House of Lords
Wednesday, 18 May 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
The Earl of Lytton took the oath, following the by-election under Standing Order 9.
Faith Schools: Imported Hate Material
My Lords, new arrangements for inspecting maintained schools, academies and free schools are being developed, and relevant training on aspects of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development will be provided to inspectors. Specialist inspectors who undertake work relating to independent faith schools are soon to receive more detailed training to enhance understanding and awareness of the hate material that they may encounter under exceptional circumstances. We are sending a clear message that extremism will not be tolerated in schools.
I thank the Minister for that Answer but I wonder whether it is not too little and may be too late. Will he promise us that he will address two problems? One is that the inspectorate has so far failed to detect extremist material—for example, that sodomy should be punished by killing. Perhaps the problem is that there are at least two distinct inspectorates. The second problem is that there seems to be a failure of safeguards in part-time religious schools, which seem to have slipped through the net. Will the Minister assure us that safeguards will be put in place—for example, to prevent the excess use of physical discipline in part-time schools?
My Lords, lots of points were wrapped up in that question. This is a complex area. I agree with the noble Baroness’s two underlying points, the first being about the need to make sure that inspection is rigorous and that inspectors are trained to know what to look for. Part of the problem is, as the noble Baroness says, knowing what to look for. In spite of the best regulatory frameworks, that will remain a problem but we are addressing it. I agree that the point about supplementary schools and physical chastisement needs to be looked at. A report was published last year by Sir Roger Singleton. He discussed its findings with my ministerial colleagues—particularly the point about physical chastisement. They are reflecting on that and working out the practical implications of his recommendations.
My Lords, recent incidents of religious hatred in Scotland have been a wake-up call for the Scottish Government, and it is to be hoped that they will reintroduce some of the measures that they abandoned in 2007 to tackle sectarianism across the west of Scotland and beyond. I recognise that religious bigotry and sectarianism do not respect devolved and reserved areas in our constitution but will the UK Government, with the Minister speaking on their behalf, support in any way that they can the national efforts being made in Scotland to send sectarianism into the dustbin of history?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely good point. Unfortunately, hatred and bigotry come in many shapes and sizes and we must all be very wary about thinking that they come in only one. We take this matter seriously and are looking at what further measures may need to be taken. I should be very happy to learn from whatever practice there may be in Scotland to make sure that, between us, we do everything that we can.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the inspectorate is only the second line of defence? The first line of defence is the teaching staff in schools. Can he tell us what is done to protect the teaching profession from the arrival in it of people likely to inculcate religious hatred, and what steps are taken in training teachers to enable them to combat that phenomenon when they meet it?
My Lords, there are a number of lines of defence: inspection is one and parents and the wider community are another. Clearly, teachers are a further line. There is also the issue of ensuring that teachers are not guilty of spreading hate material and the kind of thoughts and ideas that none of us would want to see spread. We are carrying out a review of teachers’ professional standards, and we have asked them to look at how those standards can be used to guard against extremist conduct and the promotion of extremist beliefs by members of the teaching profession.
As I said in my Answer, Ofsted is looking at the way in which it trains and will be carrying out pilots of its new inspection regime in the autumn. It will also be setting up a group within Ofsted that has more specialist expertise in knowing what to look for. As regards my noble friend’s precise questions, I do not know the specific way in which it is training. I would be happy to ask the chief inspector of Ofsted to speak to the noble Lord and then to answer his questions directly.
My Lords, I am interested that the focus of the question is on faith schools and does not include community schools, particularly academies and free schools that seem potentially to be less regulated and accountable in this area. For Church of England schools, there is a framework—the statutory inspection of Anglican schools—which makes specific mention within the grade descriptors to community cohesion and to all children feeling valued and included, regardless of their theistic or non-theistic life stance. Is the Minister aware that, were there to be a proliferation of race and religious hate material in a church school, it would be regraded as “inadequate” and would prompt a diocesan intervention? Does he agree that high-quality RE, which supports mutual understanding and valuing, limits the impact of that hate material? Would he therefore agree that any reduction in the capacity to develop such high-quality RE within the wider curriculum is to be deprecated?
My Lords, I very much agree with the core point made by the right reverend Prelate about faith schools. It highlights the reason why one has to be careful of generalisations. One-third of all our schools are faith schools. One has to be careful not to spread across an entire sector concerns that one might have about a subset. I also know that Church of England schools have a particularly good record in promoting strong community cohesion and addressing some of these issues in precisely the way that the right reverend Prelate outlined.
My Lords, why, then, in the Education Bill are the Government removing the requirement on inspectors to report on children's well-being and community cohesion? Are these not the very factors that are relevant to the issues of race and religious hatred that noble Lords have raised today?
We believe that the Ofsted regime that we propose to put in place will enable inspectors to check for precisely these points. We are extremely hopeful that the additional training that I talked about will enable the sharper focus that we need to be applied.
Higher Education: Funding
My Lords, 139 institutions intending to charge above £6,000 for any undergraduate course in 2012-13 submitted access agreements to the Director of Fair Access. Fee waivers and bursaries that universities plan to make available mean that we will not have firm cost estimates until students have received their loans late in the 2012-13 academic year. We believe that fee loans will be significantly below an average of £9,000. We will closely monitor the situation but currently expect the cost to be broadly within the Government’s estimates.
I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Back in December when we voted on this, we were told that the assumed average fee was £7,500 and that £9,000 would be charged only in exceptional circumstances. The House of Commons Library tells us that if the average fee goes up by just £400, the extra cost to the taxpayer through loan subsidy and underwriting will be £340 million. Therefore, I will try again with the Minister. It is clear that with more than two-thirds of universities saying that they will charge the maximum fee, £9,000 is not exceptional. If the assumptions were wrong, who will pay the extra cost? Will it be the national debt or students' prospects through fewer places?
My Lords, as the noble Lord rightly said, we made the assumption in December of an average fee of roughly £7,500, with a 90 per cent take-up by students. However, it is up to higher education institutions to decide what application they should put in, and for the Office of Fair Access to look at that and make recommendations. As we made clear, there will be a number of bursaries and waivers, so we think that the average figure will come down well below the maximum of £9,000. I remind the noble Lord also that merely because a university puts in an application to charge £9,000 for one course, this does not mean that all courses will cost £9,000. I am afraid that the noble Lord will have to wait and see. As my right honourable friend Mr Willetts said in another place, we see no reason at the moment to amend the broad estimate that we put before the House last autumn.
What is the Government's estimate of how many students will not repay their debts after 30 years? In the light of that, are the Government continuing the policy of wanting to securitise the debt, and what sort of discount do they expect on such securitisation?
My Lords, I have no estimates of the numbers of students who will not repay their loan. We hope very much that all those who benefit from higher education will, as we have made clear, have a higher earning potential throughout their working life. Therefore, it is likely that the vast majority will be able to repay their debt.
My Lords, I have declared my interests in the Register. Is the Minister aware that very good-quality higher education is taking place in the highly trusted sponsor private sector of higher education? Is he aware that the potential for discrimination against this sector caused by some of the present regulations will damage not only the institutions in that vital private sector but the partnerships that they have with state universities, many of whom will depend on the income stream that they will get from the private sector in order to make up the cuts in their teaching grants?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw the House’s attention to the private sector. There are, I think, five degree-awarding institutions in this country that are private. We hope that they will continue to prosper, and we will do what we can to ensure that they do so.
I declare an interest as chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the only privately funded university that operates a four-term year and a two-year degree. If the country operated a four-term year and a two-year degree, would these fees be necessary? If it implemented them now, could they not be reduced? Is he able to say whether the increase in tuition fees will increase the number of student tutorials?
My Lords, the noble Lord always has very interesting points to make to the House about time, in whatever form it takes. His experiences of Buckingham are interesting and they are ones that universities throughout the country could look at. The point we should always make about higher education institutions, whether they are private, like Buckingham, or receive quite a large proportion of their money from the state one way or another, is that it is open to them to decide what they should do. The noble Lord has made a very interesting suggestion. Let them study that.
My Lords, when the Browne review came to pass, one of the great concerns of the sector was how to pay for, particularly, science and engineering courses, which are incredibly expensive. The £9,000 goes nowhere near covering the cost of those courses. Will the Minister assure the House that there are measures in place to ensure that universities get additional funding and make that very clear in a statement at the earliest possible opportunity?
Obviously, one course will cost more than others according to the sort of subject being taught. My noble friend is right to make that point. It will still be open to HEFCE to provide money for courses that are necessarily more expensive. It will do that as is appropriate. Whether this is a matter on which my right honourable friend should make a statement is another matter, but I will certainly draw the point that my noble friend has made to his attention.
My Lords, since the Scottish Executive are under the same financial constraints as the UK Government, will the Minister explain to the House, and indeed to English students, how it is that Scottish students can go to Scottish universities without paying any fees at all?
My Lords, fortunately I am not responsible for the Scottish Executive, and I have no intention of answering for them. The circumstances in this country are different, but perhaps the noble Lord could have a word with his noble friend Lord Barnett and have a lengthy discussion, to his own benefit, on the Barnett formula, how it works and what benefits it brings to those who live north of the border.
Rugby Union: Twickenham Railway Station
My Lords, Twickenham station already serves passengers attending large rugby events on a regular basis. It is for Stagecoach South West Trains as the train and station operator at Twickenham to work with the British Transport Police, the RFU and the local authority to manage passenger flows at the station during special events. The operator has a significant amount of experience of major rugby internationals that take place at the stadium.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, how does he suggest that a very full platform that is not long enough to take longer trains will cope sufficiently with heavy congestion and use? Would the world cup not be a wonderful opportunity for extending it? Could any major sporting event not be seen as an opportunity to expand and improve the infrastructure? I draw my noble friend’s attention to the Rugby League World Cup in 2013. Are there any infrastructure plans or increased funding guarantees for that?
My Lords, in response to my noble friend’s second question, I would not normally expect the business case, the BCR or the transport infrastructure project to be significantly affected by an existing sporting venue. In response to my noble friend’s first question, it is envisaged that many of the eight-coach trains that currently operate into London Waterloo will be lengthened to 10-coach trains by 2014 under the HLOS. Platforms will similarly be lengthened at busier stations, such as Twickenham, providing substantial extra capacity at major events such as the Rugby Union World Cup. There are well established plans to manage passenger flows on to the platform so that there are not too many passengers on it at the same time.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is not much good trying to encourage more people to travel by rail with improved station facilities if at the same time the Government are driving some people away by agreeing to fare increases way above what is already the Government-induced high rate of inflation?
Is my noble friend aware that one of the problems at Twickenham is, frankly, that too many people have had too much to drink? Is he also aware that whereas at Murrayfield and the Millennium stadium, no alcohol is sold while a match is taking place, at Twickenham it is available in the bars during matches? Will he have a word with the RFU to stop that because it goes against the interests of anyone who wants to go and watch a match, and afterwards people might be a little more sober?
My Lords, today is the 776th day since Governments on either side have ordered any new rolling stock for our railways. In circumstances where noble Lords in this Chamber will have found it extraordinarily difficult to get on to trains, and many people are crowded out, how are we going to show the world that we have a railway that is worth using unless some new rolling stock is ordered very urgently?
UK Border Agency
The UK Border Agency has issued a full response to the chief inspector’s report. We accept all 10 of his recommendations, eight in full and two in part. I will place a copy of the response in the Library.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clarity of her Answer. In the present climate, terrorists pose a serious threat to the security of the United Kingdom. What is being done to establish proper co-ordination between the work of the UKBA and our intelligence services, something that was identified in the Vine report? I ask the Minister to ensure that the allegations made in the 100,000 calls made by the public to the agency each year are recorded and published, particularly to build confidence that adequate measures are being taken to protect people against immigration and customs offences.
I hope that I can reassure my noble friend. At the time when the inspection of the UKBA was being conducted, the agency was in fact part way through a programme to assess how it manages intelligence. My noble friend is right to point out that intelligence is absolutely key to securing our borders. That is why the agency is willing to accept the report because it will inform the action that will be taken to ensure that intelligence operations are improved. My noble friend also asked about reports made by the public. One of the recommendations in the chief inspector’s report deals with that. We have accepted the recommendation and intend to take action on it.
My Lords, it is welcome that the recommendations are accepted, but does the noble Baroness accept that they are one of a number of responsibilities being placed on the UK Border Agency that include the immigration cap, the student visa system and the policy of preventing the children of failed asylum seekers being held in detention, which the Government have still to implement, as well as the issue that we discussed yesterday, that of returning asylum seekers to the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries? Yet the UK Border Agency’s budget is being reduced by 20 per cent. Is the noble Baroness confident that the UKBA can do all this and at the same time cope with the massive disruption brought by reductions in budget and staff?
I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that I do believe that that is possible. That is why the emphasis on intelligence and the way it is gathered and disseminated has been a key plank of the new Government’s negotiation with the UK Border Agency over how it operates in future. We regard security of the borders as a very high priority for all the reasons that the noble Lord mentioned. Intelligence is so important here that making sure that the agency maximises the efficiency of its intelligence operation is why we have quite openly accepted the recommendations of the chief inspector’s report. We are anxious to improve security with all the help we can get, including from this report.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that one of the recommendations of the report pointed to the need to focus on those responsible for organising and facilitating the illegal entry of people and goods rather than on the individuals. Does she agree that we owe that not just to the British people as a matter of securing the borders but, as a duty of care, to the people who are imported from overseas into slavery? This is big business; it is a matter of human decency.
I totally agree with my noble friend. The agency is very clear that the processes that it uses are as important as the efficiency with which it uses intelligence. As my noble friend has indicated, it needs to make sure that fairness is also at the heart of the way in which it conducts its business.
On overseas students who are in this country—I remind Members of my earlier declaration of interest—does the Minister accept that the state university system would be a much more secure place if we knew precisely where the students who have been given visas actually are? Will she try to encourage the UK Border Agency to follow the lead given by some private sector higher education colleges in introducing a system of digital identification at lectures so that we know precisely where our students are and exactly what their record of attending lectures is?
If the due process of law and the regulations are to be followed properly, that is an essential ingredient. If my noble friend felt that this was causing a problem at any point for people receiving due process of law and regulation, I would certainly wish to investigate it.
My Lords, will my noble friend say anything about the use of intelligence to improve the quality of decision-making by the UKBA, which, as we heard only recently, is incapable of making decisions on a regular basis that are not challenged successfully on appeal?
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the response that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made in another place to the Urgent Question on Dr Weightman's report. The Statement is as follows.
“Earlier today I laid before the House the chief nuclear inspector's interim report on the events at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear site in March. Dr Weightman's final report is due in September.
Safety is and will continue to be our number one priority, and I believe that it is vitally important that the regulators and industry continue to adhere to the principle of continuous improvement for all existing and future nuclear sites and facilities.
Dr Weightman has drawn a number of conclusions. He states that the direct causes of the nuclear accident—a magnitude 9 earthquake and associated 14-metre high tsunami—are far beyond the most extreme events the UK could expect to experience. In this respect he concludes that there is no reason for curtailing the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK.
Nevertheless, Dr Weightman notes severe events can occur from other causes and that learning from such events is fundamental to the robustness of our nuclear safety arrangements. I can therefore confirm that once further work on the recommendations is completed, any proposed improvements to safety arrangements will be considered and implemented in line with our normal nuclear safety regulatory approach.
The interim report also identifies various matters that should be reviewed to improve the safety of the UK nuclear industry. I consider it an absolute priority that the regulators, industry and government act responsibly to learn from the 26 recommendations in the report and to respond to them within one month of today's report.
My officials will review carefully the interim report but, from my discussions with Dr. Weightman, I see no reason why we should not proceed with our current policy—namely that nuclear can and should be part of the future energy mix in the future as it is today, providing that there is no public subsidy. The interim report does not identify any implications for the strategic siting assessment of new reactors, and I do not believe that the final report will either.
Subject to careful consideration of the detail of Dr Weightman's interim report, I intend to bring forward for ratification as soon as possible the energy national policy statements.
I strongly welcome Dr Weightman's interim report. I encourage the regulators to work closely with industry and other partners to take the recommendations forward, and I look forward to receiving the final report in the autumn”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I was disappointed to learn that, until an Urgent Question was granted in the other place today, the Government had intended to make this announcement in a Written Statement. Such an important issue should be debated, so I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement today.
I thank Dr Weightman for his work. He and his team have clearly worked extremely hard and we appreciate the way in which they have undertaken their task. Given the time available, they have produced an informative and detailed report. We accept that this is an interim report and that the full report will be available in September. However, he has clearly been able to examine the reasons for the catastrophe in Japan and the likelihood of any similar factors being present in the UK. Can the Minister tell us whether Dr Weightman and his team were able to visit the site in Japan—with the appropriate safety precautions, of course? If not, will they be able to do so before they finalise their report and bring it forward to us in September?
As the Minister will be aware, we support nuclear power as part of the mix of a low-carbon energy supply, which is why we are so concerned that all safety and security aspects should be effectively examined and dealt with appropriately. Public confidence in new and existing nuclear demands nothing less. So we welcome this report and look forward to the full report.
I have a few questions for the Minister. If he is unable to address any of them from the Dispatch Box today, I would be grateful if he would write to me with the answers, given the importance of the subject.
Will Dr Weightman consider in his full report any further developments in Fukushima since he completed this interim report? Given that it may be many years before the full extent of the catastrophe is known, can the Minister assure us that the UK nuclear inspectorate or other appropriate body will be fully engaged with the Japanese nuclear authorities to ensure that we are able to learn from the ongoing consequences of this incident? Can he also assure me that all potential risks, natural and otherwise, are being fully examined?
The report contains 26 recommendations. The noble Lord has assured your Lordships’ House that it is a priority to respond to the recommendations within a month—for which we are grateful—and that once further work on these recommendations is completed, any proposed improvements to safety regulations will be considered and implemented. I know that he will share my view that any actions required should be undertaken as a matter of urgency and not delayed because of any funding or costs issues. Can he assure me that the Government’s stated policy of no subsidy for nuclear will not at any stage delay or hamper necessary safety or security measures? Will he also agree to report back to your Lordships’ House on monitoring arrangements and the implementation of the recommendations?
In the Statement, the noble Lord said that the energy national policy statement is to be brought forward for ratification as soon as possible subject to consideration of this interim report. I am unclear on this. Would there be any merit in the Government waiting until the final report is available before bringing the national policy statement forward? The noble Lord emphasised the point made by Chris Huhne in the other place, that the national energy plan should proceed as part of the low-carbon energy mix. We welcome that, but we have the usual caveat—providing that there is no public subsidy. As the Minister will be aware, the highly regarded Energy and Climate Change Select Committee in the other place has reported that there is, in effect, a public subsidy for nuclear through long- term contracts and the carbon floor price. The committee has urged the Government to be upfront about the subsidies provided to nuclear. Is the noble Lord able to explain this contradiction to your Lordships’ House?
Finally, shortly after the explosion in Japan the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was far more pessimistic about the future of nuclear power than were his government colleagues. He insisted that no extra government money would be found for any additional costs. He also stated that energy firms struggle to raise investment from the private sector. He then added that, as Deputy Prime Minister through the coalition agreement, he had the right to veto the provision of any additional government funds. The Minister will understand the concerns about such doubt over the future of nuclear power at the heart of government. Does he consider that Nick Clegg’s comments have damaged, or could damage, investment—or did that intervention have no impact? Potential investors need commitment, stability and certainty. The noble Lord’s comments on this would be welcome.
This is a thorough and useful interim report which is an important part of the process of ensuring safety and stability in the nuclear industry for the public benefit. Our gratitude goes to Dr Weightman and his team.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has made some excellent points and I should like to tackle them head on, as I hope I always do. She made the valuable point about having a debate in this House. Between us, we have tried to get a debate in the House but sadly the order of business up to Recess prevents that, despite our efforts. We should have that debate in this House because, on all sides of the Chamber, we have incredible knowledge and expertise particularly in this nuclear field and, broadly speaking, a consensus of views which will allow us to make progress in the nuclear industry now that we have this excellent report that Dr Weightman has done with such efficiency and in so short a timeframe.
