that I am particularly looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, very much wanted to be here, but he has asked me to say how sorry he is that he cannot be present owing to a long-standing commitment elsewhere. It is indeed an irony that, in the 40th anniversary year of the coming into force of his historic Act, we should be discussing the possible rolling back of so many of the gains for disabled people that it set in train.
It is a cliché that the civilisation of a society is measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. That is a test that the Government certainly acknowledge, as they have made many statements to the effect that they intend to introduce their austerity measures in such a way as to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected. However, there is a real risk that the Government are failing their own test, for next Wednesday we will see the largest ever lobby of Parliament by disabled people—more than 10,000 of them, angry at the prospect that, far from being protected, they are being hardest hit of all by the Government’s measures. They are angry and fearful. There is a sense that Ministers are not listening, so I hope that they will see today’s debate as a welcome opportunity to improve the dialogue.
The coalition’s programme for government states that the Government will ensure that,
“fairness is at the heart”
of decision-making so that,
“those most in need are protected”.
Let us look at the baseline from which such a pledge should be judged. In fact, the link between disability and poverty through lower incomes and higher costs is well established. On almost any indicator of poverty or disadvantage, disabled people are significantly overrepresented, with research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the New Policy Institute finding that disabled people are around twice as likely to live in relative poverty as non-disabled people. Disabled people are also more likely to rely on state benefits as a significant source of their income and face extra costs directly related to their impairment, such as increased fuel bills, medical costs or a contribution to the cost of their social care. Official poverty figures do not take account of these additional costs. However, if they were factored in, they would suggest that well over half of disabled people in the United Kingdom live below the poverty line.
The impression is often given that the welfare budget is out of control as a result of unfounded claims of sickness and disability, but in reality the greater part of the growth in the welfare bill seen in the past 10 years has been on pensions as a result of demographic factors, families with children and low-income workers. Sir Bert Massie, former chair of the Disability Rights Commission, has also referred to the rhetoric around welfare, which paints disabled people as welfare cheats. In fact, most of the stories in the press about disabled scroungers are not about disabled people at all but are about non-disabled people pretending to be disabled.
The Government’s flagship policy for addressing the poverty of disabled people is their programme to get disabled people off welfare and into work. This aspiration, in particular the simplification of welfare through the universal credit, is welcome. As always, however, the devil is in the detail. The Welfare Reform Bill currently makes no provision within the universal credit for the enhanced disability premium or severe disability premium, worth £13.65 and £53.65 a week respectively for a single person. Without these premiums thousands of disabled people with the greatest needs will be left without the support they need to meet the extra costs of disability. Nor do we know whether the system of disregards will replicate the disability element of working tax credit or enable couples who both have an impairment to retain its equivalent to which they have each been entitled individually up to now. Can the Minister assure us that the move to universal credit will not have these untoward and no doubt unintended but certainly self-defeating consequences? However, the development of the universal credit is going in broadly the right direction. The same cannot be said of the Government’s other measures designed to support their welfare to work agenda.
I say at the outset that the agenda remains correct. Disabled people want to work and do not want to be written off on welfare. We had a debate in the RNIB—here I declare my interest both as a vice-president and a disabled person—about whether we wanted to hang on to incapacity benefit and we came down firmly against sending a signal that blind people were not able to work. However, we said that conditionality applied as much to government as to disabled people. If disabled people were to be expected to undertake work-related activity to get them close to the labour market and ideally into work, they should be entitled to expect that there will be a job at the end of the road and that the Government will be held to account for providing the necessary support while they got there and for removing the barriers to the employment of disabled people.
The Government have a massive programme to reassess more than 1.5 million people on incapacity benefit by 2013 to see whether they qualify for employment and support allowance. However, the assessment process is deeply flawed. Forty per cent of appeals are successful, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with Atos Healthcare, the company carrying out the assessments. There are also serious concerns with the way that the process is being handled. The descriptors in the work capability assessment have been repeatedly revised over recent years so as to raise the bar for claimants. Further changes are now being rushed through before Professor Harrington has concluded the all-important second stage of his review, against the advice of the Social Security Advisory Committee. In particular, the committee felt that the work capability assessment measured theoretical work capability and took insufficient account of the realities of the work environment and the labour market, which has not enabled significant numbers to move into employment, even in relatively favourable pre-recession conditions. Some 92 per cent of employers say that they would find it difficult or impossible to employ someone who is blind or partially sighted, for instance. Now we learn that increasing numbers of disabled people are experiencing rigorous reassessments of their access-to-work support packages, which is hardly going to ameliorate the situation.
The vast majority of incapacity benefit claimants have been on benefit for at least five years, which puts them a very long way indeed from the labour market. Yet, following the changes to the work capability assessment, the Government estimate that around a quarter of these claimants will fail to qualify for ESA, which will mean that they have to make a claim for jobseeker’s allowance or some other benefit or lose their benefit altogether. Can the Minister say what support will be available for disabled people who fail the work capability assessment but nevertheless face significant barriers in finding work?
Even if you qualify for ESA—employment and support allowance—you may be no better off, because anyone receiving contributory ESA from next April who is in the work-related activity group will have payment of their benefit means tested after 12 months. This change is to be made retrospective. People will still be able to apply for income-related ESA after their contributory ESA ends, but if their partner is earning as little as £150 or working 24 hours or more a week, they will no longer be eligible for ESA. These are particularly savage policies going far beyond anything contemplated in the Thatcher era. They will cause great hardship and have a devastating effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people. It is estimated that by 2015-16, 700,000 people will be affected by limiting contributory ESA to one year: 203,000 will lose on average £11 a week; 217,000 will lose £22 a week; and 280,000, a good 40 per cent, will lose as much as £89 a week. To people forced to live on benefit, these figures are mind-boggling.
Disabled people see this as a betrayal of the citizen by the state. People have paid in through tax and national insurance contributions in the belief that if they became sick or disabled the benefits system would support them as they came to terms with their impairment, retrained and moved towards work again. The Minister may say that disabled people with a partner in work or with savings of more than £16,000 have other means of support and should use them, as people on contributory JSA have to after only six months. However, this totally fails to appreciate the difference between someone who is work-ready on JSA and a disabled person who may need some years of support to enter work. Most important of all, there simply are not the jobs to enable someone on ESA to get a job within 12 months. The number of long-term unemployed far outstrips the number of job vacancies. DWP figures show that only 13 per cent of people on the Pathways to Work programme in 2008-09 returned to work within one year. How is one to account for this, other than in terms of coalition heartlessness—picking on disabled people, to cut the deficit, by returning us to the hard-faced days of the means test? That is certainly how it is seen by those marching next Wednesday and engaging the week after in a week of action against Atos Healthcare.
I prefer to think of it differently. I know the Minister; he is not a hard man. I believe that he genuinely wants to reform a welfare system that has kept disabled people in a state of dependency and out of work for too long, by making it pay to be in work. However, Ministers have become mesmerised by this rhetoric to the point where they fail to see the consequences of the policies they are pursuing. Making work pay is not the same as seeing to it that it does not pay to be out of work. Using the threat of loss of benefit in an attempt to force people who are not work-ready to work, or for whom there is no work, is plain sadistic.
The Government should freeze their plans to migrate more than a million and a half incapacity benefit claimants on to ESA from April this year until they can implement the recommendations of the Harrington review, and they should reconsider their approach to contributory ESA. At the very least, I ask the Minister to undertake—as the noble Lord, Lord Freud, did recently with respect to the changes to housing benefit—to carry out a review of what happens to people who are found to be fit for work and therefore unable to claim ESA.
I have concentrated on welfare to work because it is the Government’s flagship policy and represents their strategic approach to dealing with the poverty of disabled people. However, there is more—much, much more—that I can only touch on, and I leave it to others to say more on those points if they wish to.
Expenditure on disability living allowance, which helps people with the extra costs that disability brings, is to be cut by a fifth. The Government have said that they will review the withdrawal of the mobility component from state-funded claimants living in residential care, which was planned to take effect in 2012 and has caused particular anger. However, Clause 83 of the Welfare Reform Bill still denies entitlement to personal independence payment for anyone living in a care home, and the impact assessment suggests that 78,000 disabled people will still lose out. Closure of the Independent Living Fund will hit some of the most severely disabled.
Most astonishingly of all, the Government have recently included the entire Equality Act that we passed in this House just last year within their red tape challenge, which invites members of the public to comment on regulations with a view to their being simplified or scrapped. Not surprisingly, this has caused huge concern among disabled people; if carried through, it would sweep away at a stroke all the provisions that flow from the Disability Discrimination Act, which has been such a potent vehicle for protecting and advancing the interests of disabled people. I invite the Minister to disavow any such intention on the part of the Government.
As support from central government is withdrawn, so it is from local government. This represents a double whammy. Eighty per cent of councils in England expect by the end of this financial year to help only disabled people whose needs are assessed as being critical, substantial or—in the case of Birmingham City Council—super-critical. “Critical” effectively means life-threatening. How is one to account for this except in terms of crude cost-cutting? Time-limiting contributory ESA will save £2 billion, and DLA a further £2.17 billion. The disability contribution, as we might call it, to reducing the deficit is therefore larger than that sought from the banks through the banking levy, which is to be only £2.5 billion. This therefore represents a clear choice on the part of the Government to go for welfare rather than the parts of the economy that caused the problem in the first place. It is a clear choice, but is it fair and is it necessary?
When we were in a much worse position at the end of the Second World War, we were able to found the National Health Service and introduce a Disabled Persons (Employment) Act. We have to ask, have our Government got their priorities right?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, for initiating this debate. I want to make a brief contribution. Unlike most of today’s speakers, many of whom have a distinguished record in this field, I am afraid that I have no special knowledge or personal experience of disability. As a trade union leader, however, I had responsibility over many years for representing members with disabilities, and I have always taken a serious interest in these issues—in particular, in the employment prospects of those with disabilities.
In the process of some work I was doing recently as a member of the scrutiny panel of the Sayce review of the employment of people with disabilities, I was reminded of the contribution made to the working lives of the disabled by an organisation that we all recognise by the name of Remploy. As noble Lords will know, it is a provider of specialist employment services focused on people with disabilities and health conditions who are furthest from the job market. Most of us will probably relate to Remploy through knowledge of its 54 factories, which I will briefly mention later, but may be less aware of the first-class employment service provided by Remploy, which helps those with disabilities to find work. It has an excellent record and had an outstanding year in 2010. The Remploy employment service was successful in finding more than 10,000 jobs in mainstream employment for disabled people and those experiencing complex barriers to work. That represents an increase of almost 40 per cent on the previous year. I hope that the Minister will join me in congratulating Remploy on that achievement.
There have also been considerable achievements in Remploy’s enterprise businesses. As well as providing employment for 2,800 disabled people in 54 factories, its business also supported an additional 600 people with barriers to employment with training programmes in its factories to prepare them for the world of work. The frontline Remploy business in 2010 secured and delivered an important £15 million contract from the Home Office to supply more than 20,000 specialist protection suits to 53 police forces in England, Wales and Scotland. That is just the sort of work that Remploy workers need to enjoy the satisfaction and dignity of contributing to our economic well-being.
Unfortunately, however, the recession and the government policy of cutting back public expenditure have had serious effects on Remploy’s order books in 2011, resulting in a lack of activity in the factories, with some having few or no new orders. I know that the previous Government and their Ministers supported the business and fully recognised its difficulties in times of recession. I should very much like to hear that Ministers in the present Government share that view, that there is no change in that position and that everything will be done to help the Remploy factories to be successful.
I know that there is a modernisation plan which covers the first two years of the spending review, which I understand will not be impacted. I believe that the Government have given that commitment, and I am very pleased about that. However, we need a way forward which secures job opportunities and meaningful work for people with disabilities, not just in the Remploy situation but across the whole of the economy. Again, I should like to know that the Minister shares that view and that his Government are committed to that aim.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for introducing the debate and look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Fellowes, who is two down the list from me.
This debate has taken on a tone to which all those on the government Benches must listen carefully. People are very worried at the moment. Probably the most inept thing we have heard is that the Equality Act is regarded as red tape. I do not know whether I would support it if I were told that it was red tape. Let us put it this way, I would have to be convinced that it was either that or killing the firstborn. A good few of my colleagues would be with me on that one. The Government must explain that more clearly. Most of what has been done all around this House for a long time has been working towards one solid body of law which allows us to defend the rights of minorities. I do not know who described it as red tape, but whoever it is should be made to come to explain to us why. It will lead to fear. Fear does not lead to rational debate.
The continuity of approach should be recognised. The previous Government worked hard to try to get the disabled into work. They tried initiatives; they pumped money in; but they had limited success. The implementation of that policy proved to be difficult. The interface between those we were trying to help and the government machine proved extremely difficult to manage. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who is not taking part in this debate, demonstrated a continuity of approach at Question Time today on the matter of pensions. In this area there is a degree of continuity of thought. The previous Government said that they would train people to do undertake the interviews: the one-stop shop. That was a good idea. They said that people would get hours and hours more help. I said, “Will you train them sufficiently to know when they should back down and bring in an expert?”. “We’ll get more training”, they said. Unless we get people sufficiently trained, with authority to bring in the expert, when they are dealing with people with very individual, complicated needs, there will be mistakes. The real problem is making mistakes and missing the target. Unless we can address that in more depth, we will continue to make mistakes. Giving people unnecessary problems leads to costs further down the line. That is a well-known fact. If we do not pick it up here, we pick it up in the health service.
With that in mind, I turn to something which I can thank Ministers for addressing. Let us say that it was a Treasury Bench cock-up, which started under the previous Government, reached a peak under this Government and has been dealt with by them. The National Apprenticeship Service was convinced that dyslexics should not be able to take apprenticeships because they could not pass part of the communication test, which was a written test. Both current government parties raised that in opposition and got what we thought were assurances. I then discovered, through casework which I occasionally found myself doing, that people were being denied, which was in direct contradiction of the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act before it. Somebody thought, perhaps, “We’re business. We’re different. We’re applying for business services”, and so the Act did not apply to them.
Dyslexics are allowed to take degrees, by the way. I must declare an interest here. I am chairman of a company that provides computer software and support to allow people to use voice-to-text and text-to-voice technology. That is fairly old technology, but it is improving. It is being polished. We have been doing that for years. They can do that, but people who work practically with their hands outside, where literacy problems should be less of a burden, were being excluded. The noble Lord, Lord Low, led the charge, not particularly on the part of dyslexics but on that of others in the field. He got there in front of me. I am getting used to the view of the back of the noble Lord’s head as he charges into these fields. We intervened. John Hayes, who is a Minister in a different department from the one that the noble Lord usually deals with, said to me in a meeting on Tuesday, “This is ridiculous. Let’s sort it out”. I cleared with him that I could say that today.