Quite naturally, he has not yet been close up to the site but will go next week. It shows the esteem in which he is held within the international community that the IAEA has itself chosen him to write the broad-scale report on Fukushima. We should congratulate him on that and have great pride that he has been chosen to do it. As I said clearly in our Statement, the report’s recommendations for future safety will be acted upon. We will ensure that they are acted upon speedily. The ONR—the regulatory authority is independent, unlike in many other countries—is led by Dr Weightman and will oversee that.
On the issue of the delay, there has been delay as a result of these tragic events. They were indeed tragic. There was delay and various members of the political community, including the Deputy Prime Minister, were quite right to put forward their views and concerns as a result of this terrible tragedy. However, we as a Government are committed to new nuclear. We are committed to no subsidy for it because we believe it is a mature industry with a great deal of expertise and there is the finance available to make it happen. We will be pressing as hard as we can to achieve this and make up for lost time. Dr Weightman’s report gives us the platform to progress and with the support of your Lordships I hope we can do it.
Moving briefly to the excellent point about the carbon floor price—of course it supports nuclear; of course it supports renewables; of course it supports a lot of the activities that we are carrying out to ensure that we have nuclear security and to achieve our stated goal of a low-carbon economy.
My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I endorse both Dr Weightman’s report and my noble friend’s statement on the safety grounds, which of course are of the first importance. Dr Weightman’s findings fully tally with the view I took almost 30 years ago when, as Secretary of State for Energy, I fired the starting pistol for Sizewell B. The problem with nuclear is not a matter of safety provided we have the very high safety standards we have always had in this country. After all, we were the first country to produce nuclear energy for the grid, in 1956. We have had no serious problems in this country and if we maintain these standards it is not a problem.
The problem is the economic one. My noble friend said no subsidy, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said, the carbon floor price is a subsidy. How about doing away with that and with all the greatly increased subsidies for renewables? If you want a non-carbon energy, nuclear energy is infinitely more competitive than wind and all the other renewables. How about taking advantage—in the rather fragile economic conditions in which this country finds itself—of the abundance of gas available for generating electricity far more cheaply and actually producing revenue for the Exchequer instead of having a hand in the Exchequer’s pocket?
Obviously, my colleagues behind me feel I am saying the right things. Of course, safety was paramount when the noble Lord pressed the button for Sizewell B. It is worth just rehearsing some of the differences between what the noble Lord and subsequent Ministers did and the difference between ourselves and the Japanese incident. We have gas-cooled nuclear reactors not water-cooled ones. The future ones are pressurised water and as far as I understand it—noble Lords will know I am not many things and I am certainly not a scientist—that reduces the density. Our design predictions are based on what might happen, not what has happened. That is a fundamental difference.
We have not taken the issues that have happened in the past; we have taken the issues of what could happen and magnified them to modern standards. We also do not store as much fuel at the plant and we have an independent regulator which can determine whether nuclear power stations should be operating rather than there being government intervention. These are just some of the issues and I am very grateful for all the work the noble Lord did. He will forgive me if I do not, when we are debating a Weightman report on the back of a seriously tragic incident, get too distracted by the debate about renewables and gas at this point. However, as always, I will be delighted to have that debate on another occasion and I very much look forward to it.
My Lords, I have a little familiarity with the Fukushima event but I have not yet had the privilege of reading Dr Weightman’s report. However, it is worth making a few comments. First, I make no comment on the relationship between the operating company and the regulatory authority in Japan or indeed on the way in which the plant was operated. However, it is worth recognising that the Fukushima plant was actually designed 50 years ago and constructed around 40 years ago. Both of these dates are before the days of modern computers, which is an astonishing advantage that one has when one is designing a modern nuclear plant. Anyone looking at the issue carefully today, although with hindsight we have all sorts of bright ideas how things could have been better, is impressed at how well this ancient—almost fossil—nuclear plant came through an event that was far beyond the design specifications agreed at the time that it was built. It was built to withstand a tsunami of five metres high. In the event, it had to withstand something over 12 metres.
It is worth emphasising the extreme improbability of the event that faced Fukushima. The earthquakes of the magnitude that hit Fukushima occur something like once every 25 years somewhere along the 40,000 kilometres of the Pacific rim. But that was not the only remarkable event. The second event—or the second coincidence, if you like—was that it had to be approximately where it was, 200 kilometres off the coast. Had it been much closer to the plant, there would have been much less effect. There would have been much less water available to push in the tsunami. If it had been further out, the tsunami would have been much more widely dispersed. So effectively it required two rather exceptional events. I do not know that anyone has satisfactorily computed the probability or improbability of this sort of thing happening, but it is very, very small. I do not think that it really ought to influence our nuclear debate one way or another.
That said, when there is a nuclear accident, there are always lessons to be learnt, and I am sure we shall learn design ideas or get new ideas on the basis of what has happened.
As always, we have had an object lesson in nuclear science from someone who really understands it. I would just add that three people died as a result of this incident—part of the 25,000 rumoured to be in the tsunami. One died from exhaustion and one from actually going outside the bounds of where he was allowed to operate. So this has been an incredible result in the horrific accident that happened along that coastline. The most important point that the noble Lord is asking us to consider and understand is that we must not be complacent. We must take on board these things. We owe it to the nation as a whole and this Government are not going to be complacent. We are determined to learn the lessons and to act accordingly.
My Lords, I welcome both this report, which is wide-ranging and international in its scope, and the positive statement from the Minister about the future of UK nuclear power.
Nuclear safety is highly advanced in Japan, the United States and Europe, more so than in some other significant areas of technology. That point was made in the recent high-level United States Government report, by the dean of physics and engineering at Harvard, in a review of last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil platform incident—the report was actually a very interesting study of how nuclear safety is conducted around the world. For example, nuclear technologies analyse and measure tiny, fluctuating signals and how they are correlated. I have seen this as a mathematician. We are building on that.
The other issue is that the long-term policy for nuclear waste is not a safety issue but a political issue in the context of nuclear power. Therefore, the Government in making their future plans must also connect with their policy for first storing and then perhaps reprocessing wastes to reduce their radioactive life. This is perhaps an area in which the Government also need to address the question.
As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, pointed out, the other important issue is how nuclear power stations withstand external impacts. The Japanese incident showed that some aspects worked while others did not. One reason why they did not was because of the storage of wastes on site. That shows how safety is very much a matter of management as well as of technology—again, as the US report noted—in dealing with these major accidents. The question of interaction between different organisations is a critical part, which the report of Dr Weightman indeed mentions.
Will the Minister, in his commitment to develop UK technology and science in nuclear energy, which is part of the government programme, ensure that it is international and also that expertise is a strong element of management?
I, of course, do not like people asking questions, so I am happy for them to go on for a very long time.
However, I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I am grateful to him for setting out the platform as an experienced scientist in these matters. He raised one fundamental point, which is that we cannot consider just the new nuclear and the old nuclear reactors, but we also have to be vigilant about our decommissioning and reprocessing. As he well knows, I am committed to an investigation before a decision is made on a Mox plant and regenerating Sellafield as a centre of excellence. We are spending £2.5 billion, which in the current climate I managed to get out of the Treasury so that, within the lifetime of this Parliament, we can put our hazard decommissioning into as good an order as it will ever have been. I completely concur with that.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that in 1706, following an earthquake off the south coast of Ireland, a tsunami flooded the lower reaches of the Severn and the Somerset levels, which are adjacent to the Hinkley Point nuclear power station and, indeed, to the planned further nuclear stations on that site? Can the Minister assure us that, in spite of everything that has been said about nuclear safety in this country, we will not assume that such an event could not take place again, and that developments on that site will be secure from such accidents?
I am also aware that a few years later, in 1755, there was the horrendous Lisbon earthquake, which caused a tsunami 2 metres higher than the high tide. We are clearly aware of the implications for this area. The most encouraging thing about the ONR is that it plans on a 1 in 10,000 year event, which is probably just about enough to get me through my lifetime but, with the will of God, perhaps not enough for the right reverend Prelate—I know which direction I am going in, and I have an idea in which direction he is going. Obviously, we need to keep refreshing that and ensuring that safety and security of that nature is fundamental.
My Lords, I welcome very much the fact that this report has been produced so quickly on behalf of the Government, who have responded to it very well in demanding a response on the 26 recommendations. Perhaps I might concentrate on just one or two areas. Conclusion 11 states:
“With more information there is likely to be considerable scope for lessons to be learnt about human behaviour in severe accident conditions”.
Recommendation 4 states:
“Both the UK nuclear industry and ONR should consider ways of enhancing the drive to ensure more open, transparent and trusted communications”.
What concerns me most about this incident was the fact that the Tokyo Electric Power Company was not seen as being open and was not quick in responding, not only to the public but to its own Government, and that those communications and the threats that came from them were quite huge. That has done great harm, unfairly, to our own nuclear industry, which used to have a similar reputation of being closed and unwilling to share information. I hope that the Government will work with the industry in the UK to make sure that the new and increased openness, which we hope will remain, stays there. The public’s concern about the nuclear industry could be one of the greatest casualties.
The Minister also mentioned stress tests in the review and said that they would be carried out by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group and the European Commission. I suggest to him that together those might not be the most trusted of organisations, and perhaps we could do with some more independent scientific input into those tests. Perhaps he could reassure the House that the stress tests will be rather more comprehensive and trustworthy than those that looked at the European banking system.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who is a recent convert to nuclear, which is extremely encouraging. I applaud his support and am grateful for it.
Transparency must obviously be at the centre of what we do. The report has made a number of recommendations, of which, as he rightly says, transparency is one, and we will be adopting those recommendations. It is fundamental that the British public feel secure. That is why the report is so important. It has been a broad-scale report. That is why we got it out early, so that we could bring comfort to the British public, and transparency is at the heart of that.
I am convinced that the nuclear industry is committed to stress testing. It is part of the industry’s research and endeavour; indeed, it is almost a byword within the industry. As such, I feel confident that the industry will support us in this.
The Weightman report does not go into great detail about reprocessing. As the noble Lord knows, that is my responsibility within the department. I am comfortable with the briefing that I have and the progress that we are making. I am grateful to him for raising the question; as he knows, I try to keep him informed as a man of Cumbria who has represented it well for many years. I am confident that there is a strong commitment to that industry in that part of the world.
My Lords, I join my noble friend in thanking Dr Weightman for what has been, in an astonishingly short time, a very detailed interim report. We look forward to his final report, which will go wider than the electricity-generating industry—that is what he is offering. As well as thanking him, though, I express my admiration for what the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington, was able to do while he was in Tokyo. There is no doubt about it; he was extremely valuable in understanding what was going on in Japan and giving advice to the Japanese from his great experience, as well as keeping this country thoroughly informed about what was going on. It is right to mention that.
I have one question, which I hope that my noble friend will be able to answer. It is mentioned before conclusion 3 that the ONR is in an interim state at the moment, half way between its former nuclear installations inspectorate and the final solution where it will be, as it is said, a “standalone statutory corporation” outside the Health and Safety Executive. We have been waiting a long time for this to happen, and I know that Dr Weightman and his colleagues attach enormous importance to establishing and reinforcing their own independence from Government. When will we have the statutory instrument that will create that final stage?
I add my comments to those of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, about the role of the Chief Scientific Adviser. Sir John Beddington has been magnificent. This also gives me a final opportunity to thank Dr Weightman because between them the two have been efficient, sound and reliable in the way in which they have produced this excellent document.
The independent regulatory body, the ONR, was an idea conceived by the previous Government, on which I congratulate them. It went into abeyance as we went into the election period. When we got into power, one of the first things we did was to put the ONR into operation so that it is now an agency that operates unilaterally. By the end of this year, or certainly by the beginning of next year, we hope to have put that on to the statute book to give it total independence, which will be ratified around 2013. As we get closer to the date, I will be happy to give that information to the noble Lord, who I know follows this matter closely.
There is no energy gap at the moment. If there is an energy gap we will look at it and try to deal with it accordingly. Our current plans are on target to deliver a continuous energy supply. It would be wrong of us to be complacent about it. One of the benefits of the recession—if there is such a thing as a benefit of a recession—is that there has been less energy demand and therefore less requirement for a supply of energy. The time until a potential gap has lengthened. However, it is clearly the Government’s responsibility to make sure at all times that there is no gap.
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Marine Nigel Mead from 42 Commando Royal Marines, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday 15 May. My thoughts are also with the wounded, and I pay tribute to the courage and fortitude with which they face their rehabilitation.
With the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence:
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on our nuclear deterrent programme. The House will be aware that we have been considering the next stage of investment, called initial gate, in the programme to deliver a successor to our current nuclear deterrent. This is the point in the MoD’s procurement cycle at which we decide on broad design parameters, set our plans for detailed system assessment and order any long-lead items that might be required. Taking this action enables us to be sure that we will take the right decisions at the key investment stage, the main gate, which for this submarine programme will be in 2016. I am announcing today that we have approved the initial-gate investment and selected a submarine design that will be powered by a new generation of nuclear propulsion system—the Pressurised Water Reactor 3—that will allow our submarines to deliver our deterrent capability well into the 2060s if required.
At this milestone in the project it is useful for me to remind the House of this Government’s policy on the nuclear deterrent. The first duty of any Government is to ensure the security of their people. The nuclear deterrent provides the ultimate guarantee of our national security, and for the past 42 years the Royal Navy has successfully operated continuous deterrent patrols to ensure just that. I pay tribute to the crews and support staff who ensure the continued success of deterrent operations, and I extend that tribute to the families of all those personnel, many of whom are regularly away from home for long periods.
We assess that no state currently has both the intent and the capability to threaten the independence or integrity of the UK, but we cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the UK might re-emerge. We simply do not know how the international environment will change in the next few years, let alone the next 50 years. And, as this House concluded in 2007 when it voted on whether the UK should start a programme to renew the deterrent, the time is simply not right to unilaterally do away with it. This is not to say that, if the time is right, we will not move away from nuclear weapons. Our long-term goal remains a world without them and we are doing all we can to counter proliferation, make progress on multilateral disarmament and build trust and confidence with nations across the globe.
In this spirit, as part of the value-for-money study, we reviewed carefully how we manage our deterrent programme, and concluded that we could take significant steps to demonstrate our commitment to disarmament by reducing the number of warheads from no more than 48 to no more than 40 carried on each deterrent submarine, consequently to reduce our overall stockpile of nuclear weapons from no more than 225 to no more than 180 in due course, and giving a stronger assurance to non-nuclear weapon states in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The value-for-money study delivered £3 billion of savings and deferrals over the next 10 years.
The coalition agreement reflected both parties' commitment to a minimum credible nuclear deterrent, but also the desire of the Liberal Democrats to make the case for alternatives. As Secretary of State for Defence, I am absolutely clear that a minimum nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile delivery system and continuous at-sea deterrence is right for the United Kingdom and that it should be maintained, and that remains government policy. But to assist the Liberal Democrats in making the case for alternatives, I am also announcing today the initiation of a study to review the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative systems and postures. The study will be led by officials in the Cabinet Office, overseen by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. A copy of the terms of reference of the study will be placed in the House of Commons Library.
As I have said, the Government have approved the initial gate for the nuclear deterrent successor programme. We have now agreed the broad outline design of the submarine, made some of the design choices, including the propulsion system and the common US/UK missile compartment, and developed the programme of work we need to be ready to start building the first submarine after 2016. We have also agreed the amount of material and parts that we will need to buy in advance of the main investment decision.
We expect the next phase of work to cost in the region of £3 billion. This is a significant sum of money, but I am confident that it represents value for money for the taxpayer as every aspect of the programme has been carefully reviewed by the MoD, the Treasury and Cabinet Office officials. It will fund the programme we need to conduct to make sure that we can bring the submarines into service on time. Overall, we assess that the submarine element of the programme will still be within the £11 billion to £14 billion estimate set out in the 2006 White Paper. These figures were quoted at 2006 prices and did not account for inflation; the equivalent today is £20 billion to £25 billion at outturn, but it is important the House recognises that there has been no cost growth in the programme since the House first considered the findings of the White Paper.
Between now and main gate we expect to spend around 15 per cent of the total value of the programme. This is entirely consistent with defence procurement guidance. The cost of long-lead items is expected to amount to around £500 million, but it is not true to say that large parts of the build programme will have been completed by main gate. Although we are ordering some of the specialist components, this does not mean that we are locked into any particular strategy before main gate in 2016.
I focus for a moment on the matter of nuclear safety. There has been some ill informed comment suggesting that our nuclear propulsion systems are not safe. That is simply not true. All our nuclear propulsion plants meet the stringent safety standards set out by the defence nuclear safety regulator and the Health and Safety Executive. However, given that we are developing a new design of submarine, it is right that we take advantage of the opportunity that affords to advance our policy of seeking continual improvement of nuclear safety. A new propulsion plant allows us to do this, while giving us the opportunity to improve the availability of propulsion systems and lower through-life support costs.
I have announced a major step forward in this programme. We have some of the finest submarine-builders in the world, and the approval of the next phase of work in the programme will secure the jobs of the highly skilled and professional workforce already involved in the programme, as well as providing further opportunities for the engineers and apprentices of the future. However, both my department and industry have much to do to deliver the programme to ensure that we continue to maintain the sustainability of the submarine industry, that we improve performance and that we drive down costs through more efficient and inclusive working. I am confident that all sides will respond to that challenge.
This is a programme of great national importance so, today, I am placing in the Library of the House a report that sets out in detail the work that has been completed so far, the key decisions that I have presented to the House today, and the work required over the coming months and years.
I believe that the decisions we have taken on our nuclear deterrent programme in initial gate are the right decisions for the country and that, as a result, future generations will continue to benefit from the security we have been so fortunate to enjoy”.
My Lords, I commend the Statement to the House.
My Lords, we on this side of the House associate ourselves with the condolences expressed by the noble Lord to the families and friends of Marine Nigel Mead, from 42 Commando Royal Marines. Tragically, we often find ourselves expressing condolences to families and friends of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country. I hope that the frequency with which we need to say these words does not appear to detract in any way from the heartfelt sincerity with which they are said from all sides of your Lordships' House. We also associate ourselves with the tribute which the Minister paid to those who have been wounded.
I thank the Minister for the early sight of the Statement and of the initial-gate parliamentary report. We endorse what he said in tribute to the crews and support staff who ensure the continued success of deterrent operations, and to their families.
In December 2006, the then Government published a White Paper entitled The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent. The issue was debated in Parliament and a vote taken in favour of renewing the deterrent with a successor class of ballistic missile submarines. Since then, the Ministry of Defence has been undertaking work to assess potential submarine designs and propulsion systems. The Minister has now announced the Government's decision on an outline submarine design to be powered by a new-generation nuclear propulsion system, which will, in the words of the initial-gate parliamentary report,
“ensure our future nuclear armed submarines have the performance required to deliver our minimum credible nuclear deterrent out until the 2060s”.
It is our view that, in today's world, as long as there are other countries with such capability, it is right that United Kingdom retains an independent nuclear deterrent.
I have already referred to the December 2006 White Paper. The previous Government met their commitment in that White Paper to reduce the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160, meaning that the United Kingdom has now reduced the UK nuclear arsenal by 75 per cent since the end of the Cold War. We thus welcome the Government’s announcement in the strategic defence and security review to reduce operationally available warheads and to reduce the overall weapons stockpile. We will continue strongly to advocate the nuclear non-proliferation treaty since non-proliferation, disarmament and the right peacefully to use civil nuclear power provide the framework around which we should base our policy.