This matter cuts across all departments and we must get into it as a government-wide project. Unless we do, we will make problems worse. We must make sure we target access across government. We must make sure that Parliament is vigilant and that the legislation we pass is implemented. There is enough legislation now. After years of trying, we have done enough. We have to get into the system and say, “You are not an exception. The defence of reasonableness does not mean that you can say it is inconvenient for you to implement the legislation. You have to do it as a duty”.
Any change leads to fear. The Government have a duty to make sure that people have a degree of confidence that overall the change will be for the better. If we do not do that, no matter what we do, we will fail to achieve at the right level. That has probably been true for a long time for all government initiatives. We have to be prepared to explain what effort, time and indeed even money, even in these circumstances, are being expended to get the best out of these changes. If we do not do that, we will end up with more ridiculous situations like the one that I have just described, where people are worried about going through processes because they are unable to get from them the necessary rewards, and we will end up going nowhere.
All of us in this House and in another place have a duty to honour the undertakings that we have made. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure me that the red tape idea will not filter down and affect the basic laws that we have passed to protect the disabled.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for securing this debate. As always, his timing is impeccable. Today, I shall confine my remarks to independent living. I was thinking, “Goodness, I’ve got to declare my interests”, but, to be honest, as my entire contribution reflects both a professional and personal interest, I should like all noble Lords to take it as read that I have a big declared interest in this area.
Over the past 40 years, successive government policies have liberated disabled people by increasing the choice and control that we have over our lives. We call this independent living. It is not simply about being helped to get up, to go to bed and to get out of the front door; it is about getting the support needed to access all life’s opportunities, such as work, leisure and family life—in fact, all the things that non-disabled people take for granted.
All Governments have stated their desire to maximise disabled people’s choice and control, and they have clearly recognised that by introducing policies and legislation to realise that goal. The Community Care (Direct Payments) Act, the Independent Living Fund and the Government’s strategy, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, are but a few notable achievements. Most importantly, Governments have provided the money necessary to put them into practice, and that, as we have seen over the past decade, has generated cost savings.
Disabled people are now visible. We witness them working, raising families, supporting others through volunteering, and even securing debates and speaking in this Chamber. Alas, this progress is possibly now at risk. When this coalition Government came to power, they rightly needed to spend wisely and to cut wherever possible, but their treatment so far of essential independent living support for disabled people has become alarmingly unwise and potentially even dangerous. I can point to three policies that are having a cumulative effect of putting independent living at risk and of turning back the clock on this Government’s past brilliant reforms regarding independent living.
The first is the refusal to ring-fence any of the additional £2 billion of social care money made available to local authorities directly to support independent living for disabled people. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services estimates that local authorities have cut £1 billion from the social care budget before we even begin. A quarter of these cuts are going to be to front-line services for older and disabled people. The second is the decision to close the Independent Living Fund without local authorities being in a position to replace it, as was the position before. The fund is already closed to new applicants, denying disabled people entering adulthood the same opportunities that their older peers enjoy. Thirdly, the Government say that they intend to reduce the disability living allowance budget by 20 per cent, representing a cut of £2.17 billion for working-age adults.
These policy decisions do not just turn back the clock on independent living; I think that they could take us back to the 1970s or even the 1960s, when basic needs, such as living safely in one’s home, eating and drinking, and using the toilet when you needed to, let alone when you wanted to, were not properly met. I should like to give noble Lords one very clear example.
At this point, Baroness Wilkins continued the speech for Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.
Elaine McDonald is a retired prima ballerina who became severely disabled. She received night-time assistance with visiting the toilet. However, her local council says that it can no longer afford to provide this assistance and says that she must now sleep on incontinence pads. She unsuccessfully appealed the decision and is taking her case to the Supreme Court. Why must she be forced to go through all this? Would any of your Lordships consider it reasonable to be required to lie in their own urine and faeces? The Human Rights Act includes the right not to be subjected to degrading treatment. Slopping out in our prisons was outlawed as a result. Does Elaine McDonald have fewer rights because she is a disabled woman?
That example is not unique. Government policies mean that this country is failing in its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 19 of that convention recognises the equal right of all disabled people to,
“live in the community, with choices equal to others”.
It requires that states take “effective and appropriate measures” to ensure that disabled people fully access the right to,
“full inclusion and participation in the community”.
Social care services make human rights possible. Cutting services means that a person with a communication impairment may be denied freedom of expression because they are refused the equipment and assistance that they need to communicate. Someone with a mobility impairment may be denied the equipment and assistance needed to leave the house. Elaine McDonald will be denied basic human dignity and be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.
Independent living, which is what Article 19 is about, is what makes us human. It is about our rights to autonomy, to self-determination and to make the most basic, as well as the most important, choices about our lives. All political parties recognise the importance of that and supported the five-year independent living strategy. This committed the Government to taking action to ensure that,
“All disabled people will have the same choice, control and freedom as every other citizen”.
At this point, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton resumed.
Can the Minister please explain how current government policies are compatible with that aim?
Of course, these government policies do not only harm disabled people; they also damage carers, 80 per cent of whom are women who are left to pick up the pieces. Denying support to disabled people equally means denying support to carers, as well as denying them their independence.
To help us to understand the thinking behind the Government’s strategy for independent living for disabled people, we need to know what independent living impact assessments were conducted before the policy decisions were taken to close the Independent Living Fund and to cut 20 per cent from the DLA budget. Will the Minister please make these available to us in the Library? He will undoubtedly tell us that making personalised independent living support a reality has been adequately funded and that it is up to local authorities to spend wisely. That will not do. It suits the Government and local authorities to blame each other and disabled people are left in the middle. Who do we believe? Disabled people are caught up in this ping-pong match and have no avenue other than to go to court to challenge decisions. We know that that is an impossible route for 99 per cent of disabled people.
Our support should be ring-fenced, not left to localism to get it right. These are our human rights. Will the Minister give his personal commitment to ring-fence money for independent living support at a local level? I know that this Government’s policy of localism is often seen to be at odds with ring-fencing but disabled people’s human rights depend on it. Otherwise, more of us will be forced into residential care against our will, or be found alone gasping for a drink or to go to the toilet. The UK Government will be ignoring their responsibilities under the Human Rights Act and Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister will be aware that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am privileged to be a member, is now conducting an inquiry into the implementation of the right to independent living for disabled people. His response in this debate will help inform that inquiry and I look forward to hearing it.
My Lords, I have stood before many different audiences in my life, but few as impressive or as daunting as your Lordships. Indeed, I am every day made more aware of the wealth of knowledge and experience by which I am surrounded on every side, making me both humble to have been included in your Lordships’ company and amazed by the support that I have received since my arrival.
I must first thank my sponsors, my noble friends, Lord Northbrook and Lord Marland, my patient mentor, my noble friend Lady Seccombe, and my Whip, my noble friend Lady Rawlings, both of whom have taken so much time and care to lead me through the steps of the dance. Of course, like all of us, I am indebted to the staff who are an outstanding example in their dedication to their tasks. I must especially remember Mrs Banks, who made it her business to ensure that my introduction ran smoothly. It will always remain one of the great days of my life.
Like many Members of your Lordships’ House, I have come to you by a circuitous route, although I was, I suspect, originally destined for a less bumpy and varied journey than the one I have travelled. My upbringing was a traditional one, largely dictated by my dear father who was as straight as a ruled line and who expected, after Ampleforth and Cambridge, that I would seek my goals in the predictable arenas of diplomacy or the City. Instead, for reasons now lost to me, I opted for the hurly burly of show business, passing through drama school and the now extinct system of repertory theatre before coming to London in a comedy, “A Touch of Spring”—a chance that I was given because I was the only actor they could find who was stupid enough to fall down a staircase eight times a week.
However, my arrival in the industry was not well timed. This was the early 1970s, a period of intense political activity, and both my perceived circumstance and my unfashionable allegiance to the Tories rendered me quite wrong for the prevailing zeitgeist. Before very long, I had been told I need not even try to audition for the RSC; I was deselected from a television show, in which I had been cast, because the star would not work with a Conservative; and when I was requested by the director of a restoration revival at the National Theatre, the casting director told me herself this would not happen because my sort of actor was, “better off on the other side of the river”—in other words, in the less intellectually challenging West End. There is a kind of hopelessness when faced with this sort of thing which I would like to think none of your Lordships has encountered, but I know full well that many of you have. It is distressing because it is invariably denied and consequently almost impossible to fight.
Eventually, despairing of my chances here, in the 1980s I left for Los Angeles. Since my intention was to become a film star, I cannot pretend the move was a succès fou, my highest point being the day when I came second to replace the dwarf on “Fantasy Island”, but it was a useful adventure all the same and I came home reinvigorated to find that both the mood in the business and I, myself, had changed. I married and had in fact achieved a respectable acting career and had begun to write when Robert Altman approached me to work on a version of the country house murder mystery. This was in every sense my lucky break, and I was fortunate in being old enough, at 50, to recognise it. When “Gosford Park” was released, I won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, an experience I can heartily recommend, and it led to many opportunities for which I am most grateful.
However, my early years in the business have never left me. This is not a complaint. Indeed, I am sure that the bursting of my bubble of self-confidence was a powerful spur. Like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, I had to run twice as fast to stay in the same place, and it served me well. Nevertheless, I have experienced the strangeness of being disliked not for who but for what I am. It is strange, as too many of you will recognise, to be dismissed—or even just assessed—by people who do not take the trouble to know you at all. It has left me with a lasting distaste for generalisations when it comes to people. I do not just mean racist views or religious intolerance, but any opinion about a nationality or an age group, a class, or the members of a club or political party. Even in the pseudo-tribute of praising this group for its rhythm, or that one for its handling of money, there is a patronising distance, a we-they attitude that is never helpful.
Possibly no group suffers more from a sometimes benevolent but still ignorant tendency to lump them all together than disabled people. Disablement, whether severe or, as in the case of the majority, something that with proper understanding and training is perfectly compatible with a full and fulfilled life, is no guide whatever to the personality or potential of the sufferer.
I should here declare an interest. For some years, one of my hats has been as chairman of the RNIB Talking Books appeal, a cause that embraces both my enthusiasm for literacy in all its forms, as well as for the empowerment of the disabled—in this case the blind. The organisation is pleasingly non-political—or cross-political. I succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and we both consecutively served under the benign chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Low, who has initiated this discussion, today. Above all, I am an admirer of the RNIB’s conviction that blind people should strive for autonomy. In our recording studios in Camden Town, several of the technicians are themselves blind—a living demonstration that disability need not be an embargo to an interesting career, requiring specialist knowledge and highly developed skills.
Surely this must be the guiding principle of any government support for the disabled: a permanent and funded emphasis on helping them take their place in the workforce and in the world. For this reason, and in the mildest possible maiden speech sort of way—and while I am fully aware of the need for cuts at a time when our debts have spiralled not just beyond control but almost beyond comprehension—I would yet argue, like the noble Lord, Lord Low, that, in the coming changes, the employment and support allowance in particular should be as strongly defended as is compatible with the coalition's plans.
There is a suggestion that one year's assistance to find work is to be considered enough, the period to include the 13 weeks required by the initial assessment. However, there is such a thing as a false economy and, as my late mother used to say, “sometimes it's cheaper to pay”. Just as with health spending on blind people, there is no question that money spent on sight loss, where many conditions are now curable, will always cost the country less than supporting the sufferer who could have been cured and is not. Similarly, I remind the powers that if there could be some leeway in the area of training, the resulting gainful employment of disabled candidates would save the state a fortune.
My years at the RNIB and working with other charities, not least Changing Faces, an organisation that deals with shockingly severe facial disfigurement, have convinced me that the core philosophy when dealing with all forms of disablement must be inclusion. These are the days of the big society, and that must mean concentrating on the common ground that binds us all. Above all, it means talking to disabled people in the first person, and not about them in the third.
We hear a lot on the subject of human rights, and I know that I must avoid contention, but I am confident that there is one human right at least that we would all of us, on every side, defend. That is the right to dream. Disabled people must be allowed their dreams of how they would spend their lives, as well as a reasonable chance to achieve them. If their ambitions are unlikely, so what? So were mine, and they all came to pass. However, the dreams of most of our disabled community are not unlikely; they are quite realistic, if they can only persuade our society to treat them as fully paid-up members of it.
My Lords, I am delighted to welcome and congratulate a fellow trade unionist in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, and I, are both members of Equity. As far as I know, he is the fifth thespian to enter your Lordships' House as a life Peer. The first, of course, was Laurence Olivier. The second was Bernard Miles. I came in 19 years ago with my trousers firmly belted and braced, and Dickie Attenborough followed a year later. I am sure that all of us in your Lordships’ House would like to send our best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, who alas is still suffering from his severe accident a few years ago. Now we welcome the fifth member of the acting profession, Julian Fellowes.
There the similarity between us ceases. The noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, is still an actor, although he is now best known for his writing. I gave up acting 34 years ago but he forges ahead, particularly as a writer of successful screenplays. “Gosford Park” was his first huge success. More recently, I am sure that all of us have enjoyed “Downton Abbey” and look forward to seeing its sequel in the not too distant future. Judging by his excellent maiden speech, the noble Lord promises to be as great an asset to your Lordships' House as he is to the world of theatre, television and film. We all welcome him and look forward to his further contributions.
I congratulate also my noble friend Lord Low on securing this timely debate. I begin by declaring a personal interest as president of Mencap and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Learning Disability, along with the right honourable Tom Clarke. It is through forums such as these that I have heard first-hand accounts of the impact that certain government policies might have on disabled people.
To put this issue in context, I will refer to the coalition Government's promise in the coalition agreement document that they will ensure that “fairness” is at the heart of their decisions,
“so that all those most in need are protected".
Additionally, in June of last year, the Government stated their commitment to create fairness in society, and dignity and respect for disabled people. These pledges are very welcome and it is imperative that this continues to be the Government's prime consideration when pursuing their policies. This is particularly poignant in light of the current climate of cuts, efficiency gains and the drive to find savings. While I appreciate the current financial pressures that the coalition Government are under, there can be no excuse for allowing disabled people to suffer as a result.
Only a few weeks ago, Birmingham City Council lost a court case in the wake of its attempt to change its eligibility criteria so that any needs that were not “critical” would no longer be paid for. Further, even before the local government settlement late last year, 74 per cent of local authorities only provided care for those with “critical” or “substantial” needs. This is a worrying trend that compromises the social care provision for people whose support needs can least afford to be compromised. Effective social care can make a huge difference to the quality of someone's life and, crucially, this support often allows disabled people to access other services such as education, health and transport. To reduce this support would be to undermine the positive impact on the lives of disabled people and is certainly not a reflection of the Government's pledge to ensure fairness, dignity and respect for this group.