We face potential nuclear threats today from unilateral armament, specifically from North Korea, which we know has a nuclear capability, and Iran, which we know has nuclear ambitions. We cannot ignore the present possibility that other countries may join the list. The appropriate response to these threats is for the United Kingdom to remain committed to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to be an active disarmer alongside our allies and other nuclear-weapon states. We want a world free of nuclear weapons and need a multilateral process to achieve that. Maintaining our own independent deterrent as part of the international non-proliferation efforts is therefore vital in enabling us to combat the threats we face at home and to sustaining regional and global security.
I should like to raise some specific points. In the Statement the Minister said,
“that a minimum nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile delivery system and continuous at-sea deterrence is right for the UK and that it should be maintained, and that remains Government policy”.
In the next breath, though, the Minister said:
“But to assist the Liberal Democrats in making the case for alternatives I am also announcing today the initiation of a study to review the costs, feasibility and credibility of alternative systems and postures”.
First, what does “postures” mean? Secondly, since the Statement says that:
“continuous at-sea deterrence … remains Government policy”,
is that—in the light of the study now being made,
“to assist the Liberal Democrats”—
a government policy that is now under review? That is literally one sentence after it was confirmed. Or is the policy of continuous at-sea deterrence not something that is within the remit of the study just announced on “alternative systems and postures”?
Will the review look at international co-operation over nuclear policy, including deeper co-operation with France above and beyond the agreements made in the UK-France defence co-operation treaty? Will the review look at the Government’s procurement policy in this Parliament for successor submarines? Will the study conclusions be published? What will be the cost of the review being undertaken—by inference, I think it is not because the Secretary of State thinks it necessary but to “assist the Liberal Democrats”? Can the Minister give an assurance that the study will be evidence-based and in the interests of national security, and not be driven by the dynamic—or lack of it—between the coalition parties? The strategic defence and security review stated that the Government would reduce the costs of the successor programme by a total of £3.2 billion over the next 10 years. What part of that sum is savings and how much is deferrals? Can the Minister say whether that £3.2 billion takes into account the £1.2 billion to £1.4 billion additional costs of extending the life of the Vanguard-class submarines in service until 2028?
Finally, will the Minister say what the total cost of the replacement programme will be and over what period, and confirm what I think he said—that the figures are still in line with those indicated in the 2006 White Paper? We have made it clear that we will support the Government when we believe what they are doing is in the national interest. We therefore welcome the Statement made today on the minimum credible nuclear deterrent programme.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his broad support for the Statement. I am grateful for the Opposition’s continued support for the maintenance of Britain’s nuclear deterrent and, indeed, the reduction in the number of warheads and in the stockpile.
The noble Lord was very interested in the study that was announced today. I am sure that this is genuine interest rather than an attempt to drive a wedge which does not exist between the coalition, and I shall try to answer his questions as best I can. The purpose of the study is to help to fulfil the coalition’s Programme for Government, which states:
“We will maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives”.
This study will help the Liberal Democrats to make the case for alternatives.
The noble Lord asked whether the study will be published. The final document will be an internal Cabinet Office paper. Given the highly classified nature of the study, there are no plans to publish it but a decision will be taken nearer the time about publishing a statement of the conclusions. The work will be led by the National Security Secretariat in the Cabinet Office with oversight from the Minister for the Armed Forces. It will report jointly to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Initial scoping work has already started taking place. The study will begin in earnest next month and we hope that it will take about 18 months to complete.
The study involves no additional costs. All the costs will be met from within existing departmental budgets. So far as concerns the resources allocated, the study will have two staff within the Cabinet Office—a dedicated project manager and a lead official providing oversight of the work. It will commission relevant work from our government departments.
The noble Lord asked whether this was a concession to the Liberal Democrats. It is not. Agreement was reached on the scope of this work in March and the study simply represents the implementation of the coalition agreement.
The noble Lord asked me about international co-operation, particularly with France. We announced in the SDSR that we could minimise costs by co-operating with the French on our research programme and that we would develop a joint test facility. The United Kingdom and France have agreed to construct and operate jointly a new hydrodynamics facility at Valduc in France and a technology development centre at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom. The facilities will be operational from 2015. This programme, named Teutates—my French is not perfect—will assist both countries in underwriting the safety and reliability of their respective nuclear weapons stockpiles in a secure environment and will improve expertise in countering nuclear terrorism. The facilities will enable each country to undertake hydrodynamic experiments in a secure environment and will enable us to model the performance and safety of the nuclear weapons in our stockpile without undertaking nuclear explosive tests. The programme will not involve the sharing of any operational nuclear deterrent capability, such as submarine patrols; nor will it involve the physical movement or transfer of nuclear warheads. This country and France will each retain an independent nuclear deterrent.
The noble Lord asked me about the continuous at-sea deterrent. It is the policy of this Government to continue with the CASD. Obviously we cannot hold any Government to that after the 2015 elections, but it is our policy to continue with it. Our continuous at-sea deterrence posture removes the incentive to attack our country with nuclear weapons or our nuclear forces pre-emptively. Further, the assuredness of the capability provided by the submarine on patrol is a key component of the credibility of our deterrent. This enables us to keep a minimum deterrent. Obviously, this whole issue will be looked at in the review, but I am confident that it has been looked at so often in the past that we will come back to the CASD.
Finally, the noble Lord asked how the cost has increased from £14 billion to £25 billion. The costs have not increased. In the 2006 White Paper, we estimated the costs of the programme to be £11 billion to £14 billion at 2006-07 prices. This provided an understandable way of maintaining the costs at a constant price-base. We will continue to provide a comparison against the White Paper estimate. Our most recent estimate is that we will still deliver the programme within the White Paper estimate. However, MoD approvals are usually given on an outturn basis which includes inflation. This is how the £25 billion was arrived at.
I will look at Hansard and if I see that I have not answered all the noble Lord’s questions, I will write to him.
My Lords, the Minister will recognise that the Statement he has repeated today is a major one, not least on the cost issue. In the more dangerous world in which many of us feel we now exist, it must be right to ensure that we maintain our deterrent. However, it is noticeable that the £25 billion as the outturn cost of a submarine takes no account of any additional costs that may come from any upgrading of the missile in the D5 Trident system, which is being deferred until the 2040s, or of any work done on the warhead, which is being deferred until the 2030s. There is also reference to the infrastructure. I certainly hope that any design work will ensure that the extremely expensive infrastructure work in which we got involved at Faslane will as far as possible remain usable by any new submarine.
I have reservations as regards one area. I recognise the awesome power that is represented by the warheads that we are intending to maintain. I also recognise the different world in which we are now living, compared with the Cold War period with its detailed targeting plans and requirements assessed against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Therefore, in this different world, I do not believe that there is not room for improvement and a further reduction in the number of warheads that we are seeking to maintain in our national stock.
I am pleased to read in the Statement that, echoing the call of President Obama, the long-term goal remains a world free of nuclear weapons—a world that we would like to see. Obviously, it is not a realistic possibility in the short term, but I believe that we could give even more of a lead to non-nuclear powers by showing our determination to maintain the absolute minimum number of warheads needed for our national defence.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point in recognising that we live in a totally different world. I agree with him that the policy of the coalition Government is the long-term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. We will do all that we can to work towards that goal. We will constantly keep under review the number of warheads that we require. As my noble friend said, it is a dangerous world and I do not see our long-term goal happening in the near future.
Perhaps I may make it absolutely clear at the beginning that there is at least one Member of this House who has no desire to live in a world without nuclear weapons—no, it’s not funny. I believe that nuclear weapons are a deterrent and I never want to see another battle of the Somme, or of Stalingrad, or of Okinawa, or an invasion of any other country. I therefore want us to keep nuclear weapons and I welcome the Government’s Statement as another step forward in the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent.
However, I found one thing in the Minister's Statement absolutely deplorable. He did not say a word about whether, in the context of the reduction in our existing stock, he has made any agreement with any other nuclear state that it should reduce its weapons stock in exchange for the reduction in ours, or whether he has attempted to. My experience is that we have, as my noble friend pointed out, reduced our weapons stock by something like 75 per cent and have not negotiated a single reduction in any other country's weapons stock, nor tried to do so. This Government, like the previous Government, are simply following the policies of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we live in a very dangerous world. That is why we are renewing our nuclear deterrent. I very much welcome the noble Lord’s support for what we are doing. In response to his last question, obviously we will keep this under review and do all we can.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and in particular the emphasis on nuclear disarmament, with concrete actions beginning here and now. It shows the strength of purpose in delivering on the coalition agreement. I am also extremely pleased to see the establishment of the Trident alternative study. Will my noble friend tell us whether external expertise will be involved? I recognise the need for high-level security clearance, because these are sensitive matters. However, I emphasise that the inclusion of experts would make the study far more valuable, despite the competence that exists in the Cabinet Office.
I turn to the issue of continuous at-sea deterrence. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was not clear about alternative nuclear postures. Will my noble friend confirm that point 3 of the terms of reference is quite clear? Are there alternative, non-CASD nuclear postures that would maintain credibility? Will my noble friend give an assurance that, should the review conclude that there are alternatives, they will be seriously considered?
My Lords, in answer to the noble Baroness’s first question, I suggest that she has a word with her honourable friend the Member for North Devon, who will be keeping oversight on this. We will do all that we can to help him with this study. I am not sure who he and the Cabinet Office will call in to give advice.
We feel that submarines are the most cost-effective way of delivering a credible deterrent. Their invulnerability to detection makes it impossible for a potential aggressor to launch a pre-emptive strike. Trying to achieve this level of capability with other platforms is either not possible or would require an enormous number of platforms. Obviously if the review comes up with an alternative, it must be considered. The matter has been looked at over and over again and I am confident that there is no improvement on the submarine system.
My Lords, first I apologise to the Minister for not being here at the beginning of his Statement. I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Atkins. I welcome the government Statement. However, perhaps I may ask the Minister to confirm that we would not have a credible nuclear deterrent were it not for the people who man our submarines. As we are launching this study—which I happen to believe will be a complete waste of time—it is very important that there is no irresponsible talk or conjecture by responsible people about the importance of the role that our submarines currently carry out in exercising their duty, as they have done for the past 42 years, in order that the operational commitment of our sailors conducting their continuous at-sea deterrence on submarines is not undermined.
My Lords, I had the privilege of serving in the Ministry of Defence for six years towards the end of the 1980s when the Polaris system was coming towards the end of its time. I think I must have been responsible for a great many of the second-order decisions relating to the start of the Trident programme. I was therefore pretty fully briefed on those issues at the time. That was, of course, a great many years ago. I must confess to having listened to the Statement made by my noble friend with some considerable concern. I have to be honest: my view is a lot nearer that of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. Will my noble friend now please answer one of the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, about how many other nuclear nations are reducing their warhead stock as we have announced today? In my day, the watchwords for disarmament were “balanced” and “verifiable”. Do those words still apply?
My Lords, may I from these Benches express our condolences to the family of Marine Nigel Mead of 42 Commando and to those who have been injured in this most recent incident in Afghanistan. I welcome the Minister’s long-term goal remaining a world without nuclear weapons. I note that much has been said about the present danger that we face in our world and our need to anticipate future dangers. In the light of that, what would the criteria be that would lead us to a position where we could safely say that we could disarm our nuclear deterrent with the long-term goal as its objective?
My Lords, in the context of possible Scottish political independence, may I ask my noble friend two questions? First, is the life expectancy of the bases at Faslane and Coulport dependent on particular types of submarine and, secondly, has his department begun to consider the possibility of those two bases becoming a treaty port, as occurred at four Irish ports under the 1921 treaty with Ireland?
My Lords, I apologise for coming in to the Statement a little late. First, I disagree very strongly with the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord King, that we should further reduce the number of our warheads to what he calls the necessary minimum. The trouble with that is that you never know what the necessary minimum is. The world is far too unpredictable for that, and you therefore always need to have a reasonable margin of error. Without it, you do not have an effective deterrent.
I welcome the Government’s general decision. It is the first time I have been able to say with enthusiasm that the Government have done something right in defence procurement since the election. I also welcome the decision to go for the new reactor, which has great advantages, as the noble Lord knows well. Can I put it to him that it is absolutely essential if we are going to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence that we continue to have four boats? Anybody who has looked at this closely, as I have going through it with all the experts many times, always ends up completely convinced that with fewer than four boats we will not have continuous at-sea deterrence, and without continuous at-sea deterrence—if you think you can take a holiday from deterrence at any one point—you do not have deterrence at all.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on both issues. We require a reasonable margin of error, so to make continuous at-sea deterrence work we need four boats. Obviously this is an issue that the review will look at but, as I said earlier, I am confident that this will be what is agreed.
My Lords, can my noble friend help me to understand the cost figures he gave? He quoted the figures from the 2006 White Paper as £11 billion to £14 billion. He said that those figures, quoted at 2006 prices, do not account for inflation and that the equivalent today is £20 billion to £25 billion at outturn. That is an increase of 78 to 82 per cent in cash terms. The inflation rate from January 2006 up to May 2011 is 22 per cent. How does the rate of 22 per cent tie in with the 80 per cent increase in the figures he has given?
My Lords, the figures of £11 billion to £14 billion are quotations at 2006-07 prices, and therefore do not include inflation. This equates to £20 billion to £25 billion at outturn prices. It is a very complicated issue and I would be happy to write to my noble friend in order to set it out clearly.
My Lords, I listened with some concern to what my noble friend said about the alternative study. Can he give the House an absolute and unequivocal assurance that the policy will be in no sense on hold while that study is completed? Can he also give the House an assurance that if the study results in the sort of outcome that he forecasts and which I would forecast, our Liberal Democrat colleagues in the coalition will then withdraw their opposition to the nuclear deterrent?
My Lords, 2015 is an important year in terms of defence because it is the year during which we will have to examine the economic situation and see whether it is possible to continue with the intent set out in the announced SDSR. The costs of the new deterrent submarine announced or at least hinted at today are, of course, going to run on over that time. Can the Minister confirm that in the study, the question of the affordability of the future defence of the country will be taken into account, bearing in mind that we have now added a given which was not there before in quite such stark terms? I notice that the study is going to take on only Liberal Democrats and not others. Perhaps it may be sensible to widen the people participating in this study to include more than merely Liberal Democrats.
My Lords, this is what we have agreed and we will stick to the agreement. It will be as has been set out in the Statement. However, I take the point made by the noble Lord about the difficult financial environment in which we are working. However, we do have this in hand.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the only sensible alternatives in this case are the minimum credible nuclear deterrent or no nuclear deterrent at all, not something that falls between the two? Credibility is in the eye of the beholder, so proposed savings around the margins of the nuclear deterrent programme —in themselves, they may be quite large sums but they are necessarily only a small percentage of the total programme—then put at risk the effectiveness of that programme. They do not represent value for money.
My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his question. He has used the word “credibility” which is very important. That is why I am so grateful for the support of the Opposition on this issue, because it strengthens enormously the credibility of our policy.
My Lords, the Minister has given an undertaking that the programme is not on hold until the committee he has announced comes up with its conclusions. But that is not quite the same thing as giving us an assurance that it is not proceeding at a slower pace than it otherwise would have done if that committee was not going to be set up.
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 13th report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee and 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Moved by Lord Strathclyde
That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.
My Lords, all those who are interested in this Bill will be aware that, last Wednesday, a short debate took place that, at certain times, became quite philosophical about how we should continue Committee stage. I thought that it would be entirely fair and appropriate for me to move this Motion and explain to the House where we are and why we are here in terms of process and procedure.
Last week, the Committee of the Whole House, to which the Bill has been committed, took an unusual decision. On the very first amendment, on the first day in Committee, the Committee decided to leave out from the Bill the very principle of elected police and crime commissioners, which was, as I think the House will know, the essence of the Government’s policy. As the Opposition Chief Whip said at the time,
“It makes a mockery of the discussion and debate on this part of the Bill if we continue as though this has not happened … Having ripped the guts out of a piece of legislation, I cannot see how we can intelligently proceed as though nothing has happened”.—[Official Report, 11/5/11; col. 961.]
He was right. Last week, through the usual channels, I put a proposal to the Opposition to secure a better process for scrutiny of Part 1. I suggested leaving it out of the Bill completely at this stage; I suggested facilitating discussions on the policy off the Floor of the House; and I suggested making time available for detailed consideration in Committee of Part 1 in whatever shape the Commons might send it back to us. The Opposition’s response was to reject that suggestion in favour of continuing with the Marshalled List in the usual way or, at most part, taking Part 1 in a few days’ time at the end of Committee stage. We thus find ourselves resuming Committee in the faintly unreal world where the Bill no longer reflects the principle of the policy which the Government and the House of Commons support. The Government remain in favour of elected individuals as police and crime commissioners. The Government cannot support any of the amendments on the Marshalled List which relate to those parts of the Bill affected by last Wednesday’s vote on Amendment 1. The Government cannot therefore support the scheme of Part 1.
The Committee will thus work its way through the Marshalled List. The Minister’s replies will be limited, but, as the House would expect, she will approach the debate as constructively as she can. But the House should understand that, by voting so early on the principle of the Bill, it has restricted its usual function of scrutiny and revision in respect of Part 1. That is the decision the Committee took, and the Opposition rejected our procedural alternative to where we find ourselves today. For the Government’s part, we will do our best to be constructive as we proceed through the Committee, but we do not accept the new principle of Part 1.
I hope that that explains sufficiently where we are and I therefore beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will welcome the presence of the Leader of the House and thank him for his words. We welcome the Government’s decision to be constructive. The noble Baroness the Minister will know that we very much welcome her and the approach that she has taken in this House since she was appointed a Minister in the Home Office.
The remarks of my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip were related to the situation which appertained immediately after the defeat of the Government on Wednesday last when he suggested that it might be advisable to adjourn for the evening in order that all Members might consider the consequences. We believe it is best to carry on with the Marshalled List. I hear what the noble Lord says about the principle. He will be aware that consequential Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, sets out a construct of a police commission with two elements: the first element is a police and crime commissioner; the second element is a police and crime panel. Many of the amendments to be debated apply as much to that situation and the relationship between a police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel as they would between an elected police commissioner and a police and crime panel. They embrace issues such as whether there should be pilots, whether the operational independence of the chief constable should be enshrined in statute, and the role of the police and crime panel in being able to veto any decisions of the police and crime commissioner.
It will be worth while for the House to debate these matters. We look forward to the response of the noble Baroness and welcome the fact that she will be as constructive as possible—I never doubted that. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for allowing us to have this short debate before now moving into Committee.
Clause 1 : Police and crime commissioners
Amendment 14 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 15 not moved.
15A: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, leave out subsections (6) to (8) and insert—
“(6) The police and crime commissioner is head of the Police Commission and must co-operate with the police and crime panel to enable the functions of the Police Commission to be discharged effectively and efficiently.”
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of a policy authority, as a former chair of the Association of Police Authorities and as the current president of that association.
The amendment is in a group of amendments, the majority of which are in my name. The substantial amendments are Amendments 15A and 31D but I shall speak also to Amendments 32G to 32R, 34B, 35A and 36ZA.
The two key amendments seek to explore and fill out the new structure that has been put in place by the changes incorporated in the Bill last week. In particular they set out the key function of the new police commission and explain that, as the head of the commission, the police and crime commissioner must work with the panel to ensure that the new body works effectively and efficiently. The majority of the remaining amendments are consequential amendments to parts of Schedule 1; they essentially confer on the commission powers and protections that were previously conferred on the police and crime commissioner, particularly those for appointing staff.
I shall begin by saying a little more on Amendment 15A, which focuses primarily on the theme of strengthening checks and balances by placing a duty on the police and crime commissioner to co-operate with the panel. While I am hopeful that the changes to the Bill have put in place a structure that is based more on co-operation than conflict, I am conscious that the legal structure will not in itself guarantee this.