I fully support the announcement in the CSR that an additional £2 billion will be allocated for social care over the next four years, and see this as evidence that the coalition Government are aware, to some extent at least, of the importance of social care. Nevertheless, the policies of devolution as part of the localism agenda carry significant risks that local authorities will look to cut corners. I have already mentioned the issue of reduced eligibility criteria, but there are also significant concerns around the de-ring-fencing of social care funding. When these are coupled with reductions in allocations to local authorities, there is the distinct danger that disabled people will be negatively affected. Additionally, while I welcome the concept of personalised care and support, I caution that disabled people are at risk of being denied the necessary choice and control if an adequate number of good-quality local services is not provided, and if local authorities view personalisation as a means to save money. This must be addressed, and I urge the Government not to shirk their responsibility in this regard.
As the topic for debate is so broad, I will also cover a few other policies in forthcoming Bills that are particularly relevant to disabled people. The first of these are contained in the Welfare Reform Bill, which is currently in Committee in the Commons and which, I anticipate, will be thoroughly considered when it reaches us in the Lords. First, to offer credit where credit is due, I do not see that the principle of simplifying the benefits system and reducing bureaucracy can be too strongly opposed. This should help disabled people, particularly those with a learning disability, to understand the benefits process better, and should reduce the burden of filling in numerous forms.
However, as the Minister will be aware, I have voiced considerable concerns about other policies in the Bill. The measure to remove the mobility component of DLA for people in residential care, for example, is something that particularly troubles me. I welcome the deferment of this until 2013, but I am suspicious of the measures to replace it that may be in the forthcoming PIP, as recommended by the internal review now taking place. I am far from satisfied that this internal review is wide-reaching enough or takes into account the expertise of disability organisations and people with a disability who stand to be affected. I urge the Minister to ensure that disabled people, including those with a learning disability, are meaningfully included in the review. Can he assure me that this will happen?
Another issue that concerns me in the Welfare Reform Bill relates to the work capacity assessment. There are growing reservations over the accuracy of the assessment pilots in properly taking account of the needs of ESA applicants and their actual ability to work. Our main concern was, and still is, the merging of the three descriptors—memory and concentration, execution of tasks, and initiating and completing personal action—into one: initiating and completing personal action. This measure fails to account for certain elements of capability, such as the time taken to complete a task, which could have significant implications for people with a learning disability who, by definition, take longer to process information. It could result in disabled people being found fit for work as a result of the inadequacies in the assessment. Coupled with the additional barriers that disabled people face to find work, it becomes evident that they stand to be significantly disadvantaged by this policy. If the Government intend to push through these newly merged descriptors, which do not take into account certain hidden needs, what guarantees can be given that disabled people will receive the appropriate support to tackle these extra barriers, such as deep-rooted employer prejudice and discrimination?
I also wish to refer to the Health and Social Care Bill. I have no interest in engaging in all-out criticism of its overall principles but several areas require greater consideration in relation to their impact on disabled people. It is a case of scrutinising the policies which are not included more than those which are. Unbelievably, for a 367-page-long document, there are only three mentions of disability and very little mention of the need to tackle existing health inequalities or discrimination for all groups, not just for those who are easiest to reach.
With all the points that I have raised, I refer back to the coalition Government's commitment to ensure that “fairness” is at the heart of their decisions,
“so that all those most in need are protected”.
I urge the Government to be true to this pledge and I trust that the Minister can offer me assurances that this principle will guide policies which relate to all disadvantaged and disabled people.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Rix who has, for many years, been such an inspiration to us all in the field of disability. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Fellowes of West Stafford on such a memorable maiden speech. Congratulations are due, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, who has brought this important debate to your Lordships’ House today. I begin by declaring my interests: I am the named carer for an autistic adult who is in receipt of state disability benefits, a vice-president of the National Autistic Society and patron of Research Autism. I hope that your Lordships will indulge me if I confine my remarks to that group of people who would come within the autistic spectrum, people with learning disabilities and those with chronic long-term mental health problems, because I believe there is such an overlap affecting all three of those groupings.
In his opening remarks to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Low, used the word fearful—a word which other Members of your Lordships’ House have picked up. It is not just people with disabilities who are fearful at present. I hope that your Lordships will not mind if my opening remarks are extremely personal, not just to me but to many other people, as I am sure that many of your Lordships will recognise what I am about to say. I am a parent and I, too, am fearful. If you have a child who is born with a lifelong disability, you know that that child—however long its lifespan and whatever difficulties it will encounter—was not only born with that disability but will die with it. You also know that while you are on this earth, you have the opportunity to try not only to allow that child to fulfil its own potential but to do what you can as a parent to make provision for what will happen to that child when you are no longer around to support it.
It is perhaps in the whole context of things when, as parents, we concern ourselves with all our children’s education, particularly with disabled children's ability to take on what are euphemistically now called life skills, which are so important—perhaps more than we realise at the time—that your waking thought almost every day is: “Have I done enough and what will happen?”. My concern about the Government's reforms, many of which I support, is that, with the grouping which I have mentioned in mind, the reform of DLA is, for example, to reduce by 20 per cent over the next three years the amount of money spent. The focus will be on those most in need, which sounds quite laudable when you listen to it. “For those most in need” sounds a fair way to spend resources which we know are restricted but for the autistic community, for the learning- disabled community and for those with ongoing mental health problems—some have two or three of those conditions—there is a real fear.
I pick up on the excellent speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, about independent living. It is probably only in the last 20-plus years that we have really taken on and embraced the opportunity for people with a range of disabilities to be included in society and to exercise their right—and it is their right—for independent living. That will vary from disability to disability and from individual to individual but I know that however severe that disability, each step of the way is hard fought for and won. It is not something which is handed out; very often, people end up having to go to court to exercise their right to get the sort of support they need to sustain independent living.
It is a long process. For many in that group it takes years to bring about, step by step, an ability to look after themselves and to make sure that their personal care can be coped with, that they eat properly and have the right nutrition, and that they maximise their own desire to take part—often in work but more particularly in social activities, too. For example, part of that package of care which is paid for by the state could well be for somebody to be a friend to that person two or three times a week in a befriending package, since they cannot access or make friends as the rest of us would because of the nature of their disability. I cannot emphasise how important what might seem very small, individual parts of a care package are to making the quality of life worth living and to enabling that person to live independently and to take their part in society, as the rest of us do without really thinking about it.
However, when I look at what the Government intend to do, I am concerned that those who have achieved independent living, which has taken many years to construct, will find that because they are no longer regarded as the most in need, those valuable building blocks that have been put in place over many years to allow them to achieve that level of independence will no longer be regarded as important enough to be supported. I say to my noble friend with all due respect, but with absolute certainty, that if what has taken years to put together is removed, it will fall apart in a matter of months. With many disabilities, it is not the case that once you have solved a problem, you have solved it for the rest of that person’s life. It is a bit like a mosaic. This is not a broad-brush painting where you can identify the picture. It is a mosaic made up of many small pieces, all of which are interdependent and important in their own right, but when you have achieved the mosaic, it is a picture that has allowed somebody to take their place in society and fulfil their potential and those important dreams that we heard about just now.
This is not special pleading or the bleeding hearts brigade, but the words of a mother who for 40 years has been on that journey with a child. I am, of course, not the only one. I know that there are thousands of mums like me up and down the country who say to my noble friend in all sincerity: realise where we have come from in the past 20 years and where we are now. The reason why there are so many more payments for DLA and other disability benefits is because 20 years ago people would have been in institutions or, more often than not in the case of people with learning disabilities or autistic spectrum disorders, would be sitting at home, unoccupied, living out an existence with well meaning but very worried elderly parents. The crisis would come only when something happened to those parents, and then the state would know the full cost and consequences of dealing with disabled people in crisis. The cost of dealing with people in crisis is always far more. In fact, it is off the Richter scale compared with the minuscule cost of the basic building blocks that will allow so many disabled people to continue to live independently. I say to my noble friend: do not take those blocks away. It would set this country back years and cause mayhem and disadvantage to the most vulnerable people.
My Lords, first, I wish the noble Lord, Lord Freud, a speedy recovery and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, on his excellent maiden speech. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, on her excellent speech.
This debate could not be more timely as a prelude to the mass lobby and march on Parliament next week. Under the banner “The Hardest Hit”, disabled people from all over the country will be ensuring that their MPs and the Government take note of the dire impact that the Government's policies are having on their lives, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Low, on securing this debate.
The Government might not have intended disabled people to be the ones who suffer most under their policies, but that is certainly their effect. The fact is that cuts in welfare benefits are falling unfairly and disproportionately on disabled people, leading to an increase in poverty levels among disabled people and their families. The think tank Demos's report Destination Unknown calculated that the impact of the emergency Budget last June alone will mean that over the lifetime of this Parliament disabled people and their families will lose a total of about £9 billion in much needed income.
Over the past year, we have seen such drastic reductions in people's income increasingly justified by unwarranted stereotypes being applied to those in receipt of disability benefits, particularly to those who have been receiving incapacity benefit and the disability living allowance. The Government have promoted a myth that the increase in the number of people claiming incapacity benefit over the past 10 to 15 years is a result of people with trivial health conditions exaggerating either how ill they are or the impact on their ability to work. In fact, the Government's own statistics in the 2011 report Trends in the Employment of Disabled People in Britain show that most of the growth of limiting long-standing illness has been among people at the more severe end of the spectrum.
In spite of this, the Government, and the media, tend to present two images when discussing the reform of incapacity benefit. The first is the deserving disabled person, the healthy blind person or wheelchair user who wants a job and who the Government want to support into employment. The other is the welfare dependant, the press's scrounger, who exaggerates their impairment or illness and who needs a tough regime of conditions to get them back to work.
What is missing from these two images is a third group, which research tells us in fact makes up the largest group of those on incapacity benefit. Many of these people had been in employment for years, paying their taxes and national insurance contributions, until they developed a chronic condition that means that now they find it extremely difficult to fulfil what an employer expects from the average worker. An example is people incapacitated by chronic pain. More than one in 10 of the population lives with chronic pain, and almost two in every five will lose their job as a result. This portrayal is pernicious, and its effect, as Tom Kenny, my local welfare rights officer, has found, is that people are apologetic and loath to claim the support that they need and are entitled to, lest they be seen as scroungers.
However, it is becoming clear that there are further reasons why we are seeing so many disabled people losing their benefits. As the Guardian revealed on 2 April, under the growing pressure to cut the welfare budget, some Jobcentre Plus advisers are working to targets on the number of people they refer for sanctions each week, meaning that clients can lose their benefits for up to six months. The latest DWP figures available show that from January to October 2010 the number of claimants with registered disabilities who lost their benefits more than doubled to almost 20,000.
The Minister might dismiss that as a mere press story, but let me set out what is happening in my local area with disabled people's claims for employment and support allowance. The disability organisation's welfare rights officer, Tom Kenny, is overwhelmed by clients being found fit for work who are obviously incapable of working. Without exception, all have been treated disrespectfully by the Atos doctors and nurses. Every case that he has taken to tribunal has been overturned on appeal. His experience of the poor quality of medical examinations by the DWP-appointed Atos staff is shared by numerous other advice workers, but when Atos fails clients, the independent decision-makers at the DWP are supposed to make an independent judgment of the assessment. In the past, that would have happened, but what Tom has found most striking is that obviously erroneous negative Atos decisions are now not being overturned; they are just being rubber-stamped. In doing this, the decision-makers are acting illegally and, of course, appeals are increasing.
There has been a fivefold increase in the number of IB and ESA appeals being processed by the Tribunals Service over the past two years. This has come about even though there were no really major changes to the regulations. It is unlikely that the increase in appeals is due to increasing incompetence in Atos and the DWP. It is much more likely that the staff are working to an agenda dictated by government targets to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefit and ESA. With the new, tougher WCA regulations that came into force last month, we can expect appeals to rocket.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has said that people who are genuinely sick have nothing to fear from the new system of assessment. The evidence points to the contrary. During the WCA’s pilot phase, Citizens Advice estimated that 40 per cent of appeals found in the individual's favour and, most importantly, that where the CAB assisted on the appeal, the success rate was 70 per cent. As I have shown from my local area, there are similar success rates where the individual is assisted by a welfare rights adviser, yet these voluntary organisations are increasingly having their funding cut. This makes it less likely that people who have been cheated by an ineffective and unfair system out of a benefit they should qualify for will receive proper redress for such an injustice.
However, the Government have another card up their sleeve. Not only are disabled people finding it much harder to claim the benefits to which they are entitled; there will also be far less help available to challenge negative decisions. The Government’s proposals for the reform of legal aid in England and Wales include cutting all legal help and representation for welfare benefit matters. It means that there will be no legal advice on appeals to tribunal for awards of DLA, attendance allowance, incapacity benefit, income support, housing benefit, social fund payments and others. The argument set out to support this cut is that the importance of financial entitlement is “relatively low” and that the issues are not complex. Tell that to someone who is struggling to cope with MS and has lost their job. Is the importance of their financial entitlement relatively low?
In its report on the Government’s planned cuts to legal aid, published on 30 March, the cross-party Justice Select Committee said that disabled people could be hit “disproportionately” hard. It goes on to say that it is,
“concerned that the ability of the most vulnerable people to present their cases will be weakened because they will not have had help and advice in preparing them”.
So much for the Government’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The Government could ensure that the assessments are carried out fairly in the first place by people who are competent to understand the reality of a person’s disabling conditions. Is the Minister willing to take up that challenge? The results of a survey conducted by the Disability Benefits Consortium with the support of the Multiple Sclerosis Society in October last year demonstrate just how necessary this is. The survey found that, of 208 people with multiple sclerosis who had gone through the work capacity assessment, 60 per cent said that the person who carried out the assessment did not understand their impairment; 70 per cent said that the assessment did not take account of how their symptoms were affected by repeated activity such as fatigue or increased pain; and 65 per cent felt that the assessment made their health worse because of stress and anxiety. As one person said:
“The assessment was stressful and made me feel like a fraud. I began to doubt my sanity—I have been told basically that nothing is wrong with me and that I'm fit to work. Am I imagining the pain, the fatigue, the lack of balance and my jerky hands? NONE of this was included in the ESA written report even though I told the assessor about it. Neither were my MRI scans taken into consideration; nor my GP’s reports. The whole assessment process is bizarre. I feel like Alice falling through the rabbit hole”.
The frustration of a debate such this is that there are so many more areas to cover and so much more that needs to be said. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, would convey this message to the noble Lord, Lord Freud: will he take up the challenge that was put to him at the end of the recent debate on the new WCA regulations on 16 March when he expressed surprise at the disability organisations’ horror at his plans? He was challenged to mend his department’s communication with the disability community—and to do so personally and not leave it to his senior officials. To help that process, I invite him to visit my local disability organisation, Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability—HAFAD. He will not have to travel far. There he can learn at first hand the effects of his policies on the lives of disabled people. I hope that he will accept.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for the opportunity to raise a couple of specific matters. One is very familiar to old DWP hands in this Chamber who have heard me raise it many times before: namely, the problems posed by the service user involvement of disabled people in receipt of benefits. The other matter is completely different and arises from the new descriptors of the work capability assessment, which were the subject of a debate a few weeks ago and to which the noble Lord, Lord Rix, referred.
I shall begin with this last issue. One of the matters that struck me when we debated the recent changes to the WCA was that manual wheelchair users may no longer automatically be entitled to ESA—presumably neither the employment and work-related activity side of ESA nor the support side. This change was made, I suppose, on the grounds of equality, as it was felt that if manual wheelchair users had no other particular health problems they should be treated as fit for work because they had adapted to their disability. On the face of it, that looks fair enough because we are told that the ethos of the work capability assessment is to identify claimants on the basis of their functional capability rather than their condition. We know that the WCA looks at only a person's fitness for work; it does not take into account the jobs market or, more controversially, whether a person is likely to find a job in the real world. This came out strongly in the Social Security Advisory Committee’s report.
It might be argued that most workplaces nowadays are fully adapted for wheelchair users, but that is very far from the case. Many workplaces are up steps with no alternative access and many do not have facilities such as disabled lavatories. It is true that most public buildings have adaptations nowadays, but we are talking about workplaces of every shape and size all over the country. With the emphasis now on the shedding of jobs in the public sector and the hoped-for growth of jobs in the private sector, is it really fair to put manual wheelchair users on a par with those with no mobility problems when there are not going to be so many public sector jobs? They are likely to find it many times harder to get a job than their able-bodied counterparts—and I have not mentioned the problem of discrimination at all.
The most worrying thing is that, by being entitled only to JSA rather than ESA, they will lose almost £30 a week. I know that there might be cases in which access to work will help, but this admirable scheme cannot change the access into a building, widen doorways or put in disabled loos. I have not mentioned transport, which must loom large in whether someone in a manual wheelchair can get to suitable employment. It may be said that DLA is designed to help, but it is not taken into account by the work capability assessment. If it is taken into account, so should the availability of accessible and suitable jobs. Of course those in manual wheelchairs wish to be treated as ordinary working people, but when the dice are loaded so heavily against them in a practical way, is this fair?
Before my noble friend quotes from the equality impact assessment in the relevant statutory instrument, I shall do so myself. In theory, it gives me some comfort, but I fear that I am very sceptical. It says:
“For those who have a more limited availability for work and scope to find and carry out certain types of work they can restrict their work search activity and availability for work provided those restrictions are reasonable given their condition. This is agreed between the customer and personal adviser”.
There is a sentence about the disability employment adviser later. Will Jobcentre Plus staff really have enough time to devote to those who have such practical barriers to the relatively few jobs open to them, and will they be subject to the tough sanctions regime? I should have thought that they needed the kind of help to get a job that they would receive under the ESA regime, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments.
I now turn to the second and quite separate issue of service user involvement, specifically the unresolved problem of those disabled people on benefits who help with NHS, public health and social care research. They are asked to take part in clinical trials and other health and social care research studies, not just as subjects but as active partners in the research process. Disabled people are asked to help improve the way in which research is prioritised, commissioned, undertaken, communicated and used.
The specific unresolved problem that I would dearly love to nail is that the reimbursement of out of pocket expenses, and sometimes a small fee for these people, is still taken off their benefits. Two years ago, legislation was introduced in this House by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, which to great rejoicing removed two significant barriers to involvement by allowing these expenses to be disregarded when benefit entitlement calculations were made. However, this change was relevant only to those whose involvement was in the field of health and social care services and not research. In other words, this new and welcome change in the legislation applied only where the involvement was required by law. The benefit changes apply to involvement with local authorities, landlord authorities, NHS trusts and health boards. They do not apply to involvement with the work of the National Institute for Health Research.
Are we talking about relatively few people who are being caught by this distinction? No, we are talking about thousands of people, as a glance at the website of the institute will show. Research is going on into every organ in the human body and into every condition. Not everyone involved in this kind of research will be on benefits, but many will be. The institute recommends as good practice the involvement of service users and carers in research, but it is not required by law, so the benefit changes do not apply to public involvement in research.
When universal credit is introduced under the Welfare Reform Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, I understand that the regulations introduced two years ago will be incorporated into UC regulations, but the changes to benefit rules on the earnings disregard will not resolve the benefit barriers to involvement in NHS research. This is because any reimbursed expenses, plus possibly a small fee and the cost of a personal assistant or a replacement carer, will be totalled and the whole amount treated as earnings and taken off benefits. Where the total amount that is treated as earnings is in excess of the earnings disregard set for UC, which will usually be in the region of £40 a week or less, the excess will lead to a 65 per cent taper of UC for every £1 over.
Then we have the outrageous matter of notional earnings, which means that if a person declines to take a small fee because they do not want to upset their benefit arrangements, they will be treated as though they had taken the fee, so they are most likely to be out of pocket as a result of helping with NHS research and are not likely to repeat the experience. I myself have helped with people taking the MRCP exam, so I know what it is like. I was not on benefits, but if I had been I would have been out of pocket. I hope the Minister will agree that this is an anomaly that we really must resolve as soon as possible. The new Bill gives us the perfect opportunity to do so.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for initiating this debate and begin by declaring my interests. I am interim chair of the English Federation of Disability Sport, a board member of UK Athletics and the London Marathon, and work in a number of areas with LOCOG. In this debate I want to look at sport for disabled people, and to say that I have had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues in a positive way with a number of Ministers in the other place. It is a wide and complex issue, and the landscape of disability sport has many layers.
The Sport England Active People survey shows an interesting picture of where currently we are. Up to 90 per cent of disabled people do not regularly take part in any kind of sport whatever. While the survey could be considered to be a blunt tool because this is a constantly evolving landscape, it shows that the number of disabled people participating is not increasing perhaps as much as it should and there is a need for further detailed research to get the interventions right and make it cost-effective. Only 16 per cent of disabled people belong to sports clubs compared with 26 per cent of non-disabled people.
The decision of the coalition Government to review school sport funding was absolutely right, but we need to understand the impact on disabled people because they are in a unique situation. In terms of school sports partnerships in previous funding cycles, special schools have had a two day a week school sports co-ordinator. I would like to ask the Minister whether, under the current proposals, special schools will receive one day a week funding, or is there an opportunity to review this? Also, will it mean a switch to focus on primary schools at the expense of what we deliver in secondary schools?
There are many agencies and people involved in delivering sport to disabled people, but what impact assessment work has been carried out to ensure that we do not lose the knowledge and experience from the network in an environment where we know already that it is really hard to engage with disabled people? If we look to mainstream schools, we need much more information on what physical activity disabled children actually access? PE is a compulsory part of the curriculum, but it is not taken into account in any statement of special educational need and often has a low priority. Sending children to the library is just not good enough. Disabled people should have the right to experience sport and physical activity in exactly the same way as non-disabled people. For all the good and the bad and the horror that might mean to some disabled children, we need to make sure that they leave school as fit and healthy as possible so that they are able to contribute back.
This is not about identifying athletes for a talent pathway or future elite success, but it should be noted that while many Olympic medallists come from the independent education sector, many Paralympians do not, and the decisions we take now could have a potential effect on 2016 and 2020.
On the announcements about the new school Olympics, I look forward very much to the reports on the pilots that are taking place in nine geographical areas, and I am delighted that there is a commitment to a disability element in all the documentation. But I urge the Minister to look closely at what sports are included and who they target. The definition of someone who is eligible to compete at the Paralympics is narrow—just a tiny percentage of the disabled population compared with those who can compete in wider disability sport. But if the aim of the school Olympics is to position young non-disabled people on a pathway to the Olympics, it should be the same for young disabled children—and Paralympic sports should be on the programme, not made-up inclusive sports that tick a box.
Inclusion can mean so many different things. It is sometimes better carried out if you take a young wheelchair user out of school to play in a wheelchair basketball club rather than, as I have seen, letting them sit on the sidelines of a football field and throw a corner in wherever they happen to be sitting or, heaven forbid, dump the stopwatch on them because that is what we assume they can do. It would be a real shame if the schools competition became a model where sports are included because they are the easiest ones to fill. I heard it said by a teacher at a recent development day that, “We brought them because they are the easiest ones to get on the bus”.
There are many positive schemes in sport across many different departments. We have Places People Play, which is about improving sports facilities. Sport England has an £8 million lottery pot to help fund grassroots development. The Department of Health is investing £6.4 million over two years in Change4Life, which is all about encouraging sports clubs in secondary schools. The Department for Education is investing £65 million over two years in secondary schools to release PE teachers in order to help to train primary school teachers. The reality is that teachers receive barely any training at all on working with disabled children, but that could so easily be changed, which links back to my earlier statement about what we are doing in special schools. Whether it be through direct sports funding or in other departments, we need to ensure that all this joins up to form a continuity of provision and, more important, that disabled people are genuinely included.
Sport and physical activity can play an important part in helping to fulfil many government policies, whether it be getting people into employment, reducing knife crime or cutting teenage pregnancies—there are plenty of statistics that I will not list here. But in a real sense the impact of government policy changes has meant that charities such as Mencap are much more likely to be involved in providing sport for disabled people. Mencap has had to cut its sports department, which means that until the hole has been plugged, English athletes with a learning disability will struggle to get classified. That could prevent them taking part in sport and seriously disadvantage them against athletes from other home countries and the rest of the world.
I will bring my remarks back to elite sport because in 449 days the Paralympic Games will begin. Our bid was based on winning the two sets of Games and we made a number of promises. But we should not forget that the Paralympic Games were founded because of the exclusion of disabled people from mainstream sport. In a major move forward for a host country, in April 2011 the Office for Disability Issues released a report entitled, London 2012: A Legacy for Disabled People. The main thrust is that the Games should help to transform the way disabled people interact with society, support opportunities to participate in sport, and promote community engagement. There is also a strong desire to change attitudes, promote economic inclusion and change media coverage. Those are important and vital things.
The 2010 British Social Attitudes survey showed that 79 per cent of people felt that there was some level of prejudice towards disabled people. LOCOG is doing some fantastic work in recruiting disabled staff through its scheme “access now” which is encouraging disabled people to volunteer. No other organising committee has ever done this work. Where will disabled people go afterwards? If it is to be a stepping stone, there needs to be something to go on to afterwards. If the attitude towards young disabled people is still poor and 2012 provides a catalyst for their wanting to be involved in sport, coaching or volunteering, are we equipped to deal with it? Future government policy must take this into account. What happens when the flames go out in 2012?
The Government have stated that they want the British Paralympic Association to issue press guidance aligned to the social model of disability. If this could be extended beyond government departments to all funded agencies and to national governing bodies of sport that would be incredible—as would it be if every Minister and Peer were able to think about the difference between the Olympics and Paralympics and include those two words together. That would do much to raise the profile of disabled people in sport.
As for the media, we need to move well away from sticking Olympians in a wheelchair to play basketball—usually they are not even basketball players in the first place—to show the world that disability sport is serious. Yes, it is serious—we do not need to resort to gimmickry to make that happen.
With an increased move to mainstream, which is part of the solution, are the Government able to ensure that the voice of disabled people is not lost? Who could possibly imagine a women’s sport and fitness foundation being run solely by men? Disabled people need to have a voice in the provision of disability sport and we need to ensure that major players are empowering disabled people into governance, coaching, consultation and social modelling. If we want to make a positive impact we must track how many disabled people are employed by national governing bodies of sport; how many disabled people sit on sports boards; how many coaches and volunteers. I know the answer—it is not many.
At a time when we are planning the hosting of the Paralympics, we have a great opportunity to engage disabled people. We are the envy of the world in terms of provision for the tiny minority, the elite few—those athletes who will be competing in 2012—but we could and should be in a position to enable disabled people to have a real equality of opportunity in sport. We can start that by beginning at the grass roots.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, on his maiden speech. I have been an admirer of the noble Lord for many years, both as a writer and an actor. At the moment I know him better as Lord Killwillie in “Monarch of the Glen” but I look forward to getting to know him as the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, who, if his maiden speech is anything to go by, is most comfortable with direct and plain speaking. That is most welcome.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Low, on securing this debate at a time when the Welfare Reform Bill is at the Committee stage in the other place and the Government are embarking on major changes to the benefits system which will affect disabled people. The Government have previously stated that their aim is to ensure that disabled people are supported to lead full and independent lives, yet some of the proposed changes threaten to undermine this aim by making disabled people worse off and so less able to lead the lives they have the right to expect.
There is merit in some of the proposals put forward by the Government, including the universal credit. However, the good which these policies do will be dwarfed, I fear, by the harm which will be done to disabled people if the Government are not persuaded to change some of their other plans. The decision to cut the funds available for the personal independence payments, the extension to the qualifying period for personal independence payments, the time-limiting of employment service support and the changes to housing benefit will all hit disabled people and make them worse off.
I know and admire the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—he is a man of principle and high ideals which underpin his commitment to welfare reform—but some of these policies bear all the hallmarks of the Chancellor and his determination to cut public spending further and faster than is perhaps necessary. The disabled are being asked to bear an especially heavy burden in order to allow the Chancellor to meet his economic targets. That is not fair, just or right in a civilised society.
I shall concentrate the remainder of my remarks on the impact that the changes will have on people with autism, although my comments could apply generally across the board to a range of disabilities. In past debates, I and others in the House have pointed out that the National Autistic Society says that people with autism already routinely struggle to access the services they need and that, consequently, the outcomes for them are poor. Its research indicates that over 60 per cent of adults with autism rely on their families for financial support, 40 per cent live with their parents and 63 per cent report that they do not have enough support to meet their needs. As a result of this lack of support, one-third of adults with autism have developed serious mental health problems and only 15 per cent are in full-time employment.
I share the National Autistic Society’s concerns about the Government’s plans to replace disability living allowance with personal independence payments while, at the same time, making £2.17 billion of cuts in expenditure by 2015-16. This will adversely impact on adults with autism, who are already struggling to get the help that they need. Disability living allowance is a key benefit for people with autism to help them meet the additional costs that arise from their disability. If its replacement with personal independence payments marks a fall in spending, it seems inevitable that some of these people will be left without the support that they desperately need.
The Disability Benefits Consortium recently published the report, Benefiting disabled people?, which looks at disabled people’s experience of the benefits system and is based on the findings of two large surveys. When asked about DLA, fewer than 10 per cent of the respondents said that DLA covered all their disability-related costs, and 22 per cent said that they never received enough DLA to meet their health impairment-related costs. Given that disability living allowance is already inadequate to meet the needs of disabled people, reducing it further risks pushing an even higher number of disabled people into poverty.