The amendment seeks to ensure that a spirit of co-operation is explicit in the way in which the commission has been established. The relationship between constituent members of the commission—that is, the police and crime commissioner and the panel—will be vital in ensuring that policing remains resilient and responsive in difficult times. It is important to strike a proper balance from the outset to ensure that we do not set up a landscape that is combative rather than collaborative.
Amendment 31D sets out the core overarching function of the police commission, which has now been established. It is clear that these key functions should belong to the commission rather than to any one of its constituent parts. It is not necessarily an exhaustive list and I am sure that we will have some interesting debates later in the Bill about where some functions should properly sit, whether with the police and crime commissioner, the police and crime panel or the parent body in the form of the commission. However, it seems to me that these core functions should sit with the commission, and I look forward to the debate testing this proposition.
One of those functions is new compared with the functions of their predecessor police authorities, and that is the one relating to the new crime role envisaged by the Government. It is important to explore this crime role in more detail because it is not entirely clear what it means in practice and whether it is adequately covered in the Bill at present. Apart from a short and generic section in Clause 10 about co-operative working between police commissioners, community safety bodies and criminal justice bodies, the new role seems to rely mostly on explicit powers to make grants to reduce crime and disorder.
I am sceptical that making additional grants to external bodies is realistic, given the current cost-cutting pressures on the police service, unless the Government are proposing to increase central funding, but perhaps the Minister can confirm that. I am also curious as to how this will fit with the new payment-by-results approach which the Ministry of Justice is developing for criminal justice bodies generally. This must lead to concerns about the timing of the Bill, because arrangements are being put in place when the landscape of criminal justice is still being developed. If police commissions or police and crime commissioners are genuinely to be given a greater role in the criminal justice system, I am concerned that their functions are drawn too narrowly in the Bill and that the ability merely to make grants will not achieve what is intended.
For instance, the Audit Commission has highlighted the limitations of grants on the basis that,
“A grant is a gift or donation—the commissioner giving it has no right to receive anything in return but may attach terms and conditions specifying how the grant is to be spent”.
Hints are given in the Bill that a wider approach is intended, but this seems to be limited to specific circumstances. Changes to the Housing Associations Act in Schedule 16 give police and crime commissioners a wider power to promote and fund the Housing Association, but this is not carried through elsewhere. The Bill contains generic provisions that a police and crime commissioner may do anything calculated to facilitate the exercise of their functions, but their functions are limited through Clause 1 to securing the maintenance of the police force, securing that it is efficient and effective, and holding the chief officer to account. Clause 1 also confers the functions in Chapter 3, but these are limited to making grants and co-operating with partners. Clause 10 refers to working with criminal justice partners to secure an efficient and effective criminal justice system but only in so far as it is appropriate to do so.
Perhaps the Minister can therefore explain exactly what is appropriate in this context and illustrate the kinds of things that she expects the police and crime commissioner or a police commission to be able to do in this wider crime role. For instance, would a commission or a police and crime commissioner be able to mandate other parts of the criminal justice system to take particular actions? If not, would a public, who may have elected a police and crime commissioner—that is not currently in the Bill, but the question arises—on a platform of locking up more criminals, have the right to feel cheated when he then has to admit that he does not have the power to make this happen? If on the other hand it is intended that a police and crime commissioner should have some authority over the criminal justice system, should not the Bill put the matter beyond doubt and explain the exact nature of that authority? Given the intentions set out by the Government in their paper, Policing in the 21st Century, to include a role in relation to crime, it seems sensible to make this explicit in the functions of the new commission or the police and crime commissioner. That is the intention of this part of my amendment. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views.
In the proposed new clause in Amendment 31D, subsection (2)(b) makes it explicit that the police commission should,
“secure that the police force is efficient and effective”.
One reason why it is important to spell this out is that the commission would, I hope, build on existing best practice in this area. I envisage the police and crime commissioner taking the lead in holding the force and its senior command team to account and exercising strategic oversight of force needs and national strategic policing needs. Individual members of the commission, however, should be assigned to the different police divisions to oversee their functioning and the crime and disorder reduction partnerships in local areas. Forces now delegate significant financial and operational powers to divisional commanders, and it is very important that divisional policing is carefully scrutinised. Local councillors on the police commission are in the best position to undertake this scrutiny, working with local councillor scrutiny panels where appropriate. I envisage a sensible division of responsibilities, with the commissioner operating at force level and dealing with collaborative agreements and regional links with other forces and the other members of the commission operating at divisional and borough level.
Two additional points incorporated in this amendment are worth noting. First, proposed new subsection (3)(c) in the amendment is intended to clarify the responsibility to hold to account chief officers performing their duties under all legislation. The Bill originally contained a specific provision about holding chief officers to account for functions relating to equality and diversity legislation but not to other legislation. I have incorporated wording in my amendment to change this and highlight two additional Acts on human rights and on children which I think are important. It seems to me a key principle of governance that the chief officer should be held to account for the exercise of functions imposed by any Act. I believe it is also important to reassure communities that a police chief is properly carrying out his duties under all legislation.
The Human Rights Act tends to come into play in certain sensitive policing operations such as counterterrorism policing or public order policing. It often involves difficult and complex issues where mistakes are made, and if they are it can have a corrosive effect on trust in the police. The Children Act is also important because this is the legislation that imposes responsibilities for the welfare of children and sets out how children are to be safeguarded by local public bodies, including the police. High-profile deaths of vulnerable children are often linked to failures to implement these partnership obligations correctly. For these reasons it is important that communities see there is an independent reality check on how police powers are being used to ensure the public have a voice in how they are policed. At the moment, police authorities have a legal duty to do this, and it seems logical that that should pass to the commission or to the police and crime commissioner.
I also draw the attention of the House to the wording I have included, which both obliges the commission to hold meetings with the public and ensures that the police and crime commissioner must attend a minimum number each year. It contains some very specific provisions about ensuring that a diverse range of the public is included in these meetings. A failure to engage minority or disenchanted communities who feel they have no say in how they are policed is likely to have a dramatic impact on public confidence in policing. The dangers of not getting engagement right have been understood ever since the Scarman report into the Brixton riots highlighted the importance of working with all communities in an area, not just some of them.
I am aware that there are separate provisions about consultation, but this is about giving the public a chance to engage personally with the police and crime commissioner or other members of the commission to raise concerns and to ask questions. It is also about making sure that this opportunity is open to a wide and varied range of people to ensure that meaningful connections are made with all sectors of the community.
Finally and briefly, as mentioned earlier, there are a number of consequential amendments to Schedule 1, which reflect the new structure of a police commission, in effect transferring a number of powers that previously fell to the police and crime commissioner to the new commission, which will enable the commission, rather than the police and crime commissioner, to employ and pay staff. It will also confer on it incidental powers in carrying out the overarching governance functions which the substantive part of my amendment would impose on the commission.
I hope I have satisfied the House that the issues I have raised are ones that are in the Bill whether the police and crime commissioner is elected or appointed. These concerns relate to policing as a whole and we really do need to debate and discuss them in this House. I therefore beg to move my amendment. In doing so, I must tell the House that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, had hoped to speak in support of this amendment but is suffering from laryngitis. She is very sorry but she will not be able to do so.
I should point out that if this amendment were to be agreed I could not then call Amendments 16 to 19 by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, the Committee owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for tabling this series of amendments that seek to put some flesh on the bones of the amendments that we considered last week. This is a useful attempt to help the Government in their response to the difficulty in which they find themselves with the original legislation.
Amendment 15A sets out how a police commission might work and what its functions might be, and in doing so it addresses many, although not all, of the original objectives of the Government’s proposals. It also addresses many concerns expressed in the Committee and at Second Reading about the issues around the Bill. It sets out a clear framework of accountability, making clear how the mechanism will work and to whom chief officers of police are accountable. Given that concerns have been expressed about the visibility of existing police authorities, the concept of a police commission may well be seen as a much more visible entity and one that will have some of the benefits that the Government are trying to achieve. The clarity in the amendment about what the commission will do is extremely important, but it is also valuable in that it addresses some of the concerns that Members of this House have been exercised about as we have debated this matter in the past few weeks.
My concern, which I have expressed on a number of occasions, was where the visible answerability of chief officers of police was to be located. Where would the public see that the police service in their area would be held to account? Clearly, that mechanism will provide that opportunity in what will no doubt be public gatherings of the commission, which will no doubt attract considerable public attention because of the very high profile associated with this work. The example that I cited in our discussions last week was of a location in which the acting commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was able to apologise to the public, and in particular to someone’s family, when the police had failed in investigating a crime. It would also provide a forum for those who were deeply concerned about other incidents that occurred in a police area. All that would be located in meetings of the commission. That is a very important principle—where the visible answerability will be whereby the public can see that the police service in their area is being held to account.
The other issue very helpfully addressed in this amendment is the question of public engagement. While I am sure that the Government’s original proposal envisaged that policing and crime commissions would engage with the public, a single individual covering a large local area was always seen as a tall order. Many noble Lords expressed that in debate. This group of amendments provides us with a structure whereby that public engagement would take place. Setting a framework for that is also extremely helpful in enabling us to see how these arrangements might work, who would be responsible and who would be entitled to be part of that engagement process. No doubt in some parts of the country the police commissions would take a very broad view of this and might want to include other categories of people with whom they would engage as part of this process. However, this sets a minimum standard and is one that the commission itself would be expected to meet.
I am conscious that the Government are determined to have these functions carried out by a single individual—a single, directly elected individual. I also recognise and am very conscious that a number of Members of the House expressed real reservations about the amount of power that that placed in the hands of a single individual. This mechanism, while clearly creating the police commissioner as the most important part of this structure, also makes it clear that that person does not act on their own but has to act in concert with other members of the commission who are appointed as part of the panel process that this amendment envisages. It would therefore not be a single individual who, because of their mandate and feeling of power, might be tempted to go off in capricious directions but an individual working with colleagues as part of a commission. That addresses one of the concerns that have been expressed.
Clearly, the structure envisaged in this amendment is that the person who acts as commissioner is appointed by the other panel members of the commission. They would appoint one of their number to be the commissioner, which is of course entirely contrary to the Government’s intention that that person should be directly elected. I certainly said in earlier speeches that, when I was a police authority chair, I would have welcomed the additional authority of being personally elected to fulfil that role. Obviously, if we are in what will no doubt be an iterative process between the Houses, it will be possible for the Government to insert some mechanism of direct election into this. However, what we have before us was the will of this Chamber when it met in Committee last week. That does not necessarily preclude further discussions as we go down the road.
The concerns about direct election are ones that the Government clearly need to consider. I have reservations about some of the wilder fantasies that people might have about what direct election would bring, because I believe the electorate would take these elections extremely seriously. As they would be for large areas, I suspect that the political parties would invest considerable energy in making sure that their choice of candidate was not part of any lunatic fringe. The fundamental point is that this process would temper the concerns that there might be about direct election, were that to be reinserted into the Bill, because that person would be acting as part of a commission and with other commission members.
This amendment is helpful to your Lordships and sets out a framework with which the Government can work. I feel very sorry for the Minister, who is new to this role and is being confronted with a Bill that is perhaps no longer quite as coherent—if that is the right word—as it once was. I am conscious of that and of the demands that it is now placing on Home Office civil servants. It is therefore incumbent on the Committee to offer the Home Office a structure with which it can work, that will deal with many of the concerns that your Lordships have expressed and that will enable us to have a constructive debate as we go through the rest of the Bill.
I wonder whether I might respond to what has just been said. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to a coherent area and to a person who is well-known in that area—through the available media, both newspapers and television—and who is elected by people. It will be much easier in that sort of area than in many of the police areas up and down the country. Those are large, extremely diverse areas, many of which have no coherence whatever other than that they contain one, two or three counties. There is nothing else.
I have been told today that the Thames Valley police force covers the diocese of Oxford, but that is its only boundary, as it were, other than the old country boundaries, which have changed over the years. I would draw a strong distinction between London, where people might have had the benefit of knowing Toby Harris before they voted for him, and an area in which a person is likely to be elected from a small and diverse police area and will be known to very few people, even if he has a party ticket. That person, I suggest, will concentrate his attention on the area in which he lives.
I want to make it clear that, in trying, as ever, to be helpful to the Government, I was saying that, if they were so minded as to restore the principle of direct election, this framework would allow them to do so. I suspect that we are not at that stage yet and perhaps I spoke for too long on that point. Clearly, that would come back as an amendment from the other place and we would no doubt have the opportunity of debating it then. I was simply saying that the framework does not preclude that if the Government were so minded.
I accept that point. I am not against—as I do not believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, was—the idea of an elected head of the police authority or head of commission. I just wanted to point out that London, as a trial area, if you like, is not typical of the rest of the country. It is actually atypical and inferences drawn from it might be misleading.
I want to raise the question of who will hold this person to account. Is it the public in quite incoherent areas who do not even know various places, or is it the press? I fear that they will press the commissioner to pressure the chief constable to do things. Last weekend we saw a disturbing manifestation when certain organs of the press claimed that the Prime Minister had directed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to devote resources to a case that I think is well known to Members of this House. I am very worried about the possibility of political direction being passed to a chief constable. A chief constable has myriad duties and he or she should be the person who decides where attention is most needed. I would be sorry if that were changed.
I share entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about concentrating power in the hands of an individual; the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to that as well. If there is an elected police commissioner —or not—he must be subject to rigorous checks and balances, otherwise that person will be accountable to no one other than in a four-yearly election. It is important that that person gives an account month-by-month not only of what money he is spending but of what is being done about crime and about relations with the community.
I hear what the noble Lord says and I agree with some of it, but I plead: do not assume that we have had a trial area in London or that London would make a good trial area.
I have never suggested that we have had a trial area in London. London has essentially a completely different set of proposals here. Indeed, I have amendments, which we may or may not get to today, that would try to make London more like the proposal that the Government originally put forward. The London clauses of the Bill are not affected directly by the amendment that we passed the other week, simply because they do not relate to police and crime commissioners.
My Lords, I intervene in what is a difficult situation for the House, as has been recognised on all sides. The Bill, if not holed below the water-line, certainly has a large torpedo gash marginally on the water line. It is worth saying, given some of the comments that have been made from the Government’s side, that the amendment came from a government Member and several government Members supported it in the Lobby, with a number abstaining. Therefore, it would not be wise for the House to make assumptions about what will happen in the House of Commons when it looks at this again.
I draw attention now to something that my noble friend Lady Henig said, which is very important to this debate. She made the point that the structures we are talking about now—this is possibly the point which the Minister will want to address in replying—would imply whether the police and crime commissioner is elected. That makes no difference to the structures that you need to put in place to safeguard police independence. Clause 1(4) states:
“The police and crime commissioner for a police area is to be elected, and hold office, in accordance with Chapter 6”.
I make no secret of my desire; as I said in the previous debate, there is a strong case for separating this Bill by taking out the drugs and alcohol provisions and dealing with them as a separate Bill, and bringing this back in a form that might be more acceptable to the House. Either way, there is a problem about the control of the police. That goes to the heart of the concern on practically all sides of the House. Everybody has expressed the concern that we are in danger of creating a structure in which political control can override police control. That is the fear that underpins so many of the arguments about this. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in his place. I well remember him, many years ago in the 1980s, warning the Labour Party about the danger of elected police commissioners. His position seems to have moved considerably since then, but I suspect that underneath it all he has the same concerns.
My noble friend Lady Henig, ably supported as usual by my noble friend Lord Harris with his special knowledge, has indicated that you can build up a structure that will make that political control less likely, regardless of whether the police and crime commissioner is elected or appointed. It is important to note that the term “police and crime commissioner” is referred to throughout the Bill, not just in Part 1. It appears in some of the schedules as well. There is a problem in assuming that there will not be a police and crime commissioner. My assumption is that, whether elected or appointed, the Government want a police and crime commissioner. In that context, I say simply that the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Henig, supported by other Members of this House who put their names to similar amendments, means that we need a structure that ensures that the police can police without political involvement. That has been an absolutely fundamental principle for this House for many years. We do not want to lose it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has done the House a great service by moving this amendment, which is about good-quality governance. I have a sense of déjà vu about this, which goes back only to yesterday. Yesterday the Government presented us with some proposals that seek to replace something rather odd, which has evolved and works quite well—namely, your Lordships’ House—with something new, the working of which is extremely uncertain. In the proposals in the mere 19 pages of that White Paper, the Government set out what looked to me, after reading it all, like the very elaborate rules of what is bound to be an unsuccessful board game.
It is to be hoped that, if we are to have elected police commissioners and police commissions, we will be able to take the best practice of police authorities and ensure that it is set out, either in statutory form or, if the Government prefer, in some form of code of practice or other clearly designated publication that ensures that good governance occurs.
As the original proposals stand—we have to be realistic and talk about the original proposals because we will certainly return to them in due course—we do not have absolute clarity about the responsibilities of the police commission. Nor do we have absolute clarity about the relationship between the commission, the police and crime panels and the commissioner, let alone the relationship with the chief constable. If we are to reform the governance of the police service so radically, it seems to me that it is the absolute responsibility of the Government and of both Houses of Parliament to provide the police service, and everyone concerned with it, with the clearest possible rules of governance. I urge my noble friend the Minister, whether or not she supports these amendments and the principle behind them, to tell this House that provisions will be introduced which will meet the aspirations of the noble Baroness’s amendments, and will therefore satisfy us that there will be good governance for the police.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about torpedoes and water-lines; I think that we are talking about horses and carts. We are trying to design a cart without knowing whether one, two or four horses will be drawing it. We know where we are, and it is a confusing state for your Lordships' House. I sincerely hope that the opinion of the House will not be tested on this amendment. I take this opportunity to make a few if not random then certainly general, comments. The general thrust of the measure we are discussing is helpful, tidies up some of the framework and deserves the close attention of officials. It does not seek to dilute power but to channel and harness it and—to use the word again—to check capricious behaviour. All in all, I do not think that it is unduly prescriptive. I sense that noble Lords are generally trying very hard to be helpful to the Government. The latter find themselves in a difficult position although I will not go into the horses and carts scenario again. In broad terms, I support what is being said. As I have said before, I support the principle of the elected commissioner, but checks and balances need to be reassessed and strengthened. I trust that the Government will do that in due course.
My Lords, I rise only because my name was prayed in aid by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. I do not believe for a moment that these amendments are necessary to prevent the commissioner taking control of the police because the Bill in its original form makes it absolutely clear that the operational independence of the police is protected. Therefore, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is completely wide of the mark.
However, I was intrigued—since I am on my feet I shall make a further point—by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and his attempt to draw parallels between the discussions that took place in this House yesterday and the discussions that we are having today. I had assumed that the whole thrust of the proposals which were put forward yesterday emanated from the devotion of the Liberal Democrat Party in particular to the principle of democratic elections. I thought that that was at the heart of the proposals which were put before this House yesterday. However, the fact that a significant number of Liberal Democrats were not prepared to accept the principle of democratic election in respect of police commissioners has resulted in the difficulties which have also been discussed today. That is the most significant and odd lesson to be drawn from the contrast between our discussions yesterday and our discussions today.
I do not want to turn this into a little contest between lawyers but I do not know from where my noble friend derives the assertion that I am in some way opposed to democratic elections. As a lawyer like him, I am in favour of tidy and comprehensible solutions—that is my concern about yesterday—but perhaps we should move on to today.
It was the noble Lord who brought yesterday into the discussion in the first place. I did not introduce the subject of yesterday, he did. I just thought that I would point out the beginning of a discrepancy between the approach of the Liberal Democrats to what we were discussing yesterday and the approach of at least some of them to what we are discussing today.
I will not intrude on family grief on the government Benches, but the decision taken last week was a decision of the House. It involved Members from all sides of the House, including a significant number of Cross-Benchers. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has singled out one group, or part of a group of Members, for his animadversions. I am also a lawyer although a much humbler one than either of the noble Lords who have just spoken—I am a journeyman solicitor, not an eminent silk. However, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, he slightly misreads the nature of the amendment, which is not at all about controlling chief constables. The amendment deals with the function of the panel. In many ways, it is an amendment for all seasons because, as other noble Lords have said, it would fit with any structure—an elected commissioner; a commissioner appointed in the way described by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig; or any structure as long as it has a panel. I think it is commonly accepted that that will be part of the final structure that emerges from all this.
The amendment is a paving amendment. It is to strengthen the role of the panel. In Committee, we had the benefit of the protocol, which spoke of checks and balances. There is a widespread view in the House that those checks and balances were insufficient. The amendment is directed at strengthening the checks and balances and the role of the panel. That is something that I hope the Government will take seriously. It seems to me and to others who spoke last week that the Bill does not achieve what the protocol purports: that there are sufficient checks and balances on either the commissioner or, for that matter, arguably, the chief constable—but particularly the commissioner.
Let us regard this as a helpful and constructive amendment to reinforce the Government’s intentions, which I accept at face value, of having substantial checks and balances in the system. In that context, I hope that it will be widely accepted in the House.
My Lords, I declare my normal interests. I agree with the aspirations of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I do so with some hesitation because I am not against the principle of elected police and crime commissioners. Last week I found myself in the position of saying yes or no, but I voted against the idea because I was concerned that, as drafted, the position of elected police and crime commissioners was a mission impossible. Today the amendment gives us a vision of how a more collaborative structure might reinforce, support and enable an elected police and crime commissioner, should that be the end result of the iterative process. It would give an idea of how that person might operate in a more collaborative environment.
My concern has always been not whether we should have elected police and crime commissioners but that he or she, when elected, should have a real chance of doing the job well and of tapping into the best of local democracy and working with it, rather than against it. The amendment gives us some aspirations and some background vision regarding how, when we think again today and subsequently about how an elected police and crime commissioner might operate, this might be helpful in that process.
I was concerned last week when we voted on the issue. I accept that the noble Baroness was very new to her post, but she gave no comfort whatever about how an elected police and crime commissioner might be drawn into a more collaborative endeavour locally, rather than being totally isolated. It seemed almost as if the notion of an elected police and crime commissioner working in a committee, commission or panel structure could somehow emasculate them, dilute their role or disable them in a way that committees, boards or panels do not emasculate people in other aspects of our society. Many successful companies work with an effective board structure; indeed, many effective organisations work with boards, commissions or panels. I hope that the amendment will at the very least tease out from the Minister some support on the need, in rethinking how elected police and crime commissioners might operate, to move towards a more collaborative endeavour which involves a board, panel or commission, rather than the very isolated and adversarial role which the Government currently propose for the elected police and crime commissioner.
I am afraid I am going to compete with the déjà vu of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. My déjà vu goes back to the point where we were at an ACPO dinner together when we discussed accountability, the role of police authorities and what the membership ought to be. I remember clearly that the noble Lord wanted diverse views to form the view of the community expressed towards the chief constable in an area. I also refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about different police authority areas and police service areas. From my experience of living in Lancashire since 1969, I know that a very competent police commissioner who had to say no to a public meeting in Burnley, and who happened to be based in Blackburn or Blackpool, would get short shrift. My concern is that the roles envisaged in my noble friend’s amendments would assist a police and crime commissioner in gaining, keeping and knowing what the diverse communities were thinking about. There is ethnic diversity in Lancashire and diversity not only between urban and rural but between different parts of rural and different parts of urban areas. It would also be impossible for a single individual to be present at local meetings at divisional level to hear the views of the local community. If the role envisaged in my noble friend’s amendments were to be accepted in principle, and worked on in detail by the Government, it would help the process of establishing a new system by building on what is best about the old.
I said that it may be that people would shout down someone who was elected from Blackpool at a meeting in Burnley if the person at the meeting in Burnley was unable to give them what they wanted. That would undermine the job of the police service in Lancashire, which the Minister was good enough to recognise as a superb example of good policing. It would undermine the divisional commander’s role if the commissioner, elected or otherwise, could not be present at all these meetings. They would be able to share the responsibility. I hope that the Government will take away some of these concerns.
I have a final point to make which I think is critical when we look at the role of the commissions, to which my noble friend’s amendment refers. Comparisons are made with the United States. Were the Government to suggest that Burnley, Blackpool and Lancaster should have their own locally elected commissioner, there would be a different argument because, as with my noble friend Lord Harris, everyone who lives in London believes that they live in London, although they claim allegiance to certain parts of it. However, we are not considering that. We are not considering the people of Burnley or Blackpool asking someone to represent their concerns; we are considering the whole of Lancashire.
Whatever happens, I am proud of the police service in my locality. I hope that the Government will do what I am trying to do, which is to ensure that nothing we decide undermines good practice and that we can build on that good practice rather than take away the foundations.
My Lords, I share the view expressed by many noble Lords that the noble Baroness should not proceed to a Division with this amendment. It should be regarded merely as a probing exercise, giving all of us the opportunity to discuss a situation which is, to say the very least, extremely complicated. The Leader of the House referred to the discussions last week as being philosophical. However, I would say that, if anything, they were more metaphysical than philosophical.
There is a great deal to be said in favour of the amendment in very general terms but I doubt very much whether it can cure the situation either in part or in whole. I shall not repeat this on other amendments, although it governs the whole situation, but I believe that the idea of a police commissioner or a police commissar, to use a term which illustrates the problem more classically, is alien to the whole concept of a disciplined force and a disciplined hierarchy—as alien as it would be in relation to the armed services. I say that as someone who 43 years ago had the very great privilege of being a Minister for the police in the other House. I do not believe that you can treat the police in that way.
Having said that, I do not in any way doubt the genuineness of the approach to this problem taken by any of the main political parties. There is obviously room for improvement in the relations between the police and the public, and there is room for better scrutiny and greater efficiency, but I believe, with all the sincerity that I can muster, that all these considerations have been borne in mind by the parties that have allowed themselves to be led down that path in the belief that there is a massive problem that has to be dealt with in some revolutionary way. I do not believe that there is a massive problem.
With very great respect to the noble Baroness who has proposed the amendment, I do not believe that the amendment can ameliorate the problem, because I do not believe that you can ameliorate the unameliorable, redeem the unredeemable or repair the irreparable while the concept of a police commissar is central to the whole of Part 1 of the Bill.
I would not pretend in my most egotistical flights of fancy to have a complete answer to this situation. However, I believe that the answer lies somewhere in the direction of strengthening the position of the chairman of the police authority. Police authorities have served this community well over the years. I believe that their record is honourable and impressive, and that one can go in that direction without damaging the whole concept of a disciplined hierarchy. I believe that one of the most important questions in relation to this whole matter was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw: who controls the controller—or, to use the words of Cardinal Richelieu, quis custodiet custodes ipsos? It is a massively important question.
There is a fallacy that has been expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord Carlile, two gentlemen for whom I have immense personal regard. But the very fact that a person has been elected by way of a democratic process does not of necessity lead to a good, democratic result. If I remember rightly, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor by a democratic process. It is not the process that matters; it is the purpose that is served by that particular person. If tomorrow you have a proposal by the most direct process of democracy—I shall not animadvert as to whether that would be some form of PR or first past the post—and if there were the most direct and fair system of election of a person to a dictatorial post, that would still be wrong. It would still be antidemocratic.
As regards relations between the police and the public, 100 years ago the ordinary, decent citizen regarded police officers as sentinels who stood on the ramparts of civilisation, defending people’s rights against all the evils that existed in this world. Then one thing above all happened to change everything: that was the internal combustion engine. It led to the possibility of millions of ordinary, decent, law-abiding citizens suddenly finding themselves crossing the line into criminality. If anything over the past 100 years has changed the benign relationship between police and public, it is the internal combustion engine, but I am not suggesting that it should be abolished.
My Lords, continuing the debate about governance and organisational and managerial matters, it might be appropriate if I say a brief word about practice, and in particular support Amendment 19. I do so because I believe this to be an important amendment. I am grateful to those who have tabled it, and particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for her comments. It is important because it is essential that a police constable is left in no doubt that one of the priorities for which they will be held to account is that of safeguarding children. These duties are not discretionary; they have been placed upon them by Parliament under the Children Acts, notably the 2004 Act. It might seem self-evident that chief constables have these responsibilities, but, sad to say, experience indicates that this work can easily become lower-order activity in the great responsibilities of policing. Indeed, some people have described in rather derogatory terms that it is a matter of social policing, as though it is a marginal activity. In the evidence to the Victoria Climbié inquiry, witnesses variously describe this area of work as being “woman’s work” or a convenient place to put less able staff. It certainly was regarded by many witnesses from the police service as a career-limiting posting.
After the Victoria Climbié inquiry, the Metropolitan Police reformed and reinforced its police child protection services. Sadly, by the time of the death of Baby Peter, the staff and the resources devoted to this work had been seriously reduced in favour of other policing priorities. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the police child protection services in London and I venture to suggest that the Metropolitan Police now has one of the foremost police child protection services in the world. However, it is important that the standard of the child protection service is maintained. To achieve this will require determined leadership, and police constables should be left in no doubt that they have a continuing and prime responsibility to tackle the abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable children. If they fail to do so, we know from experience that this can lead not only to terrible suffering but to the death and murder of children. For this reason, I press the Minister to take seriously Amendment 19. I hope that it might be incorporated into the Bill to reinforce what I know is the commitment of the Government to ensure that the safeguarding of children remains a significant priority in the responsibility of chief constables.
My Lords, I must admit that I am confused. Regrettably, I was unable to be here on 11 May for the first day of Committee. I received a telephone call in the rehabilitation centre where I was staying for a few days to say, “No worries, we won”. Now I find that the debate is still centring on elected police commissioners.
We have heard a lot about democracy. It seems that some people have the view that if we vote, that is democratic. My view—with which noble Lords may disagree—is that living in a democracy means living where there is a free press, a well informed public and, most importantly, a politically neutral police service. Whichever way this debate goes, we must ensure that the police are not only politically neutral but are seen to be politically neutral. My fear with a party-political, elected commissioner is that the public will not trust that the police are politically neutral. I appeal to all noble Lords not to put politics before common sense. Some will vote for this proposal because that is their political view and they want to follow their party. Others will vote against it because they, too, are following their political party’s views. I ask noble Lords to vote one way or the other to ensure that the public of this country know that we have a politically neutral police service that is also seen to be politically neutral.
My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, recognise the contribution to that political neutrality—and to the confidence expressed by the public in many parts of the country—of the noble Lord, Lord Howard? In the 1980s he was part of a Government who sought to deal with the issue and with these concerns. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, will seek to prevail on the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to take an evolutionary approach to his many previous successes.
My Lords, I support the amendments, which take us in the right direction. I do not mind whether the commissioner, or the head of a commission or a panel, is elected or otherwise: coming from Northern Ireland, I have no right to that view. However, from my experience with the police there, it is clear that an individual cannot do the job without the backing of a committee, panel or commission, which must supply him with the means of interrogating the police and different departments in order to get the story out. One individual cannot do this: we have committees with numbers of people on them because one gets a variation of views and questions. Otherwise, there would be no point in having this Chamber; we might as well have just one person. Therefore, he must be attached to a panel, a commission or a committee of some kind.
Taking that into account, as far as I can see, the panel, as it stands at the moment, only makes recommendations or questions the commissioner, who is not policeman, and is expected to get satisfaction from that. This is Chinese whispers by the time you get to the end of the road. The panel has an obligation to have public meetings so that the public can put their views forward. We have already been into that. It may be that a single panel for a single police area is not local enough or accessible enough, which is a different matter, but I question whether the public are going to continue to turn up to a panel where the police are not present to ask a panel to ask a commissioner, a chairman or however you put it to ask the police a way down the road.
If we are talking about democracy or, indeed, connectivity, which is what it is all about, the Government’s current system does not suffice. Unless they are able to amend their plans to ensure that the lowest denominator —the man in the street—feels that he has some method of influencing his destiny as far as crime and policing in his area goes, they are not going to work. This idea of having different people at different levels without the panel actually having the police there to talk to will not work. If you look at public meetings held by hospitals and other organisations, if people do not think they are getting anywhere, they will not turn up, and you will have lost the vital part of policing in this country.
My Lords, I have not spoken on this Bill before and I rise now with some diffidence because I feel somewhat estranged from the debate. What people really care about is what happens to them, not just perceptions. I will be slightly frivolous about internal combustion engines. I live very near the A1 in the north-east of England and I have had several internal combustion engines taken out of my garden. The security measures that I now take are much more comprehensive than they were in my youth. For example, we used to leave the keys in our cars, if I remember rightly.
At certain times of night in the north-east—the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, knows more about this than me—there are parts of Newcastle where the anti-social behaviour is pretty compelling. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, knows, my son-in-law tries to assist the police in dealing with some of this behaviour. I think there are places in south-west Durham where the police do not go. I shall not quote the names of the ex-mining areas into which they do not go at certain times of the day and possibly hardly ever.
In the context of what is happening in the country, we need to think very seriously about the purpose of this Bill. It is to try to establish arrangements, which I think would meet with total agreement on all sides of this House, for the reduction of crime and anti-social behaviour. I hope that in all this discussion, conversation and exchange about form, we do not lose our sense of purpose.
The noble Viscount referred to the disorder in Newcastle. In 2003, a Licensing Bill was forced through the House by another Government without proper trial. From that, we derived much greater use of alcohol, much greater disorder in city centres, much greater burdens on the health service and terrible problems for town centre management. Does the noble Viscount agree that trials of any changes are probably worth while?
My Lords, I am not the person for solutions; I presented the problem. I am coming into this debate entirely new and without any experience as a policeman or of being on a police committee. I have met policemen from time to time. Sometimes the exchanges have been friendly and at other times they have been not so friendly. Indeed, on one occasion, I thought I was being treated in rather a highhanded manner, but these things happen to people. My concern is about what is happening to people and about the purpose of the Bill.
I speak as a devotee of democratic election but as an equally firm opponent of the concentration of power in one pair of hands. I wrote down the term “collaborative” when the noble Lord, Lord Condon, used it in our previous debate because it is absolutely right. Whatever model we end up with—I share the views of those who are perhaps realists in this political process—the panel should be part of a collaborative process and have an active collaborative role. I see scrutiny and the imposition of checks and balances as part of that activity and collaboration. We have a lot of detailed amendments later about the powers, functions and relationships of the panel and about with whom and when it has conversations. They will apply whatever the model. They may, no doubt, involve the role of the media. It is a reality today that the media have an important role. The scrutineer needs to know how to work with the media and not get caught out by them. The checks and balances are immensely important. In a recent e-mail to one of my honourable friends in the Commons, I referred to them as Cs and Bs, and he thought I was referring to the Cross Benches and the Bishops. Maybe he was not wrong.
At the risk of being a bit of a nerd, I shall ask some questions about a couple of specific points in the amendment. I am sorry to come from a different point of view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, but I worry about the references to the Human Rights Act, the Children Act and the Equality Act and about the dangers of singling out particular references. We may discuss all this in the context of the strategic policing requirement and the protocol and I in no way suggest that those Acts are not important. However, is it not the case that the chief constable, who is the object of these parts of the amendment, is held to account under the law and that it does not need a specific reference in this legislation to deal with that?
My other question is perhaps even more nerdish, but I do not want to suggest that it is not important. There must, of course, be an endeavour to secure the reduction of crime, but Amendment 31D states:
“The Police Commission … must … secure the reduction of crime”.
But what if it cannot? I agree that it should try to, but what are the consequences if it fails? Frankly, one does not want to allow difficult ratepayers looking for audit-based complaints to have a go at a commission by saying that it has not secured the reduction of crime.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. I accept that there is a danger of highlighting some piece of detail in the Bill, but does she accept from me that while there is a huge emphasis on the amount of crime and the reduction of crime, nothing in the legislation talks about the safeguarding of children, the abduction or trafficking of children and the like? Is it not important not to lose that in the great scheme of things?
I agree with that, and it is one of my concerns about the election of an individual. I would like to think that individuals might stand on a mandate to reduce the things to which the noble Lord has just referred, but I think that that is very unlikely indeed. I have tabled a series of amendments, which we will come to later, with a view to raising the issues of child protection and of human trafficking of adults as well as children. I think that the noble Lord is absolutely right, but I am being a bit of a nerd in questioning the way that that is dealt with. My point about securing the reduction of crime was whether that might have unforeseen consequences, again merely in the way that it is dealt with.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. I know well the views of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on the licensing legislation and the point he makes about pilots. I hope that we will come to the question of pilots later on. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that there should be no complacency about the level of crime or the effectiveness of the police force. However, it is accepted and a matter of record that the last 10 to 15 years have seen dramatic reductions in the number of crimes committed, including violent crimes. This has been confirmed by independent surveys such as the British Crime Survey. However, I also have to say that we are seeing elements of crime rising again. The latest figures for the West Midlands police force, published last Thursday at a meeting of the West Midlands Police Authority, show that the trend is reversing.
I still do not understand why the party opposite has such a downer on the police; it is a great puzzle. That is clear from the statements made during our discussions. There seems to be a real sense of angst in the party opposite about the police service which I just do not understand, and it is part of the problem we face in debating the Bill. Having said that, let me turn to the issue. Whether you have an elected or appointed police commissioner, I believe that what is needed is strong and effective corporate governance. That point was made by all of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about checks and balances. It is the absence of proper corporate governance or checks and balances that is so worrying and inexplicable.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said that the Government have some form in this area and tried to invite the noble Baroness to respond on House of Lords reform. On Monday I tried to do that without any success, and I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is going to be any more successful. But let me try another area, that of the National Health Service. Here I declare my interests as set out in the register as a consultant trainer and chair of the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. The proposal for GP consortia is shocking in relation to the absence of proper corporate governance. The original proposal was for £80 billion to be given to GPs. That has now been reduced to £60 billion, but it is still an awful lot of money. It is to be given to one profession which would then decide where it should be spent. Again, that was done in the absence of proper and effective corporate governance. Yet the party opposite has a record to be proud of in its work before 1997 on enhancing corporate governance in both the public and the private sectors. I well remember the initiatives sponsored and supported by the party opposite when it was in government. It set up a number of reviews and initiated developments to strengthen corporate governance. It encouraged the IoD and the CBI. I remember well the Cadbury report, which I know that the Conservative Party strongly supported. So it is a puzzle to me why the Government now seem to be moving away from effective corporate governance.
One of the most shocking parts of the Bill is Clause 62, which is entitled “Appointment of acting commissioner”. It is right that the circumstances should be prescribed where a commissioner no longer holds office or is incapacitated in some way. Let me just make this point. An individual elected or appointed as a police commissioner is going to come under intensive media scrutiny about their entire life. Sport will be made of trying to find out anything wrong with them, so it is likely that after such a person has been appointed or elected, issues will emerge which mean that that person will have to resign, or at least be suspended. I do not think there can be any doubt about that whatever. Clause 62(1) states:
“The police and crime panel for a police area must appoint a person to act as a police and crime commissioner”,
if a vacancy arises. The panel can only appoint such a person if that person is a member of the police and crime commission staff at the time of the appointment. Who will it be—the PR officer, the chief of staff, the buddy? Enormous powers will be given to that person. They can appoint or dismiss the chief constable. They can set the precept. I find that wholly and absolutely unacceptable. Clause 62(4) states:
“All the functions of a police and crime commissioner are exercisable by an acting commissioner, apart from issuing or varying a police and crime plan under section 5”.
A staff member appointed by the police commissioner can suddenly be called on to assume enormous powers without the effective checks and balances and corporate governance that would be appropriate in every walk of life in both the public and the private sector. That is why there is so much concern about this Bill and its construct.