The National Autistic Society is particularly concerned about decisions to focus support on “those with greatest needs” and the implications that that will have for people with moderate needs, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Browning. Many with moderate needs currently receive the lower rate DLA care component and might therefore lose their support. If people with moderate needs lose their support, their health, independence and quality of life will deteriorate. It will leave them in need of greater support than before and place heavier burdens on the benefits system, the National Health Service and social services. Coming at a time when councils across the country are raising their eligibility criteria for social care and excluding many people with moderate needs, some people may find both their social care package and support from DLA withdrawn. The loss of this award could have tremendously detrimental outcomes for both the individual and society as a whole.
Together with the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, I had the privilege of working with the National Audit Office for a number of years when we both served on the Public Accounts Committee in the other place. The National Audit Office does a first-class job for the taxpayer and in its report in 2009 it demonstrated that huge savings could be made in the medium-long term by ensuring that the needs of adults with autism were met. The report focused on adults with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism, whose needs are often less obvious. The NAO found that identifying these individuals and supporting them could save more than £67 million a year depending on how many people were identified. The type of support that would help ensure that these savings are made would be low-level support such as travel training, outreach and social skills training. It is unlikely that people with autism would be able to access social care budgets for such help because of the eligibility criteria. The National Autistic Society knows that some people with autism are already using their DLA to fund this type of support, therefore potentially saving the taxpayer significant amounts of money.
I conclude by asking the Minister several key questions. First, what studies have the Government made of the cost in the medium and long term of people with autism losing their DLA/PIP entitlement if it leads, first, to an increased demand for mental health services; secondly, an increase in demand for primary care services; and, thirdly, a loss of employment. Secondly, how will the Government ensure that adults with autism—some of whom are the most vulnerable in society—will be able to access the personal independence payments? Thirdly, what support will be put in place for people with autism who lose eligibility to DLA/PIP, particularly considering the challenges that adults with autism face when trying to access social care services?
I appreciate that the Minister is standing in for his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Freud—who we wish a speedy return to good health and to the House—and that he may wish to go away and reflect on the questions that I have put. Perhaps he would write to me later if he is not able to answer at this stage.
The Government say that they want to support disabled people to leave full and independent lives. I am sure that we all support that. However, if they are serious about this aim, they should think again about some of their policies, which risk plunging disabled people deep into debt and undermining their ability to live their lives to the fullest, something the rest of us simply take for granted.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Low on winning the ballot for this debate, which has shown how wide and varied are the needs of disabled people. Having had a spinal injury resulting in being paralysed from the chest down, I can assure your Lordships that people who are disabled will always face plenty of challenges and extra expenses. We have a Prime Minister who has experienced severe disability at first hand. I applaud him for the loving care that he and his wife gave their disabled child but some disabled people are not so lucky as to have such support. Many families break up under the strain and we must not forget the cruel treatment that Mrs Pilkington and her disabled daughter had to suffer at the hands of bullies, which ended in her suicide. We live in a complicated society and people with genuine disabilities need protecting.
I declare an interest as president of the Spinal Injuries Association, which has made a robust response to the recent government consultation on proposals to reform the disability living allowance, which will become the personal independent payment. The SIA is concerned by the introduction of a six-month qualifying period for PIPs. This will mean that newly disabled people, those most in need of support, are left without the appropriate funding to meet their needs.
The NHS reforms and the enormous upheaval might give an opportunity to look at some of the needs of disabled people when they have to be admitted to hospital. Many disabled people have to be admitted to general hospitals as there are not enough beds in special units such as spinal units. The patients then face the lack of vital equipment such as monkey poles, turning beds and pressure mattresses to prevent pressure sores, help with paralysed bowels, enough pillows and incontinence products—to mention just a few of the many needs. They also need staff who know what they are doing. Disability should be part of a nurse’s training.
I am a past president of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and know personally the benefits of physiotherapy for disabled people. Physiotherapists are one of the health professions who have a critical role in improving people’s physical capabilities, whether that is in getting someone back to work or school, or just to improve their quality of life. At the moment, physiotherapists are worried about the loss of specialist clinical posts in the NHS, the widespread freezing of physiotherapy vacancies and the rationing of treatment sessions that they can now provide due to the efficiency savings required of the NHS. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy says that this is an increasing problem and is concerned about the impact on people with disabilities. The right health and social care can greatly improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s, for example. This includes access to a specialist, multidisciplinary team of Parkinson’s special nurses, specialist physiotherapists and speech and language therapists—as recommended in the NICE guidelines on Parkinson’s—and appropriate social care, including support for carers.
The wheelchair service needs a complete overhaul. It is totally inadequate. Who will be responsible for this? I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, mentioned that.
With the reforms to the NHS, the Government have suggested that GP practice boundaries should be removed. Could this be a threat to continuity of care? I am a keen supporter of the saying, “No decision about me without me”. Disabled people who are vulnerable and less mobile need both helpful GPs who are interested in their special needs, medication and ongoing care, and the support of expert specialists. Some disabilities are extremely complicated. If patients find that their GP is not helpful, then they are better moving to another practice. This can be very difficult in some rural areas, especially for disabled people. The consortia should be made up of different health professionals who understand the different needs of complicated patients and patient representation. The responsibility for wide-ranging disability needs experts. GPs are generalists and need to work together in union for the good of patients. There should always be good communication between specialists, GPs and patients.
Patient safety should be the priority at all times, not just financial interests, and there should always be a good standard of care. Disabled patients can be the most at risk. Many patients with long-term conditions often need to get their specialist treatment a long way from home, as the specialist units are few and far between. These can be life-savers but disabled people need to keep in touch with their homes. Could the cost of telephoning from hospital be brought down? It is very expensive.
While there is a pause in the NHS reforms, I hope satisfactory solutions will be found in the best interests of patients. There are always the worried well but now, with so many changes suggested, there are genuinely worried disabled patients who find the cost of disability and cutbacks extremely draining on their systems. We have heard little about how Health Watch will work and if it will be able to support patients when they have a genuine complaint. When disabled people have problems, these can involve legal matters and knowledge of the law is necessary. Disability covers so many different aspects of life.
I am a member of the Patients Association, which has a helpline. The most common complaints relate to accessing healthcare. People feel that hospital transport services are often inadequate and blue-badge holders often find provision of disabled spaces is low and taken up by non-badge holders. Within hospitals, the most common cause of complaint is the lack of help for disabled people going to the lavatory. I can bear this out. When I was visiting Peterborough hospital on an occasion when my husband was admitted as an emergency, a man implored my helper to take him to the lavatory. He could only hop on one leg. Another man asked if she would give him a shave. This was in the afternoon. To my amazement, there were two care assistants chatting at the nurses’ station. Perhaps that is why we hear about nurses who are too posh to wash. Also there is the unwillingness of nurses to feed patients who are too disabled to feed themselves; the food is left at the bedside, untouched. That is another common complaint.
Patients often complain that medical professionals treat them differently because they are disabled. It is time that compassion was put back into nursing. Up and down the country one hears cries of “Bring back the matron”—not just the so-called modern matrons, who do not seem to have made a difference, but people who will take full responsibility for nursing care and nurses. Helping disabled people takes extra time and time can cost money, but surely there is more to life than just economics.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, for initiating this debate and for his powerful introduction. Like others, I join in sending best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for stepping into the breach. Many congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, for an interesting and powerful maiden speech. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition in the speakers list of our two thespians. I wondered if this heralded an era of theatrical co-operation and whether we might see “Downton Abbey” farces as part of our Christmas viewing this year. But I shall wait and see.
As a number of noble Lords have said, it is timely that we have this debate, because the Welfare Reform Bill will be with us before many months and, as my noble friend Lady Wilkins said, because of the rally organised for next Wednesday. Just one month ago, the public sector equality duty, in its updated form, came into effect. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, regrettably this could now be under challenge as red tape.
I express gratitude for the briefing that has been prepared by the Library and the DBC. The former in particular reminded us, as did the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, of the cross-government nature of the challenges that we face covering education, housing, health, benefits, employment, transport, local government and much else—particularly sports, as we heard in a very authoritative way from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, reminded us that if we do not view these things in a cross-government manner, we can end up with real horror stories—and he gave the example of apprenticeships.
I was delighted to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is carrying on the campaign about service users, and she is right—we did make some progress. I hope that now would be time to bring some successful closure to that.
Perhaps somewhat inevitably, most of our focus this afternoon has been around DWP issues, as are most of my comments. In 2009, the then Labour Government ratified the UN convention on the rights of disabled people, as well as the optional protocol. This year, in 2011, the coalition Government will have to report to the UN on how the convention is being implemented and what progress is being made. They will be publicly held to account domestically and internationally. It will be interesting to see how they justify the claim for fairness to be at the heart of government and how that is working for disabled people. As the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, how would they be able to explain the impairment of social care, the cutting of local authority budgets, and the removal of ring-fencing and its impact on independent living?
As we know, much is in the pipeline, and not all of it to our liking. However, I have some plaudits first—there have not been many this afternoon. The Government are to be congratulated on taking forward the right to control trailblazers. The right to control concept, as noble Lords will recall, was developed in partnership with disabled people and is intended to ensure that disabled people have choice and control over the support that they need to go about their daily lives. It is at the heart of independent living. It was developed under the controlling guidance of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. It is therefore distressing to hear her assessment that we risk turning the clock back on these issues.
We are also pleased that the Government, after some dithering, decided to proceed with Work Choice. That is welcome.
As for transport policy, we have recently discussed the proposed demise of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee in the context of the Public Bodies Bill—I hesitate to mention that Bill with the Minister on the Front Bench—when we heard from a number of noble Lords about the vital role that this body has played in advising on and promoting accessible transport systems for disabled people. In responding to the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, indicated that the Department for Transport would be issuing a discussion document before the summer to inform its proposals about disability advice and the assertion that transport operators across the sector need to mainstream these matters in their transport planning and delivery. May we please have an update from the Minister? What engagement has taken place with stakeholders?
As my noble friend Lord Touhig and others explained, on benefits we are faced with major changes to income-related benefits with the introduction of the universal credit from 2013, changes to DLA and its eventual replacement with the personal independence payment, changes to housing benefit and the local housing allowance. We welcome the opportunity to simplify the benefit system but, with so much unknown about the detail over so many areas, we can but undertake a journey of inquiry. A cursory glance at Clause 11 of the Welfare Reform Bill, for example, dealing with the potential inclusion of housing costs in the universal credit, indicates that we have to await regulations to learn what is included in housing costs; when somewhere is treated as a person’s home, how the calculation of amounts to be included should be proceed; and what exceptions apply. The Bill will tell us virtually nothing.
There are also many unknowns surrounding proposed changes to DLA and the introduction of the PIP. For a start, there remains a substantial ambiguity about the form and structure of the new assessment. I should stress that we are not wedded to the current arrangement, but the Government’s responses to questions on this have not been consistent. Perhaps the Minister will take the opportunity to produce some clarity.
The June 2010 Budget Statement indicated that savings in excess of £1 billion by 2014-15 would be generated by the introduction of objective medical assessments. In October last year a Minister in the other place stated that there was no intention to introduce a medical assessment for DLA, but reference is now made to a new objective assessment. Will the Minister please clarify matters for us? Given the Government’s draconian approach to date to reducing benefit expenditure, the lack of precision on these matters will cause disabled people to fear the worst.
The Minister has heard the concerns expressed by the Disability Benefits Consortium about benefits which, by focusing support on those with the greatest need, will abandon those with currently moderate needs—the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, also focused on that point—and that the basis of awards will move away from meeting the additional costs of living with a long-term condition or disability. How does he respond to this, along with the charge that extending the qualifying period before claimants can receive personal independence payments will push more disabled people into debt?
The reality is that there are still lots of unanswered questions about DLA reform. So far the Government have been unable to tell us the estimated number of people who will no longer be eligible for benefit following the introduction of the personal independence payment, the number of people affected by shifting the eligibility criteria from three months to six, and what form the new assessment will take.
Confusion reigns also over the mobility component of the disability living allowance. The Prime Minister has said that the Government are not going to remove the mobility component from 80,000 care home residents, but Clause 83 of the Welfare Reform Bill—the noble Lord, Lord Rix, made this point—contains provisions to do just that, and the Budget 2011 book scores the savings from doing so. What exactly is the position?
We had an opportunity to consider changes to the work capability assessment in mid-March when we debated the new regulations. We on these Benches continue to support the approach of helping the disabled people who can to get closer to the labour market, and to do so by focusing on their capability via a range of descriptors to determine an individual’s functional capability. This broad approach, as Professor Harrington’s review concluded, remains valid. Notwithstanding that, as we heard on that occasion and again today, the detailed changes to descriptors provoked a barrage of criticism about their appropriateness and about the process, which involved ATOS. We have heard again today about decision-makers.
There was especial concern raised about the application of the descriptors to individuals with mental health conditions and autism; we heard that from the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, today, and from my noble friend Lord Touhig. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, was kind enough to convene a follow-up meeting, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, might update us on his behalf, if he is able, on what is happening.
Of course, none of this works if there is no work; or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, no accessible work. I was interested to hear about the efforts of my noble friend Lord Sawyer with Remploy, and his concerns about the challenges it now faces.
The Minister will also be aware of concerns raised about support for those who do not qualify for ESA under the migration exercise, who therefore end up on JSA, or possibly no benefit at all, as well as about the numbers affected by the reduction in the time period for contributory ESA—“savage proposals”, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Low.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, referred to Jobcentre Plus working to targets for people to be sanctioned, a very worrying development that was reported in the press. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify that today.
Finally, on the universal credit and what it might mean for disabled people, we do not have time to unravel all of its implications. However, we already know some of the categories of winners and losers. The announcement that payments for children are to be aligned with those for adults is a mixed blessing for families with children with the most severe disabilities. It will represent a slight improvement in their financial position, and the inclusion in this group of children with severe visual impairment is clearly to be welcomed. However, for families with children with other disabilities, the reduction in support will amount to something like £1,300 a year. This is deeply worrying.
Many other issues have been raised in our debate today and in the briefings we have received: issues around couple entitlements, disregards for disability, disability premiums, housing costs and, in particular, linkages to CPI. Our deliberations on the Welfare Reform Bill must be extensive, as well as those on the Localism Bill, which is also due soon.
The process of welfare reform, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, is a particularly worrying time for disabled people. The noble Lord, Lord Low, should be congratulated on making us all vigilant on this occasion.
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity of participating in this debate, although it has not been by choice. I shall update the House on my noble friend Lord Freud: he is having medical treatment but as a precaution only. He hopes to be back in the House early next week. I know how much he was looking forward to this debate. Indeed, it places the debate at a disadvantage since he is not here to respond. I can promise to take the record away and to go through it with him. It would be helpful to noble Lords if we wrote a comprehensive letter together to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, because there may be lots of questions which people have mentioned that I have to skate over today—particularly in view of the fact that I do not have quite the amount of time that I had originally hoped for.
I thank all noble Lords for their participation, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Low, for tabling this debate. It has been a special privilege to be here to hear my noble friend Lord Fellowes make his maiden speech in the House, and what a delightful speech it was. He talked powerfully of the imperfections of the way in which people talk about disability. How well he described to the Government the importance of their need to take seriously their responsibility to disabled people. I am sure that we will hear much more from him as an active participator in our debates.
The real impact of government policies on disabled people will be to help all disabled people fulfil their potential and participate fully in society. We have a moral obligation to support those who cannot work, but we also have a moral obligation to support those who can work to find suitable work—just as disabled people who can work have an obligation to look for work. This is a critical issue. There are more than 10 million people in the UK who have a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability, of whom nearly half already work.
There is strong evidence of the significant health, social and financial benefits of work, and of the cost to individuals, society and the economy of long-term inactivity. Put simply, work is good for you. We have moved away from the old idea that disabled people should be protected from work. More and more, we appreciate that taking an active part in the labour market supports good health and well-being. Welfare reform is about doing what is right; it is not about reducing the benefits bill. The combination of fundamental reforms to the benefits system and a new radical approach to “back to work” support for everyone will ensure that everybody gets the right help.
Universal credit will replace the current complex array of benefits. It will be a simpler, fairer system. It will protect the incomes of current claimants so that nobody will be worse off claiming universal credit than they are under the current system. We will focus additional support on the most severely disabled people. Some households could see their incomes rise by as much as £40 per week if they qualify for the support component in universal credit, which we aim to increase from £31.40 to £74.50. Universal credit will provide more generous support for disabled people than for those non-disabled people who have otherwise similar circumstances. The seven disability-related components of the current system will be reduced to two, which will reflect whether a disabled person can reasonably be expected to work or undertake work-related activity.
I note and will take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, on the earnings disregard for people who are engaged in research. We have a special disregard for disabled households, which enables many people to keep more of their earnings than they currently do under the employment and support allowance. The White Paper proposed a disregard of up to £7,000 per year for disabled households, equivalent to £134 a week. Once a disabled household begins to earn more than £7,000 a year, its benefits would reduce gradually as it earns more. I do not think noble Lords would consider that unreasonable.
Universal credit will encourage people to find work by simplifying the move from benefits to employment. In the mean time, disabled people will receive improved support through employment and support allowance. There are two categories of support. First, there is the key provision for severely disabled people in the support group and for other disabled people in the work-related activity group, who will explore suitable work or training. We propose to introduce a one-year time limit for those in the latter group, who will be claiming the contributory employment and support allowance. ESA was always intended to be a benefit that provides temporary support for those in the work-related activity group, where, with the right support, it is reasonable to expect a return to work. It was never meant to be a benefit for the long term for this group. The time limit of one year strikes the best balance between the need to restrict access to contributory benefits, and allowing for those with longer-term illnesses to adjust to their health condition. This is double the length of time for contributory jobseeker’s allowance.
I know that a lot of noble Lords were concerned about this whole area and the WCA. The noble Lords, Lord McKenzie of Luton and Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, raised it, as did the noble Lord, Lord Low, in his introductory speech. We have accepted Professor Harrington’s review and have appointed him to undertake the second independent review of the WCA. Refinement and improvement of the process are ongoing. I hope I can reassure noble Lords on that point. The work capability assessment generally is a matter of considerable concern to noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, was concerned about the very large number of appeals that were successful. However, overall, 60 per cent of appeals are found in favour of the department. If the department’s decision is not upheld by the appeal tribunal, it does not mean to say that the original decision was incorrect. The tribunal is an independent body and in many cases new evidence is provided at the tribunal hearing that was not available to the original decision-maker, or the tribunal raises the original evidence differently. The Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions are working together as part of a task force with the Tribunals Service, Jobcentre Plus, and the Pension, Disability and Carers Service to increase capacity and reduce demand for an appeals process. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that we will seek to improve this process. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, that there are no targets to get people off incapacity benefit.
We are also breaking new ground to ensure that good-quality back-to-work support is available. Private and voluntary sector organisations will provide this support through the new Work Programme. The lessons learnt from the Pathways to Work programme have been taken into account in designing the new Work Programme. For people who may need more support to help them back to the workplace, including disabled people, we will reward sustainable employment, placing a much greater emphasis on supporting people to stay in work. Providers will receive higher payments up to £14,000 if they help people who need the most support into long-term jobs. This long-term, serious investment means that providers of back-to-work support can in turn invest in their business and in the people they are there to help. The 18 preferred bidders have indicated that they plan to invest up to £580 million over the lifetime of their contracts. We expect the providers of this back-to-work support to include respected disability charities such as Mencap and Action for Blind People, organisations which really understand the challenges that some may face.
For people facing more significant disability-related barriers to work, the Government have introduced Work Choice. This provides supported employment as well as support into work. Work in this area of specialist support continues. In the summer, Liz Sayce, chief executive of Radar, will produce an independent report looking at specialist support for people with severe disability-related barriers to work. Included in the scope of this report is access to work. We are continuing to look at ways to make the scheme more efficient and effective so that we can support more disabled people in the workplace. Since December, disabled people have been able to complete an online assessment of their eligibility for access to work via Directgov. This means that both disabled jobseekers and prospective employers can have confidence that the necessary assistance will be available to them. We want to make sure that the range of in-work support for disabled people is effective.
Another key form of this support is the disability living allowance, which is payable whether or not disabled people are in work. The current DLA provision needs reform. The benefit is too complex, and eligibility is based on unclear criteria and outdated assumptions about disability—often leading to inconsistent awards. DLA provision is too static. People’s conditions change, medical advances mean that once debilitating conditions may become more manageable, and technological changes mean that once insurmountable tasks become possible.
Disabled people deserve a system that recognises them as individuals and provides support on the basis of individual need, assessed objectively, and with clarity around eligibility criteria. We plan to retain the key elements of DLA as a non-taxable non-means-tested cash benefit that provides a contribution to the extra costs disabled people may face, whether they are in or out of work.
However, our proposal is to replace DLA with a personal independence payment that will provide for a fairer, more objective and transparent assessment of individual need. That will be at the heart of the benefit. It will look past broad categories of impairments and labels, and instead treat people as individuals and look at the specific challenges they face, rather than make vague assumptions. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, was very concerned about the target to reduce DLA expenditure by 20 per cent. Reducing DLA expenditure by 20 per cent by 2015-16 simply means bringing working-age expenditure back to 2009-10 levels and making it more sustainable for the future.
Regarding our response to a public consultation on DLA reform, we are working with disabled people and disability organisations as we design the PIP assessment, ensuring that it takes account of the full range of disabilities, including sensory impairments, as well as physical, mental, intellectual and cognitive impairments.
My noble friend Lady Browning and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, particularly mentioned people suffering from autism and those responsible for their care. The National Autistic Society published a useful report on who benefits, and it raises a number of helpful points, such as a need for a new assessment to reflect the needs of people with autism spectrum disorders. We agree on all this, we are still working on the design of the assessment, and we will continue to work with disabled people and their organisations, including those relating to autism, as we take this work forward. We know how important it is to get this right. That is why we will test the impact of the new assessment criteria rigorously before we finalise the scheme.
I will conclude by referring to the comments of a number of noble Lords on the Equality Act and the implications that there may well be. The noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, mentioned this, as did my noble friend Lord Addington. We are very concerned about the red tape challenge and how it might impact on the Government’s commitment to the Equality Act. The red tape challenge is part of the Government’s commitment to transparency and growth. The Government set up the red tape challenge website to invite the public to take part in a debate on regulation. The website has recently been revised to make clear that the presence on it of a particular regulation or law should not be read as implying any intention on the Government's part to remove that regulation or law from the statute book.
Several noble Lords mentioned the particular restrictions on local government finance and the enormous impact on local government spending and responsibilities. I reassure them that the Government are very mindful of that. The noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, mentioned Remploy. I am very grateful to him for bringing it to our attention. We confirmed in the spending review that the five-year £555 million operational budget is protected and that the status of Remploy remains unchanged at a time when, as the noble Lord will know, many other programmes are under review.
I will conclude my comments because I am running out of time. I hope that I will be forgiven if I have not mentioned everything. As I said, I will go through the record and write to noble Lords.
I finish by reminding the House of the principles underpinning our reforms. Yes, budgets are tight for the moment, but the changes are about more than saving money; they are about changing lives and people's life prospects. It is right that we have been reminded of the Government’s commitment to fairness by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie; we take that commitment seriously. The real impact on government policies on disabled people will be to empower them, to establish the right and opportunity to work, to encourage accessibility and to provide greater choice and control over how public money is spent to deliver independence and ensure that no one is ever written off because of disability.
Charities Bill [HL]
My Lords, the Bill will bring together provisions of the main legislation on charities in England and Wales into a single piece of legislation; simplify the structure of the existing legislation, making it more accessible to the lay person; and replace the Recreational Charities Act 1958, the Charities Act 1993 and relevant provisions of the Charities Act 2006.
As a consolidation Bill, it brings together provisions of the main charity legislation into a single piece of legislation. Importantly, it does not and cannot introduce new policy, nor open up existing policy for amendment.
The Bill has been drawn up by the Law Commission, working closely with the Office for Civil Society in the Cabinet Office and the Charity Commission. As a Law Commission consolidation Bill it will go through the special parliamentary procedure for Law Commission consolidation Bills, with the detailed parliamentary scrutiny undertaken by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.
Although Ministry of Justice Ministers usually take consolidation Bills through Parliament as Law Commission sponsors, in this case it was decided that a Minister with responsibility for the relevant policy area should pilot the Bill through Parliament. I am pleased to be piloting this Bill through the House of Lords.
Due to the fragmentation of charity legislation over many years, it has become increasing difficult to navigate the law in this area, not least because the Charities Act 2006 made extensive amendments to the Charities Act 1993. Although lawyers and government officials can be expected to keep track of the moving legislative landscape, the same cannot be said of the huge army of volunteer trustees who are the lifeblood of charities large and small throughout England and Wales.
During parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill that became the Charities Act 2006, the Joint Committee on the Bill recommended that charity law be consolidated. It summed up the complexity of the legislative landscape well when it said that,
“small charities—run by volunteers from the proverbial kitchen table—will have to study three different Acts and the relationship between them in order to know the current state of statute law”.
During debates on the Bill, the Joint Committee’s recommendation was endorsed by several noble Lords, who agreed that charity legislation should be consolidated to make it easier to follow.
Although the Bill does not seek to make changes to policy regarding charity law, some minor changes to the existing legislation are being dealt with in a pre-consolidation amendments order. The order, which is made under a specific power in Section 76 of the Charities Act 2006, was considered by this House on 27 April this year. It makes minor changes to the existing legislation which will facilitate the consolidation but which cannot be made in the Bill itself.
As is usual practice, the Cabinet Office conducted a full consultation on the proposed Bill and the pre-consolidation amendments order. Respondents were broadly in support of the consolidation and no substantive concerns were raised about the Bill itself. To address points raised by respondents, some additions were made to the pre-consolidation amendments order where these were within the scope of the power in Section 76 of the 2006 Act. A number of minor drafting changes were also made to the Bill in the light of those responses.
There have been calls by some parties, including some of the consultation respondents, to include in the Bill the 2006 Act provisions relating to fundraising. This was carefully considered but rejected for two good reasons. First, the Bill consolidates the law relating to charities. The fundraising provisions go much wider, covering fundraising for charitable, philanthropic and benevolent purposes, and professional fundraisers and commercial companies undertaking charity promotions. They are therefore beyond the scope of a Bill to consolidate the law relating to charities.
Secondly, there is some doubt about when the public charitable collections provisions of the Charities Act 2006 will be implemented. The provisions create a new regime for licensing and regulating charitable collections conducted in the street or house-to-house, replacing existing legislation that dates back almost 100 years. It has not been possible to implement the new regime for several reasons. Questions have been raised about whether the regime, instead of being deregulatory as intended, will add to the regulatory burden of charities—something that we are very keen to avoid. There is also the issue of cost-effectiveness. The new regime would give the Charity Commission a major new role, but with no new funding to deliver it, at a time when pressure on resources means that the commission has to focus on its core regulatory functions. Finally, the new regime would remove decision-making powers from local authorities, running counter to our plans to devolve more power to local communities. We now believe that the most sensible course of action will be to consider the regulation of public charitable collections as part of the wider review of the Charities Act 2006, which is due to begin later this year.
It is worth saying a bit more about the review of the Charities Act 2006. The review, which is required under Section 73 of the Charities Act 2006, will be a good opportunity to look at the effectiveness of the 2006 Act and the underlying policies, and to consider whether other changes to the legal and regulatory framework for charities could usefully be made.
This consolidation Bill will provide a very clear basis from which to conduct the review—that is, once the legislation is more clearly laid out, it will be easier to assess how well implementation of the legislation is working. Any suggested policy changes or substantive amendments to existing charity law will be considered as part of the review. There are some who will say, “Let’s wait to consolidate until the review of the Charities Act has concluded”. However, any recommendations for legislative change that come out of that review would require primary legislation and could not be achieved through a consolidation Bill. They could also happen only after proper consultation with the charity sector, which would take time, and there is no telling at this stage whether or when there would be the opportunity to legislate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who in welcoming this Bill was reported as saying that if we waited for the perfect moment to consolidate, perhaps we would wait for ever.
The Bill represents a small but important step in making charity law simpler to navigate and supports the Government’s aim of making it easier to set up and run a charity as it will make charity law more accessible to the lay charity trustee. We have a window of opportunity to tidy up what has become a confusing and messy legislative landscape and I commend this Bill to the House.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the way in which she has introduced this Bill and in so doing thank those responsible for it, particularly the Law Commission, the Charity Commission, the Office for Civil Society and the Consolidation Committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell. Consolidation is an often thankless task and I sympathise with the poor old parliamentary draftsmen who on such occasions get nothing but brickbats. He, she or they have done a sterling job in pulling together the 200 plus pages that constitute the Bill.
As my noble friend said, it is vital that Parliament never loses sight of the nature of the charity and voluntary sector which is, as its name implies, made up of volunteers. Ninety-five per cent of all charities in this country have no paid staff and the overwhelming majority of trustees are volunteers—there is just a tiny handful of exceptions. I suspect that every Member of this House is trustee of at least one, and in many cases, many charities. The charity sector is the jewel in our national crown. It is that which keeps us going in hard times; that which keeps us from getting cynical; that which gets us out and about contacting fellow citizens whom we would normally come nowhere near.