The second part of this amendment—I am indebted to my noble friend for bringing it forward—concerns the relationship between the individual commissioner, either elected or appointed by the panel, and the area he serves. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to the Thames Valley. I know it well because I was brought up in Oxford in the great days of the Oxford City police force and the watch committee. Of course, watch committees were abolished because of political corruption. Again, I fail to comprehend why the Government have not understood the lessons of history. When politicians are brought too close to operational policing, there will always be trouble.
The Thames Valley police force is roughly analogous to the diocese of Oxford and to what used to be called the Oxford Regional Health Authority area of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is right: there is no heart; it is a false area; there is nothing really that brings it together. But even in the West Midlands, my own patch now, if you had one person who came from Coventry, what confidence would there be in Wolverhampton? I think that there would be great concern, because you would have lost the balance that you have with our current police authorities. That is why it is so important, if we are to continue with a single commissioner, either elected or appointed, first, to ensure, as my noble friend wishes to do, that there are regular engagements between that individual and the communities; and, secondly, to strengthen the role of the panel. The panel will consist of elected councillors from the different local authorities. They will be able to provide some connect between the work of the police and the local community, but they will be able to do so only if they have sufficient authority and power to exercise proper checks and balances in relation to the police commissioner.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Perhaps I may begin by putting something on the record, because many noble Lords have mentioned the operational independence of the police. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, drew attention, I believe, to the case of Madeleine McCann. I can assure your Lordships that there was no question of the Home Secretary directing the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to carry out this exercise. Due to the international expertise that exists in the Met, there were discussions between the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police. The commissioner took the operational decision to support the investigation on that basis. It was felt appropriate that funding should flow from the Home Office because of the additional costs associated with policing that case. I hope that that reassures people who have been concerned about that aspect of it.
For the benefit of noble Lords who were not here last week when we produced the protocol document, perhaps I should also repeat that the whole area of governance, and the relationship between a police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, is set out in a draft document that is still open to consultation. I hope in due course to have further discussions with Members across the House so that we might see how that document can be improved. Again, the governance and independence of the police are key to that document.
This is an unusual debate by any standards of what has taken place in the House previously, and I shall attempt to address as much of what has been said as I can, given the circumstances. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, is having difficulties with her voice at the moment, but if she is able formally to move her Amendment 31, which proposes a new model of governance, a police commission, perhaps we might then have a little more clarity in our proceedings, because the amendments in the group which we have been discussing are consequential to that amendment. None the less, I shall try to be as constructive as possible in relation to what has been said today.
I was asked about the role of the PCC in tackling crime; the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to it in her opening remarks. Had the Bill not been amended as it was last Wednesday, the PCC would have been empowered to make grants to community safety partnerships within their force areas. It was envisaged that the PCC would determine local priorities for crime reduction and who was best placed to handle both the symptoms and, crucially, the causes of crime within their force area.
The amendments propose a new model whereby a police and crime commission will be created, consisting of a police and crime panel with the power to elect a police and crime commissioner. If you directly elect an individual, you have to be able to allow that individual to carry out the mandate on which they have been successfully elected. The elected individual needs strong and effective checks and balances—I am in total agreement with that. What is proposed, however, is not an effective check and balance but a slow and bureaucratic decision made by committee.
In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I assume that the police and crime panel to which the amendments refer is the panel as set out in the Bill. This is fundamentally the same model as we have now with police forces accountable to police authorities—a model which, as was discussed last Wednesday, simply does not provide the public with a mechanism for holding their police service to account. The proposed model would fail to provide the democratic accountability that policing needs and the public demand. If anything, it turns the clock back. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned the watch-committee style of policing governance which was abolished in 1964. The model proposed, as I understand it, would place politicians in control, with no direct accountability to the public, which is what the original provision sought to do. The watch-committee style of system, with politicians in control but with no direct accountability to the public, resulted in corruption and politicisation of the police. On the first day in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, respectively reminded your Lordships of the cases of Chief Constable Athelstan Popkess in Nottingham and of Councillor Bookbinder in Derbyshire. Surely we do not want to return to that.
Amendment 19, to which the noble Lord, Lord Laming, spoke, would add to the list of duties on which the police and crime commissioner should hold the chief constable to account. The noble Lord was concerned that it should mention duties imposed by any enactment, specifically those under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Children Act 2004. All of us here want our police to comply with all their statutory duties. That is why Clause 1(7) already provides for the PCCs to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of all their functions, which naturally include those legal obligations with which the chief constable must comply. The Government are happy to take this opportunity to reassure the Committee, because I know that views on this are widely held, that they take very seriously compliance with the Human Rights Act and the Children Act. However, the inclusion of the duties under those Acts, let alone every other enactment, would muddy the list of functions which are particularly important for PCCs. The Government do not consider it necessary to include the provisions of the Human Rights Act or the Children Act in Clause 1(8), much as the provisions of those statutes are of course recognised to be important.
However, given the strength of feeling that has been expressed today, we are willing to revisit this point and to ensure that the correct balance is struck between the general and specific duties of the chief constable. I make the offer of one-to-one discussions as the Bill progresses with noble Lords who have a particular interest in this area to make sure that we get that balance right.
I will be very pleased and willing to set up such a meeting.
The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Rosser and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, require the PCC to arrange public forums for a police area. Much has been said today about the need for public forums and interface with the general public. We expect PCCs to engage regularly with the public and with representatives of communities in the police area. However, we also expect PCCs to decide how best to go about that engagement. They would be democratically elected and held accountable to their electorate. We would also expect the police and crime panel to have an overview of how that function is carried out.
PCCs would have been accountable directly to the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, queried this in her opening remarks but there would have been no doubt in the Bill that they would have been directly accountable to the public. That is why the Bill, as introduced, contains provisions in Clause 14 to ensure that the PCC is required to obtain the views of the community. Clause 34 also makes it a statutory requirement for police forces to have regular meetings within their neighbourhoods and to develop other innovative ways of engaging their communities to ensure that they talk to a representative and diverse group. I hope that assures noble Lords who have been concerned that the police would be divorced from the public by the proposed changes in the original drafting of the Bill; that is neither the intention nor the outcome of the original drafting. We believe that this is sufficient assurance to ensure that PCCs’ policing arrangements reflect the priorities of the community, which is most important.
Noble Lords have already made their intentions clear in respect of Amendment 31, which I shall refer to as “the new model”. We shall not object to that amendment if it is moved later in our proceedings. However, it is not necessary to make these changes as well and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and for noble Lords not to move theirs.
The Committee will be grateful to the Minister for the way in which she has addressed the issues raised in the debate and for the extent to which she is clearly prepared to engage with the House on them. However, I would be grateful for an indication of the Government’s intentions on this matter. Clearly it will go back to the House of Commons. At the moment we have the amendments approved by the House last week, and when in due course we get to Amendment 31 that will no doubt be approved by the House without further discussion. However, assuming that it does not magically become the desire of the Government to achieve what is contained in the amendments, no doubt they will come back with something not very dissimilar from what we started with.
I take from her tone that the Minister wants to engage with Members of this House in making the detail work. Presumably, therefore, she would wish to see amendments passed to the rest of the fabric of the Bill—the consequential matters contained in my noble friend’s amendments—so as to provide hooks on which she on behalf of the Government can respond to the concerns of Members of the House. Clearly if my noble friend withdraws the amendment today and we carry on not making further changes to the Bill, all that will go back to the House of Commons will be those five amendments the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, spoke to last week. That will not provide enough space for the Government to respond constructively in the way in which I am sure the Minister would wish.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks because we are in rather uncharted and new territory—not least myself. My approach to this is that before the Bill returns to another place—between now and then—I am willing to engage with noble Lords across the House in areas where we might seek negotiation and concession. In that way, when the Bill is presented before another place, it will reflect the views of noble Lords, even though because of the technical constraints now before us we may not have had the fullest debate that we might have had, had the amendment not been carried last Wednesday. I am genuinely keen to be constructive, as I pointed out last week in the discussion about the protocol. It is a draft document which contains some important points about the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, and the whole question of the governance and independence of the police. It has been consulted on very widely with the relevant authorities but there is still room for Members of the House to have an input into it.
On specific issues—for example, on police and crime panels—I am happy to sit down with noble Lords. I can make no promises off the top of my head about what changes might be made, but I am willing to explore where they may be made. If we can come to agreement, even if it is outside the Chamber, I hope that will be reflected when the Bill comes before another place.
However, I must be quite honest with the House: it has been already stated by the Home Secretary publicly that, following on from our debate last week and the result of the vote, it would be the Government’s intention —I am sure this comes as no surprise—to seek in another place to reinstate directly elected police and crime commissioners. However, outwith that, further discussions can take place to take account of genuinely held concerns in areas where many in the House have a great deal of expertise and experience and feel keenly about matters.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness—I am sorry to prolong this—for that extremely helpful statement. However, I am slightly confused procedurally. I do not suggest that the noble Baroness will be able to answer this tonight but I hope that within the course of the next few Committee days she will be able to give a definitive view. Presumably, at some stage before the Bill leaves this House, if it is possible to reach agreement on issues outwith the prime question on which I understand the Home Secretary has clearly expressed her views, that will mean amendments being brought forward, either on Report or Third Reading, which will put into place those areas where agreement has been reached.
I admit openly that I am probably just as confused as the noble Lord is about the procedural matters that will follow. I have to take advice on an almost hourly basis. A great deal will depend on how Part 1 of the Bill progresses. I will have to take legal advice on into which context we put amendments that have been debated or voted on. At the end of the day, noble Lords may well have to take my word that concessions that we have agreed to will appear not in subsequent stages in this House but in another place. It will depend on the technicalities, which are for those with more expertise than me—on whom I rely—to know. I am genuine in my desire to make progress and to be as constructive as possible, but we are constrained in what we can and cannot do now because of where we are.
I am grateful. I understand we are constrained; I am worried that we should not be even further constrained by the fact that when the Bill emerges from here at Third Reading, in whatever form it is, it is then not possible for the other place to look at those issues about which the Minister has given reassurances simply because there are no extant amendments to those clauses where a concession might be appropriate. I am not suggesting that the Minister should try to address that matter today—I realise that a lot of work will have to be done on it—but it is an important point.
It would probably be useful if there were further discussions in the usual channels about this. My experience is that, when there is a desire through the ping-pong process to achieve an agreed change, then the ways of this place and the other place seem to find a way to do it.
I want briefly to add a word. We all seem to be of a mind to find a way to make the procedures work for us and not to be overburdened by them. I hope that, in whatever order we do things, there will be a proper opportunity, whether through a fairly prolonged ping-pong or not, to contribute the experience and expertise all round the House, as the noble Baroness said. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom on this. We need to collaborate.
I thank noble Lords who have participated in a most interesting debate. I particularly thank the Minister for her response. I also apologise—I must have been too close to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, because my voice is beginning to go. First, in speaking to these amendments I was trying to be constructive and attempting to build on existing good practice—that is very important. I said at Second Reading that I thought good governance was absolutely essential in the policing world. I am trying to ensure here that good governance is an essential element in any new structures that the Government introduce. That is one of my fundamental concerns.
I shall address one or two points raised by the Minister. There was an issue about the public holding directly elected people to account. I was a local councillor on a police authority and can assure the Minister that I was held to account by the electorate, as were fellow members of the police authority throughout Lancashire. There is a debate to be had on representative democracy as against direct democracy. If the Minister would like to have that debate, I am willing to join her. The fact is that in this country we have a system of representative democracy. We elect members of Parliament and they are then appointed to government jobs. We elect local councillors and they are then appointed to bodies. That is, as I understand it, representative democracy. If the coalition Government now suggest that we should have a system of direct elections, I hope that they are not just suggesting that for local government. If you want direct elections, that goes right across the board. We are then dealing with a very different system of government. As far as I am concerned, we have always had representative government in this country. That is why I feel so strongly when people say that local members of police authorities have not been held to account. That is not true.
The second point that I take exception to is that we keep hearing references to Derbyshire and what happened there in the 1980s. Here I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Howard. The fact is that the reforms of the early 1990s created police authorities that were very different from those that existed in the 1980s. Indeed, one of the issues facing police authorities currently is that because they work across party lines, work co-operatively and have a very corporate style, they have not attracted the headlines but have worked much more effectively. I can assure noble Lords that no police authority that I can think of in this country has operated in any sense like that of Derbyshire in the 1980s: that needs to be acknowledged. There was a sea change in the way that police authorities operated. I almost feel I am carrying the flag for the reforms of the noble Lord, Lord Howard. While he has changed his mind and is adopting the Labour policy of the 1980s, I am now advocating the changes that he effectively brought into being.
I seek to relieve the noble Baroness of her burden. Is not the point that the reforms put in place in the 1990s—she has been kind about them and their consequences—were a response to the problems of the 1980s? Some 20 years later, it is time to look at things again and see if we can improve the arrangements that have been in place for 20 years and institute a more effective way of dealing with the difficulties which have arisen.
I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that a lesson from history is not to walk blindly backwards into a situation. I do not think I have discussed Derbyshire so often since I ceased to be a member of the Association of County Councils. As leader of the Labour group on the Association of County Councils, it is my personal experience that at that time in that place, not only would it have been the leader of Derbyshire County Council—supported by other Derbyshire county councillors—who was on the police authority and causing some problems, but also, had it gone to the population of Derbyshire, then that would have been a direct election, unfettered even by other members of the local authority. I am worried about the noble Lord, for whom I have enormous respect. I hope that he will not take us back into the dark ages.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, on one thing. He said we should evolve and I absolutely agree that we should build on and continue to try to improve the structures that we have. On that, there is no debate. However, I argued last week that change should be incremental. Introducing directly elected individuals is not incremental but highly radical change. That is one reason why many of us feel it is several steps to take in one go. We would like something more evolutionary. That is one of the differences between us.
In drawing to a close, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Many of us in this Chamber have extensive experience of the lay governance of policing. Policing is a fundamental but complex service. Different views from around the House on what would work would be quite useful in moving this debate forward. I took exception when the Leader of the House suggested that discussion of Part 1 would be completely pointless in view of what happened last week. I do not share that view and hope that the constructive debate that we have had shows that there are many significant issues that we need to discuss.
One of them, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was to do with reducing crime. I did not suggest that the new individuals should be called police and crime commissioners. However, if they are going to be called that, then they have to be seen to engage in the reduction of crime. However you measure crime, the reduction of crime is an important part of their brief. That is why I sought ways in which that could be reflected in the drafting of the Bill.
I do not propose to push this amendment to a Division at this point. The amendments were probing. They have shown the sorts of concern that noble Lords rightly have about aspects of the Bill. I will, by leave, withdraw the amendment but hope that many of us will be able to engage constructively with the Minister in the way that she suggested. That would be extremely helpful. I reserve the right to perhaps return to these amendments at a later stage if I feel that we are not making as much progress as I would like.
Amendment 15A withdrawn.
16: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, at end insert “, in conjunction with the chief constable”
I shall also speak to Amendment 52. Amendment 16 is very short. It has only six words and I hope I will be brief in moving it. In our view, it is, despite its brevity, very important as a principle. It lies right at the very start and at the heart of the Bill.
The amendment says that the police and crime commissioner for a police area must,
“in conjunction with the chief constable”,
secure the maintenance of the police force of that area and ensure that the police force is efficient and effective. It makes clear that the principle of the central involvement of the chief constable in securing the maintenance of the police force and ensuring it is efficient and effective is seen as a matter of co-operation and partnership as opposed to being simply the responsibility of the police and crime commissioner. The words “in conjunction with” are important because they are stronger than simply saying that the commissioner must consult or the commissioner must co-operate with the chief constable; “in conjunction” means it has to be much more of an equal partnership between the two. It is as simple as that. It may seem a very small amendment but in principle it is extremely important because it clearly defines the responsibility of the commissioner to work in conjunction with the chief constable. I beg to move.
We have effectively moved back to the first group of amendments as Amendment 15 was not moved and we moved onto the second group. I have rather a lot of amendments in this group—Amendments 20, 21, 29, 36B, 37ZA, 37ZB, 40A, 55A, 64D and 249. This is a very important group of amendments. They are as relevant to the Government’s original proposals as they are to Amendment 31, the consequential amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.
The House will know that there is concern about the relationship between the police commissioner and the chief constable and the possibility that the commissioner will seek, one way or another, to intervene in operational issues which will be the responsibility of the chief constable. Indeed, the noble Baroness rather anticipated some of our discussion in a very helpful response to the previous group of amendments. This is a very genuine and realistic concern. It is held by many responsible organisations and people who have experience, expertise and judgment in areas of police, crime and justice.
Let us think briefly about the role of the commissioners. They will be full time, rather well paid, working entirely on their own with no other responsibilities. What are they going to do? The Home Secretary said yesterday, in her speech to the Police Federation, that the result of introducing police commissioners would be to reduce bureaucracy. I wonder. I suspect that chief constables are going to have PCCs crawling all over them. After all, they are going to have a manifesto if they are elected and even if they are appointed by the panel, as the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, suggests, they are going to be appointed, I should have thought, on the basis of some kind of statement about what they would do.
Commissioners will set their own targets. They will call for all manner of reports and reviews. Indeed, in our previous debate, when we discussed public engagement, it was clear that any commissioner worth their salt is going to have lots of public meetings. When you have public meetings you write notes and you go back and you talk to the chief constable. There is going to be an enormous amount of traffic between the commissioner, who has nothing else to do except be the commissioner, and the chief constable. The commissioner is full time and will spend countless hours worrying about this and talking to the chief constable. The chief constable is going to have a hell of task in trying to run a service and deal with this commissioner.
This is what is so worrying to us about how this is going to operate. I think about my experience as an NHS non-executive chair. I must again declare my interest in that and as a consultant in the health service and as a trainer. One of the reasons I do not try to run the trust is because it is a part-time role. There is a clearly accepted corporate governance understanding of what non-executives do. In essence, we are appointing an executive commissioner on some kind of programme or manifesto and they are bound to want to influence, in a very strong way, what the police will do. I am sure the noble Baroness will respond by saying that that is fine because they are there to set the strategic direction. That is a very good answer but I believe that inevitably commissioners will be drawn into operational matters.
One of the great problems here is that whether elected or appointed they will have political labels. Under the noble Baroness’s amendment they will be members of the police and crime panel so they will be local councillors under the current construct of the Bill. Regarding elected commissioners, I am still hopeful that the Government might listen to your Lordships’ House—my goodness me they will have to listen if it is elected under PR. Just on the current basis, surely it is going to be very difficult to constrain those commissioners as they will have political banners. I am afraid forces will be known as Labour forces, Conservative forces and Lib Dem forces—they are bound to be. This is our real concern about the proposals. It is not about the Government’s efforts to enhance accountability. Indeed, if they had come forward with proposals around police authorities, which could have done many of the things they are seeking to do, that would have been a much more satisfactory debate. These are real concerns about day-to-day politics intervening in the affairs of the police force.
I want at this point to refer to the draft protocol. I acknowledge that this is a draft. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for ensuring that we received it before the first day of Committee. She will know that there have been comments which seem to suggest that it does not ensure operational independence. I have also received comments that the commissioner’s control over the budget may be used unduly to influence operational matters. I think of our good friends in the Treasury and their control over departments. Maybe life has changed but I rather doubt it. I found that the Treasury took an unhealthy interest in the affairs of the departments I had a responsibility for. It was able to do so because it had the dosh. Again, there is a concern here that budgetary control, in the end, will ensure that the chief constable has to take account of what the commissioner says and that in turn could lead into areas of operational business. I think, for example, of where the chief constable is well aware of the national priorities in relation to policing but the commissioner really wants to spend more money in another area. Again, one could see a case where the chief constable felt that he was being unduly pressurised.