The Minister said why the Bill does not consolidate the fundraising provisions in Part 2 of the Charities Act 1992 and in the Charities Act 2006. I will read in Hansard what my noble friend said but at first hearing it sounded a convincing explanation of why the consolidation has not occurred. It has disappointed very many people. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots will have something to say about that when he speaks. Certainly, the Charity Law Association is very disappointed about that important aspect of charity law not being within this Bill. I do not instantly see why it could not have been consolidated and if it proves the case that on review large parts of it are abandoned or changed, you can as well change this consolidation Bill as you can change the 2006 Act.
I know that the Minister is keen to address any issues that are raised in this House, particularly those which will clarify even further the consolidation Bill. Make no mistake, it will make a huge difference. Many solicitors I know who try to help local charities but know very little about charity law will be extremely grateful for this legislation. As the Minister said, the basis on which consolidation measures are brought forward is that they do not change substantive law. I will, therefore, refer in detail to the opening clauses of the Bill in that regard. To enable the Minister, her very helpful Bill team, the parliamentary draftsmen and this House to get to grips with my rather gritty points. I am afraid that I need to set out my observations in unremitting detail. I have hitherto raised these issues with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell and the Bill team.
In short, the key definitions in the Bill are not as clear as they could and should be. They affect the whole interpretation of the Bill. Key to this are the unnecessary distinctions made in the first three clauses between “charitable purpose” and “charitable purposes”. Clause 1(1)(a) refers to “charitable purposes” in defining what is meant by “charity”. Clause 2 is headed, “Meaning of ‘charitable purpose’”. Clause 2(2)(a) refers to “charitable purposes”. The heading to Clause 4 begins, “Charitable purpose”, and the heading to Clause 11 is “Charitable purposes”. Clause 3 takes the biscuit and has it both ways. The heading is, “Charitable purpose: purposes which can be charitable purposes”. Clause 11 purports to define “charitable purposes”,
“In the rest of this Act”.
That implies that there are different definitions of “charitable purposes” in Clauses 1 to 10 from those in Clauses 11 to 358, plus the 11 schedules. Schedule 11, which contains an index of defined expressions, hedges its bets and refers to “charitable purpose or purposes”, directing the reader to Clauses 2(1) and 11.
For those in the Chamber who are still listening and think that I am splitting hairs, I say that we lawyers thrive on hairs. Furthermore, the courts will aver that we parliamentarians do nothing in vain; we may do it vainly, but not in vain. The difference between singular and plural must be taken as having significance—and I believe that it does.
I return to Clause 3, which is crucial and contains the 13 main purposes of a charity. Noble Lords will recollect that the clause heading is, “Charitable purpose: purposes which can be charitable purposes”. I can find no reference in the 2006 Act, or in any other pieces of legislation consolidated in the Bill, to the quizzical qualification, “can”. What can one make of something that “can” be a charitable purpose? The headings to Clauses 2 and 3 seem mutually inconsistent, the former being the same as Clause 2 of the 2006 Act and the latter containing that brooding word, “can”.
I turn now to another issue. I wonder whether the Bill is clear enough in mentioning only in Clause 1(1)(a) the need for a charity to have exclusively charitable purposes. Although it may be arguable, if one follows through the interlocking of the first three clauses of the Bill—with a towel around one’s head, I may say—that the need for a charity to be established for charitable purposes only works through the remainder of the clauses, I prefer the approach of the Charities Act 1993. There, the general interpretation section at the end—Section 97—defines “charitable purposes” as,
“purposes which are exclusively [charitable purposes as defined by section 2(1) of the Charities Act 2006]”.
That last phrase was inserted by the 2006 Act.
I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to an obscurity that exists in relation to what law is being applied in the Bill. Clause 2 makes it clear in two places that it is, unsurprisingly, the current law of England and Wales. In Clause 3(1)(m)(i), one finds a reference to “the old law”. I think I know what the draftsman means, but I am not sure how many other people will, and I would like to be sure that what I think it means is what it means. Finally, I cannot resist pointing out that Clauses 4(1) and 4(5) are superfluous, particularly in the light of Clause 2(1)(b).
I apologise profusely for the turgid nature of my contribution to this debate, but at least there are 10 colleagues in the Chamber who have had to suffer my meanderings. I am grateful for the opportunity.
My Lords, I declare interests as president of the NCVO and chairman of the Armed Forces Charities Advisory Company. I add my thanks to the Minister for bringing forward this Bill and my congratulations to all those who have been involved in its preparation. I do so on the grounds of the important principle, which has been referred to already, that there is nothing more infuriating or dispiriting than starting off to research new legislation which you find is amending previous legislation and which, when you get to it, amended earlier legislation and so on ad infinitum. It reminds one of those archaeological programmes where they slice away the side of a street and you find what was thrown on to it in about 1200, then layer on layer below.
That makes the law unfriendly and, as my noble friend Lord Phillips has said, it is particularly important that charity law should be as user-friendly as possible for the simple reason that most charities are run on voluntary effort. Of course, some will require the expert advice available from firms such as that where my noble friend Lord Phillips was previously a senior partner. However, as far as possible, DIY is a good principle for charities and that is facilitated by consolidation.
In at least two senses, however, I find this a slightly strangely timed Bill. First and most importantly, this being the year of our Lord 2011, the Charities Act 2006 is about to start the quinquennial review which, as my noble friend said, was written into Section 73 of that Act. It is and will be an extensive review because it requires the examiner to look at,
“public confidence in charities … the level of charitable donations … the willingness of individuals to volunteer”,
“the status of the Charity Commission as a government department”.
It is clear from the word on the street that considerable changes will be suggested to the examiner when they set to work, so I fear that this consolidation Bill, while welcome in one sense, will not be the last word and that we shall be reploughing this ground before too long.
The second and more proximate reason for my surprise is the forthcoming charity tribunal hearing on the issue of public benefit. As noble Lords will recall, the 2006 Act ended the presumption of public benefit and required all charities to show that they had a public benefit requirement in their operation. That has always been controversial, as it takes you straight into the heartland of private schools and private hospitals. When we debated the 2006 Bill, some noble Lords found it counterintuitive that schools charging fees of £30,000 could be charities. For the record, I do not find that counterintuitive at all as you do not strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. Yet the strong have a contribution to make to our society in the form of bursaries, useful facilities, teacher exchanges and so on.
A further difficulty about the public benefit test is the rather obscure nature of the test case. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, can expound on this at great length and has done so. It is the case of Re: Resch. which, as a non-lawyer, I find difficult to understand. It is about an Australian private hospital—a fee-paying institution—set in the grounds of a state, or free, hospital. That whole area of public benefit is quite obscure and difficult to deal with and one objective that we had in 2006 was to ensure that the thing was not further confused or compounded by introducing political angles into that tricky area from either end of the political spectrum. That was why the Charity Commission was given the role of establishing the public benefit test.
The noble Lord cited my name on Re: Resch., and he is quite right that it is a leading Privy Council case, but it is wonderfully obscure. He may remember that, during the debates on the 2006 Act, I moved an amendment to try to give the Charity Commission a little help in giving guidance and making judgments on public benefit. In many ways, it is a pity that we left it nude and relying on a paucity of very unsatisfactory cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is one of the prime charity solicitors, and if he says Re: Resch. is obscure, who am I to disagree? I bow to his expert opinion. As he said, the Charity Commission was left with the task, and we now have a reference by the Attorney-General to the charity tribunal for a determination on the public benefit test. The hearing is later this month, so we are holding this Second Reading debate on the cusp of potentially significant changes for the charity sector. Some noble Lords may say that is all about private hospitals and private schools—that they deserve what is coming to them—but I think a word of caution is required because, as has been pointed out, the decisions made in those proceedings will affect not just fee-paying independent schools but potentially all fee-charging charities. That will include playgroups, nurseries, care homes, healthcare charities, museums, theatres, amateur sports clubs, advice centres, veterinary care charities, heritage and visitor attractions, housing associations and alms-houses. It has a very substantial possibility of changing the sector. When coming in to the House, noble Lords may have seen the huge queues outside Westminster Abbey of people wanting to go in to see the abbey today. It will be affected by the tribunal’s determination. While I absolutely support the Bill, I think we are holding this debate at an unusual point in the development of charity law.
As my noble friend pointed out, this Bill is a consolidation measure containing no new legislative proposals. I will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said on the points that he made. The guts of the Bill are in Clauses 3 and 4 and are to do with the public benefit test and the test for charitable purposes. I entirely support what my noble friend said about the charitable purposes clause. I was surprised that Section 2 in the 2006 Act, which is headed “Meaning of ‘charitable purpose’” and seems absolutely clear, is replaced by a clause headed “Charitable purpose: purposes which can be charitable purposes”. That does not clarify anything; it seems to obscure things. That issue needs to be chased down.
Secondly, the words “under the old law” which, as my noble friend pointed out, now appear at the end of Clause 3(1)(m)(i), are a further confusion. Perhaps the Minister will explain why Section 2(8) in the 2006 Act, which contained the definitions of charity law and existing charity law, seems to have dropped out of the Bill. Maybe they appear somewhere else or have proved otiose or redundant, in which case, I am perfectly happy, but it would be helpful to have some words on that in due course.
One of the glories of consolidation Bills is that they provide a brief opportunity for reflection on where we got it wrong in the past and the direction of travel for the future. The Minister and my noble friend Lord Phillips referred to fundraising, which has proved a tricky subject and is clearly still in need of further treatment.
There are three brief issues that I would like to signpost this afternoon. The first is the role of the charity tribunal. The idea of the charity tribunal was to provide a quick, user-friendly, cheaper alternative to High Court proceedings so that small charities were not burdened by the risk that they would have to undertake if they appealed against Charity Commission hearings. I am afraid that it has not worked. There have been very few cases. Those that there have been have been highly legalistic in their approach and we are back with Silks, lawyers and everything else. The idea that we had for a simple remedy has not been fulfilled. One problem was the terms of the old Schedule 4, which is very prescriptive. We tried to persuade the then Labour Government that it would be a good idea to remove the schedule, but we were not able to do so. It is now reproduced wholesale in Schedule 6. If we are to make the tribunal as effective as we had hoped that it would be, a whole fresh eye is needed.
The second problem concerns dealing with the emergence of social investment. Recent years have seen the emergence of people who wish to make investments for social as well as financial purposes. They have an interest in making an investment and want to see a financial return but they also have a social purpose. The present proposals for charitable investments to be able to get improved results if they are successful—for example, as regards prisoner reoffending, getting people into work and ending school exclusions—would mean that the charities would get a better return.
There are implications for this whole area, including individuals. We have the counterintuitive idea that you may give the money to a charity to do something but you may not invest in it. That cannot be sensible. People who invest in charities or one of these schemes would get back their money or perhaps a modest return. That surely would be a sensible way of increasing the volume of money available for the sector. For charitable trusts, this would mean tackling the issue of permanent endowment, which cannot be spent. Therefore, many charities find it impossible to support schemes which are entirely in line with their objectives because of the issue whereby they cannot invest in schemes where there is a social return characteristic. That is a new area which has come to the fore in recent years. As we move forward we need to take time to think about it.
The last and greatest issue is of course the future regulatory structure. This afternoon, we have talked about charitable trusts. But there is now a welter of different corporate forms. You might be a charitable trust, a company limited by shares, a company limited by guarantee or a community interest company—a CIC. You could be an unincorporated association or an industrial and provident society, and you are shortly going to be able to become a charitable incorporated organisation—a CIO. Each of those forms of company or structure has different regulatory requirements as regards governance and fundraising. I am not sure that we have begun to think about how we get some coherence into the whole sector. I think that we can look at those issues in the future.
In conclusion, I entirely support this Bill. The UK charitable sector is glorious in its diversity. Therefore, this Bill has my strong support. But it is not the end of the road. Important decisions lie ahead if we are to find the right way to engage our fellow citizens in this critical area.
My Lords, at the outset I should declare an interest as I have formed and entirely fund the Sheikh Abdullah Foundation, a small charity set up in my father’s memory which undertakes charitable work in the United Kingdom and overseas. I have also previously spoken in your Lordships’ House on the subject of the charitable sector. Charities are a fundamental barometer of the cohesion of our society and bring people together for a common cause. I feel that by performing charitable work people attain considerable satisfaction, and the work adds meaning to their lives. There are more than 170,000 charities in this country, an estimate of around 1 million charitable trustees, and our record for charitable donations is the best in Europe. We should therefore be justifiably proud of our charities.
I warmly welcome this Bill. As those of us who are heavily involved in charitable work will be only too aware, the law on the affairs of the third sector have become increasingly complicated in recent years. We should be grateful to the Law Commission, which, working with the Office for Civil Society and the Charity Commission, has undertaken the considerable workload of preparing this consolidation. The fact that the Table of Origins accompanying the Bill runs to 49 pages suggests that the Bill is long overdue—and it is a large Bill, with over 350 clauses. None the less it is important, and the House will want to ensure that its provisions meet the ambitious tests that the Government have set themselves in bringing it forward. I believe that the Government are right to seek to bring together the principal provisions for charities into one piece of legislation, and to take this opportunity to simplify the structure of the provisions, making it easier for those who wish to practise charitable actions to understand and navigate. That will command widespread support right across the entire charitable sector, where the current system is complicated and inaccessible other than to experts.
In part, this Bill arises from a commitment given during the passage of the Charities Act 2006 to consolidate measures into a single piece of legislation. The current legislative basis is fragmented, with key provisions contained in the Recreational Charities Act 1958, the Charities Act 1993 and the Charities Act 2006, all of which have been subsequently amended. The Charity Commission is undertaking a review of its services and this may well result in a reduced role for the commission as part of reducing charity regulation.
Many people in the United Kingdom donate their time and energy to assist the work of various charities as trustees, volunteers and fundraisers. We should do all we can to ensure that their efforts are not undermined in any way by unnecessary complexity. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has estimated that nearly 31 million people in this country volunteer informally, with over 20 million volunteering formally. We also have the big society deregulation taskforce, chaired by my noble friend Lord Hodgson, which is likely to suggest a number of measures to reduce regulatory burdens on voluntary activity. The Government are also working to implement my noble friend Lord Young’s recommendations on reducing health and safety burdens on organisations.
Cutting red tape and making it easier to volunteer is crucial in encouraging us to volunteer, and I look forward to the implementation of the national citizen service in this regard. The setting aside of £100 million in a voluntary sector transition fund will help many organisations in an environment of reduced public spend. I am also encouraged by the Government’s determination to ensure that charities and social enterprises will have greater opportunities to deliver public services.
Making it easier for people to donate to charity is welcome and the big society bank is an extremely exciting development. By expanding the social investment marketplace and helping to attract extra private sector investment, it is expected that the bank will generate hundreds of millions of pounds for charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to help fund social projects across the country. The Bill will also assist the Government in the implementation of their big society agenda. We should take this opportunity to applaud the changes in the 2011 Budget such as the innovative 10 for 10 proposal, whereby if one leaves 10 per cent of one’s estate to charity, the inheritance tax will accordingly be reduced by 10 per cent. The Government should be commended on their commitment to civil society, and the charitable sector plays a critical role in delivering that agenda.