My amendments do three things. First, they make the protocol into a statutory form in one way or another. Secondly, they reinforce the benefit of the police form of declaration. I do not want to read out the form of declaration, although it is a very impressive declaration indeed. It says that the police officer,
“will serve the Queen in the office of constable without favour or affection, malice or ill will”,
and so on. I understand, of course, that nothing in this Bill would affect that oath, but my amendment just seeks to reinforce its importance. Thirdly, they set out a set of principles to which I think it desirable for the Home Secretary, commissioners and chief constables to have regard. These are probing amendments that seek a response from the Minister about this issue of the line between commissioners and the chief constables. I am very glad to have taken part in this debate.
I cannot anticipate what the board will decide, but I would have thought it inconceivable that anyone would be elected who said that they would treat this post as a part-time post. I think we have all been working on the assumption that this will be a full-time responsibility. I would much prefer it to be a non-executive appointment around a strong corporate governance structure. That would be most satisfactory. In the construct that the Government had in the original Bill, before noble Lords sought to improve it last week, it would inevitably have been a full-time job. My great fear is that to justify re-election, if the commissioner is to be elected, or reappointment, if the commissioner is to be appointed, the commissioner will spend day after day interfering in the work of the chief constable.
The noble Lord may be right—I do not know—but I suggest, certainly in the light of how this Bill has gone so far, that we do not jump to too many conclusions. After all, I know that my noble friend on the Front Bench has said that she was willing to discuss anything and everything. We seem to be getting to the end altogether too quickly.
I wonder whether I might help the House with a personal set of experiences gathered over five years as chief constable in the West Midlands. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has said that the new PCC will be all over the chief constable like a rash—and I think he would be. During my experience in the West Midlands in the 1980s, it is true that the police authority was rather different. Nevertheless, the individual as the elected chairman would broadly in this context replicate the PCC. It was in the era of extreme political interest in police forces. Noble Lords will remember how the press hung avidly around the doors of Greater Manchester and Merseyside police at that time, and the quite difficult relationships that those two forces had with their chairman or chairwoman. I found broadly the same thing in place when I took over the West Midlands in 1985. I found that I spent quite a lot of time talking to, being with, or walking around with, the chairman, but I did not find that it was a problem. I made it clear to him that the operational responsibility was mine and reminded him—not that he needed reminding—that all the buildings, the pay and rations, the precept and budget and so on, were his. He had a role to play. My experience of that situation, which required political acumen both sides, from him and from me, was that if we were successful on some operation or other, as we frequently were, he would want to be in the limelight as well. That was perfectly understandable. If things went wrong, as they frequently did, he was nowhere to be seen, and I carried the can, because it was an operational decision.
The only point that I make from that experience—and I do not want to try to prove the general from the particular, because that is always wrong—is that however we manage this in future there will always be the PCC that wants to swarm all over the chief constable. It is how those two individuals relate that is important, and there will be some bad cases when they do not get it right. However, it is quite likely that most of those sets of individuals will get it right and will hammer out a relationship with each other. One has to wait and see.
As this is Committee and we are allowed to bounce up and down, can I respond to the noble Lord? He was, of course, an outstanding chief constable of the West Midlands and is long remembered for the work he did there. Of course, he is right that there is a normal relationship between the chairman and the chief executive, if I can put it like that, and I recognise that some chairmen like to take the credit but put the blame on their chief operating officer, although not all. The essential difference here is that the election under a manifesto and the appointment under a programme would change the relationship. That is what I am trying to focus attention on.
My Lords, by giving us the benefit of his experience, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, has highlighted what I think will be the crux of some of the discussions that we have to have on this Bill and highlights why this is the most difficult area of some of the issues that we have to look at. Perhaps I can add my experience as chair of a police authority for four years and then, since 2004, as a member of a police authority. I hope that is helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, made a very interesting point when he talked about the relationship that he had with his chairman of the police authority. He talked about reminding him of his responsibilities in pay and rations, buildings and setting the overall strategic direction. One bit of this Bill that we have to address—and there are amendments on this matter that we might reach today or tomorrow—is where it takes away the responsibility from the commission, the commissioner or the authority for pay and rations and for buildings. We might as a result create a situation in which the commissioner, whom the White Paper certainly envisaged would be full time in his role, would have nothing else to do but intervene in matters that we would otherwise regard as being the responsibility of the chief constable. The balance of responsibility between the commissioner or the commission, or whatever we want to call it—whatever we end up with—and the chief officer of police will be exceptionally important.
I believe that police accountability is important and I take the view that whoever discharges that responsibility, whether it is an individual commissioner or a commission, there must be some levers that can be applied. That is why I think we will want to return to the question of exactly what is transferred to the chief officer of police. My experience says that it is not always terribly helpful to define what is or is not operational, because it will depend on the personal chemistry between the chief officer of police and the person who fulfils this role—the commissioner or the commission.
There was a transition period before the new Metropolitan Police Authority came into being in 2000; it was not quite as long as the one that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested last week, but it was certainly a matter of months. A few weeks after that came the Notting Hill carnival, which is the largest street festival in Europe, involves policing costs of £3 million to £5 million, and is a major issue for relations between the police and the community. At that stage, the police authority, of which I was the new chair, had an interim secretariat that, despite the fact that many of them had been seconded from the Home Office, was less experienced in these matters, and which advised me that as the chair it was completely improper for me to say anything about the policing of the carnival.
My first response was to say, “Well, it’s interesting that you say that, but I've already done three radio interviews this morning on precisely that topic”. However, I took the view that because of, first, the sum of money involved and, secondly, the pivotal issues about relations between the police and the community, there were of course matters which the police authority chair—or, in future, the commission or the commissioner —would expect to comment on and have some say over. That is right and proper. It should not be the responsibility of the commissioner, the commission or a police authority chair to say, “At this stage, you should put your NATO helmets on”, or, “At this stage, you should block this street rather than that street”, because that would be intervening in the operational responsibility of the police. However, to take no role at any stage on one of the biggest policing operations would be wrong.
Looking at what has happened more recently in London, where I sit as a member of the police authority, I have watched the new administration since the election of the mayor who came in. A number of things happened for which that new administration could properly claim credit. For example, a much more rigorous, aggressive anti-knife policy, Operation Blunt 2, was introduced after the elected politicians who came in after an election said, “We believe that knife crime is a matter of such public concern in London that you, as the police service, should be ratcheting up what you do”. Again, that seems to me to be a legitimate concern and not intervening in operational matters.
More recently there has been the attack dogs issue and whether the police service in London should take it much more seriously. Again, that is sometimes presented as a personal preoccupation of the current police authority chair, Kit Malthouse, when it has actually concerned the police authority for some time. When I walk through the park near where I live, early in the morning, and see young lads hanging their dogs off trees by the jaws to strengthen their jaws and make them more effective as attack dogs, I think it is of concern to Londoners. In both instances—knives and attack dogs—the Metropolitan Police probably recognised what should have a higher priority, but elected politicians came in and said, “Actually, this is what concerns us”. The danger in trying to avoid inappropriate intervention in operational matters—such as saying, “Investigate this case rather than that case”, “Arrest this person rather than that person”, or, “Close that street rather than this street”—is in undermining the principle of accountability that the Government want to achieve.
The protocol has turned out to be a slightly better document than many might have expected, but it was extremely difficult to write. I pay enormous tribute to those who spent many happy hours trying to get that document right, but there is a real danger with it. The more a chief constable or we in this House or the other place say, “We've got to protect against this”, and write it into that document, the more enforceable we make it and the more difficult we will make the sensible arrangements of accountability that we are trying to put in place.
The Minister raised the intervention last week on the Madeleine McCann case and properly explained the process that was being engaged in, which was not an instruction. Despite some of the press briefing that might have gone on beforehand, there was simply a conversation. As I understand it, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police simply said, “Yes, of course, that is something that we should and could do”. I will not get into any questions of whether that is the right or wrong thing to do.
I do not know whether any of your Lordships remember Flanders and Swann. One thing that they did—it might have been Michael Flanders on his own—was to talk about the origin of the song “Greensleeves”. Michael Flanders describes how they were trying to find the first-act closer of some mid-16th century revel. A tune arrived and Flanders, or whoever it was, says aloud: “Who on earth has written this stuff?”. A voice from the back of the auditorium says, “We did”. He asks, “I can't see who that is—who are you?”, then hears, “We are Henry the Eighth, we are”. At which point, says Michael Flanders, they realised that it was precisely the song that they had wanted. I wonder whether the discussions last week—it may have been as much the Prime Minister as the Home Secretary taking this view—were very much, “We are Henry the Eighth, we are, and of course this is exactly what we wanted to do in the first place”.
We have to preserve the iterative process by which elected politicians, who should be in touch with their local communities, say to the police, “These are the priorities of the community”. We have to make sure that it exists in whatever arrangements we have, whether it is a directly elected commissioner, a commission or anything else. I am worried that if we define this too precisely, we will end up in worse trouble. I have heard chief constables say, “Of course, this will end up in the courts. We'll have this protocol and as soon as our commissioner steps over the line we’ll be in court and sort the thing out. The courts will always favour the police so we'll be all right”. I have heard that line expressed. However, if in the private dialogues between the commissioner or the commission and the chief police officer the protocol is mentioned more than twice, it will have demonstrated that the relationship between that chief police officer and that commissioner or commission has broken down irredeemably. Have it there as an expression of fine words but do not try and define it precisely, because that will only lead to trouble.
The noble Lord’s last remarks were a bit like the instructions that go with a piece of information technology; when all else fails, turn to the instruction book. I agree entirely with what he said. Any chief officer who tries to push back on politicians who are giving good advice is a fool. The wise chief officer will say at every stage, as in the example of the Notting Hill carnival, “Come and have a look at it and tell us what you think. In the end I, the chief officer, will make an operational decision, but I value your contribution”. I would have thought that the majority of chief officers would do that. I have not heard of those who want to test it in the courts. I hope that they are very few in number and I do not wish them well.
My Lords, I apologise for taking us back by two or three speeches, but the Committee really should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Eccles for making his observation about the assumption that the Official Opposition’s spokesman was making, when there is in fact nothing in the Bill to confirm it one way or the other. I am extremely grateful myself for his doing that. Earlier this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that the arguments in our debate at the end of the evening last week were metaphysical, but the speeches which my noble friend Lord Eccles picked up on were being hypothetical in that there was no definitive reference to this in the Bill.
I go back to my own experience on the Greater London Authority Bill, a not dissimilar Bill to the one that we are discussing, when the Minister in charge of that Bill kept saying again and again that it was a breakthrough in local government legislation because, for the first time, the Mayor of London would have advice from advisers that would remain totally confidential and would not be available to anyone else in the authority. It was a novel development in local government affairs, but again and again I asked the Minister—no names, no pack drill—“Where is your legislative cover in the Bill for what you are continuously reiterating to the Committee?”. Eventually, he broke down and said, “The right honourable gentleman is quite right. We haven't yet put the amendments down”.
Given the particular circumstances in which we are debating this Bill, with which one is familiar because of the action of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, last week, we will inevitably find ourselves debating a number of hypotheses throughout. It is extremely difficult for some of us to follow exactly what is happening, not least that we are now going backwards in the Bill in an Alice in Wonderland way to a group of amendments that were put down earlier. All I seek to plead is that if people are going to be hypothetical, they should say that they are being hypothetical so that the rest of us know where we are.
I totally understand what we are doing, but the fact remains that it can be difficult to follow. There are a lot of people taking part in these debates—that is a tribute to the Bill—and the easier that those taking a lead on it can make this for the rest of us to understand, the more progress we should make.
My Lords, I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, would have difficulty in intervening, but it is a little unfair—although in this case we are discussing how a personalised system would work—to personalise the decision as being “the action of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris”. It was the action of your Lordships’ House, including support, or lack of it, from some of the noble Lord’s noble friends.
Since the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has taken this up with me, she and I know each other very well—we have worked together on matters relating to local government for the best part of 30 years—and I do not in the least mind being rebuked by her. However, I am trying to make the Bill work better by all of us attending to what might otherwise mislead.
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, mentioned Flanders and Swann and a song, I thought that he was going to quote “The Bindweed and the Honeysuckle” because they both strove and ended up in the same place by climbing around each other and working together. I thought that perhaps he was going to draw the example of how closely the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner would work—in other words, there would be contact between them and a strong working relationship.
Before I respond specifically to the amendments, I would like to say that I stood for elected office at general elections on five occasions. Many in this House—most, in fact—will know what it is like to be part of a political party, to campaign and so on. It is all great fun and all very serious stuff, but for most people who aspire to and achieve elected office, once they are elected, the fact that they wear a party badge does not necessarily mean that that influences everything that they do in their working life, representing people who have not necessarily voted for them. So I have a much more open view when noble Lords describe elected police and crime commissioners being badged as Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or whatever. I think that most people who are serious about elected office—of course many of them will come via a party route, but not all—try, having achieved that office, to do the job to the best of their ability for the good of the community that they serve, regardless of party politics. That has been my experience, having served in another place. I hope that noble Lords will take some encouragement from that; I do not share their concerns that police and crime commissioners will be seen as simply representing any one political party if they have stood on a party ticket or been known to be associated with a party.
My noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Shipley’s Amendments 16 and 52, allowing for the police and crime commissioner to act in conjunction with the chief constable when carrying out the PCC office core functions, appear to me to be a step too far in seeking to ensure that the PCC is legally bound to act in all respects in partnership with the chief constable. The duty that has been conferred on the police and crime commissioner by Clause 1(6), to which the amendment refers, simply lifts the current legal duty placed on each police authority today and places it firmly on the police and crime commissioner. It would be difficult for the police and crime commissioner of a force area to deliver the duty of the current police authority to maintain an efficient and effective force if they were bound to abide by that duty with the same chief constable that they are required to hold to account. This is not the case now, nor should it be in future.
Further amendments that were laid by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Rosser and Lord Stevenson, seek to protect the operational independence of chief police officers—something to which the House returns with these amendments—while at the same time placing a specific prohibition against the police and crime commissioner doing anything that would lead to the chief constable breaching his or her oath of office as a constable. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised that. Nothing in the Bill makes any changes to the office of constable or to those provisions in the Police Act 1996 that already establish the oath in law.
I draw your Lordships’ attention again to the draft protocol that has been submitted, which has been mentioned. There are areas about the protocol that we need to discuss collectively in this House. The Government have not yet determined whether the document should be placed on a statutory footing. That is an important aspect of the protocol, on which I would be interested to hear colleagues’ views from across the House.
The draft protocol goes beyond the proposed amendments that we are discussing to provide a suitable safeguard on matters related to command and control, and seeks to address the entire relationship between the PCC and the chief constable. I remind the House that, in drafting the protocol, the Government have taken great care to consult ACPO, the APA and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives. We have committed to working with partners and with Members of this House to develop the draft into an effective tool that will set out the principles and the relationship and interaction between the parties that should follow.
I turn to Amendment 40A. The noble Lords’ drafting of the new clause is laudable. I do not believe that anyone in this House would disagree with the fundamental principles that are set out. However, I suggest that it is not necessary or desirable to set out these principles in the Bill. As I said, the Government have been working hard in partnership with others to produce the draft protocol, and within the protocol are enshrined the same principles as are outlined here. I am not going to go through each of them at the moment, because I am aware that we have spent quite lot of time on this amendment. However, they are important principles; all of them have merit in their own right and this is something that we need to come back to in the context of the protocol.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that he would not read out the oath, but it is worth remembering the attestation at this stage because it is important. A police constable swears:
“I ... do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law”.
When a police constable swears that oath—it applies to all constables, however high up the career ladder they go—we as politicians should respect it in the context in which it will be kept. I am sure that we can trust chief constables particularly to keep that oath, knowing that they have made it and therefore are bound by it, and will not be forced to show partiality or depart from that oath on the basis that they might be leant on by anyone.
I will not be seduced by the noble Lord to go down the road tonight of the case of Madeleine McCann and the Statement I made to the House. I will just say to him that such conversations take place every day of the week in all police forces. I am sure he knows that. As a Member of Parliament, I frequently had to sit in a chief constable’s office—and those of other police officers—to say, “There is a problem. What are you going to do about it?”. That is not unreasonable and it is not political pressure. It is how we work within the environment of policing by consent. The noble Lord was being just a tad mischievous with me there. I suggest that the impartial delivery of policing is enshrined in the wording of the police oath, which effectively sets out those duties. I therefore hope that the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments will engage actively with me on the protocol, which is a way forward in addressing the principles that they have raised tonight. I hope they will not feel that they need to press these amendments to a vote.
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, responds to this important debate, I shall make just two comments. First, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments about discussions over whether the draft protocol could become statutory in due course. I also say to my noble friend Lord Harris that I understand the point that he has raised. There is always a dilemma over the wish of Parliament usually to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s to safeguard a position—in this case the operational independence of the chief constable—without creating such a list of items that it inhibits a good relationship. I am very mindful of the balance to be drawn here. A discussion between noble Lords and others who are interested would be very welcome.
Secondly, there is a difference between making representation to a chief constable as a Member of Parliament and doing so as a police commissioner who is appointed or elected on a programme. That changes the relationship considerably. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that it is quite fair to take the Bill and speculate about how it might work in practice. That is why I am pretty confident in saying that a police commissioner will be working full-time and will be on the back of the chief constable.
I thank the Minister for her comments. I still have some residual concerns about the nature of the relationship and partnership between the commissioner and the chief constable. However, there is now to be, I hope, a substantial discussion about how the protocol will work. Given this proviso, and the fact that the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raise some very important issues—which I hope we can develop, maybe to improve the Bill as a whole—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in my name.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Amendment 17 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 18 to 21 not moved.
Amendment 22 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 23 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.34 pm.
Air Passenger Duty and Developing Economies
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I remind noble Lords that, for the dinner-hour debate, speeches are limited to four minutes. It is a time-limited debate and I hope noble Lords will respect that so that everybody can have a say. When the Clock says that four minutes are up, you are into the fifth minute.
My Lords, since I requested this debate some six months ago the Government have announced a consultation on air passenger duty, which is most welcome. I will address some of the key points of the consultation in my speech. I am aware that the question of APD and its impact on the Caribbean has been raised in this House in the past by the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. Nevertheless, I want to put this debate in context by talking about the present impact of APD on the Caribbean and its community here in the UK, the economic importance of tourism to that region and the environmental concerns of the region.
In 2010, following meetings with the Treasury and other Ministers, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation produced a concise review of the relationship between aviation taxation and the arrival of Caribbean visitors, with a specific focus on the value of tourism to the Caribbean; the projected impact of increases in the cost of flights as a result of taxation; and evidence about the impact of APD on the Caribbean community in the UK. The CTO report showed that Caribbean Governments recognise that it is not easy to separate out figures for declining tourism arrivals in relation to APD, given the global financial climate and other economic factors. However, it is possible to demonstrate in other ways the negative impact that APD is having on the economies of the region.
The report also demonstrated that the UK Treasury had created a banding system that discriminated against the Caribbean and its diaspora here in the UK. It also noted that the APD banding system favoured the USA, a major competitor of the Caribbean, and that it was inconsistent as it divided Russia into two zones but regarded all of the US as one. The banding system also takes no account of the impact that taxes have on Caribbean nations as they change from agriculture to largely tourism-based economies. The report made it clear that the large increases to APD last year would be particularly damaging as hotels and airlines were reaching a point at which they could not continue to absorb the costs through discounting. The result of this would be that, once jobs were lost and hotels closed, it would not be easy to get them back. Tourism is important to the Caribbean. Globally, the tourist industry is the 13th largest. It is the largest in its relative contribution to national economies, and 10th largest in its contribution to long-term national growth. The Caribbean is by far the most tourism-dependent region in the world.