One of the key measures of the success of this Bill will be its ability to enable the charitable sector to get on with the excellent job it is doing and to devote less energy to the details of charitable law. We need to ensure that those who donate to charity can have confidence that their resources are being put to optimal use. It is estimated that over 50 per cent of the population make monthly donations to charity, and they want to see that their contributions are making a real difference for the particular cause they support.
Yet even in the area of donations we have not managed to optimise the opportunities. The Charities Aid Foundation has estimated that around £750 million each year goes unclaimed from the gift aid scheme. I welcome the action that the Government have taken on gift aid. In this year’s Budget the Chancellor announced reforms to the gift aid scheme in order to try to encourage more people to donate to charity. Under the new regulations charities will not have to declare gift aid when claiming it on small sums adding up to £5,000 over the course of a year. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to reassure the House that the Government will ensure that, in the new framework, we can expect a silver service from the Charity Commission.
We should make it easier to establish and run a charity so that administration consumes fewer resources and the real value can reach those in need of charitable support. Our charities do excellent work and it should be our ambition to create the framework for them to go even further. This is what underpins the Government’s approach, and the Bill is but one part of that.
Too often, the good intentions expressed in this House do not translate into good law in the world outside. The Bill is an opportunity to get this right and to make a crucial difference to the charitable sector. In that context, I hope that the Government have given consideration to how best to engage people in the work of charities. Trustees are busy, working together. They have an average age of 57; only one in three is under the age of 50, and only 2 per cent under 30. Experience may bring benefits, but I hope that the Minister agrees that it would be good to encourage a greater number of younger people to get involved in charitable governance.
As the size of the charitable sector increases, there is more pressure on recruitment. We need to make sure that those who want to get involved in the work of charities can find a quick and simple way to match their interests with available opportunities. The perception of a complex regulatory framework can act as a deterrent, but the Bill has a chance to fix that—by consolidating provisions it should make the legislation more understandable and easier to navigate.
The current charitable landscape is encouraging and the Government have decided to address the concerns about complexity around the legal framework at an opportune time. I fully support the Bill.
My Lords, although shorter than usual, this has been an enjoyable debate. It has shown this House at its best and the depth of knowledge, commitment and expertise of its Members. I thank the Minister for her detailed and helpful introduction and explanation of the consolidation Bill.
I welcome this consolidation. As we have heard, it brings together the provisions of the existing main charity legislation. The Recreational Charities Act 1958—I am not entirely clear what a recreational charity is as opposed to any other charity—the Charities Act 1993 and the relevant, although not all, provisions of the 2006 Act are brought together into one piece of legislation. I welcome the assurance of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that there are no new policy issues involved and that no changes have been introduced. This is exactly what it says on the tin—a consolidation Bill designed to simplify existing legislation.
Like all noble Lords who have spoken today, I thank the Law Commission and congratulate it on its work, as I do the Office for Civil Society, the former Office of the Third Sector and the Charity Commission, which also consulted on this prior to the official formal consultation.
As noble Lords will know, the consultation was launched in September 2009 and closed in December 2009. I should confess to your Lordships’ House that at that time I was the Minister for the third sector, with responsibility for this legislation. I was keen to see progress before the last election but in those few months between the end of the consultation and the dissolution of Parliament in April 2010, there was no time in the legislative timetable—which was certainly of regret to me. Another year has passed before we have found time for debate but I certainly welcome the legislation being brought forward.
On the consultation, I was keen to refamiliarise myself with the consultation responses and am disappointed that they are no longer available on the website. It may be helpful for further consideration of the Bill, and would have been helpful for today’s debate, if they were made available. Having said that, I understand, and the Minister made it clear, that there was broad support for the Bill. As far as I am aware, there were no substantive objections to issues in the Bill before us today.
There have clearly been widespread concerns that, since the first legislation was introduced in 1958, charity legislation has over time become more complicated. That can be a deterrent and put off those who wish to contribute to society through charities and charitable work. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, described the previous legislation as “unfriendly”. That is a good description for those trying to wade through the legislation or to set up a charity or conduct themselves as trustees. It is right to pay tribute, as other noble Lords have done, to not just those who work for charities and the wider sector but also the, in many cases, unsung trustees. Being the trustee of a charity can be a huge responsibility. We should be grateful to them, many willingly and some not so willingly taking on these roles out of a sense of duty and responsibility. We have an obligation as legislators to make it as easy for them as possible to take on the responsibilities that they wish to and to play a role in society. Consolidating the law in a way that seeks to reduce complexity and bring the laws together in one place can be extremely helpful.
One general point that other noble Lords have made is that we should not be overly confident that this is going to make life much easier for charities. Looking through the Bill and its schedules, it is long and detailed, with huge implications and responsibilities. It will not be that much more easily understood by the lay person, however much we in your Lordships’ House try to make it so. Those noble Lords in the House for Questions yesterday may have heard the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Boateng: whether those who wish to set up charities should be able to do so without needing a lawyer. I noticed at the time that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, gave a wry grin at that comment. That wry grin was explained when he spoke on some of the clauses of the Bill: it is almost impossible for the lay person to understand charity law in detail or to navigate their way through without a lawyer.
Charity law has, of necessity, to be detailed. It seeks to protect the donor and the public, and also seeks to regulate the charity’s activities, protect its integrity and that of its trustees. Looking at the Table of Origins and the involvement of different Government departments, the legislation is a response to issues that have arisen. This is a hugely complicated area but the legislation exists to bring order and, I hope, logic to that complexity. As welcome as this is—I warmly welcome the legislation coming forward at this point—there still remain some uncertainties for charities which I hope the Minister will be able to comment on. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred to some of these as well.
I commented that the Bill brought together existing legislation, including the relevant provisions of the Charities Act 2006—as other noble Lords have mentioned. I was grateful for the Minister’s explanation at the beginning as to why, as part of this consolidation, we have not got to the parts of the 2006 Act that have not been activated and which would make the Charity Commission the lead regulator for public charitable collections. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said—I agree with his comments and will also look at Hansard carefully—there seems to have been a change of policy by the Minister on that issue. I would be interested to know, if the Government’s intention is not to proceed with those provisions in the 2006 Act, whether there will be a further consultation with those charities. My understanding is that as part of this consultation a number of organisations welcomed those provisions and wanted to see them included in the legislation. The Minister seemed to say that it was unlikely that they would come forward. If that is the case, will there be a further consultation on this? She will also be aware—and her own comments hinted at this—that one reason why that is not included today is because cuts in the Charity Commission’s budget make it difficult for it to undertake further responsibilities. If that is the prime reason, the House would appreciate some further information, but I may have misunderstood that.
The other provision from the 2006 Act that has not yet come into force is on the charitable incorporated organisations. It is in this legislation and is widely welcomed; there is no dispute over how widely welcomed it is. I may be missing something, but could the Minister explain why the CIOs are in this legislation while the other measures that we mentioned on fundraising are not? Is that a policy decision or a funding decision for the Charity Commission rather than a technical legal point?
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, about the uncertainty around the 2006 review of the Charity Acts. The commitment is that the review would take place in 2011. I fully understand, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said, that there would be a reluctance to delay consolidation legislation, because that would mean that much-needed legislation would come through the statute books. But there may be changes and suggestions for changes following the review that will make this legislation out of date very quickly. That is the concern. After we have gone to the effort, in which all the organisations have been involved, of ensuring that we have comprehensive legislation, if the review takes place this year it will be out of date within the year. Given that the commitment has been made to have the review on the legislation go through now, can the Minister assure me that following the review, should changes be sought that benefit charities and civic society, the necessary parliamentary time will be made available as quickly as possible to ensure that we do not have legislation on the statute books advising charities that will be out of date so quickly?
The third uncertainty, although I shall not overly dwell on it, is about the funding difficulties faced by charities for both national and local funders and the impact that it is having on their ability to deliver and provide support for the big society. We have heard the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that almost every Member of your Lordships' House is involved in a charity in one way or another, which is perfectly true. So your Lordships' House is only too aware that the charities and the wider third sector have been the backbone of the big society, although it has not been called that, for many years. There is now an increasing anxiety and uncertainty of what that means for them, and how they can continue to fulfil that role against a backdrop of funding cuts. Those charities will broadly welcome the legislation before us today because they know that it seeks to address some of their concerns and the problems that they have with legislation and simplify the legal requirements on them. We also welcome it and hope that the co-operation and support shown in the legislation continue in other areas of government policy, in recognition of the enormous power for good and the practical support that charities provide to communities across the country.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness and all noble Lords for the warm welcome for this Bill. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness that this House has been seen at its best today, with the breadth of knowledge and expertise—and especially the way in which my noble friend Lord Phillips navigated us around some of the most complicated legal speak that I have ever come across.
Charity is a subject that resonates with all Members of this House, where we have such a broad range of knowledge and experience of the charitable sector, as we have seen from this afternoon’s contributions. I thank all those who have spoken and will try to respond to all the points raised. I am grateful for the speech of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots. I know that he played a significant part in this House’s scrutiny of the Charity Act 2006 and was one of those who called for the consolidation of charity legislation at that time. He is now taking forward important work in leading the cutting red tape task force, which is shortly to make its recommendations on how we can cut the thicket of red tape that holds charities back. I understand that the task force has looked at certain barriers to social investment as part of its work, and I look forward to seeing his recommendations on this fairly complex area.
The Government are committed to encouraging and facilitating social investment wherever appropriate, and to making the regulation of charities less burdensome while preserving trust and confidence in the sector. The review of the Charities Act 2006, which is due to start later this year, will present the right opportunity to consider the charity law implications of these recommendations.
I note my noble friend’s points about making permanent endowment much easier. I sympathise with his concerns about the complexity of the schedule of appeal and review rights in the Charities Act 1993. That is not something that we can address in the consolidation Bill but it is an issue that shall be considered as part of the review of the Charities Act 2006. There certainly appears to be a case for simplifying the current complicated system.
My noble friend also raised the issue of public benefit. As the matter of public benefit is now before the Upper Tribunal, I do not really want to comment at this stage other than to say that we would welcome clarification of the law. The review of the 2006 Act will be able to take tribunal decisions into account.
I turn to my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury’s point. I am grateful for the knowledge and experience of charities of my noble friend, who was a key contributor to the Charities Act 2006 and who has applied his keen eye to the Bill and the pre-consolidation amendments order that we considered in Grand Committee last week. I hope that I will be able to provide him with some reassurance on the points that he raised during last week’s Moses Room debate on the pre-consolidation amendments order, particularly his concerns about the pre-consolidation amendments to Section 79 of the Charities Act 1993. I have written to him with a response on his points about Section 79 but would be happy to arrange a meeting with the Bill team and the drafter if he has any remaining concerns on those points.
I have some sympathy with my noble friend’s frustrations that in places the drafting of the Bill inherits some of the complexity of the existing legislation. However, one must bear in mind the main constraint of the consolidation process itself, which is that it must not involve any change in the law other than those that can be achieved by way of the power to make pre-consolidation amendments. What to the untrained eye might appear to be a straightforward improvement in drafting could in fact change the meaning, which we must be careful to preserve.
I am sorry that my noble friend is disappointed by the decision to exclude the fundraising provisions of the Charities Acts of 1992 and 2006. As I said in my opening speech, the decision not to include those provisions was taken for good reasons. I know that in its response to the consultation on the draft consolidation Bill the Charity Law Association called for the inclusion of the fundraising provisions, but it is important to point out that some of the other consultation respondents agreed with the decision to exclude those provisions.
I recognise that both my noble friends Lord Phillips and Lord Hodgson also have a number of detailed points about the Bill itself, notably about Part 1 relating to the meaning of “charity” and “charitable purposes”. I understand that my noble friend Lord Phillips has written to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills, and that the points that he has raised are receiving proper attention, so I hope that he will not be too disappointed if I do not deal with those detailed and complex points today.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh rightly pointed out that this country has a proud record of many thousands of volunteers who work tirelessly for charity and social enterprise day in, day out. I welcome his warm welcome to the Bill and congratulate him on the work that he does. My noble friend is right that the big society sits at the heart of highlighting the ability of individuals to engage and deliver such necessary and valuable contributions. He also mentioned gift aid. Her Majesty’s Treasury leads on all tax issues, including gift aid. The Government recognise the importance of gift aid, which is now worth nearly £1 billion a year to charities. The Budget announced a package of measures to support charities. This included the introduction of a new gift aid small donations scheme from 2013. That will permit a gift aid-style payment to be claimed on many small donations without the need for a charity to obtain gift aid declarations. These measures will increase funding to charities by around £600 million over the lifetime of this Parliament.
The noble Lord also talked about support for volunteering and giving. The Government have issued a giving Green Paper, which sought to encourage a debate on making social action the norm for all ages. The Office for Civil Society is also working on creating a civic service, encouraging civil servants to volunteer, and a range of initiatives related to the European Year of Volunteering this year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about consultation responses. A summary of them is now available on the Cabinet Office website, as of this morning. She also asked about CIOs. They will be implemented later this year, although availability of the CIO to existing charities will have to be phased to help the Charity Commission manage the demand. She also spoke of Charity Commission funding. All government departments are facing tough decisions about priorities; the Charity Commission is no exception. It is currently undertaking a strategic review to focus on key priorities for its future work, including seeking the views of the public and other stakeholders. The public consultation phase of the commission’s strategic review has now been completed, and is now focusing on the detail of the changes it will need to make.
The commission’s strategic review will feed into the statutory review of the Charities Act 2006, which is due to begin later this year and will consider potential changes to the legislative framework for charities and the commission. The commission’s chief executive has said about its strategic review:
“I am quite convinced that even with the reduced resources we can be a very good and effective regulator, but we are going to have to be smart and we are going to have to be tough about what we do and don't do”.
In conclusion, I once again thank all noble Lords for giving their time and consideration to this Bill. This is clearly a subject close to many of your Lordships’ hearts, and I welcome the well informed comments that have been made. I look forward to the full and thorough review of the Charities Act 2006 later this year, which will pick up on many comments made by noble Lords today. In the mean time, I hope that noble Lords will agree that the consolidation Bill is a positive step to tidying up what has become a confusing area of legislation. The Government are firmly committed to making it easier to set up and run a charity. I look forward to the recommendations from the taskforce of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on cutting red tape in the sector. I am also pleased that, later this year, the first ever legal structure designed specifically for the needs of charities, the charitable incorporated organisation, will be available.
I, too, will read Hansard very carefully tomorrow. If there are points—I am sure that there must be—that I have failed to address this afternoon, I undertake to write to noble Lords and place a copy of the letter in the Library.
Bill read a second time.
House adjourned at 4.54 pm.