Last year the Prime Minister, David Cameron, confirmed that tourism was the third-largest contributor to the UK’s economy and should be integrated into all aspects of government policy. He said that it was fundamental to the rebuilding of Britain’s economy, and that it was the best and fastest way to generate jobs. However, ironically, APD is a tax on Caribbean development, as well as on other developing countries around the world, particularly in Africa and the British Overseas Territories.
It is only in recent years that the Caribbean has become so dependent on tourism, as agriculture—in the form of bananas and sugar—previously underwrote many Caribbean economies because of their historical link with the UK and Europe. However, when Europe cut those preferential arrangements the Caribbean turned to tourism to replace lost income, with the encouragement of the UK and Europe. Caribbean Governments now raise income through tourism taxation from hotels, their support services, transport, tourist shops, food suppliers, entertainment and restaurants. It is clear that any negative impact on tourism in the Caribbean will have far-reaching consequences. If jobs are lost and alternative employment is not available, we all know that this will have a cost for Governments in supplying welfare, as well as from the potential increase in crime.
The UK, as a hub, plays a vital role in growing tourism in developing nations. London acts as a transit point for visitors from China, India, central Europe and Russia. Gatwick Airport is the start of the main route to the Caribbean and annually provides 5,600 flights to the region. This supports 23,000 jobs, so APD will have an impact here too. This link is also important to the Caribbean for business and investment because, without sufficient airlift, investors will not put their money into Caribbean projects. Travel agents who specialise in Caribbean travel are reporting a decrease in bookings, and APD has been cited as a reason for this.
The UK is home to around 800,000 members of the Caribbean diaspora, and they view APD with a huge sense of injustice. Many of these citizens were encouraged to come to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s and have spent their lives working in public service. Now in retirement, the money they have saved to pay for visits, often for funerals, weddings or to see sick relatives, suddenly does not go as far, as many of them have been low-income earners. Some are also concerned that their families and friends who work in the tourism industry back home may lose their jobs, and at this time of recession they are less able to send money to help them. It seems that the impact on this section of our society has not been given any consideration. There was no consultation about the introduction of the four-band system, no impact assessment and no sense of partnership. I understand that the Department for Transport has provided the Treasury with its assessment of the impact of APD, so I would be interested to hear from the Minister what its advice is.
It was positive news when the Chancellor announced a consultation on APD in the Budget and proposed two options for reform of it—a two-band and a three-band system. A two-band system was proposed in a report issued last year. The report said that if all short-haul economy flights saw an APD increase of just a few pounds, the rest of the world could be grouped together into what is currently band B, at the current rate of £60 in economy. This would seem a simple solution as it not only addresses the unfairness of the current banding system but, if it allowed APD for long-haul destinations to be fixed at the current band B rate, would address the concerns of developing countries about competition and the damaging impact of the tax, even though the long-haul band would remain high and still have an effect on developing nations’ economies. Some feel that the three-band system put forward by the Treasury consultation retains the current distance banding structure and does nothing to address the concerns of the Caribbean about discrimination vis-à-vis the USA—the very issue the Chancellor referred to in his Budget Statement.
I turn to the environmental issues. Some believe that there was an environmental reason behind the introduction of the four-band system. Others believe that it was a means of raising taxes. But surely if we are concerned about the environment, we should consider the fact that 70 per cent of flights from the UK are to short-haul destinations, which, interestingly, are the only flights that can realistically be substituted with other means of transport, unlike those to the Caribbean. From 2012, carbon emissions from aviation will be covered by the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which is a market-based approach. A recent report produced by Standard & Poor’s suggests that passengers could face a rise in fares of up to €40 per ticket once it is introduced. The Government have confirmed that this would be on top of APD, resulting in charges for flights departing from the UK to long-haul destinations exceeding £100, taking into account the current APD rates. That would deliver another blow to the Caribbean tourism industry. Changes in sea levels are of real environmental concern to Caribbean Governments, who have fully supported global climate change initiatives. Yet now they feel that they are likely to have to pay the price for the UK’s concern about climate change through an unfair tourism tax.
I shall sum up. Tourism is a highly competitive industry and the consultation, which includes a review of the issue of competition, is welcome. It is hoped that the Treasury will not keep the anti-competitive system in place. If our Government recognise the value of tourism to the UK, surely they should consider the impact of our domestic tax measures on the Caribbean and other developing economies. I believe that APD was not intended to damage Caribbean tourism, but the law of unintended consequences has come into play. We must consider how government policy, and proposed reforms to it, impact on developing countries. It is our duty to do so.
My Lords, I start by recording my thanks to the noble Baroness for securing this important debate. I too welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that the APD will not be increased this year, as was projected. On the face of it, the Chancellor’s announcement seems to be good news—no increase must be good news. The APD was introduced as a green tax by the Conservative Government in 1994 but has always had a negative impact on the Caribbean. Here I must declare an interest as a frequent flyer to Jamaica, my country of birth.
While the tax has never been good for those with an interest in the Caribbean, the application of the APD discriminatory banding structure has had an adverse impact on Caribbean countries and their economies, and, as I will show, on British businesses as well. We have heard that the APD banding structure is calculated according to the distance between London and the capital city of the country to which you are flying. Whatever the miles and the destinations involved, the fact of the matter is that the calculation from London to the relevant capital city discriminates significantly against the Caribbean. I give an example. The distance from London to Los Angeles is nearly 2,000 miles more than the distance between London and Washington, so a flight to Los Angeles would be in band B—one of the cheaper bands. At the same time, the flight from London to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica—it is in band C, which is much more expensive—is some 800 miles less than that from London to Los Angeles. Common sense would lead one to assume that the APD will be higher travelling to Los Angeles than to Kingston, Jamaica, but the banding structure determines otherwise.
A week ago, the APD was described on the BBC consumer programme “Watchdog” as “barking mad”. The commentator described the policy as something dreamed up during the tea break. As an expert in defending the tea break, I disagree. The way I see it, those responsible for that policy could not run a social event in a brewery. Last September, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation met Ministers and identified some of the negative impacts which the APD has on Caribbean countries and their economies. They pointed out that the Caribbean is more tourism-dependent than any other region of the world. They also said that UK companies in the aviation, tourism and travel industries are being damaged by the APD as bookings to the Caribbean decline. This was confirmed in October last year by Willie Walsh, the then chief executive of BA. He described the duty as having a devastating effect on arrivals to the Caribbean. The chief executive of easyJet informed the “Today” programme this week that 77,000 jobs in the aviation industry are at risk as a result of the APD.
As we consider the impact of the APD on the Caribbean economy, let us not forget the opportunity cost to the UK economy as passengers look for cheaper alternatives. Everyone with an interest must come to the conclusion that the APD is unfair, unclear and economically damaging both to Caribbean economies and to UK interests, and it should go.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for securing this slot to air again this grotesquely unfair tax. I must declare an interest as someone who opens their home and gardens to the visiting public and who is dependent on a vibrant incoming tourist industry. I also declare an interest as a residual beneficiary of a landlocked estate on the picturesque island of St Lucia. I care passionately about those who live and work on the estate.
I feel sorry for the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who will have to fasten his seatbelt as he endures an hour of strong turbulence. All of us will be singing from the same hymn sheet.
I do not believe in retrospective taxation, but my left-wing tendencies gather momentum every time I learn that private jets are exempt from APD. That is a scandal, and both Administrations should hang their heads in utter shame.
It is a complete myth that this is an environmental tax. Not only are private jets exempt, but so, also, are all cargo shipments. Holland and Belgium, for example, recently had the sense to abandon their equivalent, realising the damage that APD has done to their economies. Meanwhile, in the past six years, APD in this country has risen by a staggering 325 per cent—I repeat, 325 per cent. London is now a far more expensive destination than all our rival European cities, especially for those coming from China, India, Australasia and Russia. Ireland has announced that its levy will be cut from €10 to just €3. When we compare that with the levy of £85 for someone travelling in economy class to Ireland from the United Kingdom, it makes a complete mockery of that tax. Not unnaturally, more and more travellers living in the regions are choosing to fly long-haul via Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt rather than Heathrow to avoid that tax.
We all despise taxes in every shape and in every form, but APD is a wholly unfair tax. Her Majesty's Government must take all those points on board and action should be taken as soon as possible, especially before next year's Olympics. We must not forget the horrible effect that this tax has on the Caribbean countries.
My Lords, those taking part in this short debate owe great gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for initiating it. As has already been shown, the air passenger duty is generally accepted within the tourism industry as an unfair tax in its current form. The Caribbean islands certainly have a very good case. I hope that their strong message will be listened to and acted on by the Government. The air passenger duty charge made to the Caribbean is greater than that to the west coast of the USA, but the distance is shorter. I am sure that the Caribbean islands will be making strong representations to the Treasury consultation which closes next month.
If that fact is recognised by the Government, surely the case for Crown dependencies off the coast of Normandy is equally strong. As the House knows, the Crown dependencies have long since pledged their allegiance to the throne and, although they do not form part of the United Kingdom, they are citizens who hold British passports and their laws are dependent on Westminster. Certain dependent territories of EU member states are included in the scope of the lower rate, including the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. However, even at those lower rates, the air passenger duty is not proportionate. For instance, the passenger pays the same tax on a flight from Jersey to Southampton as one who travels from Glasgow to Crete, irrespective of the age of the aircraft or fuel efficiency. Both have a £12 per passenger air passenger duty charge when flying economy class, yet the Crete route is 16 times the length of the Jersey flight. Surely any tax should be based on the emissions of the actual aircraft type, and tax should be banded by distance travelled. The negative economic impact of the air passenger duty has been well documented already in this debate. I just add that, in the case of the Crown dependencies, such as Jersey, the tax does not impact on holidaymakers alone. There is a significant diaspora in the UK who regularly travel to the island and local businesses are dependent on affordable flights to maintain important links with the mainland.
Will the Minister clarify what obstacles there are to making special provision for air passenger duty paid on flights to the Crown dependencies and overseas territories? Are there any constitutional or competition implications for making such special provisions? I look forward to receiving the Minister's response to that point.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Benjamin on securing the debate. As something of a newcomer to air passenger duty, it seems to me not only unfair but particularly unfair on the Caribbean. We have seen the industries on which they used to depend—the sugar and bananas, to which my noble friend referred, and other agricultural businesses —undermined by the agreements with the United States and Europe to allow free competition in those markets. Having done that, we have dealt a double blow to them in the form of the air passenger duty.
I say that advisedly, because I believe that we have a particular duty to the people of the Caribbean. I well remember, in the early part of my career, how dependent the public services here—transport and hospitals—were on labour from the Caribbean, the people who came here to work. It is a pretty poor way to pay those people back as they get older to impose this unfair tax on them. When my noble friend Lord De Mauley sums up, he ought to find some way to show some concern for those territories, which have for so long been associated with the British Crown. That is essential.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, on securing this important debate. It is about the Caribbean that I want to talk this evening, but I must say that sometimes I sit here in astonishment. The air passenger duty was increased as a result of pressure for green taxes from the very party of which the noble Baroness is a member. The Lib Dems, and the green movement in the UK, want to restrict the expansion of aviation. Indeed, they are now joined by the Conservatives, who have placed a ban on any expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick, from which most of the Caribbean flights go. We need to be honest in this debate. Air passenger duty has not arrived from nowhere; it has arisen because the aviation industry has been under a lot of pressure. We have seen this from Questions in this House. There has been an anti-aviation attitude among many Members. Frankly, the aviation industry has not got its act together to put forward a defence of its industry.
The tax on the Caribbean is unfair; there is no doubt about that. It is unfair to say that you can travel to Los Angeles, as I do to visit family, when I see the make-up of the people on the plane—predominantly business travellers; and then go to Barbados, as I do, and see predominantly people who are family members, going on holiday, visiting their family or people who have retired here returning home. For those people to pay more in air passenger duty than those on a flight to LA is crackers. How on earth could the Treasury put in band B travel to the USA at a lower payment than travel to the Caribbean, to which, I suggest, we have a moral responsibility? They are part of our Commonwealth family.
I very much welcome the debate. The closing date for responses to the consultation is 17 June and I hope that the Treasury is inundated with submissions about this dreadful tax. There is no doubt that it does affect tourism. The Caribbean is the biggest tourist snare in the world. It is a place that people visit regularly. It does not have an alternative industry. If it does not have tourism many of the jobs in the Caribbean will go. I hope that the Government will listen to what is said in the debate and put it in the context of the Caribbean. If we are looking at abolishing air passenger duty, I rather fear that what will replace it will perhaps be substantially more damaging to the aviation industry.
There is another factor. We are talking about tourism and traffic to the Caribbean. What about traffic from the Caribbean? We have seen the airports of Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam continually take passengers from the UK. That is what people will do. They will fly into those airports, avoid the tax substantially and then come into Britain. That cannot be good for our economy. We are good at aviation in the UK. We are an island and will always need it. We need to consider this important debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. These wonderful islands are caught up in a tax that frankly is unfair to them. I would suggest that they are also caught up in the bigger machinations in that we have not got our act together properly on aviation in this country. I should declare that I am a member of the NATS board but I see no conflict in taking part in this debate this evening.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for introducing this debate and for giving such a thoughtful and thorough lead into it. The topic has generated much discussion in the British Caribbean community and has led to a certain amount of feeling that it is being put upon. I will try to explain, but before doing so, I draw attention to two Members of this House who have participated in debates on this subject before. First, the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, drew the then Minister’s attention to a report by Deloitte and the tourism industry, which the then Minister confessed to not having seen. Secondly, on 11 January 2011, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked:
“Is the Minister aware that the APD is seen as particularly unfair on the Caribbean? Will he ensure that as part of the review which the Government are undertaking, particular attention is given to the … Caribbean, not just on the tourist industry”,
but on the diaspora, which is increasingly important to the economic activity on the Caribbean islands? The Minister replied:
“The Caribbean Tourism Organisation has produced a very helpful report as a contribution to the debate”,
on the territories of the Caribbean. He felt that he had sufficient information on the strength of feeling in the Caribbean. He went on to say that,
“under the Chicago convention we have to have an objective basis for distinguishing between one country and another”.—[Official Report, 11/1/11; cols. 1289-90.]
It is on that objective basis that I would like to address the House by giving a potted history. The people of the Caribbean, despite being the descendants of enslaved Africans, have never faltered in their loyalty to Britain. To date they have never received compensation, but they have given loyal support to Britain in its times of need. I came to the UK in 1951. I realise that some of you were not born then, but you may take my word for it: the country was still reeling from the effects of World War II. Britain had lost the cream of its youth—18 to 35 year-olds had died in the war, in those battles that we sometimes try to forget. The transport system, the catering industry, manufacturing, and the health and social care services were all run by people past retirement age.
The call went out to the Caribbean from Britain, saying, “Support the mother country”. I witnessed that pull from the Caribbean. They came willingly and, despite vulgar prejudices, worked hard to keep the machinery of this country going. To placate the populace, the Government changed their language from the mere invitation they had sent, and promised the British that people from the Caribbean would only do the jobs that white people did not want to do. That was not factually correct, but we let it go. There were posters in the Caribbean of Beefeaters standing on the cobble-stones of the Tower of London with the slogan, “The mother country needs you”. True, people were glad of regular wages, but their raison d’être was to help Britain.
Today I ask the Minister to give us some hope that the Government will help the people from the Caribbean. Their children and grandchildren, at a time of economic crisis, are being asked to pay an unjust tax to visit relatives in the Caribbean. They mostly go there when there is trouble, such as a hurricane, or when somebody has died. Is it fair and just that we should penalise them? The smallest and poorest islands, where cocoa, sugar and bananas have lost out in the European competitive jungle, are now again being held to ransom. The Caribbean Governments are not refusing to pay the tax; all they insist on is that the Caribbean gets a fair share. We are asking you to use the first port of call in the Caribbean—Bermuda. We will pay the tax for Bermuda but please remember: when you needed us, we were there. We need you now.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness. She has achieved unanimity from the Liberal Democrat Benches in this House, which I think her party leader must have been hoping for in his more controversial efforts yesterday.
The Caribbean has suffered grievously in recent years, partly because of national disasters that wiped out sugar crops, which had an ongoing effect on the rum industry. Then there was the harsh treatment by the World Trade Organisation in its judgment on Caribbean bananas, which were discriminated against in favour of the Latin American bananas, which had much greater clout with the American Administration. Today, we have the first real glimmer of hope. My experience tells me that Chancellors of the Exchequer do not make the sort of concession that they made in the Budget when, on 23 March, the Chancellor talked about a consultation document and a review of the structures of the existing banding. Certainly, Chancellors of the Exchequer do not normally forgo a tax in a year when they had not given notice of it. Chancellors usually want to take credit several times over, but this came as a surprise to everybody.
With this unanimity we have the circumstance in which there must be a multiplication of the pressure on the Government to deliver on what most people have accepted is three-quarters of the way towards making a promise. That is certainly how I interpret the Chancellor’s views. I had the opportunity to speak to Bruce Golding, the Jamaican Prime Minister, about this some time ago, who left me in no doubt of the importance of these decisions, not only to the Jamaican economy but across the Caribbean.
If we look at a couple of the annexes that were provided for us by the Caribbean organisations, we will see the percentage of export revenue raised through tourism. I shall not go through the list but will pick out one or two examples. For Antigua, the figure is 62.7 per cent; for Aruba, 64 per cent; for the Bahamas, 63.4 per cent; and for countries such as Grenada, 66.2 per cent. Every one of them is devastated at the impact of this threat to the major dollar earner in their economies.
There is something almost obscenely counterproductive in this tax. On the one hand, we find various forms of aid to help many of these countries and, on the other hand, we take a decision which appears in domestic terms to be almost insignificant but which has a far more devastating effect on the economies of these countries than can be offset by the aid that they receive.
The statistics have already been cited for Washington, which is 3,667 miles from here. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, cited Kingston in Jamaica, but that is by no means the most badly affected of the Caribbean islands. Antigua, for example, is affected more significantly. Therefore, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I hope that we commit ourselves to the fact that the fight starts today and recognise that this is not its culmination. She has reinvigorated Parliament to take the fight to the Government.
My Lords, I apologise for speaking in the gap. I was incompetent in that I did not get my name on to the speakers list in time.
I am speaking tonight because I used to be an adviser to the Caribbean Banana Exporters Association and I now run an organisation which runs education programmes linked to cricket for eastern Caribbean countries.
Why does what happens in the Caribbean matter so much to us? After all, it comprises extremely small countries, many of them smaller than a London borough. It seems that there are three reasons, which have already been touched on in the debate. The first is the history. In these countries, the institutions, the language, the trade patterns and the law are essentially British. In considerable measure we have made these countries what they are today, and that is why they deserve a larger claim to our interest and concern than many other larger countries with which we have no equivalent links. Secondly, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, and others, the Caribbean diaspora in the UK is directly and adversely affected by the current APD situation. Thirdly, these links have a downside. The collapse of the banana industry has led to greater involvement in the drug trade in some countries in the eastern Caribbean, such as St Lucia and St Vincent, and many of those drugs find their way here.
Just about the only thing that these islands now have from which they can gain an economic advantage is tourism. Therefore, it is in our interests, as well as theirs, that the tourist industry flourishes. In my view, a number of developments are needed if that is to happen. The new international airport in St Vincent is an example, as well as—one hopes—a reliable inter-island airline. However, given the importance of the UK tourist trade to the region, the cost of air travel is clearly a key factor.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, I am a supporter of air passenger duty. It is a highly progressive tax. However, its differential application to the US and the Caribbean is both illogical and damaging. Therefore, rebanding is crucial. The Government’s option 1, which would divide the world into short-haul and long-haul regions, is clearly the only one that would deal with this Caribbean problem. It also has the advantage that it would have an equivalent effect in a number of other countries—principally in sub-Saharan Africa, with which we have the same historical relationship as we have with the Caribbean.